The Drumbeat of War Gets Louder


While the coronavirus pandemic has stopped normal life, political activities are not similarly frozen; Saudi bombs continue to fall over the misery that is Yemen, military movements have been creating new realities in Libya and Israel is rushing to grab more territory in the West bank, before the anticipated departure of President Donald Trump.

Behind all these developments, Turkey plays a tacit role.

Even more close to home, the flare-up in the Caucasus, is taking place with Turkey’s encouragement if not full participation.

The specter of war has been looming over the Caucasus since the collapse of the Soviet Union, even after a ceasefire was signed in May 1994 between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, the resumption of hostilities is no longer confined to the two parties; the intricate web of political interests and conflicts between those parties manipulates it. Therefore, to trace a spark that would conflagrate a war, one must analyze the interaction of the points in that web.

The former regime in Armenia was subservient to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) message, always repeating the mantra of that group, that the fate of Nagorno Karabakh has no military solution. At the same time, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would continue spewing bellicose rhetoric without any reprimands from the co-chairs of that body’s Minsk Group, tasked with brokering a peace deal in Karabakh.

The administration of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has adopted a more aggressive tone and posture. Just recently, Mane Gevorgyan, the spokesperson of the prime minister, retorted to Aliyev’s war rhetoric that if conflict is supposed to be resolved by force, then Karabakh has already settled the issue.

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Gen. Norat Ter-Grigoryants, one of the founders of the Armenian Army, said in a popular statement: “Pashinyan has to call Aliyev and tell him that we are sick and tired of your war rhetoric. If you want war, let’s start one, on condition that you will not regret it later on.”

It is clear that Azerbaijan has been experiencing some domestic turbulence. The crash of the energy market has dented its oil-reliant economy severely and the voice of the political opposition is getting louder.

In addition, Baku is no longer in a position to buy modern military hardware to its heart’s content as it used to in the previous era when it was flush with petrodollars.

Another issue however, has left the country with a bloody nose: the conflict between the Absheron and Nakhichevan clans. One manifestation of that political tension was the raid by the security forces of the Foreign Ministry offices, where they arrested one of the closest allies of Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. Before the attacks on Armenia Monday, rumors flew about the imminent resignation of Mammadyarov, as the voice of Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov echoing Aliyev’s belligerent statements had become louder.

Analysts believe that Hasanov’s allegiance lies with the Turkish military staff rather than to his own president. That is how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pulling the strings of war and peace in the region, particularly when his military forces have been stationed in Nakhichevan.

The presence of Turkish forces in Nakhichevan is not meant only to intimidate Armenia but also to serve as a counterbalance to the Russian military base in Gyumri, while keeping an eye on Iran.

Turkey is waging aggression against Cyprus, Iraq, Syria and now Libya, where its forces are supporting Fayez al-Sarraj’s government of National Accord, with Islamic tendencies. Turkey not only used its mercenaries in Libya, but also its own military because the competing government of Gen. Kahlifa Haftar was supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia and its NATO ally, France. Egypt threatened to intervene militarily to stop Turkey but the latter continued to march and took over Tripoli. The next target is Sirte, a strategic coastal town, with an abundance of oil and gas deposits.

Turkey’s pattern of military aggression has alarmed all of its neighbors and adversaries. The US seems to be disinterested in Libyan affairs, but in fact, Turkey has once again assumed the role of the one doing the dirty work of NATO and the West by keeping Russia at bay in Syria and Libya. It has already given a bloody nose to Moscow in both fronts. Washington no longer considers Russia its main rival on the world stage, given China’s rise as a military and economic juggernaut. The Trump administration has been directing its vitriolic rhetoric against Beijing instead.

Turkey has also been inching toward replacing China in the US economic supply chain, as Mr. Trump attempts to wean the US economy from China.

We should not be surprised that the White House announced that it had not changed policy regarding the recognition of the Armenian Genocide after Congress supported the resolution condemning that crime.

The configuration of world and regional forces are undergoing a new realignment. Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan, in Yerevan, said recently that he believes that Turkey no longer is interested in joining the European Union, as it can wield more power by acting independently on the international scene. This changing of gears does not auger well for Armenia.

As these developments were taking place regionally, the war rhetoric was getting louder. Azerbaijan’s Hasanov announced that “as defense minister, I have reported to President Aliyev and to the Azerbaijani people that armed forces from our country are ready to perform their duty to liberate the occupied territories.”

In his turn, former Minister of Defense of Armenia Vagharshak Harutyunyan annunciated Armenia’s preparedness for war, citing potential targets in the enemy territory. Those targets included the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum oil pipelines. He noted, “The ‘golden bullet’ will be the Minkechaour dam, which needs surgical precision. If we hit the last target, two thirds of Azerbaijani territory will be inundated with water. God forbid for us to go that far, but with Azerbaijan’s unpredictable behavior, we may have to consider the worst option.”

Watching the escalation of the war rhetoric, Russian military commentator Vladimir Yevseyev said that Azerbaijan may wage a war of attrition, by gaining a piece of territory with every act of aggression, as it did in the April 2016 Four Day War.

All these developments have led to the flare-up on July 13 when Azeri forces tried to infiltrate Armenian territory in Tavoush. They were repelled with 17 human losses as well as that of a strategic position.

The fact that the attack was directly against Armenia and not Karabakh has serious political implications. Technically, any attack on Armenia must invoke the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) treaty obligations, which will draw Russian in the conflict. It is very apparent that the strategy was planned in Ankara to draw Russia into the conflict, in line with Ankara’s role to engage Moscow in as many conflicts as possible, at the behest of the West. Thus far, Moscow has refused to take the bait. Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan has appealed to the CSTO to come up with a political statement and not necessarily a military response. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s office has issued a neutral appeal to both countries, calling for restraint.

Rumors abound that Moscow is strong-arming Azerbaijan to dump President Aliyev before it gets seriously involved with peace efforts.

On the other hand, Turkey, which as an OSCE member is supposed to observe a neutral stance, has voiced its support for Azerbaijan, threatening Armenia. After extending its condolences to Azerbaijan for its losses, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a warning against what it called Armenia’s “aggressive nationalistic posture.”

The statement blames Armenia for getting engaged in adventures “beyond what its forces would allow.”

With Turkey’s involvement, it is very apparent that this episode goes well beyond the violation of the cease-fire regime to which Armenia adheres; it signals a major escalation in the scope of the war.

Armenia seems to be well prepared to repel any attack by Azerbaijan and carry the war into the enemy’s territory. But when Turkey is in the equation, the conflict takes a much more ominous nature.

Armenia’s armed forces are ready but the people also must be ready and united. There is a terrifying polarization in Armenia’s domestic political life. A former prime minister, Hrant Bagratyan, at a peak of anger, recently stated “if I were Aliyev, I would attack Armenia within a few weeks.”

Such imprudent statements encourage the enemy to take advantage of the country’s internal divisions.

If the love of the homeland is not enough to unify the people, the threat of war should.




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