Turkey Casting Its Threatening Shadow Over Armenia

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Turkey’s foreign policy has all the trimmings of a superpower. That robust posture is based on its military might, which is being deployed arrogantly in regions away from Turkey’s immediate sphere of influence.

On the one hand, Turkey is engaged in a standoff with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, while on the other hand, it is challenging China for the mistreatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority.

In the West, only France has been vocal about its concerns over Turkish aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean, while Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has been soft-peddling between the two antagonists’ camps.

This reaction has been creating some tensions among the members of the European Union.

In response to Turkey’s increasingly aggressive stance in the Mediterranean, President Emmanuel Macron of France has stated that the time has come to draw a red line in front of Turkey’s unlawful activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding that Turkey has adopted a behavior unbecoming a NATO member.

This comment triggered a furious reaction in Ankara, where Hami Aksoy, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, replied: “Those who think they have drawn red lines against the just cause of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean will only face the firm stance of our country. If there is a red line in the region, it can only be that of the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, which stem from international law. It is time for those who have delusions of grandeur to face reality. The era of defining imperialist conceptions by drawing lines on maps is long gone.”

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement was even more blunt: “In addition to our fight against terrorism, we are facing challenges against our interests in the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas. We are fighting against all enemies and we are throwing the gauntlet before our enemies.”

Macron just made his second visit to Lebanon in the wake of the devastating explosion at the Beirut harbor on August 4 to assess the situation. It is not just a gesture of goodwill on his part; the French are keeping an eye on the activities of various Turkish ministries preying on the misery of the citizens of that beleaguered nation.

Turkey’s foreign policy and militant posturing have a symmetrical counterpart in the Caucasus. But before dwelling on that region, it is important to find the source of Turkey’s extraordinary arrogance in dealing with the international community.

Watching Turkey’s role in the configuration of global forces, we can find a diminished role for the US military in the world. That does not mean the US is reducing commensurately its interest in world affairs but there is a shift in the roles; once the US was outsourcing manufacturing and was fighting foreign wars. Today manufacturing is returning home, particularly from China, and this time, Washington is outsourcing foreign wars. Remember that one of the highlights of Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Committee’s convention was bringing back the troops.

Turkey has found its niche in this shift of policy. During the Cold War, Turkey served as the bulwark against the expansion of communism. In this new role, Ankara is becoming the policeman of the Middle East and the Caucasus.

Another force is emerging in the Asia Pacific region: Japan. At the end of World War II, when Japan signed an unconditioned surrender to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a new constitution, drafted by the general himself, limited Japan’s military to self-defense only. But in recent years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe changed that constitution with the acquiescence of the US, paving the way towards a new brand of militarism, particularly in view of China’s growing military presence in the region.

Before his recent resignation for health reasons, Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where many executed Japanese war criminals are buried, and paid tribute to them while the Emperor Naruhito made an equivocal statement grieving all the victims of war.

If President Trump is reelected, we may see more evidence of this policy and other policemen may pop up in different regions doing the bidding of the US.

For example, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil may fit the bill for South America.

While Turkey is assuming this role of policeman, supposedly serving the interests of Western powers, it will take care also of its own business, consolidating the foundations of its Ottomanist designs.

During the July war on the Tavush border, Azerbaijani forces lost face; the $5 billion shiny military hardware proved to be ineffective against the less-well-armed Armenian foes. As a result of that set-back, President Aliyev lost his credibility. This development has helped Turkey to fill in the power vacuum there. First, Turkish-Azerbaijan joint forces held impressive war games to intimidate Armenia and then Turkey moved its military forces into Nakhichevan, turning it into a virtual military base, mirroring the Russian base in Gyumri.

These moves were more significant than Turkey supporting its brother nation of Azerbaijan; Turkey was exercising its new role as the policeman of the region, with one eye to Washington, showing it was performing its role of containing Russia. The Karabakh war has been in reality only an excuse to serve a broader geostrategic plan.

Mr. Erdogan’s war hero, the ubiquitous Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar, who has been commanding Turkey’s murderous raids in Syria and Libya, has also appeared on the Karabakh front during those military drills.

Assuming the same arrogance as his boss, Akar threatened Armenia, stating that “Turkey is also a party to the conflict, standing with the brotherly state [of Azerbaijan] and defending its rights.” He added, “Armenia does not act reasonably by relying on forces standing behind it, punching above its weight.”

This statement was a direct reference to Moscow, revealing the real thrust of the increasingly menacing Turkish military presence in Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan.

Mr. Akar’s reference was a direct challenge to Russia, ignoring Armenia.

Thus far, Moscow has been playing it cool. It is reported that President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have urged Ankara to exercise restraint, speaking to their counterparts on the phone.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu has added more fuel to the Turkish rhetoric, saying at a joint press conference: “Armenia has proven it is not a trustworthy country. Azerbaijan is not alone. We work under the notion of ‘one nation, two states,’ and we conducted our meeting today with the same understanding.”

The truth of the matter is that to reflect the truth it is more correct to say “two nations, one state.”

For all intents and purpose, Armenia is facing Turkey as the main challenge to its security in the region. This fact was acknowledged by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during an awards ceremony in Karabakh recently, where he said, “From now on, Armenia recognizes Turkey, rather than Azerbaijan, as a challenge and threat. Armenia’s perception is changing and that of course, is a pivotal change.”

In the perception of Armenia’s foreign policy establishment, Azerbaijan does not hold any particular policy; all it does is reflect the wishes of Erdogan.

Over the last 30 years, Turkey has resorted to many manipulations to have a say in the Karabakh conflict. At one point, it tried to play a more assertive role in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but it failed. On many occasions, it tried to participate in a joint peacekeeping force in Karabakh. But Armenia and Russia objected and managed to fend off the threats. Now that President Erdogan has overhauled its foreign policy by moving from “zero enemies in the neighborhood” to all-out aggression, he has decided to occupy Azerbaijan with “brotherly love.”

With Turkey’s forceful advance in the region, the situation has become far tenser. Every movement reflects the intensity of the situation. Recently, Turkey banned a German military plane from flying over its territory to land in Armenia, carrying some military personnel to Germany for NATO training.

Another minor incident turned into a political scandal when President Aliyev called out President Putin for shipping 400 tons of military equipment to Armenia.

The situation is escalating while Mr. Lavrov is trying to kick-start the negotiations.

Andranik Kocharyan, chairman of the Defense Committee of the Parliament, has interjected that since President Aliyev has become so nervous, it means that Russian-Armenian relations are on a developing trend.

With the emergence of Turkey as a major player in the region, it behooves Armenia to finetune its foreign policy around two major issues: a) capitalizing on the recognition of the Genocide, with an emphasis on compensation and b) placing Russian-Armenian relations on a more solid footing.

Turkey has occupied 90 percent of Armenia’s historic territory and is citing international law to claim Karabakh for Azerbaijan. Armenia has to place the Genocide issue on the forefront of its foreign policy. Both Pashinyan and Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan failed to capitalize on the Genocide when they appeared separately on the BBC news program “HARDTalk.” “Human rights,” “democracy” and “gender equality” all seem to be the new additions to the Armenian political lexicon and Armenian leaders believe they can seduce the West by championing those virtues, whereas the West has devalued them by supporting medieval potentates such as those in Saudi Arabia or has destroyed Iraq, Syria and Libya under the pretense of offering democracy to those peoples. Those leaders may face a rude awakening when they realize the cynical content behind those virtuous phrases and stop using them as political assets.

Instead, Armenia must shout from the rooftops “enough genocide.”

As much as Mr. Erdogan assumes a macho swagger in politics, he is vulnerable when faced with the recognition of the Genocide. That is why he spent many hours personally supervising a committee tasked with the denial of the Genocide. And that is also why millions of dollars continue to be spent by Ankara on lobbying firms in major world capitals. When the enemy recognizes the political value of an issue, it is not up to Armenia to underplay it.

Also, we have to face the reality that Turkey will not lift the blockade nor establish diplomatic relations. Under that presumption, it becomes a hollow statement that recognizing the Genocide is not a precondition to resuming diplomatic relations. It should be a precondition, along with the demand for compensation and territorial restitution.

We should not be under the illusion that all our demands will be met right away, but we have to put Turkey on the defensive and at least issue those demands. Right now, it is on the offensive on behalf of Azerbaijan but it could be on the defensive facing Armenian accusations.

When Pashinyan began his march from Gyumri to Yerevan, he vowed that his Velvet Revolution was in response only to domestic issues and did not have a foreign policy agenda. What mobilized the people was the goal of getting rid of a corrupt regime, inequality and injustice.

But certain elements who joined the march and attained seats in the new government had their own hidden agendas and now are delivering to their foreign overlords. They are a liability to Pashinyan and his goals. Those are people who engage in anti-Russian rhetoric and activities.

Now that Turkey has well established itself in Azerbaijan, Armenia’s leaders believe that development has enhanced the value of the Russian base in Armenia and they are under the illusion that Russia needs that base more than Armenia does. They don’t realize that they have been walking on thin ice.

Historically, Turkey and Russia have demonstrated that they can engage in pragmatic statesmanship, as they did in 1923 when they signed the Treaty of Kars, according to whose terms Russia sold out the Armenians to Kemalist Turkey.

Turkey is in the Caucasus to harass Russia at the behest of the West. The anti-Russian campaign will only serve to antagonize Moscow and create a pretext, which may result in a difficult payback down the road.

It is also in the interest of the ruling power to seek stability and peace in the country; witch-hunting and the harassment of people identified as Russia’s friends will only destabilize the country.

The pandemic has already created enough panic; Armenia does not need any manmade tensions.

Looking out of the window to see the Turkish armed forces in Nakhichevan may sober up every citizen in Armenia.

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