The Face of the New War in Karabakh

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It has been very obvious to even the untrained observer what Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ilham Aliyev were planning in the Caucasus by holding their extensive military exercises in July and August in mainland Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan exclave by moving state-of-the-art military hardware to the theater. The action was certainly better documented by military observers and planners in the region.

In addition, Aliyev’s vitriolic attacks on Armenia and Erdogan’s criticism from the United Nations’ stage that Armenia was a destabilizing factor in the Caucasus were the veneer of war preparations that were in the offing.

As war broke out on September 27, Turkey and Azerbaijan accused Armenia of starting the conflict. However, in these days of technological warfare, the major powers, through their satellites, have been constantly monitoring the hot spots around the globe. Thus, the truth is not hard to find.

Writing in Al-Monitor, Amberin Zaman stated: “The emerging consensus is that Azerbaijan most likely instigated the attack after receiving assurances of military support from Turkey.”

Laurence Broers, Caucasus program director at the London-based think tank Chatham House, added that “an intentional but limited aims operation on the part of Azerbaijan aimed at recovering territories [and] consolidating [a] more advantageous new ceasefire, packaged as a military win.”

For his part, President Erdogan himself confided that since the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group of mediators, led by Russia, France and the United States, had failed to resolve the conflict for more than 30 years, Azerbaijan “had to take matters into its own hands, whether it likes it or not.”

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The hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan had been simmering for a long time and observers have been questioning why the flare-up took place at this particular time.

There are many analyses and speculations about the timing; one factor certainly was the erosion of President Aliyev’s autocratic rule. Junior had inherited his petro-empire from his father, Heydar, in 2003, and was preparing to cede power to his increasingly powerful wife and vice president, Mehriban, at a time of social and political unrest in all the countries created from the ashes of the former Soviet Union, from Kazakhstan to Armenia, from Ukraine to Belarus. That development would certainly impact Azerbaijan socially, where journalists, leaders of the Lezki and Talish ethnic groups, have been rotting in jails, while a silent divide was brewing as a result of the Pashayev and Aliyev clans. (His wife hails from the Pashayev clan.)

All these developments have weakened Aliyev’s rule and brought him to the conclusion that any gain in a war with Armenia would restore some vigor to his rule, while whipping up nationalistic fervor amongst his constituents.

The timing of the war may also have depended on President Erdogan rather than Aliyev, who no longer seems to be in the driver’s seat in Azerbaijan. Erdogan himself has been locked in stalemates with Russia in Syria and Libya. Therefore, Erdogan needed a new bargaining chip to negotiate with President Vladimir Putin to alter the overall configuration of Russian-Turkish relations, particularly after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rebuked Erdogan.

President Erdogan has deployed his warships in Cypriot and Greek territorial waters this summer and challenged all the countries angered by his arrogant posturing. He was even at loggerheads with the leader of fellow NATO member, France, whose president, Emmanuel Macron, issued a harsh condemnation of his actions.

President Donald Trump was busy with his reelection campaign and could not help Erdogan, his favorite friend in the region. Therefore, Pompeo, worried at the prospect of a split in the NATO structure, visited Cyprus earlier in September. Very little came out of his contacts with the leadership of Eastern Mediterranean countries. But it sufficed for him to utter a few words publicly, that the US remains “deeply concerned” about Turkish activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, to have Erdogan to pick up and move and play the peacemaker, wooing the parties he was bullying to sit at a negotiating table.

Therefore, failing in the Eastern Mediterranean, Erdogan moved back to his backyard in the Caucasus for some mischief.

Although Mr. Pompeo reacted angrily when Mr. Erdogan tried to cause a split within the NATO family, his behavior may be completely different when Turkey decides to foment problems in Russia’s soft underbelly, particularly at a time when the Kremlin is looking over its shoulder at the fate of Belarus, wondering whether it is going to go the way of Ukraine, to become a western bastion at its front door.

Turkey is in Azerbaijan to counterbalance the Russian military base in Armenia and next-door Iran. Both countries are America’s adversaries. Any damage that Ankara can incur there will be considered a favor by the West. Therefore, by threatening Armenia, Ankara will be sending a message to Moscow. Erdogan’s spokesman. Ibrahim Kalin, has blamed Armenia for the war. AK Party Spokesman Omer Celik has added that “Armenia is playing with fire and endangering regional peace.”

Many countries have issued generic statements by calling for restraints by the parties. In spite of the similarity of the statements, each country has its own policy and particular interests. For example, President Macron of France has expressed “deep concern.” President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has advised avoiding “further undesirable escalation of the situation.” The US has called for “immediate halt to the deadly hostilities.” US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus specifically warned against “external parties’ participation.” The reference may be about Turkey, but most probably refers to Russia.

Russia’s current neutral stance regarding Armenia and Azerbaijan will by necessity come to come to an end and it will not particularly favor Armenia, but aim to guard its strategic assets in the region. Turkey has held on to a century-old malice against Armenia, first towards its own citizens and now its neighbor. But that is beside the point, since Ankara is planning to send a message to Moscow by weakening Armenia, where a Russian military base is located. Therefore, the counter message would be helping Armenia in this war to crush Azerbaijan significantly, thereby shaking the soil under Erdogan’s feet in Azerbaijan.

There is no doubt that Armenia and Azerbaijan, although they have their specific grievances, are pawns in the hands of greater powers. As far as Armenia is concerned, the 30-year standoff with Azerbaijan has proven one thing: a half-won victory is a recipe for renewed warfare down the road.

Only a definitive victory will convince Azerbaijan that it does not need Karabakh as a perpetual casus belli with Armenia.

Despite Azerbaijan’s huge arsenal of modern weaponry, bought from Israel, Ukraine, Belarus and other countries, Armenia has the technological edge to score a decisive victory. But the equation may change when Turkey decides to become a major participant in the war.

On Tuesday, September 29, reports indicated that a Turkish military F-16 jet had shot down an Armenian air force SU-25 jet over the territory of the Republic of Armenia. This demonstrates Turkey’s active participation in the war and puts into play the obligation for action of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Arayik Harutyunyan, president of Artsakh, stated that “our forces are fighting against Turkey.” Mr. Erdogan and his supporters have all confirmed that they are supporting Azerbaijan 100 percent.

In view of this flagrant participation, the Armenian side has missed a superb opportunity to use the Genocide card. Armenia’s leadership had the full coverage globally in mainstream news outlets.

This column has referred a few times earlier to this issue. Hitler’s statement, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians,” could have been proven true had it not been for the Nuremberg Trials and the Jewish effort to render the issue into a universal pain which could be — and has been — used politically. Thanks to a concerted effort globally by the Jews, the world community has been sensitized to the issue.

Mr. Erdogan knows the impact of the issue much better than our current leadership in Armenia. He realizes full well that modern-day Turkey is very vulnerable when the Genocide issue is politicized. Therefore, he has taken the pre-emptive strike by personally setting up a special committee to deny the Genocide. One can only wonder when the enemy resorts to defense against this most potent political weapon and Armenia’s leadership does not take the initiative to warn the world community that the unrepentant perpetrator of the Genocide is threatening to complete a crime it began in 1915.

When Turkey considers Armenia a hindrance for its plans to achieve a pan-Turanic empire, it means that the Armenian people have to be dislodged from their current habitat to allow the realization of that grand dream.

Currently, Armenians are fighting not only Azerbaijani soldiers and Turkish military forces, but also jihadists imported from Syria by Turkey. Ankara hired and used Islamic jihadists first to empower former ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and after his assassination, it used them in Iraq against the Kurds and in Syria and Libya against the Russians and the local peoples. It was reported that 4,000 mercenaries have been sent to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenians.

The Azerbaijani leadership dismissed the news as “nonsense.” But the Guardian and Reuters published their interviews with those hired guns.

It has become a method of modern warfare for Turkey to hire mercenaries and send them to different battlefields as canon fodder, earning them a place in heaven and good money for their survivors. The practice has enjoyed such acceptance that even the US was tempted to use them by hiring the Kurds in Syria, pit them against ISIS and then abandon them.

Armenians live in a most dangerous neighborhood where major political empires cross or crash. They have survived all adversities; this is not their last battle. Armenia and Artsakh are mobilized and Armenians around the world are raising the alarm. The enemies are watching to measure the volume of support that the diaspora can supply and the political clout that it can generate to design their own strategic planning.

It does not only take courage and technology to win the war but also worldwide solidarity that Armenians must generate and manifest.

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