Karabakh War: The Efficacy of Diplomacy

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Despite tremendous losses in human lives and materiel, morale continues to be high among Karabakh warriors. It is not hyperbole when Armenian soldiers claim that they are fighting for a historic piece of homeland, while Azerbaijanis are fighting to grab territory that does not belong to them.

While war has been raging since September 27, there have been three attempts for humanitarian ceasefires. The first was initiated by President Vladimir Putin of Russia on October 10; the next by President Emmanuel Macron of France on October 17 and the third by the United States on October 25.

The three co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group have failed to achieve a ceasefire. After the third attempt, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan announced that the fighting will continue until all Armenian forces withdraw from Karabakh — an ultimatum for capitulation for the Armenian side. And still, the Minsk Group issues vague statements blaming both sides.

Aliyev himself has lost all control of his government and army and therefore is unable to defy the OSCE co-chairs and the international community on his own; his arrogance is borrowed from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The latter last week attended a funeral in an Armenian church in Istanbul, to pay his respects to the only Armenian member of his AK Party, Markar Yessayan. During the funeral service, Patriarch Sahag Mashalyan managed to sneak into his eulogy the topic of the war in Karabakh. At the end of the service, before leaving the church, Erdogan made a significant statement: “Turkey has the same right for a voice in the Karabakh conflict as Russia does.”

This statement provides the key to the puzzle. At each attempt for a ceasefire, Turkey has tried to impose itself, first as a mediator and then as a candidate to provide its military as a potential peacekeeping force, and finally it has become a player on the battlefield as a spoiler. It will continue to remain in that role until it achieves its goal, but so far it has managed to create a stalemate, blocking Russia from having a totally free hand in the Caucasus.

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The same scenario was enacted in Libya, where the stalemate eventually was successful to a lesser degree, because in addition to Russia, France, Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel were on the opposing side of the equation.

Now, the same action is taking place in the Caucasus, where there already is a conflict of global proportions.

Turkey is forcing its way to pursue its dreams of a Turanic empire, while convincing the West that it is performing an altruistic role by encircling Russia and irritating Iran.

It is apparent that Erdogan will not rest until he succeeds in having a voice in the final settlement of the Artsakh conflict with the stationing of a residual military presence.

Erdogan could not have chosen better timing for the war than now, when the COVID pandemic has pushed the healthcare system in Armenia to the point of collapse and when the US is involved in a stormy presidential election campaign, so much so that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump have nothing to offer except lip service, while thousands in the two Armenian republics are losing their lives under the combined Azerbaijani, Turkish and Islamic Jihadist forces.

Armenians have grudgingly taken note that in this existential war, they have against them several countries aiding and abetting the perpetrators of genocide.

Israel’s drones proved to be the most lethal in this conflict. As in past wars in Karabakh, Ukraine shipped armaments to Azerbaijan. Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, a nation already in turmoil, did manage to ship armaments, also making a mockery of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in which Armenia and Belarus are members.

Georgia hypocritically announced that it was closing its air space to both warring parties. But in this day and age, nothing can be kept secret; Turkey used Georgia’s airspace to supply Azerbaijan with armaments.

To counter the hostility of these unfriendly nations, France and Germany sent parliamentary delegations to Armenia and Karabakh. The only high level diplomat who demonstrated active solidarity was Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who visited Armenia and later flew to Moscow to discuss the crisis with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

France’s Macron was supportive verbally. He also pointed a finger at Turkey for introducing terrorist mercenaries into the battlefield. Later, when he spoke about the murder of the French teacher who had shown his class the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, an angry Mr. Erdogan advised the French president to seek mental health. He had also accused Chancellor Merkel of harboring a Nazi mentality. These European statement keep the high ground and refuse to trade insults and barbs with the Sultan.

Although the Armenian diaspora’s activism was able to convince Canada to discontinue the transfer of drone parts to Azerbaijan, that same activism has yet to yield results with the US administration to enforce Article 907 of Freedom Support Act, which bans any transfer of military hardware to Azerbaijan, as long as the latter continues its hostility against Armenia.

Armenian diplomacy has worked well under duress. It was a learning curve for those diplomats to operate under pressure. Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan was all over the globe. He was in Moscow negotiating with Lavrov and then in Washington and Europe, in between giving interviews and lectures.

Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian was well received at the Elysee Palace in France. Before that, he had visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he met the organization’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, with whom he gave a joint press conference.

After paying lip service to the human casualties, Stoltenberg expressed his appreciation to Armenia for its participation in NATO’s peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He added that NATO was not a participant in this war and that Turkey was a respected member that hopefully could use its power to bring peace to the conflict.

We are not sure if Mr. Sarkissian informed his host that Turkey was in the Caucasus to complete its genocidal plans using NATO armaments, like F-16 warplanes to kill civilians.

Mnatsakanyan, Sarkissian and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made many appearances on major news outlets. In particular, Indian TV’s coverage of the conflict is interesting, especially since their adversary, Pakistan, has sent mercenaries to the conflict to interject in the discourse. However, he was unfamiliar about Indian-Pakistani relations and the similarity of the Kashmir conflict to be able to interject it into the discourse.

Pashinyan was well prepared to present the case in Armenian because his prior attempts to express himself in Russian and English had backfired.

The Arab world is mostly ignored by Armenia’s leadership despite the fact that large Armenian communities live in those countries. With the current polarization in the Muslim world pitting Turkey against Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Sunni world, Armenia would do well to focus on it.

President Sarkissian, however, is mindful of the influence of that part of the world. His extensive interview with the influential Al Ahram newspaper in Egypt was eye opening for the Arab world.

Domestically, there is political solidarity. Even the three former presidents, who have no love lost for each other, have come together to support the war effort. Most of the anti-Russian rhetoric has died down in the media, although some short-sighted politicians and journalists, with an agenda, continue sniping at Russians when Armenia needs the Kremlin’s support.

In his extensive interview with Al Ahram, Sarkissian stated, “President Putin made it clear that Russia is going to respect every treaty Russia has with Armenia, and this is an absolutely clear message.”

Russia is indeed worried at Turkey’s advances in the Caucasus. Turkish and Azerbaijani forces have been approaching Meghri in Armenia’s southern tip, which is a prized piece of territory for Turkey and Azerbaijan, because control of that piece of land will connect Azerbaijan’s mainland with Nakhichevan, and will pave the way for Erdogan’s march to Central Asia.

To everyone’s knowledge, Russia has sent reinforcements to that region and even has lodged some missiles toward the concentrations of mercenaries on Azerbaijani soil.

The West would love for Turkey to engage Russia in the Caucasus where conflagrations are already raging on the latter’s periphery, in Ukraine, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan.

That is why President Putin is treating the region cautiously, not wanting to provoke Erdogan into action, while in the meantime minding his treaty obligations.

Armenian diplomacy can go only so far. Any diplomatic move, if not backed by force, has limited impact. It looks like that diplomacy has run its course and no party in the Minsk Group is anxious to move militarily to impose a ceasefire. The impression is that the co-chairs have been harboring the possibility of Azerbaijan making some inroads and recovering territory so that it can use it as a bargaining chip at the Geneva conference on October 29.

Mr. Lavrov had plainly laid out his plan before the October 10 ceasefire for Armenia to begin implementing the Madrid plan, which calls for the return of five regions held outside Karabakh controlled by Armenia, and then two more, before any discussion is placed on the negotiation table about the status issue.

Armenia had refused the proposal categorically; unfortunately, just recently, army spokesman Artsrun Hovhannissyan conceded that Karabakh has lost the Kubatli region to Azerbaijan. The tug-of-war will continue until the conference date. Hopefully, the Karabakh army will not cede any more territory because, to begin with, those territories outside Karabakh were occupied for security reasons and in this case, as a bargaining chip at the negotiation table.

Armenia has too many enemies and few true friends.

Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan has issued a public appeal to President Putin for help.

That call says it all.

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