Make no mistake: Armenia is facing a real existential threat. The 44-day war has not ended yet. At best, a tenuous ceasefire is in place, as defined by the November 8 tripartite declaration.

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan have never minced words. The first one invoked Enver Pasha’s unfinished plan for the Caucasus during the victory parade in Baku on December 10, 2020, and the latter expressed his intention to force Armenia to build a land corridor through the “historic Azerbaijani land of Zangezur.”

All current military operations and the ensuing crisis are the prelude to achieve those objectives.

Historically, when we explore the background of such military adventures, we discover that they take place in conjunction with other global crises, either in the same region or somewhere around the globe. And indeed, when political attention is focused on the flare-up between Hamas and the Israeli forces in Gaza and the forthcoming tumultuous presidential elections in neighboring Iran, the time seems most opportune for the Turkey-Azerbaijan tandem to make a mischievous move, under Moscow’s benevolent watch.

President Aliyev, who inherited Azerbaijan from his late father, Heydar Aliyev, was a novice in foreign policy and state affairs at the start of his reign, but gradually,  the Azerbaijani government wised up and began to make the most cunning diplomatic moves in the region as well as on the global scene. That development was the direct consequence of the takeover by Turkey of Azerbaijan’s state affairs.

The current tension created on Armenia’s borders by the incursion of 250 Azerbaijan soldiers 3.5 kilometers into the sovereign territory of Armenia is a calculated risk, most probably designed by Erdogan’s administration and implemented by the Aliyev government. By exploiting the configuration of military and political force in the region, the Ankara-Baku tandem has found out that Armenia’s strategic ally, Russia, is in a stalemate with the Turkish forces in the Caucasus and not in a position to meet its treaty obligations to Armenia. Therefore Russia has allowed the opportunity to Baku to make its historic move to occupy part of the Syunik region in Armenia.

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Syunik is not only important for Armenia as a mineral-rich province, but above all, it is a strategic piece of land which has created a bottleneck for Turkey on its way to achieve its pan-Turanic plans. That territory is also important for Iran for multiple reasons. That is why the Iranian MP Mojtaba Zonnour, head of the Iranian Parliament’s Commission of National Security and Foreign policy, said, “The borders of the past must be completely protected and the common border of the Islamic Republic of Iran with Armenia must be preserved. We do not accept any changes in the borders in the region.”

The Iranian government is wary that any occupation of Armenia’s territory may trigger a domino effect which may also compromise Iranian territorial integrity, a potential threat which is in Azerbaijan’s future plans, encouraged by Turkey, Israel and the West.

And interest in the region goes even further. China is interested from a remote distance in the Syunik region, which stands as a barrier to a Turkey desiring to extend its power into Central Asia.

Azerbaijan has introduced its forces in the area of Sev Lich, which is located at the narrowest point from the Nakhichevan exclave, and where President Aliyev is planning to cut through his coveted corridor to finally integrate Nakhichevan with Azerbaijan’s mainland.

Negotiations are taking place between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, with the participation of Gen. Aslan Muradov, commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Karabakh.

Azerbaijan has been basing its territorial claims on fictitious maps it has drawn and is pretending that it is conducting innocent border demarcations, while Armenia and Russia have been using Soviet-era authorized maps which feature Sev Lich within Armenia’s borders.

Since May 12, the Azerbaijani side has agreed to withdraw its forces to their original positions. However, it has not yet delivered on that agreement.

Ilham Aliyev has been using President Teddy Roosevelt’s fabled adage of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Indeed, its foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, has been blaming Armenia for internationalizing a local issue and has added that Baku has been trying to calm the situation while at the same time, Azerbaijan has begun war games on Armenia’s borders with the participation of 15,000 soldiers and with heavy weaponry.

These are the fifth war games since January of the current year. Is there any question as to which party may be Azerbaijan’s target for intimidation?

It is surprising that while most major world powers have condemned or expressed their concern about the Azerbaijan provocative actions, Russia has remained silent.

Adding insult to injury, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been parroting Bayramov that Yerevan is kicking up too much of a fuss about a border issue which we are trying to resolve with our regional partners.

France has been the most straight forward country in condemning Azerbaijan and has asked Baku to withdraw its forces. President Emmanuel Macron himself called Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to express his solidarity with Armenia. Furthermore, he offered to raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council and proposed military assistance to Armenia, under UN mandate.

Similarly Canada has condemned the Azerbaijani incursion.

The US State Department Spokesperson Jalina Porter has published the following statement on the department’s website: “Military movements in disputed territories are irresponsible and they are also unnecessarily provocative. And of course, we’ve seen the reports of some withdrawal and would welcome that, if confirmed, but we expect that Azerbaijan pulls back all its forces immediately and cease further provocation.”

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, talking to Pashinyan on the phone, has expressed his concern.

President Aliyev claims that he has solved the Karabakh issue by force and that there is no longer a problem of status. By threatening Armenia’s own territory, he is further ensuring that Armenians should worry about their own existence before being concerned about Karabakh.

He is also testing Russia’s resolve to meet its obligations to its strategic ally. In the meantime, he is testing the effectiveness of the Russia-centered Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is supposed to be Armenia’s defense umbrella. That treaty was already turned into a mockery when Azerbaijan, a non-member, defeated Armenia, a member of that defense treaty, and several of its members ironically rushed to congratulate Azerbaijan on its victory against Armenia.

Russia is rightfully worried about the internationalization of the current conflict. We have to remember General Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, boasting about the Russia-Turkey joint operation in the Caucasus. He said that Russia and Turkey had been able to successfully create a political and military plan in the region, similar to the one in Syria. The fait accompli achieved in the region is in the interest of both parties. Armenia’s interest, even as far as its existence, is the least of their worries. Any intervention or projection of the major power in the Caucasus is a potential threat to that successful plan. That is why Russia has been dragging its feet in bringing the Karabakh issue to the forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) whose two other co-chairs, the US and France, are against the current status.

President Vladimir Putin has been stating emphatically that the Karabakh status issue has to be determined at an indefinite point in the future. However, both France and the US consider the status issue a residual agenda to be resolved after the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

The situation does not bode well for Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is beholden to the Kremlin; he is allowed only to take baby steps, always looking for a nod of approval from Putin.

The Armenian army has encircled the intruding Azerbaijani contingent. Anyone’s impulsive reaction would be to use force to expel the intruders. But Armenia is deliberately engaged in unending negotiations, waiting for a favorable outcome.

Many citizens and analysts have been questioning what the purpose of the 102nd Russian base in Gyumri is if it will not defend Armenian territory against aggressors. It has dawned on them that the base is there not to defend Armenia but rather to serve Russia’s broader interest in watching Georgia and projecting power into Syria.

Thus far, Pashinyan was allowed only to apply to the CSTO on the basis of the treaty’s Article 2, Section 2, which calls only for consultations between members and not necessarily action.

Article 4 would have triggered military assistance, which, in this case, would be futile any way, after observing the conduct of its members.

The Kremlin did not shy away from embarrassing Pashinyan publicly. The latter had applied for military aid from Russia during a phone call with President Putin at the start of the Azerbaijani incursion, yet Putin’s spokesman, Dimitri Peskow, publicly countered that Pashinyan had not asked for military assistance – but Russia did not intend to provide it anyway.

Obediently following Mr. Putin’s expectation, Pashinyan has even postponed his appeal to the UN, to keep the major powers away from the region.

Should Armenia dare to appeal to France or to the UN for aid, Russia has the chokehold around its neck and it is in position to complicate the situation even further.

Nor is Armenia’s defeated army ready to expel the intruders by forces. Armenia’s Secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigoryan has been grudgingly using words indicating that negotiations have been yielding cumulative results and the issue will be resolved peacefully.

Pashinyan, in all his speeches, seems to be the exasperated and embattled leader who is trying to put on a brave face before the Azerbaijani aggression, against irredentist movements in Syunik and the opposition parties who are planning to extract maximum punishment in the forthcoming elections.

Pashinyan and his inexperienced team could hardly manage the government affairs in peacetime.

It is more questionable how they can fare in such perilous times.

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