Observers of the Caucasus had come to believe that with the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, as the latter kept calling it, the region could return to a peaceful era. Little did they know that the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan served as a prelude to new volatility in the region, because Azerbaijan was not alone in that war; Turkey openly participated in the conflict, Pakistan sent its military pilots and Turkey mobilized its hordes of Islamic mercenaries from Syria, while Israel guided its UAV weaponry from its own territory. Each participant harbored an agenda which came to the fore after the conflict.

At the present time, Turkey is well settled in the Caucasus after reaching an accommodation with Russia. Azerbaijan has become a captive nation under Turkish rule and its president, Ilham Aliyev, is all but a ventriloquist dummy to his master, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With the expansion of Azerbaijan’s border with Iran through gains in Armenia proper, Israel has broadened its surveillance capacity over the latter. Terrorist hub Pakistan is there to foment the kind of political horror which it has created in Afghanistan.

Russia is hopelessly fighting to maintain the status quo, which already has tipped the balance in Turkey’s favor. With the NATO garrison on Russia’s border in Poland and unrest in Ukraine and Belarus, in addition to the Turkish push in Central Asia to create a wedge between Russia and China, Moscow can ill afford a second Chechnya. Consequently, it has taken Ankara’s threat seriously that the latter can blow up the Russian Federation from within, using Russia’s 25 million Muslim population.

Russia’s inactivity and cautiousness was manifest in its foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s cowardly statement that the Kremlin is not in a position to force the release of Armenian POWs in Azerbaijan, because they were captured after the declaration of November 9, buying into President Aliyev’s argument.

Within this political perspective, Ankara has been engaged in new initiatives using Azerbaijan as a tool. Azerbaijan’s newly-found belligerence is nothing but an obedient performance at Ankara’s bidding. At this time, Turkey has decided to provoke Iran into an open confrontation, motivated by more than one cause; Iran, like Armenia, is an impediment to Turkey’s pan-Turanist plans, therefore, it has to be destroyed. If strong countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya crumbled under similar outside pressure, Iran’s destiny could also be in danger. It was no surprise that pro-government paper Yeni Safak in Turkey recently came up with the headline “Iran will Disappear from the Map.”

Ankara’s aggressive posturing intends to win the good graces of Washington, which has a stake in Iran’s fracture.

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Although Turkey and Israel have been in a public standoff, they seem to have agreed to disagree since they were in bed with each other, using Azerbaijani territory to attack Armenia.

Israel has understood President Erdogan’s position as barking without biting on behalf of the Palestinian Cause, because after the debacle of the Mavi Marmara in 2010 when Israeli forces attacked pro-Palestinian ships operated by Turkey, killing several activists, Erdogan has not engaged in another adventure to damage its reputation on behalf of the Palestinians.

Israel also has found a silver lining in Erdogan’s ineffective rhetoric on behalf of the Palestinians, because that rhetoric cuts into the Iranian contention of being the defender of the Palestinian cause.

Turkey is in the driver’s seat in the Caucasus and is manipulating Aliyev to provoke a fight with Iran. With all the macho rhetoric emanating from Tehran, the leadership there is extremely prudent not to fall in the trap set up by Turkey. Aliyev could never become so bold as to provoke a fight with Iran, without encouragement from Ankara. Aliyev’s assertiveness has also been threatening Armenia, which is just so much collateral damage in this standoff.

We have to be reminded that the 44-day war in Karabakh was preceded by a series of joint military drills between the Azerbaijani and Turkish militaries. Today, the military landscape is tenser, again with a series of military exercises conducted there. The joint naval exercises of Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s forces in the Caspian Sea this month breached the Caspian Sea Convention, which does not allow any military force outside the littoral states in those waters. But Turkey has established a pattern of violating international laws with impunity. First Ankara sought legal rights in the Eastern Mediterranean on behalf of illegally occupied Northern Cyprus. Today, it treats Azerbaijan as a Turkish-occupied territory, giving Turkey the right to introduce its naval forces into the Caspian Sea. No country argued against this lawless act, except Iran, which, ironically is the only country which has not ratified that convention.

With a series of war games continuing, one cannot miss the atmosphere of pre-war Karabakh.

Now come the military drills in Baku, with joint forces of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan, followed by wargames with the joint forces of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and the last one planned for October 5-8, to take place in Nakhichevan with the military forces of Turkey and Azerbaijan. One could rightfully wonder why so much militarization in the region in such a short span of time, if there is no war planned in the immediate future?

Of course, these threatening military movements have rightfully alarmed the regime in Iran, which began flexing its own military muscles by conducting massive military exercises on Azerbaijan’s borders, to which President Aliyev expressed his surprise.

Baku began its provocation by taxing Iranian cargo trucks moving along the 21 kilometers of road recently acquired by Azerbaijan in Armenian territory. Then came the arrest of two Iranian truck drivers still held captive in Azerbaijan. Adding insult to injury, there was an attack on the Iranian Embassy in Baku. Nothing happens spontaneously in an authoritarian country like Azerbaijan. All these incidents were coupled with vitriolic exchanges between the two capitals.

On September 17 Iranian cleric Ayatollah Hassan Ameli said, “Since Azerbaijan and Turkey did not respect Iran’s right as a neighbor, we ask the Supreme National Security Council to allow Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to demonstrate just one-half of Iran’s power on this side of the border to tell them, ‘Do not play with the lion’s tail.’”

The response from Azerbaijan’s official quarters was “We will cut that tail.” So escalates the rhetoric.

Armenia is caught in this melee unprepared.

Azerbaijan and Turkey have been pushing their version of the November 9 peace treaty and for the beginning of demarcation and delineation between the two countries. Armenia is the clear loser in this scenario. This policy on one hand will entail Armenia’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with no status for Karabakh and on the other side, the ceding of the “Zangezur Corridor” through Armenia’s sovereign territory to Azerbaijan.

Although Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and National Security Secretary Armen Grigoryan have been insisting that the corridor issue is not on the agenda of discussion, the Iranian government is not fully convinced, nor is the population in Armenia. All these political shenanigans are played out in plain view of the Kremlin, which is keeping a treacherous silence.

Opposing a corridor through Armenia, Tehran offered its own territory to Azerbaijan to have access to the Nakhichevan exclave. But there were no takers in Baku. Today, Tehran has officially declared that any border change in the region is a red line for Tehran.

Israel has had a presence in Azerbaijan for almost 30 years. The regime in Iran was cognizant of that fact but it never expressed its concerns as forcefully as it is doing these days because with the expansion of the border with Azerbaijan, Israel’s capacity to threaten Iran has grown exponentially.

Also, the Tehran government does not believe that Armenia can or is willing to defend its own territorial integrity and that is why it is taking responsibility for its own country’s security.

All along, Tehran and Yerevan have maintained good neighborly relations. But recently some concerns were expressed in Tehran and even the pro-government paper Keyhan accused Armenia of colluding with the West in a plot against Iran. Prime Minister Pashinyan assured Iran publicly at a press conference in Lithuania that Armenia cannot and will not plot against Iran. As if that were not enough, he dispatched Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan to reassure the leaders in Tehran that Armenia does not have such an intention.

This suspicion arose with the growing belief in Tehran that the Pashinyan administration is exercising a pro-Western policy. Turkey and the US may be at odds politically, Israel may frown on Erdogan’s belligerent rhetoric, and Azerbaijan may be hostage to Turkey, but all their goals converge at one point, which is the dismemberment of Iran along its ethnic fault lines. Should that happen one day, the fallout would be disastrous for the entire region.

Will Armenia’s inept and inexperienced government be able to navigate through these troubled waters and save Armenia? That remains anyone’s guess. One thing is obvious, that rather than seeking internal solidarity to withstand outside pressures, the government is arresting former military leaders and opposition leaders, deepening the polarization in the country.

Cautious thinkers are deeply concerned that the demise of the country is not too far.

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