In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new world order has been shaping up for the past 30 years. During every aftershock, world powers position themselves to earn dividends. And, of course, there are losers and winners.

Recently Armenia turned out to become one of the losers. Had the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued another year, perhaps the catastrophic war of 2020 could have been averted, because as we can observe from the recent game-changing events in Central Asia, Turkey’s expansionist ambitions are being put to the test. Ankara was the main sponsor of the war unleashed against Armenia and Artsakh by Azerbaijan and one can wonder whether it would be in the same power position in 2022.

Now Armenia has to deal with the situation arising from the crisis in Kazakhstan, where Yerevan has become an involuntary participant.

At this point, it would be very risky to assess which party is the winner and which the loser there, before the dust settles in that beleaguered country.

After the breakup of the Soviet empire, Kazakhstan was considered one of the most stable of the emerging republics and its leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longest-ruling dinosaur of the post-Soviet politics, as the most solid statesman.

Kazakhstan’s territory is four times the size of Texas with a population of about 19 million.

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It was and continues to remain one of the most Russified Central Asian republics, counting 20 percent of its population as ethnic Russians. In addition, 40 percent of the citizens are believed to be Christians. By official count, there are 25,000 Armenians living in the country, while unofficially the number is put at 60,000, as some are migrant workers.

The country is rich with natural resources, including oil, gas and minerals. Forty percent of the world’s uranium is produced there; with the recent disturbances, the price of uranium shot up 35 percent. That price increase may also help Armenia as a uranium processing country. However, much like the Aliyev clan in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan’s natural wealth enriched Nazarbayev’s family and cronies, leaving the rest of the population to languish in poverty.

Nazarbayev was revered not only in Kazakhstan but also on the world political stage. After ruling with an iron fist for almost 30 years, he transferred the reins of power to one of his trusted allies, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. However, in fact, he still retained the real power as the head of the national security apparatus and the president of the country’s main party, which controlled the parliament.

Many analysts in Armenia, sympathetic to Serzh Sargsyan, blamed him for insisting to be elected for a new term rather than emulating Nazarbayev, by retaining power through remaining the head of his party. In retrospect, perhaps Sargsyan knew something, because as of now, the whereabouts of Nazarbayev are anyone’s guess.

One important factor which has to be stressed is that Nazarbayev was steering his country towards the West imperceptibly, as he changed the country’s alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin, and under his guidance Kazakhstan became the only member country of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to sign a military agreement with the US.

Another significant approach the Kazakh leader embraced was Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pan-Turanic plans. While Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan had anointed himself as “Turkmenbashi” or head of the Turkmens, Nazarbayev was considered by his followers to be “Turanbashi,” or head of Turan.

He was an unapologetic supporter of Azerbaijan and one of the first political leaders to congratulate Azerbaijan after the 44-day war with Armenia. He even had the audacity to come to Yerevan to participate in the CSTO conference, where Armenia took over the rotating presidency, to advocate in favor of Azerbaijan to be admitted as an observer member to that group.

Certainly there was no love lost between Mr. Nazarbayev and Armenia. That is why questions were raised in Armenia with regard to the dispatching of a 100-strong contingent to help Kazakhstan.

There is scant news in the media about Nazarbayev’s fate in this recent turmoil. Some news outlets in Armenia reported that he had sought refuge with his protégé, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. Other sources indicate that he was sent back to Kazakhstan.

Russia has huge stakes in Kazakhstan; to begin with, it has leased 120,000 square kilometers of land there, including the site of the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome.

On January 2, the demonstrations began over a 100-percent increase in the price of liquid gas in the city of Zhanaozen and quickly spread all through the country, including the main city of Almaty. Tokayev himself confessed that within hours, 11 regions out of 19 in the country had fallen under the control of rebels, before he gave orders to shoot the demonstrators to kill. The latter had also occupied the airport at the nation’s capital, renamed Nur Sultan in honor of the longtime former leader.

The US denounced the deployment of CSTO troops and claimed that the local forces were capable of restoring order, whereas in some places, law enforcement had joined the demonstrators.

Hundreds of protestors were killed and more than 7,000 detained. The president informed the media that 22,000 armed “bandits” had joined the demonstrators and the insurrection was planned over the last several years.

The official numbers given are that about 3,500 OSCE forces from member countries were sent to quell the unrest. Many believe that the number of the deployed forces was much higher and that they were equipped with more than just defensive armaments.

After President Tokayev’s appeal, it took only two hours to take the decision and to move the troops from the CSTO countries, which include Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. During the entire crisis, President Erdogan placed frantic calls to the leaders of the Turkic nations to discourage the deployment of their forces. Therein lies Kyrgyzstan’s reluctance to participate in this endeavor. Erdogan’s failure to convince fellow leaders was immediately picked up on by domestic political opponents; indeed, opposition leader and former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed the Turkish leadership indicating that Kazakhstan chose to appeal to the CSTO, headed by Armenia, rather than the Turkic Council, headed by Ankara.

However, under the circumstances, Erdogan succeeded in convening a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Turkic States (formerly Turkic Council) in Kazakhstan on January 11. The rivalry between Ankara and Moscow throughout Central Asia is having a domino effect.

In Armenia, the parliamentary discussion and decision to send troops lasted one day, while in Kyrgyzstan, the debate lasted longer because there was strong opposition. The abiding question in Armenia is, why did the CSTO remain silent when last May Azerbaijan’s forces crossed into Armenian territory? The same questions were asked in Kyrgyzstan, where the collective defense system did not react when there was a clash between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2010. (Incidentally, Uzbekistan dropped out of the CSTO in 2012.)

The explanation given by the CSTO is that the situation warranted the activation of Article Four of the treaty, indicating that the country was under attack by outside forces. However, those “outside forces” have yet to be identified in Kazakhstan.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indicated that when Russia enters your house, it takes too long to disinvite it.

At this time, many speculations abound regarding the causes and the outcome of the situation in Kazakhstan Therefore, any analysis with the current information has to be conducted with extreme caution.

One theory holds that this episode was a power play between the Nazarbayev and Tokayev clans and that tensions had long been simmering. One thing is certain: a coup was in the offing and the former prime minister and current chief of security apparatus Karim Massimov, now under arrest, was involved.

Another theory suggests that this was a rivalry between Turkey and Russia, which have come to an accommodation in Syria and the Caucasus. According to this theory, Russia acted to head off a similar compromise in Central Asia.

However, by all accounts, Turkey’s Pan-Turanic plans suffered a setback, with Nazarbayev out of the political stage.

Yet another idea proposed by and promoted by the Tokayev regime and Russian media is that the West was behind the uprising. And indeed, when the US declares its policy of Russian containment and there is a chain of flareups along the Russian borders — Tajikistan, Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasus and now Kazakhstan — there is an undeniable pattern indicating that the US may have played a hand in that picture, particularly with Victoria Nuland of the US State Department visibly orchestrating a Color Revolution in Maidan, Kyiv. Was it coincidental that Kazakhstan’s crisis broke out just a few days before Russian and US delegates were going to meet in Geneva to discuss President Putin’s ultimatum against NATO expansion?

Armenia’s participation in this adventure raises a series of questions across the board:

  • Kazakhstan and its leaders have proven time and again to harbor hostile sentiments against Armenia. Is it Armenia’s responsibility to abide by treaty obligations and rush to support the regime in that country?
  • When Armenia needs its every last soldier to protect its borders, how could the government afford to send troops to a foreign country?
  • How could Nikol Pashinyan rush to quell a popular movement when he himself had come to power through just such a popular movement?
  • Armenia participated in Washington’s Democracy Conference on December 10. Would its actions in Kazakhstan tarnish its democratic credentials? And consequently, will the EU’s pledge to help Armenia with massive financial support suffer as a consequence of this action?
  • Last but not least, will this action antagonize Kazakhstan’s population against Armenians living there?

The opposing argument is, could Armenia abdicate its responsibility as the president of CSTO? How would Moscow treat that abrogation of responsibility?

Also, if Armenia’s leadership could think far enough, they would realize that hampering Russia’s plans in Kazakhstan would be playing into the hands of the Turks, who would become the alternate beneficiary.

These questions have been raging in Armenia’s political circles and the media and will continue to do so for a while.

In the meantime, President Tokayev has called Prime Minister Pashinyan to thank him for his actions. That is little consolation and even lesser compensation at this time.

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