BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Almost one hundred Armenian dead in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (rendered still with the disgusting Soviet era, Russian influenced spelling), at least five hundred on the Azerbaijani side, war crimes (everyone’s seen the gruesome pictures of the three dead elderly Armenians and read about the mutilation of the corpses returned to Artsakh), risk of a long term war re-erupting – who’s responsible?
Obviously, the list starts with and in Baku and Aliyev, but also includes many others: the U.S., Turkey, Russia, the Minsk Group, the media, Europe (and its parts), and even Armenia. But there are unusual aspects to this whole mess as well – a questionable ally, Israel, and national unity. Clearly, Azerbaijan wants to reoccupy Artsakh. It has built up a massive arms reserve with oil money. Its leadership is very corrupt and unpopular, thus vulnerable to public discontent, especially with oil money being scant these days. Thus, vilifying and attacking Armenians is a convenient distraction. They also have some very tentative, initial, rumblings from national minorities living within the country’s borders, the Talysh and the Lezghis.
Let’s start with the Minsk Group – France, Russia, and the U.S. – which is charged with bringing about a negotiated settlement to the Artsakh issue. Not only have they failed to accomplish their charge (of course the three parties to the conflict play a role in this), but they have enabled Azerbaijan to persist in its intermittent attacks on Armenians. How? By playing the “fair and balanced” game whereby they never assigned culpability to the offending side, Azerbaijan, thereby giving Baku the go-ahead to continue its misdeeds. Result= bloody four-day war.
The U.S., being the planet’s hyper-power, carries much blame beyond the confines of the Minsk Group. When Section 907, which imposed a ban on U.S. arms sales to Azerbaijan was gutted, that sent a bad signal. When time after time, Azerbaijan’s ceasefire violations (likely numbering in the hundreds by now) were greeted with admonitions to both sides to refrain from resorting to shooting, rather than negotiating, that leaves the criminal free to repeat the crime. When oil and pipeline concerns trump everything – justice, reason, wise diplomacy, bad behavior is rewarded. When Washington cow-tows to Ankara because of its pro-Turkish bureaucracy’s inertia, Aliyev keeps on war- and hate-mongering. When Vice President Biden meets with, and effectively honors and lends credibility to dictator Aliyev, the latter thinks he can do no wrong. Result= bloody four-day war.
Turkey may also have triggered, encouraged, or simply supported the latest round of war. Erdoğan probably relished, maybe was even desperate for, a distraction in the region from the mess he’s created with the Kurds, in Syria, and for Turkish society. He may also have wanted to use Aliyev to create a distraction for Putin who’s recent air and other support for Assad have seriously hurt Ankara’s ISIS/Daesh allies. It might even be as simple as Erdoğan wanting to harm Armenia and Armenians. Result= bloody four-day war.
Russia is Churchill’s “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” but he also thought the key to deciphering it lies in its national interest. Clearly, Moscow wants to keep what it Russo-centrically sees as the “Transcaucasus” within its sphere of influence. So, playing one country off against another suits its purpose because then it can play “peacemaker” between the sides. More interesting is an interpretation presented at a recent ARF meeting – whenever Moscow has felt threatened from the West (currently because of the Crimea/Ukraine conflict), it has initiated action to the south (currently Artsakh and Syria). The purpose of this being to create leverage, a negotiating point, which it can give away later. Thus might Armenian interests be sacrificed. It could also be that this is just part of Putin’s efforts to woo Aliyev away from the West, and/or drive a wedge between them. It’s even possible, though highly unlikely, that a reverse game was played, i.e. this was an opportunity to cool Azerbaijan off by having it take a beating at Armenian armed forces hands. Result= bloody four-day war.
The international media’s effective silence about Artsakh and Azerbaijan’s repeated violations, coupled with the oil-money fueled lobbying emanating from Baku, result in a lack of awareness of how destructive the current regime in Azerbaijan is. These give Baku cover to continue its policy of attacking whenever a meeting discussing Artsakh is imminent or in session. Result= bloody four-day war.
Europe, as a whole, and as individual states, has also mostly given Azerbaijan pass over its unacceptable actions. Think of the recent Sarsang Dam resolution, the Safarov axe-murder and its subsequent developments, and the ongoing business-as-usual election of Azerbaijan and its representatives to high positions in European bodies. Result= bloody four-day war.
Finally, Armenia also bears some responsibility. By not responding more harshly to increasing border attacks over the last few years and employing potent diplomacy, it gave Azerbaijan much wriggle room. There are those who are asserting that the money looted from state coffers through the systemic corruption bedeviling Armenia could have gone to buying better armaments for Armenian troops. Result= bloody four-day war.
The first unusual ingredient of this mess is that Armenia’s (formal) strategic ally, its partner in the CSTO, its historic “protector” – Russia, has been delivering billions of dollars’ worth of arms to Azerbaijan, the self-described enemy of all Armenians! Russian claims assert this helps keep Baku from being even more aggressive. Whatever the reason, the cost in Armenian lives is too high. People have taken to the streets in Yerevan because of this, and Moscow should take heed. Armenia is Russia’s only natural ally in the region, but Armenia can not. must not, and will not be Russia’s puppet (or worse, sacrificial lamb). Enough is enough – forcing Sarkissian (embarrassingly) to ditch the EU, last minute, and join the Eurasian “zone” Putin’s creating; Permyakov; and buying up most of the energy systems in the country and preventing greater energy cooperation with Iran. It’s time Russia lived up to its end of the bargain.
Another unusual ingredient of this four day war came from Israel. Acting out of its concern for energy supplies (I read one figure that 40% of its oil comes from Baku), supporting its arms manufacturers, and access to easy spying on Iran, Israel has sold very modern weaponry, including suicide drones, to Azerbaijan. This is very dangerous for Armenians, and a major stain on Israel’s reputation.
But the biggest “unusuality” has been the massive outpouring of people going to the front to serve the homeland. This sense of pride and unity is very hopeful. It gives the corrupt regime in Yerevan an opportunity to reform before it is too late and become true contributors to a better future for Armenia.
Let’s use this opportunity to build a more cohesive nation, to get the word out to the media so they start covering Artsakh sufficiently, and to put an end to political and diplomatic leaders’ dithering and spinelessness in confronting Aliyev’s and Azerbaijan’s gross bellicosity. Baku may have given us the best gift possible – the chance to settle the Artsakh issue favorably and justly!