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08.11.2022 Author: Henry Kamens

Armenia-Azerbaijan Again on the Frontline, Is the US Meddling as Usual?

It would be easy to dismiss the latest incidents in the Armenian-Azeri conflict zone as more of the same; however, when you read the headlines in the US media, the New York Times for instance, more may be involved.

Could not the US send someone besides Nancy Pelosi as an envoy to stir the pot? There is no need to discuss her personality and her qualifications as a peacemaker, let us not forget her recent trip to Taiwan.

At first impression she is not just catering to the Armenian lobby—as much more is involved than meets the eye. The US is, as usual, trying to propagate an idea which the US itself is the first power to ride roughshod over when it suits it.

Terms of Endearment

Pelosi’s statement about how the US wanted to help and support Armenia in a “global struggle between democracy and autocracy” is rather loaded. It likely has little to do with the territorial security, sovereignty and integrity of Armenia.

There are many ways of looking at this conflict, especially recent events, so here’s another insight into the latest clashes. One view is that Baku’s objective may be to create a buffer zone within Armenian territory, to ensure greater security for re-settled Azerbaijanis. This may explain why there has been no cross-border firing from the Nakhichevan side.

The Azeri pro-government media and various MPs are making the same comments on border tensions, about the necessity of the creation of a security/buffer zone and how Armenia must be forced to accept peace – otherwise Armenia’s provocations will continue. All that rhetoric is to be expected, but where does that leave us now in looking closer at what is actually going on at the borders of Armenia proper, not just Nagorno Karabakh?

The Kremlin has a reputation to manage. This is something the leadership in Moscow takes seriously, and is the main reason why Nancy Pelosi is grandstanding.

“Today, I delivered remarks in Yerevan at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts to make it clear that America stands with Armenia. In the ongoing battle against autocracy around the world, we will always support democracy and freedom”, she said.

Pelosi’s likely intention is to complicate an already complicated situation to serve larger geopolitical agendas and her own self-interests; her visit to Armenia, and the script of recriminations and name calling against the Azeri side, are being performed with the wrong intentions in mind—lacking any semblance of good intentions.

She is not alone in her rhetoric, and other politicians of like mind see the war as an opportunity to gain some support amongst their Armenian constituents. You don’t get elected to any political office in California without the support and endorsement of the Armenian community, and in several other states, where the larger Hispanic populations are ignored, the Armenian and Jewish lobbies need to be kept onside to get agendas through.

Adam Schiff, a US House Member also from California, representing the 26th Congressional District, describes how Pelosi went to Yerevan to express America’s solidarity with Armenia. He said in the wake of her visit, “it is only when America and the international community stand up to the brutal dictator in Baku will the bloodshed end”.

He has called for America and Congress to go further, stating that [they must] cut off all aid to Azerbaijan.” Such lame threats do not sound very intelligent for someone who is the Chairman of the US House Intelligence Committee. However, when we analyse such remarks further, they are most revealing.

US Secretary of State Blinken is also involved in the never-ending recrimination, and this shows how the Democratic Party and US government agencies have closed ranks.

He claims that he was concerned, as reported by UK’s Guardian newspaper, by how Russia could try to “stir the pot” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But at the same time he admits, for political expediency’s sake, that “Moscow could also use its influence in the region to help calm the waters”.

Blinken should be informed by his staff, or read in the media, how Russia has been the regional peace maker, under the umbrella of the Moscow-led Collective Security Organisation (CSTO). It has placed thousands of peacekeepers on the ground, and is most aware of the conflict from a historic and pragmatic position.

It also fully understands what is going on with outside pundits, their aims and objectives for meddling in this conflict for their own selfish reasons. If there is no such thing as a Russian peacekeeper, neither is there any such thing as an American diplomat.

Schiff and others have come out with this joint statement:

“We strongly condemn the escalation of hostilities by Azerbaijani forces in southern Armenia. Yet again, President Aliyev is employing the same deadly attacks on sovereign Armenian territory to seek justification for his continued hostility and assaults since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War and to force Armenia to capitulate to his unreasonable territorial demands. World leaders should not stand idly by and make false equivocations between the two sides. There is only one aggressor in this conflict that must be stopped. We urge the Biden Administration to take immediate action to halt Azerbaijan’s aggressions and finally hold Aliyev accountable for his destabilizing actions.”

I am hoping for peace, and am rather distraught at the prevailing situation and such political rhetoric. It is rather pointless, all this writing and theorising, when lives are being lost. However somebody has to say something, when te debate is being framed by soundbites which those who utter them know to be nonsense.

Perspective without vanishing points

I have long known about the obvious disconnect between theory and practice, and that what may be alleged as good intentions are anything but! But I think Laurence Broers, who specialises in conflict and peace in the South Caucasus, has some of the most meaningful commentary on the latest events.

Broers is well known amongst regional expects for being able to explain the 30-year battle for control of the contested territory of Nagorny Karabakh. This Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict for control of this mountainous territory has been the longest-running dispute in post-Soviet Eurasia.

Broers recently described how, while the world is distracted by Ukraine’s moves in Kharkiv, there are reports of large-scale Azerbaijani shelling and use of UAVs against targets in Armenia: Jermuk, Goris, Vardenis, Tatev, Kapan. It is not difficult to understand why now, and for what greater purpose, this is happening, and it may not be so much motivated by local events but geopolitical ones, including those involving Ukraine.

Let us go a bit deeper into the most recent events, starting with how perceived weakness may have emboldened Azerbaijan to restart hostilities, having seen a window of opportunity. This also gives us a bit more of an in-depth understanding of news about Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine.

“Dr. Laurence Broers, a Chatham House associate fellow, spoke to CivilNet about the recent attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia, the worst escalation of the conflict since the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. He discussed how Russia’s recent [purported defeats] in northeastern Ukraine are connected to what’s happening between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He also examined Azerbaijan’s possible motives and whether these sorts of escalations could be expected to happen again in the future”.

His argument makes sense, at least at first impression, considering that Russia is [perceived] as having its hands full in Ukraine and thus not fully able to immediately fulfill its security obligations when Armenia proper is under threat. Azerbaijan understands that it is in a position to negotiate peace on its own terms, at least for now.

The Minsk Group is no longer operating, the OSCE has been sidelined, and the EU is more focused on the possibility of sourcing Azeri gas than taking a moral position on who is the most responsible for the recent fighting. This is the break Azerbaijan has long wanted, and it is going to make the most of it, as any other country would also do.

The role of Turkey matters the most, as Azerbaijan can use Ankara’s backing to press its position to the maximum. You were all warned to take more notice of the Turkic Council, you didn’t listen, now this conflict is setting a precedent for other Turkic adventures, in which the political groundwork is laid without anyone realising it and only comes to the surface when aggression begins and cannot be countered by saying the whole of one side are the enemy.

It is highly unlikely Azerbaijan would venture into another possible full-blown shooting war with Armenia without the full backing of an erstwhile member of NATO, technically a full-fledged member. Here we see who the Turkic nations actually feel is being protected from whom by Turkey’s NATO membership.

But Turkey is one that has its own political agenda in mind and needs simmering conflicts so to carter to a domestic political audience. It is also walking a tightrope between the EU, Russia and its interests in Syria and wanting to play a heavy hand in regional decision-making.

Turkey is willing to play zero-sum games at the expense of others, including Russia. Those “others” are many – not only Armenia is being counted amongst them.

The present attack is the largest since the 2020 Turkey and Azerbaijan-led 44-day war against Armenians, in what is technically considered, under international law, occupied territory. In the light of this the US now sees some political gain from its concern for Armenia, but only as a means of being able to play the many ends against the middle.

The US’s sordid track record in regional affairs should be a concern for Azerbaijan, especially between now and the midterm elections in the US. It should come as no surprise that other conflicts are now breaking out, and it should be self-evident that more than an invisible hand is at work.

There may be a high price to pay for the US political establishment if Azerbaijan slips, more than if Armenia does. However Azerbaijan may not care as long as Turkey supports it, and that would be as much of a blow to the US as losing the Vietnam War.

This is the same US which cannot understand why people who live in the countries it is involved in do not take it at its word and rejoice and the Uncle Sam claims to bring with him. When people see the price they are paying for these high ideals they never actually see, they naturally seek a better deal, but the US cannot understand that there is one, with consequences for all the best intentions of the best individuals.

Other hotspots

Clashes have now erupted in Central Asia between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s border guards. These come “against the backdrop of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine and fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia”, as a recent subtitle read.

It is worth mentioning that both of these two countries are close with Russia, regarded as allies, and host Russian military bases. They have no reason to fight each other, and if they do, Russia is the natural mediator, but this will not be allowed to happen.

Turkey still does not fully realise that its importance in the region is actually highly exaggerated. It has long been punching outside its weight class, and if it is not careful, someone will call its bluff.

But the US doesn’t want to admit this either, so Azerbaijan will continue calling the US bluff by relying on Turkish support, hypocrisy having given Turkey the influence it does have.

History is only too clear as to which power has been, and will continue to be, the guarantor of peace and stability for Armenia. Its newfound friends, as numerous as they may seem, may not be able to deliver.

As quickly as they arrived they can depart – vanishing in all different directions like a flock of birds when spooked. Azerbaijan will continue calling the shots, not because of Russia, but because US interlocutors have heard it all before, and seen the reality to be different, while they haven’t yet been similarly disillusioned by the newer kids on the block.

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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