Internet and TV news agencies around the world are replete with images of burning tanks and artillery duels because of the Sunday 27 September 2020 break-out of open hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The following will be a “news behind the news” analysis of the factors involved in this age-old conflict. The information for this report was gleaned primarily from Arabic and English language media sources and the author’s knowledge of the history and geo-politics of the area.
A SUMMARY OF THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
Both sides blame the other for starting the hostilities. Both sides have declared martial law. Azerbaijan has also declared a curfew and promised “victory over the Armenians.” Armenia for its part has accused Azerbaijan of declaring war on it and has responded by declaring war on Azerbaijan while calling for a general mobilization. There are conflicting reports as to the amount of damage that each side has inflicted upon the other, but based on photos and news reports, tanks, helicopters, and military drones have been destroyed. Civilians and soldiers both have been killed.
In order to unravel all of this, what it means for the world at large, and why it won’t go away by Russia, France, the U.S. and the rest of the world wringing their hands and calling for restraint by both sides, we must go back into history to determine the origins of this struggle.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The region that is now called “Armenia” sported agricultural communities as early as 4,000 B.C., according to archaeological evidence. Mesopotamian cuneiform accounts from the 3rd millennium B.C. on refer to the Arme, or Armani living in that area. Neo-Assyrian accounts from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. speak of wars against the Armani. They became subject to Assyrian rule for a time, then fell under the suzerainty of the Medes, then the Persians.
The independent kingdom of Armenia reached its peak of greatness under King Tigranes in the first century B.C. During the Roman era it became the first country in the world (except for Ethiopia) to adopt Christianity as the state religion. This adoption of Christianity reportedly took place in 301 A.D. With the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the Armenian Orthodox Church was part of and cooperated with the larger Christian world. However, in the 6th century A.D. at the second council of Dvin, what is today known as the Armenian Apostolic Church split from oriental orthodoxy (today’s Eastern Orthodox Church) and has been a separate Christian church since.
Throughout much of the Middle Ages, the area was fought over by the Persian Empire and the Byzantine Empire, with the Turks eventually taking the whole area for themselves. However, as the Middle Ages wound down and the Ottoman Empire began to decline in concert with the rise of the Russian Empire, Russia took over what was called “Eastern Armenia” which corresponds to today’s “Armenia” and the Nagorno-Karabakh region that Azerbaijan and Turkey are currently trying to conquer. Russia also annexed the region that is today called Azerbaijan.
“Western Armenia,” located in the North Eastern portion of Anatolia, remained under Ottoman control. However, a series of Turk-sponsored pogroms and premeditated exterminations and deportations, before, during, and after WWI resulted in the entire population of “Western Armenia” being eliminated while the rest of the world looked on.
(Note: Because of these pogroms and deportations, etc., many of the displaced Armenians ended up in Lebanon and Syria. There is also significant Armenian diaspora in the West, including in the United States. Armenia and Armenians in the diaspora, and countries friendly to them, consider the Ottoman Turks murderers and the expulsions of Armenians that took place during the first World War, beginning in 1914-1915, and a second one after the war in the early twenties a “genocide.” During this period, an estimated 1.5 Armenians were massacred, considered to be the first genocide in the twentieth century. However, this figure does not count similar pogroms that took place during the 19th century and which has contributed to the diaspora.)
Armenia’s only protector at the time was Russia and it had converted its empire into an atheist Communist state that could care less about Russia’s traditional Eastern Christian cohorts. Even worse, in 1921 the U.S.S.R. gave a large portion of what was left of Armenia to Azerbaijan. The section they gave away is now called Nagorno-Karabakh, thus setting the stage for future conflicts as they did when Khrushchev gave Russia’s Crimea to his home state of Ukraine.
The reasons why the Azerbaijani-Armenian war broke out at this time are many, which we will get to later, but suffice to recognize that the Nagorno-Karabakh region is 95% Armenian in language, religion, ethnicity, and culture and that they’ve been there for multi thousands of years–long before Turks and Azeris came along. Thus, any accusation by Turkey or Azerbaijan that the Armenians are trying to “occupy” Nagorno-Karabakh or that they have attacked “Azerbaijan territory” is pure nonsense in the Armenian view as quoted by al-Arabiyya TV news sources.
After the Soviet Union fell, the two former “Soviet Republics” Armenia and Azerbaijan immediately began to fight over the Armenian region that Vladimir Lenin gave to Azerbaijan seven decades previously. In 1994 a truce was signed whereby the Armenian-speaking Nagorno-Karabakh could declare itself a “self-governing region.” However, while Armenia was not allowed to re-annex it, it did recognize it as a fully independent country–which ruffled feathers in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan continued to show the region on its maps as being a part of Azerbaijan.
Human Settlement in this region goes back to the old stone age, but the region first enters recorded history in the 10th century B.C. when the Indo-European Scythians move into the region. In the late 9th century, it was taken over by the Mede Empire, and then by the Medes’ successors, the Persians by the mid-6th century B.C. It remained under control of the various Persian dynasties until the coming of Islam in the late 7th century A.D.
The Turks overran the area in the 11th century A.D. and ruled it until the Russians took it over as the late Middle Ages gave way to the early modern era. In Azerbaijan today, the primary ethnic group and language is Turkish, although old Azeri, an Indo-European language closely related to the Farsi spoken in Iran today, is still spoken in some isolated communities.
Bottom line: The Armenians consider themselves to be the original inhabitants of the area. Arabs, Azeris, Iranians, and everyone else are late comers–but especially the Turks.
The primary religion in Azerbaijan is Islam with 85% of those adhering to the Shi’a brand and 15% adhering to the Sunni brand. Despite Azerbaijan’s Shi’a connection, they hate the Mullahs of Iran so much that they have allowed the Israelis to conduct both covert and overt operations from Azerbaijani soil. The Azeris’ primary allegiance is based not so much on religion as it is a cultural and linguistic affinity with their ethnic cousins in Turkey.
The population of Azerbaijan is just under 10 million, while the population of Armenia is just under 3 million. However, this current war between Azerbaijan and Armenia is a very unfair fight in more ways than merely population, as several factors will show.
THE GEO-STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF THE REGION
Azerbaijan possesses natural gas and oil reserves, and it has used its oil profits to beef up its military recently. Azerbaijan, being mostly Turkish, represents an important link in Turkey’s dream to bring all the Turkish-speaking people throughout Central Asia under its umbrella, a vital building block in Erdogan’s dreams of turning Turkey into a major world power. Turkey already has a “Council of Turkic-speaking States” modeled after the Arab “Gulf Cooperation Council.”
The Turkic-speaking Cooperation Council consists of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, in addition to Azerbaijan and Turkey itself. Turkmenistan, which has so far remained neutral, is a potential future member. Some of these countries are rich in oil and natural gas, resources Turkey lacks. Possessing these resources, and the Islamic populations of these countries, as part of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman resurrected caliphate, could make Turkey a superpower.
In addition, there are significant Turkic-speaking minorities in numerous other countries that Turkey would love to “gobble” up given the opportunity to do so. This includes Afghanistan, several countries in the Balkans, and numerous regions in Russia.
The only thing standing in the way of Turkey being able to realize its dream of at least uniting with the Turkic majority countries is . . . little Armenia
SO WHY ARMENIA, WHY NOW?
Most of the reasons behind the “why Armenia” have been answered above, but there is one more. The oil and gas pipelines that convey Azerbaijan’s oil and gas, as well as oil and gas from the other above-mentioned Turkic-speaking Central Asian countries to Turkey goes right through Armenia and the “disputed” region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The “why now” part of the question can be answered by looking around at the geo-political situations across the globe
In Libya, Turkey has just suffered a huge geo-political reversal. Fayez Sirraaj, his puppet leader of Libya’s so-called “Government of National Accord” (GNA) based in Tripoli has announced his retirement effective the end of October. Worse (from Erdogan’s standpoint) is that representatives of the GNA have been meeting in Morocco with their rivals from the Libyan House of Representatives based now in the Eastern Libyan city of Tobruk.
Even worse yet is that representatives of the Libyan militias who had been fighting on behalf of the GNA are meeting with representatives of General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) based in Benghazi with whom they have been fighting for over a year. And, to add insult to injury, these negotiations to merge the western Libyan militias into the LNA are being held in Egypt, Turkey’s arch regional rival. What is more, it looks like these negotiations, and similar ones taking place in Switzerland involving the various powers supporting the opposing sides, will yield fruits. More details on the fast-breaking Libyan situation will be presented in a future report.
Other North African Arab states have also given Erdogan’s Ottoman Caliphate dreams the cold shoulder. His bullying of Cyprus and Greece has run up against stiff western opposition led by France. So, stymied on those two fronts, Erdogan turned east.
On the larger global scale, you have an American president involved in a critical re-election campaign while fending off countless Democrat Party impeachment efforts and Democrat-inspired riots and insurgencies in the streets of the big cities. You also have a Russia too chicken to take on Turkey directly due to Turkey’s NATO membership and Putin’s desire to woo Turkey away from NATO.
The Arab states see this as just another example of Turkish aggression. Greece, of course, would agree. Iraq and Iran are too embroiled in their own problems to pay much attention to what is going on just north of their borders. Tiny Georgia, just north of Armenia will likely try to keep a low profile and not take sides. The big question mark now is what will Russia do?
Given the great disparity in power between the Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance, and the three million Armenians, if Russia does not intervene, no one will, and the world will be watching yet another major genocide. It was in this context that the Armenian president has told the world that this Turkish-led aggression has recalled the specter of the Ottoman Empire’s “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” of the “western Armenians” mentioned above
“Never again” was the promise that the world made once the magnitude of the NAZI extermination of the European Jews became known. Yet, history has shown that well-meaning promises are quickly forgotten when they run counter to expediency. Note the numerous genocides the continent of Africa has witnessed over the years, and that are still going on while being mostly ignored–this includes the wholesale exterminations of Christians while the so-called Christian nations of the West could care less. Then there is the current CCP genocide of China’s Turkic-speaking Uighur peoples–a genocide that the Turkish fascist Erdogan has gladly turned a blind eye to in exchange for Chinese money and inclusion into China’s budding “axis of tyranny” that stretches from North Korea in the east to the Vatican in the west. (I am sorry, but Catholics in the West need to learn what the Marxist Pope Francis has been up to with Communist China.)
THE CONUNDRUM FACING RUSSIA
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Armenia became a member of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a result of which some 12 agreements were signed between Armenia and Russia (including the four-party Minsk pact.) Included in these agreements are mutual security and defense pacts, whereby Russia is required to come to the defense of Armenia when and if Armenia is attacked by a 3rd party. As a result of these agreements Russia has a military base just to the north of Armenia’s capital of Yerevan (which is close to Armenia’s border with Turkey) where some 3,000 Russian troops are stationed. Additionally, Russia has supplied Armenia with 4,500 Russian “border guards” stationed along Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran to serve alongside the Armenian border guards.
The evidence is overwhelming that Azerbaijan initiated hostilities and that they did so with the approval and encouragement of the Turks (who happen to have a military base in Azerbaijan.) The fact that Turkish soldiers, and Turkish air force personnel have been fighting alongside the Azerbaijanis from the very moment hostilities broke out proves that this was a premeditated attack conjured up by both Turkey and Azerbaijan to take advantage of the various geo-political situations mentioned above.
This alone should force Russia’s hand and lead to a direct major war between Russia and Turkey. But there is more. In 2013 the commander of Russia’s 102nd military base near Yerevan said that should Azerbaijan attempt to restore control over the semi-independent Armenian speaking region of Nagorno-Karabakh by force, the 102nd base may join the conflict in accordance with the various treaties signed between Armenia and Russia.
On top of all of that, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow a few years back got Putin to promise that one of the pillars of Russian foreign policy would be to defend Christians wherever they face persecution and extermination. Well, Mr. Putin, here is a prime example of another massive genocide on the verge of happening. So, will it be “never again,” or “always look the other way when expediency outweighs morality?
In early July of 2020 Azerbaijan launched an attack against Armenian areas in Armenia itself, including just northeast of the capital Yerevan. Russia did nothing except wring its hands and help negotiate a ceasefire and a return to the “status quo.” Russia and Turkey are at odds in both the Syrian and Libyan wars, yet they have managed to remain “friends” and avoid a direct confrontation even while supporting opposing sides in those conflicts.
Russia will likely try to initially tread the same path (as in Syria and Libya) and balancing act this time around by supplying Armenia with more weapons and maybe imbedding a few advisors and/or calling upon the Wagner Group so that Putin can maintain the fiction of “non-intervention” so as to stay “friends” with Erdogan. Meanwhile the world will ask: “When will Putin stand up to Erdogan?”
However, should Putin step up and enter that war more directly, as Turkey has already done, what will be America’s reaction? Official Washington’s knee-jerk reaction is to always support the side that is fighting against Russia–even if that means aiding the like of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other exterminators of Christians. President Trump’s instincts are to not get involved in foreign wars, so most likely the U.S. will do nothing except wring its hands and cheer on the side fighting against the Russians. This unfortunately includes Turkish-supplied and trained terrorists from the wars in Libya and Syria.
If “Never Again” becomes “yes, again” right before our eyes, what is another three million Eastern Christians? Does America care? Does the world care?
Our failure to kick Turkey out of NATO and/or to dissolve NATO and replace it with a globe-spanning “Alliance of Liberty” is now coming back to haunt us as Turkey re-enacts the same game plan that Hitler’s Germany did in the late thirties and the world just sits back and watches
REASONS WHY RUSSIA MIGHT STAY OUT OF THIS FIGHT
ONE–Turkey is still a member of NATO. As such, any attack against Turkey would, at least theoretically, force the United States and the rest of NATO to come to Turkey’s aid against whatever entities are attacking their fellow NATO partner. Russia, for all its blustering, wants no part of a war with the U.S. or NATO.
TWO–One of the planks of Putin’s (current) foreign policy is to woo Erdogan away from NATO. While the two have been fighting proxy wars in Syria and Libya by supporting opposite sides in those conflicts, a direct full-scale war against Turkey would totally derail Putin’s “bromance” with his fellow dictator.
THREE–Even though Russia is the superior military power, Turkey, even without any help from any other NATO power, could make life exceedingly difficult for Russia for years to come. Russia’s entire soft underbelly from the Caucasus to the borders of China is lined with the very above-mentioned Turkic-speaking countries that Turkey wants to bring under its influence, or even annex as part of Erdogan’s fanciful neo-Ottoman Empire
FOUR–The large Turkic populated areas of Russia proper which previously had pretty much forgotten, or downplayed, their Turkic and Islamic histories, have, over the last couple of decades, rediscovered their Islamic and Turkic heritages.
FIVE–The Grey Wolves. Erdogan has cultivated the growth of the Grey Wolves terrorist group in all Turkish communities large and small from the Atlantic to the borders of China–and that includes those in Russia’s soft underbelly. And that, probably more than anything else, is what keeps Putin awake at night and is the source of his “bromance” with fellow autocrat Erdogan. “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer,” the saying goes.
(Learn more about the Grey Wolves and Turkey’s dark side in the book mentioned below pp. 383-384, and pp. 395-399.)
To learn more about Turkey’s immediate ambitions and its relationship to China’s “axis of Tyranny,” and why Turkey has chosen to launch this war now, please visit the previous article on this site about TURKEY PREPARES FOR WAR. [add link.]
WHY RUSSIAN MIGHT INTERVENE ANYWAY
ONE–The very long 800-year history of bloody struggles with the Turks has left deep scars among the Russian people, and as Turkey continues to beat up on a fellow Eastern Orthodox country the sympathies of the Russian people will shift powerfully towards the Armenians–just as they did for the Serbs during the 90s neo-Ottoman Muslim, al-Qaeda and NATO bludgeoning of Russia’s fellow Eastern Orthodox Slavic Christians in Serbia.
TWO–If Russia fails to acknowledge its responsibilities stipulated in its security treaties with Armenia it will lose all credibility with the remaining members of the CIS, and Putin himself will lose most of his remaining credibility with the Russian people.
THREE–Russia would prefer to have its ally and satellite country of Armenia control those oil and gas pipelines than to watch Turkey gain control of them.
FOUR–It was Vladimir Lenin’s Soviet Union that created this problem by forcibly assigning a large chunk of Armenia to Azerbaijan. Therefore, it is Russia’s responsibility to unravel and reverse that mistake, that crime against the Armenian people, by giving all Nagorno-Karabakh back to Armenia–even by force if necessary
BOTTOM LINE: If this mini war continues to drag on, my bet is Putin will have no choice but to intervene militarily. Erdogan, like most bullies, has shown that he will back down when others stand up to him as we see in the Greek and Libyan situations. However, the Russian intervention will not entail any sort of a direct attack on Turkish soil, out of fear of a NATO response. The Russian response would likely be to send more weapons, troops, and advisors to Armenia to support its defense against attacks from its eastern neighbor–even if that includes killing Turkish troops
LATEST FROM RUSSIA
Al-Arabiyya TV on 30 September has reported that Russia has offered to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia has rejected that offer “while fighting is going on.” Armenia has previously called for Azerbaijan to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh and cease hostilities first. Also, on 30 September, al-Arabiyya TV quoted a Russian report confirming that Azerbaijan was using “mercenaries.” In quizzing the Azerbaijani assistant Foreign Minister on that issue, the al-Arabiyya news anchor stressed that the Russians used the term “terrorists” in referring to the mercenaries. The Azerbaijan official denied that his country was using mercenaries and instead blamed the Armenians for using mercenaries in their early 1990s struggle.
ANYONE ELSE WANT TO JOIN IN?
The quasi Muslim state of the UAE has been quietly forging close relations with Christian Armenia over the years, and they sympathize heavily with Armenia’s current plight. The UAE is one of the handful countries on the planet that has declared the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to be a terrorist organization and they have used their Israeli-trained military to intervene against MB entities fighting wars in other countries, such as Yemen and Libya.
It would be no surprise were the UAE to send equipment, funds, and possibly personnel to aid the Armenians. This is because: a) Turkey is a major supporter of the MB and other radical terrorist groups across the globe and b) Turkey has already sent hundreds of battle-trained terrorists from Libya and Syria into Azerbaijan to aid in the jihad against the Christian Armenians (according to both Arabic and Russian sources.)
A quick look at the map of the region suggests a natural solution that could be a win-win for all sides concerned. However, to make this solution a reality would require Russia and the U.S. to overlook their differences on other issues and join, along with Europe, as international mediators. The international community, but particularly these powers, would have to be prepared to apply maximum economic and diplomatic pressures. Here are my personal suggestions:
There is a small chunk of Azerbaijan in the S.W. corner of Armenia separated from Azerbaijan proper by a strip of Armenian territory on Armenia’s southern border. That strip of Armenian territory could be given to Azerbaijan, thus providing Azerbaijan with geographic continuity. It would also give Turkey a straight line of communication to the rest of the Turkic-speaking countries throughout Central Asia. This would require moving Armenians out of that southern strip and relocating them elsewhere in Armenia. The exact size of the strip to be given to Azerbaijan could be determined in internationally supervised negotiations.
In turn, the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region shall be returned to Armenia and internationally recognized as an integral part of Armenia. Turkey and Azerbaijan will have to be forced to sign on to this. Also, to compensate Armenia for giving up a portion of its territory in the south, Turkey shall return to Armenia a section in the N.E. of its territory (i.e. a portion of what used to be “Western Armenia”) which would give the currently land-locked country of Armenia an outlet on the Black Sea. The exact size of the territory returned to Armenia would be determined in the internationally supervised negotiations and would be commensurate with the size of the territory that Armenia is giving up in its south.
Giving Turkey that direct link to its central Asian allies and cultural cohorts would solidify Turkey’s energy needs for decades to come. With a se
This would require moving Armenians out of that southern strip and relocating them elsewhere in Armenia. The exact size of the strip to be given to Azerbaijan could be determined in internationally supervised negotiations.
In Turn the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region shall be returned to Armenia and internationally recognized as an integral part of Armenia. Turkey and Azerbaijan will have to be forced to sign on to this. Also, to compensate Armenia for giving up a portion of its territory in the south, Turkey shall return to Armenia a section in the N.E. of its territory (i.e. a portion of what used to be “Western Armenia”) which would give the currently land-locked country of Armenia an outlet on the Black Sea. The exact size of the territory returned to Armenia would be determined in the internationally supervised negotiations and would be commensurate with the size of the territory that Armenia is giving up in its south.
Giving Turkey that direct link to its central Asian allies and cultural cohorts would solidify Turkey’s energy needs for decades to come. With a secure energy future, perhaps Turkey might therefore become more amenable to adoption a less aggressive posture against Greece and the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean region–particularly in a post-Erdogan world.
Barry Webb has logged a 25-year career as an Arabist for the NSA, has two MA degrees in related subject matter, and is currently a Senior Fellow with Americans for Intelligence Reform www.intelreform.org. He is the author of Confessions of an (ex) NSA spy: Why America and its Allies are Losing the War on Terror (available on intelreform.org) His website is www.barrywebbauthor.com