Azerbaijan launched a limited yet devastating attack yet again against Armenian on 13-15 September, this time along a frontline of about of a 100-miles along Armenia’s eastern border, leaving at least 135 Armenian soldiers dead and causing the displacement of thousands of Armenian civilians, in addition to the destruction not only of military targets but also houses and civilian infrastructure.
Armenia is in the middle of energy corridors running from the Caspian through Georgia to Turkey and from there to the West.
Turkey and Azerbaijan have deployed more than 45,000 troops on Armenia’s western border and another 100,000 Azerbaijani soldiers have massed on the eastern border of the country. Armenia is appealing for international support at a time when global attention is focused on Ukraine.
Why then would Turkey, with the second most powerful army in NATO, and its ally and ethnic kin, Azerbaijan, a hereditary dictatorship and petrocracy armed to the teeth, just off the 44-day war in September-November 2020 against the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), a tiny Armenian enclave enclosed by Azerbaijani territory and which Azerbaijan claims as its own, continue attacking such a small and badly beaten neighbour? Artsakh, an unrecognised republic, with her ally, the Republic of Armenia, suffered a catastrophic defeat, losing more than 75 percent of their territories and 5,000 soldiers. The casualty toll, horrific as is, for Armenia is existentially dangerous: for a country of 3 million, it is the equivalent of the United States (population 300 million) losing 500,000 men.
On the face of it, it would not make much sense that countries the size of Turkey and Azerbaijan should keep attacking a country that does not pose a threat.
The first apparent reason is the Azerbaijani demand of a corridor through the Armenian southern province of Syunik (or Zangezur, as the Azerbaijanis and Turks call it) that would communicate its territory to the exclave of Nakhijevan. While it is a historically Armenian region, successive massacres of Armenians by the local Azerbaijanis in the early 20th century left them in the majority. Following the sovietization of the republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1920-21, the Soviet government placed the exclave under the jurisdiction of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.
While Armenia agrees to offer a road and communications through its sovereign territory linking up the Azerbaijani mainland with the Nakhijevan exclave, Azerbaijan wants overlordship over the so-called corridor. That would be a deadly blow for Armenia, as it would cut it off from its only land connection to Iran, its most reliable neighbour. That Iran, one of the most ostracized countries in the world because of its nuclear programme and its avowed enmity with the United States and Israel, is the most trustworthy partner Armenia has in the region speaks volumes about the geopolitical dilemmas the country faces. Iran is as invested as Armenia in preserving the overland connection between both countries and has repeatedly said that it will not agree to any border changes.
There is a further reason for Iranian anxiety. Iran’s eponymous northern province of Azerbaijan has a majority of ethnic Azerbaijani population and there have been growing irredentist calls in the republic of Azerbaijan for the “reunification” of a greater Azerbaijan, including the Iranian northern province, which in Baku parlance is called “Southern Azerbaijan”. Iran fears that Israel, a military ally of the Azerbaijani regime of Heydar Aliyev and main supplier of weapons, would gain a foothold just across its border.
The Syunik corridor would not only connect the two parts of Azerbaijan through Armenian territory. They would also become part of the wider East-West trade and energy corridors all the way from China to Europe.
Which leads up to the second pressure on Armenia: its nominal strategic ally, Russia, wants to control the said corridor. Beaten back by the Ukrainian counteroffensive and deprived of overland connections to the West, the East-West corridor would allow the regime of Vladimir Putin to bypass Western sanction and an Eastern European bloc that has become hostile, if not outright inimical to her.
Thus, once again, there is a confluence of Turkey, Russia, and Azerbaijan’s interests. If nothing else, the photo of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on September 15-16 in Samarkand speaks volumes about the new world order east of the Bosphorous. Every time Russia and Turkey have agreed or fallen out, Armenians have paid dearly in lives and territory. The outbreak of the First World War, with the Ottoman Empire allied with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, served as the excuse to attack the local Armenian population—in territories too far away from any frontlines and with no rebel activities—under the excuse of “wartime evacuations” of a group deemed unreliable for alleged pro-Russian sympathies for their common Christianity.
Unreliability on Russia, allegedly the guarantor of Armenia’s territorial integrity as the republic’s “strategic partner”, which did nothing to prevent the Azerbaijani attacks against Armenian sovereign territory—as opposed to what is considered “disputed” under international law in Nagorno-Karabakh—has led the government of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to seek a strategic overture to the United States, with a recent visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Yerevan, where she condemned in the strongest terms the latest unprovoked aggression by Azerbaijan.
And with Aliyev emboldened after the recent gas deal with the EU negotiated by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen—a short-sighted agreement that will basically help Russia evade sanctions and Aliyev charge a markup to the EU for Russian gas—the cards are all stacked up against Armenia.
Yet there is a deeper reason for the continued bellicosity of Turkey and Azerbaijan against Armenia.
In a letter from prison in 1929, Italian marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci reflected on the birth pangs of a new global order. “The old world order is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters”.
While this phrase, as translated by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, is not a literal rendition of the Italian original, it is an accurate description of the world in its current state. The postwar world order is falling apart. As we have previously said, these are still the consequences of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was misleadingly peaceful at the time it happened in 1991. That Mikhail Gorbachev should have died only recently, as the aftershocks of that massive imperial collapse are playing out, only highlights the predicament the world finds itself in.
As the rules everybody was abiding by are being unwritten in this brave new world, Aliyev and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are pushing to reunify the Turkic world, the whole stretch of land from Istanbul to farthest stretches of Uighur Xinjiang, the Turkish province of China.
This is called pan-Turkism. And that’s the agenda Erdoğan is pursuing in anything but name with his neo-Ottoman agenda, which he proclaimed in his July 14, 2020, speech, expressing his support for “friendly and brotherly Azerbaijan” against Armenia, “We will continue to fulfil this duty that our ancestors fulfilled for centuries, no matter what in the Caucasus”. The 44-day war, launched two months later, only ratified his intentions.
Armenians were justifiably alarmed by this address. For what Erdoğan was speaking about resuming the pan-Turkic project that had led to the creation of Azerbaijan in 1918 by Turkey in the first place, as Alex Galitsky explained in an article for Haaretz. “The Ottoman Empire, desperately seeking to retain its waning regional influence, sought to establish a proxy in the South Caucasus”, Galitsky wrote. “It aided local pan-Turkic nationalists to establish a state, which in turn assisted the Ottomans in the suppression of the region’s Armenian population”. That is why a politician such Mustafa Destici felt entitled to remind Armenians recently that “the Turkish nation has the power to erase Armenia”.
And with Armenia, downtrodden and with its defences badly degraded but still uncomfortably sitting in the middle of the pan-Turkic landmass and a remainder, and reminder, of the unfinished Genocide of 1915, Erdoğan and his ally in Baku have set out to tear Armenia apart from both fronts.
Turkey is the master of the fait accompli. They will try to finish Armenia off in a quick, blitzkrieg type of operation and then say, as they do when trying to put on a benign face about the Genocide, that “we can’t bring them back to life”. As an Armenian woman who had lost her mind upon having her entire family in the massacres of Adana in 1909 was told by a Turkish policeman, “go home and get some rest; that was an evil wind that passed and it’s now gone”.