The Europe of corridors
8th December 2023
A discarded armoured carrier in Syunik, Armenia
“Germany intends to have Danzig and the Corridor; I have no brief for her. I deplore the fact that several million Germans would shed their blood for this cause, but since it is a fact, and since the Poles certainly cannot be talked out of their territory, how will the matter be settled except by arms? I believe there must be a war in Europe; the best we can hope for is that it will soon be over, and that it will not spread.”
(Francis Yeats-Brown, The Spectator, September 1932)
Corridors are bad solutions to bad problems. Exclaves and enclaves are sources of conflict as they invite irredentism or invasion. Their mere existence is a challenge, actual or potential, to the sovereign power or territorial integrity of the states or nations involved. To unite them to a motherland or the outside world through something defined as a “corridor” only compounds things, as these corridors eventually may become the fuse of conflicts.
The quote above comes from a talk given in October 1932 by Reinhard Haferkorn, a German lecturer, at Chatham House, in London. In the words of the speaker, the Danzig Corridor was an “attempt on the part of the peace-makers to serve two masters”. In other words, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In the wake of the First World War, few issues were as contentious as the Danzig Corridor. It was not the first time. A century ago, it was to the world then what the Suwalki Gap Corridor—which unites the Russian mainland to the exclave of Kaliningrad through the territory of three countries—is to ours now.
As we have pointed out in the past, the Suwalki Gap, through which runs the railway connecting Russia to Kaliningrad, the former Königsberg that the Soviet Union conquered from Germany evicting its population and turning it into a Russian outpost on the Baltic, can become a dangerous flashpoint if the Ukrainian conflict expanded or evolved catastrophically: the Suwalki corridor traverses Belarus—Russia’s staunchest ally—but then continues along the border between Poland and Lithuania, two NATO members.
And just on October 19th, customarily ignored by the mainstream press, the Berdzor (or Lachin) Corridor, a narrow road that connected the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian republic within Azerbaijan, with Armenia, was rendered useless as the Azerbaijani regime forced out the 120,000 Karabakh Armenians of their homeland under threat of extermination.
Now emboldened, Azerbaijan and Turkey, its Turkic kin and master, are pushing for what they call the “Zangezur Corridor,” a road that would connect the Azerbaijani mainland through the now occupied Nagorno-Karabakh territory and, crucially, the southern Armenian province of Syunik.
While Armenia has repeatedly expressed its readiness to grant passage to traffic to Azerbaijan and Turkey through the province of Syunik, the Azerbaijani and Turkish regimes insist on an “extraterritorial corridor” over which the Armenian government would have no control. The intention is clear: bothTurkish leader Recept Tayyip Erdoğan and his Azeri minion, dictator Ilham Aliyev, want to fulfill their pan-Turkic goals, first conceived by the government of the Young Turks in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire and the architects of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, of a unified Turkic landmass that runs all the way from Constantinople to Kazakhstan, at the gates of Uighur Xinjiang, the Chinese Turkestan.
While a weakened and short-sighted Russia supports and, some suspect, is behind the push for the “Zangezur Corridor”—as an alternative outlet to the outside world by way of Turkey—Iran vehemently opposes such an initiative, suspecting, rightly, that any “corridor” would metastasize into a Turkic occupation of Armenian lands, cutting off Iran from Armenia and, through this trustworthy neighbor, to its share of an eventual North-South corridor connecting the Iranian economy to Europe.
Few would question how seminal the First World War, and the precarious peace that ended it, were for the outbreak of the following one in 1939. Yet the little conflicts that simmered or erupted in the interwar period are glossed over as a factor of causation of the Second World War. Nobody now remembers the intricate Polish-Russian-Lithuanian conflict of 1920, which also saw Poles and Lithuanians facing off over Suwalki.
And yet, the interwar years saw the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-21; the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22), the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (1935-36), and the Japanese invasion of China (1937), just to mention some of the most important ones. Weapons and military innovation developed in the interwar period, including armour and aircraft design, would be key in the Second World War.
No principle governs history as firmly as the law of unintended consequences. Armed drones, remote surveillance systems, and other technological novelties employed in the localized conflicts of today, from those of the still collapsing post-Soviet space like Ukraine-Russia or Armenia-Azerbaijan to Israel-Gaza, all of which have the potential of dragging in major outside players as direct participants, including the United States, may be boding ill for the future. The talk of corridors is a symptom of disintegration and that, as history repeatedly has shown, triggers brutal corrections. It may not be a stretch to say that the elements of a Third World War, God forbid it, are coming into place.
The Danzig Corridor
The Suwalki Gap