Appeasement of Azerbaijan Will Only Trigger More Violence

  • 11.03.2023
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In recent months, several political developments seemed to enhance Armenia’s position vis-à-vis that of its enemies, i.e., the verdict at the International Court of Justice, the placement of 100 European Union monitors on Armenia’s territory, and the resolutions adopted at the French Senate and National Assembly (the two houses of the French parliament). In addition, the tragic earthquakes shattering Turkey’s provinces (as well as Syria) had temporarily put a limit to Turkey’s aggressive stance towards its neighbors.

Despite all these developments, Azerbaijan has refused to unblock the Lachin Corridor, which it has blocked since December 12. In addition it has escalated its war rhetoric and engaged in violent clashes with the Armenian side. This means that those developments have in no way have impacted Azerbaijan’s behavior and its methods of assessing the political atmosphere in the region.

There are some inherent causes motivating President Ilham Aliyev’s aggression and shaping his policies.

For one, Aliyev considers Armenia the defeated party and he has decided to extract maximum concessions from Yerevan. Another reason is Russia’s resentment towards Armenia because of the latter’s recent deals with the West, to which Moscow is responding through a third party, meaning Azerbaijan. They are not admitting that Armenia has had little choice but to seek help from the West, since the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which Russia leads and in which Armenia is a member, has resolutely refused to help the latter at any point. Adding insult to injury, several member nations’ leaders have congratulated Azerbaijan on its decisive victory in the 44-Day War which it had launched.

The third reason, which is not always obvious when discussion turns to politics in the Caucasus, is the Israeli political and military support for Azerbaijan. Despite Turkey’s quandary temporarily limiting its capacity for foreign adventures, Baku is depending heavily on Israel to gain leniency from the West and in particular, from the US, for its arrogance and bloody misadventures.

On the sidelines of the last Munich Security Conference in February, when Aliyev shared a panel with the prime ministers of Armenia and Georgia, addressing Nikol Pashinyan, he bluntly stated that Armenia has signed a treaty of capitulation and the people in Armenia have recognized the results of the war by reelecting Pashinyan. Therefore, he added, Armenia has to pay the price. Once we understand Aliyev’s frame of mind, then nothing seems out of the ordinary; his ministers have considered the “Zangezur Corridor” as war booty since Aliyev finds it very reasonable to claim publicly that Armenia’s territory is up for grabs to be recategorized as Western Azerbaijan.

Russia’s nefarious role only boosts Aliyev’s ego and encourages him in his brinkmanship with Armenia. Armenia invited EU monitors to its borders and Russia was displeased. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Yerevan that stationing them without Azerbaijan’s consent would create problems. This column, at the time, predicted that it will be Mr. Lavrov, not a psychic, who will foment that problem and that is why he would know it will happen. And lo and behold, Mr. Lavrov just visited Baku a few days ago to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Russia-Azerbaijan strategic partnership alliance, and on the heels of that visit, Azerbaijani terrorists killed three police officers and severely injured another, on March 6, inside Karabakh. (See story on Page 1.)

Several analysts in Armenia commented that every time Mr. Lavrov visits Baku, Azerbaijan is encouraged to commit a violent act, and this time around was no exception.

This was a repeated performance of Azerbaijani aggression in last May and the serious escalation on September 13-14, 2022.

Turkey and Pakistan were active participants in the 44-Day War against Armenia while Israel was the invisible partner, by providing deadly drones.

Armenia does not seem to be the target of Israeli military plans in its standoff with Iran, but is only an unintended victim. We also have to factor in the Israeli influence when we complain every year over the presidential waiving of Article 907 of the Freedom Support Act banning the sending of US military support to Azerbaijan.

Israel is Azerbaijan’s staunch ally, to the chagrin of the Islamic world. Baku has provided its own territory for Israeli surveillance of Iran and even use of its territory as a launching pad for an eventual attack on Iran, as it was recently revealed by the Israeli daily Haaretz. As tensions rise between Iran and Israel, Azerbaijan becomes more indispensable. Israel’s presence was further enhanced after Azerbaijan captured the territories that were under Armenian control.

After some tense days, when Israel launched a few rockets into Iran, there were hopeful signs that the Iran Nuclear Deal would be back on track after Iran permitted the visit of Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But it seems that Mr. Grossi’s remarks touched a raw nerve in Israel.

Indeed, he stated that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is against the law. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded angrily, saying, “Rafael Grossi is a worthy gentleman who has said something unworthy. Against which law? Is Iran, which is openly calling for our destruction, permitted to defend destructive weapons that would slaughter us? Are we permitted to defend ourselves? … Nothing will deter us from defending our country and preventing our enemies from eliminating the State of Jews.”

Azerbaijan’s value rises in conjunction with the temperature of this incendiary rhetoric from the controversial and much-hated Israeli head of state. As is the case with Azerbaijan, domestically Israel is in disarray under the thumb of a dictator. In oil-rich Azerbaijan the standard of living is lower than Armenia, while political opponents are hauled into jail. In Israel, Netanyahu’s megalomaniacal thirst for power seeks to strangle the country’s high courts and as a result, hundreds of thousands of citizens are protesting every day. At the same time, Israeli-Palestinian tensions are ratcheting up, now at the level of the next Intifada, with his encouragement of illegal Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands. Thus, it looks to be the most opportune time for Netanyahu to seek an external adventure to whip up domestic support.

It is not unusual to have another conflagration while one is still raging, in this case in Ukraine, particularly restraining one of Iran’s close allies, Russia, in the region.

Even if Turkey is temporarily out of commission, Russia and Israel are there to lend their support to Baku.

Iran is the only power in the region whose interests have some confluence with those of Armenia. But Tehran’s embrace may prove to be toxic for Amenia, because it may fall on the wrong side of the Israeli and US policies. Thus, it has to move very cautiously in dealing with Tehran.

The players in the region are Turkey, Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan. Except for Iran, Armenia is surrounded by hostile nations and that is why Azerbaijan is using force with impunity. The West and Europe cannot generate much more than some supportive declarations. Besides, Azerbaijan is much more valuable now for the EU as a result of the ill-conceived Russian war launched last year against Ukraine.

Last week, Karabakh representatives met with Azerbaijani officials at a meeting mediated by the Russian peacekeeping forces at the office of General Andrei Volkov. The purpose of the meeting was to resolve some practical problems and the agenda did not include any political issues. It addressed only the unblocking of the Lachin Corridor, restoring power and gas to Karabakh and allowing a one-time inspection of the Kashen and Drmbon mines by Azerbaijani representatives. Although nothing was resolved, the Azerbaijani side issued a communique stating that the two sides met to discuss the integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijani society. The killing of three Armenian policemen was the price of refusing to negotiate on the integration process.

On March 6, the Karabakh government met after hearing Ilham Aliyev’s ultimatum: Refusal to integrate will result in worse treatment. The Karabakh government has decided to stay the course and seek self-determination.

The Azerbaijani government blames the incident on March 6 on Karabakh Armenians transporting weapons from Armenia to Karabakh. Fortunately, the Karabakh government had videos clearly showing the Azerbaijan attack on the police car. Incidentally, the November 9 declaration does not contain any restriction for goods moving through the Lachin Corridor.

Russian peacekeeping forces could not corroborate the Azerbaijani government statement and in their official release, admitted that it was the Azerbaijani side which opened fire first. The Azerbaijanis lost two soldiers, with several others wounded. The Armenian government characterized the incident as a terrorist act, while Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova called for restraint from both sides, demonstrating the Russian bias toward Azerbaijan.

Russian peacekeeping forces were duty bound to prevent such incidents. With Azerbaijan’s determination to raise the ante and Russian reluctance to abide by their November 9 commitment calls for international mediation. Russia cannot act as an honest broker.

Armenia is planning to invite EU or UN monitors to complement Russian peacekeepers. Also negotiations and their outcome may have productive results only if they are conducted by international mediators.

Azerbaijani actions and threats of further escalation of violence underscore the fact that remedial cessation is urgently justified.

By Edmond Y. Azadian

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