Has Azerbaijan finally crossed the line of tolerance?

Posted on October. 8. 2022

BY Stepan Piligian | The Armenian Weekly

Hope is the lifeblood of a sustained existence for an individual, a family, a community and a nation. Our hope finds its roots in our faith, our beliefs and our values. Hope finds its way to the top of our priorities in times of extreme adversity. Our current reality in Armenia and Artsakh certainly qualifies as one of those moments of adversity in our long and winding road for security and justice. We are experiencing the current version in 2022 and therefore seems unique. But, it’s not. Of course the names and dates are unique, but we represent the descendants of those who faced previous chapters of adversity. Certainly, there were a variety of emotions involving hope and despair prior to the Battle of Avarayr in 451. We lament our disunity today with the Turks hovering over our every move, yet the princes and feudal lords of Armenia in the fifth century were hardly a united tribe. They eventually prevailed to usher in the Golden Age of Armenian literature, a gift of irreplaceable value. Armenia was ravaged by the Genocide and political challenges with the Turkish army on our doorsteps in 1918. The Azeris were equally vile in 1918. These and countless other incidents in our history were epic examples of hope and survival. The same range of views on our survival has accompanied each of these chapters. We always tend to look back at our history with a romantic filter and accent the blemishes in the current state. The truth is each of these moments were filled with anxiety, disagreements and fear, yet eventually hope guided our nation. Our existence today is evidence of that fortitude. Where do we draw that hope and inspiration from to meet the challenges of our times? The one consistent source over the centuries has been the common citizen of the nation. Listen to the residents of Artsakh and the border regions of Armenia, and you can only be inspired by their resilience. These are the people who stare Turks in the face under overwhelming odds and do not blink. It is not enough by itself, but every politician, clergy and business leader should draw sufficient motivation from these pillars to do their part in the security of the nation. The base of the pyramid of our nation has always been these people who are the soul of Armenia.

Meeting of the Foreign Minister of Armenia, US Secretary of State and Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Sept. 19

The events of the last two weeks are horrific and the source of anxiety. Who can relax and feel at peace with our nation under duress? Our daily lives are dependent on pieces of information over digital platforms praying that another atrocity is not underway. Our life experiences range from sadness to anger to frustration. Yet the hope for our nation continues. One of the most significant differences between the 2020 aggression and the September 2022 version has been the reaction of major nations in Armenia’s sphere. We have become accustomed and bitter over the “parity” obsession of the world when Azeri and Turkish co-conspirators commit acts of aggression and overt war crimes. We are tired and disgusted with the words “both sides” and “calls for de-escalation.” While Azerbaijan violated the spirit and the content of the ceasefire for 25 years with border incursions and sniper fire, the response from the US, Europe and the OSCE Minsk Group was for both sides to remain calm and commit themselves to peace. The 2020 war was the pinnacle of tolerance when both Turkey (NATO) and Azerbaijan violated international and humanitarian laws using illegal weapons, mistreating POWs, targeting civilians, enlisting mercenaries and destroying cultural heritage, to list a few of their crimes. The response was embarrassing as the diplomatic processes were abandoned for political expediency. In a stark departure this year, two important nations, France and the US, each have made clear statements and taken definitive action based on identifying Azerbaijan as the responsible party for the violence. France sponsored two sessions of the United Nations Security Council where they expressed their position. The United States conveyed a similar position, and a high level Congressional delegation was on site in Armenia as a show of support. These actions are undoubtedly motivated in part by the void created by the Russian inaction and the desire to re-engage after the Americans and French were outflanked by the Russians after the 2020 war.
Another significant difference is the desire of the Europeans and United States to participate and display leadership in the diplomatic process with Armenia and Azerbaijan. With the war in Ukraine halting any direct work between the west and Russia, the OSCE Minsk process has been dormant. While attempting to resurrect its role, the European Council under Charles Michel has hosted a few meetings recently between the prime ministers and foreign ministers of the adversarial nations. In addition, Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently sponsored a meeting of the foreign ministers in New York. None of these actions in and of themselves will secure Armenia, but they represent a trend in the right direction for a previously isolated Armenia, securing the active support of world powers. Azerbaijan is a rogue nation that has routinely ignored agreements, protocol and international law. Their partner in crime, Turkey, has a history of duplicity and aggressive behavior toward regional neighbors. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether the recent shift in activity is a short-term political reaction to the horrors of Azeri aggression without any long-term impact, or has the Turkish crime “family” finally reached the edge of the world’s tolerance? Is it possible that the lawless and irresponsible behavior of the Azeris has at least become as important as the addiction to fossil fuel? I would doubt that any action would be based purely on humanitarian and sovereign motivations, but rogue nations create instability that all civil nations abhor. As we have heard countless times in the movies, undisciplined aggression is “bad for business.” Money and power are at the root of politics. The behavior of Turkey and Azerbaijan is a major cause of instability in the Caucasus, eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Turkey is notorious for blazing its own agenda until someone impedes their actions. At that point, they pause and consolidate their gains. Azerbaijan follows the same model with border incursions and intimidation. There are signs that at least two major powers realize that the long-term impact of ignoring this behavior goes beyond Armenia and Artsakh.
There is no doubt that the environment is a bit more inviting for Armenia, but the question remains whether it will lead to any deterrent actions such as a suspension of aid to Azerbaijan or sanctions on the country. Bullies will not stop until someone they are dependent on chooses to “motivate” them to stop. This is the only language they comprehend. The relationship with Russia is complicated and interdependent. There has been some discussion recently that the United States and Europe may be willing to provide military aid to the Republic of Armenia, but are prevented by the CSTO mutual defense pact. The CSTO’s refusal to honor its commitments with delay tactics such as whether the attacks qualify and a fact finding tour by Stanislav Zas only heighten Armenia’s anxiety to find reliable friends. Putin himself seems to consider the violation of the nation’s sovereignty as only a border incident. Although the CSTO has done little for Armenia and continues to renege on its mutual defense responsibilities, exiting the treaty would be difficult. Armenia would have to have exceptional security guarantees from the United States and other western nations that would absorb the response of Russia if exiting the alliance. We must remember that the Russian relationship has a military component, but it’s also dependent on the economy. The lopsided attack and absorption of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia by Russia in 2008 while the west showered the Georgians with rhetoric should serve as a reminder that sympathies mean little when Russia lives in the neighborhood. This is a time of careful diplomacy to encourage western participation and a more cooperative Russia and not create an adversarial dilemma. Armenia can be both the beneficiary and the victim of the current east/west conflict.
In recent days, several western nations have openly called for the withdrawal of Azeri troops from any sovereign Armenian territory. Secretary of State Blinken and President Macron of France continue to make clear who the aggressor is and what de-escalating actions are expected from the Azeris. In an almost unprecedented move, the normally neutral or pro-Azeri United Kingdom issued a statement this week that called for the return of Azeri troops to their original positions. It is a very dynamic time on the diplomatic front. The Greek Foreign Minister is in Armenia. The Armenian Prime Minister is in Paris, and the Security Council Secretary is in Washington. Armenian advocacy groups such as the ANCA and Armenian Assembly are working overtime to see the implementation of Section 907. Resolutions have been introduced in Congress to investigate Azeri war crimes by Congresswoman Speier and the United States is considering the sale of arms to Armenia to defend itself. The halls of Washington, Paris and Yerevan are bursting with activity while we pause to remember our heroic losses in the 2020 Artsakh War. As we grieve, we should take heart in the advances, particularly in western support to counter the strategic void left by Russia.
What this yields for Armenia’s security is unclear, but it suggests we may experience positive momentum on the diplomatic front for the first time in many months. Is it possible that the self-interest needs of the major powers are finally beginning to align with Armenia and that the tolerance for Azerbaijan’s aggressive and lawless behavior is waning? There is no doubt that some of the renewed interest is motivated by the adversarial escalation of the west and Russia. Small nations survive on being the beneficiaries of support from major power competitiveness. Armenia may be entering a new phase of possibilities with the parallel efforts in place. Creating deterrents, increasing defensive capabilities and negotiating a just peace are the interdependent variables currently in play.

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