The old adage of you can’t have your cake and eat it too has special meaning for Armenians worldwide. The world is just too distracted with more important things, like Ukraine, and like throughout history, Armenians are cast off and presented as being their own worst enemies. However, that is far from the truth in today’s geopolitical realities.
The Western Headlines of Azerbaijan’s latest battlefield gains are timed for the greatest clickbait effect, and can be most revealing for the game being played.
Shockingly Quick Defeat Shows Putin Is Now Too Weak to Defend His Allies. It took just 24 hours for Azerbaijan to overpower Russia’s close ally Armenia and seize control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, reads the sub-headline!
This headline appears in tandem with joint US-Armenian military exercises, as to imply if Americans had been on the ground as Peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, instead of the Russians, things would have been different. This one title is more revealing, by CNN, and is more appropriate in addressing today’s reality
Azerbaijan has reclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh, but what does that mean for the tens of thousands living there?
War Games or Geopolitical Maneuvers?
Despite the Joint Exercise with US forces, and Eagle Partner’s modest size and aims as a war game, it may signal the beginning of a possible adjustment in Armenia’s foreign policy direction. At the very least, it is seen as Armenia crying out to the US for help, to be more aware of its problems.
However, it is debatable as who is actually listening. It is clear thatthe Armenian government’s policy of playing different sides against the middle has brought about dire consequences. It looks like the Armenian president wants to play war games with the US whenthe people of NK feel as if they are being thrown to the wolves, like bones, to be gnawed on.
But the timing of the exercise is crucial, as it is taking place amidst a serious humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, also referred to as Artsakh by Armenians. It is also occurring in the context of substantial public disagreements between Moscow and Yerevan.
The US initiated “Eagle Partner” war games ran through Sept. 20 and involve 175 Armenian and 85 US troops. They reflect Armenian Prime Minister NikolPashinyan’s efforts to forge closer ties with the United States and other Western allies amid the simmering tensions with neighboring Azerbaijan.
Naturally, the comprehensive defeat of local Armenians in the latest military operations by Baku is described by the Ukrainian and Western media as Russia having abandoned them, and not fulfilling their peacekeeping mission. However, that is far from the truth and the hard reality on the ground.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the Armenian authorities’ claims that Moscow wasn’t doing enough to protect its ally and noted that Armenia’s decision to hold joint war games with the U.S. requires “deep analysis.”
“Of course, we will try to comprehend and understand all this. But in any case, we will do so in close partnership dialogue with the Armenian side,” he said. It is really complicated, and Pashinyan, can be compared to Emperor Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned during the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD
Professor Carey Cavanaugh, of the Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky, a former US ambassador and mediator for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, explains in a direct and insightful way to CNA’s World Tonight what this means for ethnic Armenians living in the region, and why Russia and Türkiye are involved in the conflict.
He described how Azerbaijan took the advantage of the situation in the world to finish the job it started when it was not able to reintegrate the entire region by force.
It is worth mentioning that even if Armenia was able to muster a force to start a new war over the enclave within Azerbaijan, the result would likely be the same, or with even worse consequences—especially in the shadow of international law and the realization that “might-makes-right!”
It is not clear if the consequences of inviting US troops for joint exercises with Armenian forces were in any way a deterrent for Baku, or if the calculation for the future will be any different. There will be the opinion that the time to strike is now, before any relationship or alliance with the US is cemented.
On the other hand, there is also the opinion that the Americans will come, then they will go, and the Azerbaijanis could carry on as they see fit. It is difficult to predict, even for the experts. It is also difficult to predict the effect of a falling out with Moscow. But it is hard to imagine that the Russian peacekeepers or troops in Armenia would go anywhere anytime soon.
Yerevan is in a bind and has only so many options. It seems they have all proven ineffective. The leadership of Armenia has not proven itself adequate to the challenges of the past few years. Some of those challenges might have been its own making. However, it would be impossible to demonstrate that, for example, if Pashinyan never came to power, there would not have been renewed hostilities over Karabakh.
Well, it is just too hard to discuss with authority the situation in Artsakh. The worst thing for many observers, including myself, is that it seems that nobody cares and the government in Armenia is neither capable to do anything and the international community is only using the dire situation to defend their own position.
Sealing the fate of NK Armenians
There’s a lot of uncertainty and instability in the region. Hard to say what’s next exactly, except that Baku’s position has gotten even stronger. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s public readiness to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory put the discussion and long-lasting conflict to rest, at least in the minds of many—and any Armenians living within Azerbaijan must accept the authority of the official owner and government of the enclave, putting 30 years of fighting and political maneuvering to rest.
Nonetheless, this was conditional; as evidenced when he told a press conference that any recognition by Yerevan of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan would be dependent on guaranteeing the rights and security of ethnic Armenians living in the mountainous region. But “just what he had in mind” as how that was to be accomplished is an open question.
The result was expected, as Armenian protesters demand Pashinyan’s ouster after his Karabakh surrender, and how he has intentionally failed in his constitutional duties. That might come sooner than later.
The safety for Armenians within Azerbaijan has already questioned with the recent launch of what Baku claimed to have been an anti-terrorism operation to disarm the local population. However, it is likely the first step of further control over the ethic enclave, and to open a corridor to other Azerbaijan regions.
Perhaps by the end of this year or at the latest next year, the Nakhchivan region will be merging with Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkey, and this may force a larger conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
For now, the threat of punitive measures which will the locals feel threatened. Many were already fleeing without to Armenia proper and without overt pressure, at least in the initial stages of Baku asserting its legal authority and before the so-called 24-hour anti-terrorist operation.
Right now, we are witnessing a human and humanitarian tragedy and most of the world is turning a blind eye. That is what unites various Armenian individuals and groups. Given the current weakness of Armenia’s negotiating position and the expectation that neither Russia nor the west will do anything to intervene, I expect the exodus of Armenians will happen sooner-later this year or next year.
The process has speeded up already with a gas station explosion that killed 20, with upwards of 200 wounded, as Armenians were trying to find fuel to escape to Armenia proper. This may be the first in a series of provocations, accidents or unforeseen events that will be accelerating quickly towards the end game that Baku has hoped for the last 30 years.
There will be some outcry from the Armenian lobby, etc. but nothing concrete will come out of it. It is clear that the Armenian population, as well as the Diaspora is divided or what or how to do, as is not easy way out now. The question will be answered by just how divided are Armenians, especially among its political leadership. This has some asking, Where are all the California hard core Armenian supporters now, especially among the democrats?
Another question would be how long the current government in Armenia will stay in power. After the people from NK relocate, they will likely vote for the opposition. Probably elections will be held sooner than expected, unlike Ukraine. But that is a political free for all, and too much depends on emotions, not better judgment, and the role of outside support in the elections will be paramount. The final outcome is based on just how riled up will be the voters.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.