By Grigor Hakobyan
As the dramatic events unfold in the Middle East a new map of Near East is beginning to emerge. A new country is about to take stage in the region; a clash between major powers is about to break loose in Syria; and new strategic realignment of regional powers and their corresponding super powers is taking shape while others are exiting the region. In the meantime a rift is emerging between the US and its European allies over many issues including global warming, economic relations and security within Europe and around the European continent. How will these changes impact Armenia and what role it can play in the big picture that is unfolding in the Near East? What is most likely to happen and is Armenia ready for what is coming within next twenty four to thirty six months ?
Past ten years in the Near East could be characterized as a struggle between nation states trying to hold on to their national territories and destructive global influences such as Islamic Extremism that swept the region with much violence and bloodshed. Successive public revolts against oppressive regimes in the Middle East were followed by the emergence of radical groups motivated by religion to end all forms of national government in the region and by substituting them with a religious one in the name of Islamic Caliphate. Some countries in the Middle East ended up in long and protracted civil wars that didn’t run its course yet. Different ethnic groups, religious denominations and tribes began to vie for political power and economic wealth left behind by the crumbled regimes in Libya and Yemen, while Syria saw a reversal of fortunes after military interventions by Russia, Iran and its Lebanese and Iraqi proxies in the ongoing civil war there.
Meanwhile Kurdish groups saw an opening to rise up in pursuit of their own nation state. As such, various Kurdish factions took control of different territories making up parts of Iraq and Syria to claim as their own and established de facto Kurdish statelets across the region. As millions of refugees poured across the border fleeing the bloody carnage in the Middle East thus overwhelming welfare based economies of Europe a new Kurdish state is waiting emerge. Establishment of new American bases on territories under Kurdish control, continuous American support for the emergence of a new Kurdish state in parts of Syria and Iraq, and increasingly declining relationship between Turkey and US/NATO allies is pointing towards an exceedingly decreasing importance of Turkey for the security of NATO and the US.
Turkey’s overtures toward Russia and Iran while extreme pressure is being exerted upon the civil society and democratic institutions in Turkey further undermines Turkey’s credibility as a democratic state and pushes the country further away from joining the EU. The recent brawl near Turkey’s embassy in Washington DC where Erdogan’s security teams violently assaulted American citizens on the American soil peacefully protesting the Erdogan’s visit to the US has further undermined Turkey’s “peaceful and democratic” credentials as well as lead the US Congress, State Department and defense officials to question Turkey’s real aspirations on the global stage and reevaluate the strategic relationship between the US and Turkey. The emergency of a large Kurdish state spanning territories of Iraq and Syria with pro-American orientation has a good chance of putting the final nail in the coffin of perceived Turkey’s strategic value to the US and its NATO allies.
The recent crisis between Qatar and other states of Gulf Cooperation Council further complicates the geopolitical situation in the region and promises more violence, destruction and mass emigration from the region. The rift between Qatar and other sheikdoms of the Middle East is causing a major realignment of regional powers not foreseen before. We see an emergence of a loose and conflict ridden alliance between Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Qatar and Turkey on one hand and US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and others on the other hand. In the meantime Australia is exiting the region while Europe is gradually heading toward the exit also. Growing differences of opinion between the US and EU over issues ranging from the climate change to economic sanctions against Russia, conflicting policies over refugees and immigration is pushing the western civilization apart.
Recent Israeli attacks against government forces in Syria and US engagement of aerial combat vehicles of Syria and Iran has further escalated the situation in the region and pushed the major powers involved in the Syrian conflict towards the brink of major war. The chances for a major miscalculation leading towards a regional conflagration in the Middle East between rival regional powers and distant powers behind them has become ever more imminent than anytime before. Undesired presence of Turkish forces in Syria around Kurdish populated areas of Aleppo province and shipment of military personnel and equipment to Qatar thus directly challenging Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and other Saudi aligned sheikdoms has flamed the egos of all parties involved leading up to a dangerous game of chicken where either side can easily miscalculate the intentions of the other thus ending up in a devastating war that no one has intended to start in the first place.
Implications for Armenia:
After deescalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in light of chaos taking place in the Middle East the world attention is being drawn to this particular place in the world. Major power blocks seemed to be preparing for a major clash that will redraw the borders of many countries in the region and shift alliances of various parties involved. Subsequently a breakout of another round of major hostilities between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces is dangerously looming on the horizon. Since the last break out of hostilities in 2016 Azerbaijan has replenished its loses with new batches of tanks, armored vehicles, missiles and artillery pieces acquired from Russia, Israel, Pakistan and Turkey. Furthermore, Azerbaijani leadership has filled its military ranks with hundreds of Turkish officers and commando troops serving in the capacity of “military advisers”. Yet as the Four Day War of April 2016 has shown the Turkish “military advisers” constituted the tip of the spear that led the advance of the Azerbaijani war machine against Armenian positions along the Line of Contact.
The same or similar situation is bound to unfold once again as Azerbaijani leadership continues to reject peaceful resolution of the conflict. Large scale military drills taking place along the Line of Contact in Artsakh and Nakhichevan autonomous region was observed to work out the details of a combined Azerbaijani-Turkish military assault against the republics of Armenia and Artsakh. According to various media reports more than twenty thousand troops are taking part in this exercises. A type of “Shock and Owe” military strategy is being tested out to be utilized against the Armenian forces in the war about to come. The impression is that the next round of warfare will entail shelling and tank assaults from Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevani autonomous region towards the Ararat Valley and nearby towns and villages which are less than an hour away from Yerevan, the Armenia’s capitol. Such breakout of hostilities maybe timed to occur within the same time frame that major powers are going clash in the Middle East if not sooner.
The third war scenario discussed in my previous article, In Anticipation of Another War, appears to be making its way to Armenia’s borders. Perhaps only a rapid and very destructive preemptive strike by Armenian forces against significant concentrations of Azerbaijani troops and military equipment along the Kur River will be capable to avert the next round of Azerbaijani military aggression against Republics of Armenia and Artsakh. Starting a small war to prevent a bigger war from unfolding may be necessary to deter Aliyev’s regime from unleashing it. Under such scenario Armenian forces will be required to totally eliminate Azerbaijani means of communication such as radio and satellite communication equipment, strategic strike weapons such as Pakistani made ballistic missiles, military airfields and mobile artillery units within the vicinity of Armenia’s borders with Nakhichevan and those positioned along the Line of Contact in Artsakh. A ground based offensive may not be necessary to meet this objective but a significant blow against Azerbaijani strategic assets will be necessary to prevent Azerbaijan from starting another war in the region.
In most likelihood another major war between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces is not needed to meet any of the strategic objectives for any major powers wrestling over the control of Middle East. A war of this magnitude has a potential to involve major countries surrounding the region such as Russia, Iran and Turkey. Furthermore this type of escalation will jeopardize the deliveries of oil and gas to foreign markets outside of the region not to mention that it will annihilate Azerbaijan’s oil and gas infrastructure. Furthermore, under conditions of major warfare a loss of yet another Azerbaijani town of strategic importance such as Yevlagh will severe Azerbaijan’s road and railroad links with the outside world and stop any cargo traffic across the region.
According to some publicly available strategic estimates, delivering a significant damage to Azerbaijan’s Mingechaur Dam will flood the plains along the Kur River destroying a large number of Azerbaijani military installations, towns and villages thus forcing tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes and move towards Azerbaijan’s heartland. An expected inflow of such a large number of internal refugees will further strain the available public resources causing conflicts with local residents and other ethnic minorities who may not be willing to share their wealth with them. The political insecurity of Aliyev’s regime and constant warmongering exhibited by Azerbaijan’s military echelons of power leave no other option for the Armenian military but to seek effective ways of deterring the coming war and forcing Aliyev’s regime to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the conflict that will not undermine the security of Armenian people in the region.