By Grigor Hakobyan
Confrontation between Georgians and Azerbaijanis on the border of both countries over the ownership of Davit Gareja monastery complex have heightened the tensions around Armenia and the region at large. The dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan presents a threat to Armenia’s national security and the security of Armenian people residing in Georgia. As such, it is in Armenia’s interest to offer diplomatic assistance to Georgia in settling their conflict with Azerbaijan to prevent the dispute spinning out of control and leading to deadly consequences for the people in the region.
Azerbaijani firing at the Elpin village of Armenia from Nakhijevan is yet another threat to Armenia’s national security that hasn’t been addressed yet. The latest incident should have reminded Armenia that Nakhijevan presents itself a direct threat to Armenia’s national security unless this threat is dealt with and neutralized as soon as possible. The longer it takes to do so the more dangerous it will become to deal with later on.
Republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan share a 500km border with each other, however since the breakup of the former Soviet Union the governments in Georgia and Azerbaijan haven’t finished delineating their borders with each other. As such, there are multiple flash points between the two where the location of the Davit Gereja monastery is probably the most pronounced border dispute between the two. The monastery itself is of Georgian origin yet Azerbaijani government claims that it belongs to its ancestors, Caucasian Albanians even though such claims are not proven and very tenuous at best.
Historically, Caucasian Albanians were at one time Christian and part of Armenia as one of its provinces called Atrpatakan. The Christian church of Caucasian Albania was at one time part of the Armenian Apostolic Church also not to mention that the alphabet for Caucasian Albanians was invented by Armenian monk St. Mesrop Mashtots who is also credited with inventing Georgian alphabet and recovering ancient Armenian alphabet that existed in Armenia before Christianity.
Now, very few modern Azerbaijanis can trace their ancestry to Caucasian Albanians. Turkic origins of Azerbaijanis are the most pronounced in conjunction with their language and Sunni Islam belief system. Falsification of the region’s history was always part of the Azerbaijani foreign policy meant to achieve certain objectives. The issue of Davit Gereja monastery is one of such examples where historical falsification by Azerbaijan is clearly at hand.
Azerbaijani claims to Artsakh, Syunik (Zangezoor), Nakhijevan and Yerevan are simply a continuation of the same government policy where any means justify the ends being pursued. In this case the end goal of Azerbaijani and Turkish foreign policies is the territorial unification of Azerbaijan and Turkey via Armenia and/or Georgia in what is known as the ideology of Pan-Turkism. Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians were among the first victims of Pan-Turkism as they went through cycles of genocide perpetrated in the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey that followed. As such, Pan-Turkism closely resembles the ideas and policies pursued by the Nazi government leading the world to one of the most horrific events of the 20th Century, the WW-2 and Jewish Holocaust.
Potential Azerbaijani-Georgian conflict presents a threat to the security of Armenia and Armenian people in general in a couple of ways. First, the Armenian populated province of Georgia: Samtske-Javakheti (a.k.a. Javakhk in Armenian) is surrounded by two other provinces known as Ajara and Kvemo-Kartli. Although there are sparse Armenian populations in both of them Ajara is predominately populated by Turks and Muslim Georgians. Furthermore, Ajara borders Turkey and as such, its economy and social make up is significantly influenced by Turkey and Turkish activities in Ajara. Meanwhile Kvemo-Kartli is predominately populated by Azerbaijanis and borders Azerbaijan and Armenia. Its economy and social make up is significantly influenced by Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani activities in Kvemo-Kartli.
In case if political standoff gets out of hand and the sides decide to resort to an armed conflict the Armenian communities in Ajara and Kvemo-Kartli will be put in danger. Furthermore, if Azerbaijan succeeds in annexing Kvemo-Kartli from Georgia then Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan will extend by more than 20km (in some places more or less depending on local topography) thus requiring additional troops and resources to beef up Armenian border posts and defense positions along the new border with Azerbaijan.
In case of simultaneous or parallel break out of hostilities between Georgian and Azerbaijani-Turkish armed forces and populations in both provinces the Armenians of Javakhk (about 100,000 people) will find themselves on the brink of yet another genocide at the hands of Azerbaijani-Turkish troops and militias. Furthermore, the land connection between Armenia and Russia will be severed, too dangerous to be utilized by commercial and/or passenger traffic going in and out of Armenia. As such Armenia will find its third border to be closed thus straining its economic development and jeopardizing the survival of its people.
In case of Georgian failure to defend Javakhk against Azerbaijani-Turkish aggression, the two countries will be able to link and cut off Armenia from the rest of Europe and Russia. In most likelihood, due to changed geopolitical security architecture in the region Russia will find it more beneficial to ally itself with Azerbaijan and Turkey while abandoning its security commitments to Armenia and remaining indifferent to the fate of Georgia. Under such circumstances, without Western pressure and Armenian military intervention to secure Javakhk to prevent the genocide of Armenians and to stop the flow of refugees from Georgia, Armenia will have no other choice but to ally itself with Iran in order to withstand combined Azerbaijani-Turkish pressure on its borders.
Under the scenario of Azerbaijani-Georgian conflict simultaneous breakouts of Armenian-Azerbaijani hostilities in Artsakh and along the border with Nakhijevan are not excluded. In fact, that is what Azerbaijan will try to do because by doing so it will be attacking Armenia from three different directions, North, East and West. To prevent attacks from Nakhijevan it is necessary for the Armenian armed forces to take over all the hilltops in Nakhijevan that overlook Armenian villages and transportation routes such as Yerevan-Goris-Stepanakert strategic highway.
Azerbaijani troops must be denied the opportunity to fire at Armenian villages such as Elpin, Zangagtoon, Areni and others which are directly facing Azerbaijani positions in Nakhijevan. Destroying a military position from where the shots were fired from is not sufficient. In fact, that was the policy of the former government in Armenia which were not exactly effective at preventing such incidents from happening again. The Azerbaijani armed forces must be denied the opportunity to rebuild their destroyed positions while in a number of areas Armenian positions must be pushed forward to take control of commanding heights overlooking Armenian villages and road communications.
It is time for authorities in Armenia to go from words to action on both matters of concern-foreign policy and border security. The foreign policy of Pashinyan’s government appears to be still developing and doesn’t seem to have matured yet. To an outside observer it continues to appear being haphazard and uncertain which indicates lack of professional cadres in the system. Furthermore, there appears to be insufficient support by the West which further complicates the maneuvering of Armenia’s foreign policy and often resembles the one that was pursued before by the former authorities. Meanwhile, Armenia’s security policy continues to be reactive and not proactive as shots continue to be fired from Nakhijevan at Armenian border positions and civilian villages disrupting farming activities and endangering the lives of local inhabitants. Failure to live up to people’s expectations that were associated with the last year’s Velvet Revolution will cost Pashinyan during next elections.