By Grigor Hakobyan
Turkish invasion of Kurdish dominated northeast and northwest of Syria after rapid withdrawal of American troops has somehow caught many political observers and analysts both in the US and around the world off-guard, yet such a move was long time coming and it was just a matter of time before American troops would start their withdrawal. For many Armenians around the world recent developments in Syria were reminiscent of unexpected Russian troops withdrawal from what is commonly known as “West Armenia” before the end of WW-1 when countless of Armenians became victims of a genocide perpetrated by the government of Turkey against ethnic and religious minorities of the Ottoman Empire. As such, one needs to reflect upon latest events and analyze historical precedents to better understand present and future threats facing the Armenian people and the Armenian statehood in light of multi-fold security implications that arise as a result of sudden but significant political maneuvers on behalf of bigger powers dominating the region. What are those threats and how do they need to be countered as we analyze our present and look into the future?
Deployment of American troops to Syria began in 2014 despite the fact that they didn’t have a UN mandate to be there. The deployment of American troops in Syria was based on executive order of the former American President Barack Obama which didn’t have congressional approval (despite the fact that it was an act of war against Syria and according to the U.S. Constitution only the U.S. Congress has the power to declare war on another country). Furthermore, the American troops were not invited by the Syrian government to fight ISIS or anybody else in their country and as such, their intervention into Syrian civil war was legally dubious and controversial from the start. In fact, American military presence in Syria should have not been perceived as permanent at all. This was a mistaken belief that Kurdish leaders have upheld for many years which led them to the disastrous situation they are facing presently. Soon or later the American troops were going to be pulled out from Syria or parts of Syria which is exactly what happened a few days ago.
Similarly, pull out of Russian troops from “Western Armenia” in the last century left the Armenian community defenseless, all alone in the face genocidal onslaught by the Turkish military which by then had murdered more than half of the Armenian population of the former Ottoman Empire. As everyone knows, the genocide didn’t stop there but continued until 1923. By then more than eighty percent of Armenian population has been massacred one way or another while the few survivors remaining either fled to neighboring Arab countries (among them Syria and Lebanon) or embarked on longer journeys to settle in Russia, Europe, Americas, or newly established Republic of Armenia (1918-1920). Those who were unable to escape or unwilling to leave decided to remain in Turkey by converting to Islam while hiding their Armenian identities for the rest of their lives. Since then, more massacres of Armenians and Greeks along with other ethnic and religious minorities such as Alevites and Zaza took place in Turkey albeit in smaller numbers.
The withdrawal of American troops from border regions of Syria which allowed the invasion of Turkish army intro Kurdish dominated provinces of north-western and north-eastern Syria is very similar to withdrawal of Russian troops from Armenia in 1917-1918 which lead to Turkish invasion and renowned battles of Armenian people against significantly larger Turkish army troops in Sardarabad, Gharakelise and Bash Abaran. The fact that every Armenian realized that they are fighting for their very own existence and nothing short of victory could be contemplated empowered the Armenian people to emerge victorious from those battled and lay the foundation for the future Republic of Armenia in 1991. Similarly, if Kurds feel as strongly about their connection to their lands as Armenians felt to theirs, they will be able to defeat Turkish forces and their proxies also. However, if Kurds do not have the same attachment to those lands as Armenians do to theirs, the Kurdish forces will be defeated within a matter of weeks if not days.
In the meantime, it could be considered that partial withdrawal of American troops from Syria is a foreshadowing event for a total or near total pull out of American troops from Syria and other parts of the Middle East that may happen after the end of presidential elections in the United States if President Trump wins again. Considering the great political pressures that the U.S. President Donald Trump is undergoing presently at home with impeding impeachment trials set to begin in a foreseeable future, he will need every support that he can get from the American people to get re-elected in 2020. As such, partial pull out of American troops from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan short of total withdrawal from the Middle East, which is also not ruled out in due time, will give him enough boost with the American electorate to make his reelection in 2020 possible if not most likely.
Manipulation of small nations and countries by bigger countries for their own political gains when needed and sudden disposal of them when they are no longer needed is not new in geopolitics and shouldn’t come as a surprise to Kurds in Syria and elsewhere. Armenians went through a similar experience with Russian lead Soviet Union that surrendered Armenian territories without a fight to Turkey, despite tens of thousands of lives that were lost, including Russian lives defending them years prior, in what has become known as Treaty of Kars (1921). Similar events have happened before that as well when the U.S. Congress refused to endorse the Treaty of Sevres (1918) that was negotiated by the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and was supported by more than twenty countries from the League of Nations (the forerunner of the U.N.) which would have granted Kurds with a statehood and allowed the Republic of Armenia to consolidate its territories lost in the genocide. France acted in a similar manner towards Armenian people by first promoting and then suddenly withdrawing its support for the creation of the Armenian republic in Cilicia located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
If history is any guidance, the only way that Armenia can secure its future as a nation-state is by relying upon its own abilities and strength. Armenia cannot and should not outsource its security to other states and should not be reliant on other states for maintaining it. It is not excluded that one day, due to major events in Russia or secret agreements that may be reached between Russia and Turkey, Armenians will witness another withdrawal of Russian troops from Armenia, left alone to fend for itself against genocidal Turkey and Azerbaijan. As such, it is paramount for Armenia to develop additional security guarantees with other states such as U.S./NATO, Iran, India and China that have mutual interests in limiting Turkish influence in the region and preventing the rebirth of the Ottoman Empire 2.0 that President Erdogan envisions.
His disregard for marine boundaries of Greece and Cyprus, blatant invasion of Syria, continued oppression of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey (among them Kurds), frantic suppression of political dissent and stifling of democratic discourse in Turkey should be viewed as a constant threat to Armenia’s national security and to the security of every Armenian in the Middle East. Anyone or any country that suggests Armenia to compromise on the issue of Artsakh should be viewed with a great suspicion and any Armenian leader who agrees to comprise should be removed from office and charged for national treason.
Only through multilateral security treaties with multiple regional actors and extra-regional powers both near and afar, in addition to and foremost through collective efforts of Armenia and its world-wide diaspora a degree of security can be achieved to ensure the existence of the Armenian state for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the chosen course of Pashinyan’s government to aid in the development of indigenous Armenian military-industrial complex to the point of achieving self-sufficiency should be encouraged and supported not only by the Armenian diaspora but also by other countries that do not want to see the re-emergence of the Ottoman Empire 2.0 on the borders of Europa and Asia. European and Asian weapons manufacturers should consider opening factories in Armenia or at least consider forming partnerships with Armenian weapons manufacturers to develop modern defense products to address security challenges of the future. In fact, Armenia should consider becoming a nuclear state similar to Israel to effectively deter any aggression by Turkey and as such it should be supported by great powers that want to limit the expansion of Turkish influence in the region.