Tracking ID UA-126977798-1
Turkey and Iran continue in their historically based power play in the Caucasus and the Levant. They are squeezing territory from Armenia via their proxy war by the Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh and the presence of Azeri jihadists in neighboring Syria. "Nagorno-Karabakh - Armenian defence ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Azerbaijani shelling hit within Armenian territory near the town of Vardenis. (Armenian) authorities reported that shelling hit the region’s capital of Stepanakert and the towns of Martakert and Martuni."
Posing as referees to these conflicts are the Russian Federation and the United States, both of whom have significant numbers of Armenians within their own borders.
At different times both France and Albania in conjunction with the United States and Russia, have participated in possible peace negotiations while weapon sales to and from both countries continued even during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk protocols to mediate cease fire agreements in 1997-1998 and in September 2020. President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Wednesday, September 28, that there was evidence that a proxy force of Syrian fighters had been deployed from southern Turkey to Azerbaijan. A Syrian fighter confirmed the presence of those forces, which Azerbaijan and Turkey have denied.
Moreover Armenia recalled its ambassador to Israel this week after Azerbaijan acknowledged using Israeli-made weapons to fight Armenian forces around Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan maintained trade relations with Israel since its independence in 1991. Azerbaijan provides Israeli intelligence with information on Iran, making it difficult for Tel Aviv to abandon such an ally. Tel Aviv and Baku seemingly share the same goal: to control Iranian Islamist propaganda and aggression.
Most people do not know that Armenia is one of the oldest countries on Earth and used to be known as "The Kingdom of Armenia" long before the Roman and Persian empires evolved. The Armenian language-Hayeren- is one of the oldest living languages on our planet and Yerevan, the capital city of Hayastan or Armenia, situated on the Hrazdan river; was established in 3200 B.C. Yerevan has been continuously inhabited since that time.
There is a significant religious and ethnic element to these current conflicts. The Armenians and the Persians were both practicing Zoroastrians before the rise of Christianity and the emergence of Islam. Armenia was the first nation to declare itself a Christian country in 300 AD. Russia, as an Orthodox Christian country, aligned with Armenia while concurrently expanding its economic and diplomatic relationship with Iran.
During the Safavid dynasty period (1501-1722) Persia (now Iran) and Azerbaijan converted to the “Twelver Shi’ite” branch of Islam. Iran and Azerbaijan share adherence to this Shi’ite sect although Iran has a declared state religion while Azerbaijan has not declared a state religion since their domination by the Soviet Union.
Turkey is also a Muslim majority country. The Turkish government claims 99.8% identify as Muslim and of these about 75% belong to the Hanafi and Maturidi Sunni branch of Islam, 6.5% belong to the Shafi’I and Ash’ari Sunni schools of Islam while Alevis, Ja’faris and Alawites belong to the Shia sect of Islam according to religious polls published in 2018.
Prior to the Syrian civil war, jihadist groups in Azerbaijan were primarily connected to the insurgency in the North Caucasus. A group called Tovba (“Repentance”) attempted to emphasize the religious factor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during the 1988 protests in Baku. However, there was a crackdown on Salafi and other political Islamic groups after the 2008 Abu Bakr mosque bombing in Azerbaijan. This resulted in the departure of many jihadists from the area. These terrorists became the vanguard of Azerbaijani groups in Syria, initially holding high-level positions in foreign fighter ISIS/Daesh violent extremist networks.
The siege of Aleppo, Syria by Daesh/ISIS targeted and viciously attacked Christians living in those areas, the majority of whom were ethnic Armenians.
The political Islamic factions in Azerbaijan and Syria, were supported by both Iran and Turkey. Turkey having a long history of aggression against Armenia including carving up Armenian territories as well as their genocidal actions against the Armenians in the early 20th century.
In addition, Turkey has significant trade agreements with Azerbaijan including the recently signed $7 billion-dollar natural gas pipeline project which will transport Azeri natural gas across Turkey to Europe. President Erdogan of Turkey has continued to disregard sanctions by the United States against Iran and purchase their gas and oil, albeit at a reduced percentage.
As of the first week of October 2020, President Erdogan stated, “Turkey continues to stand with friendly and brotherly Azerbaijan with all its facilities and heart.” The Azeris share a common Turkic language base and Turkish “nationalism” in northern Iran where a large Azeri Turkish population resides in Tabriz. This concerns Iran since the idea of a “Greater Azerbaijan” is supported by the current President of Azerbaijan, llham Aliyvev.
Russia continues to have a military presence and a military base in Armenia, however while Russia supplies arms to Armenia it also sells weapons to Azerbaijan.
Moscow just announced its readiness to sell S-400 surface to air missile system to Iran after the United Nations arms embargo expires.
The United States provides millions of dollars in various aid packages to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan grants over-flight rights and approved numerous landings and refueling operations at Baku’s civilian airport in support of U.S. and coalition military operations in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan is a major land, air, and sea conduit of the Northern Distribution Network for supplies entering and leaving Afghanistan to support U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stabilization operations. Azerbaijan has contributed troops for the ISAF since 2003. From 2003 to 2008, about 150 Azerbaijani troops participated in the coalition stabilization force for Iraq.
Armenia established diplomatic and trade relations with the United States in 1992. Modest aid is supplied through programs run by USAID, the US State Department and numerous Armenian/American NGOs and church sponsored organizations. I was fortunate enough to be part of US Department of State funded humanitarian programs in both Armenia and Turkey, as well as Russia in the years 2008-2012, so I know first hand of these projects and programs. Similar programs exist in Azerbaijan and Georgia. (photos from work in Armenia 2008-2010 below-captions on hover)
Armenia and Iran have continued trade and according to recent reports, “Iran’s traditional Armenia policy has long been a balancing act against both Azerbaijan and Turkey across southern Caucasia. As a result, behind-the-scenes, Iran backs Armenia.”
Armenia has maintained positive diplomatic, economic and security relationships with Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
However, Armenia and Turkey are hostile neighbors. They have not formally established diplomatic nor economic relationships. They dispute the borders and do not recognize the brief normalization protocols of 2008-2009. The protocols were formally annulled in March 2018.
Turkey under President Erdogan openly supports Azerbaijan and its attacks against Armenia in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. “Mr. Erdogan’s growing assertiveness has come partly in response to changing global dynamics, particularly the shrinking American role in the region, deep divisions within the European Union and the devastating civil war in Syria, just across Turkey’s southern border. He has at his disposal, a powerful military that Turkey has been upgrading for decades.” Turkey is defying Russia and agreements made for a ceasefire and supplying Azeri's with more weapons, personnel, training and tactics. asiatimes.com/2020/10/erdogan-defiance-of-putin-bodes-a-bloody-october/
Turkey has built up its military through its alliance with NATO and procuring weapons from the United States, France, the UK, Canada and Spain. Turkey is also the world’s 14th largest weapons exporter as of 2018, with a robust, developed domestic arms producing industry.
Armenia will be hard pressed from all sides to cede to Azerbaijan in the upcoming negotiations. Whatever "agreement" is decided has consequences for the entire region and ripples to the whole world.
Our earnest prayers are needed on so many fronts these days. I will include a beautiful, plaintive musical piece by the most famous Armenian duduk player-Djivan Gasparyan. I had the pleasure of attending his 80th birthday celebration in Yerevan back in 2008. He is still living in Solak, Armenia and will be 92 next week on October 12, 2020.
People may know his work from soundtracks such as for the film "Gladiator" but he has done many more in different parts of the world. Here are a few more you can search online and listen to...for hours:
His grandson, Jivan Jr. continues the family musical legacy and is sitting and playing duduk by his side.
The Armenians, for a relatively small population, have contributed so much to the world in all the performing and visual arts as well as theology, literature, architecture, chess, sports and fashion over thousands of years. May they continue to be valued, protected and encouraged to thrive.
On a most personal note this week, whenever I hear or think about Armenia/Hayastan, I always associate it with my son Denali, who visited me there in 2008, and who met the artist/sculptor Arman Hambardzumyan while he was studying in Yerevan. Coincidentally they were both was born in the same year, 1988. Both Arman and Vrej Kassouny positively influenced Denali and emboldened him to keep pursuing his goal of becoming an accomplished painter and artist. It was after Denali's visit that he decided to apply to the "best" universities in the USA which had art departments as their focus, and from which he graduated at the top of his class from California College of the Arts, in painting and design in May 2013. Arman kept in contact with Denali via social media and by email until Denali's death in July 2013.
I had dreams of Armenia, wood sculptures and duduk music over the past week and my heart goes out to all Armenians, but especially those who I know - young doctors in Nagorno-Karabkh.
Barev zez and shenoraghalazion to my Hay friends...
From the chilly, windy and misty tundra of remote Alaska-take care-wherever you may be in the world,