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      Flexing Azeri Muscles across the Border

Flexing Azeri Muscles across the Border   25/05/2004

Editorial

Flexing Azeri Muscles across the Border

Although the opposition rallies lost steam in Armenia, Armenians cannot let their guard down yet because fomenting discontent and forcing the opposition into the streets was not a spontaneous act; rather it was part of an overall plan, or plot, if you will, to destabilize Armenia and to bring about a regime change to have Armenia conform to a scenario being laid down thousands of miles away.

Saakashvilli's "rose revolution" in Georgia drove Turkish and U.S. influence closer to the Russian border, without solving any problem for the Georgian people. Saakashvilli's accession to power marks the beginning of the end of the Russian influence in the Caucasus. To complete that process, there was an attempt to bring those roses to Armenia, the last bastion of the Russian influence in the region. Armenia remains the last hurdle in the region halting Turkish expansion towards Central Asia. And despite Turkey's abominable record on human rights, the Bush administration seems to be committed to the idea of using Turkey as a proxy to curb Russian influence in the region.

Therefore, a two-prong policy was designed by Washington "neocons" to pressure Armenia externally and to provoke the opposition internally. Otherwise, why would the opposition go to the streets when it has access to address its grievances through constitutional means, through the parliament?

The external pressure was exerted through Turkey, by continuing its economic blockade and by Azerbaijan, flexing its muscles from across the border, encouraged by the military aid supplied by the U.S. Administration.

The opposition did not, and could not, go too far, because unlike Shevardnadze's regime, Kocharian has a stronger grip to power, and second, because the opposition lacked a coherent platform and program to meet the needs of the impoverished masses. Replacing Kocharian was not the answer to the woes of the people. The economic improvement can only come to Armenia as the entire region stabilizes and normal trade relation develops between the neighbors.

Although Kocharian's government narrowed its power base because of tainted elections, people in Armenia were not convinced that any opposition leader replacing the President could improve their plight.

The plan is to destabilize Armenia with the hope of curtailing Russian influence in the Caucasus. One only needs to read the Wall Street Journal to see what is coming.

The Wall Street Journal seems to have become the mouthpiece of the "neocons" running the Pentagon and the White House. Indeed, all the arguments to invade Iraq, to marginalize the UN, to project the arrogance of power over any morality and international law was thoroughly debated in the Journal's pages before the war. And sure enough, all the goals, methods and launching of the war later on proceeded exactly the way they were expressed in the Journal.

Therefore, when the Journal takes out time from the occupation and destruction of Iraq to focus on Armenia, we truly need to worry.

The Journal published a little noticed article in its April 14, 2004 issue signed by one David L. Phillips. That article was a miniature Iraq plan for Armenia. Mr. Phillips was identified as "a senior fellow and deputy director of Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations". The Journal failed to mention that Mr. Phillips had also served as the chairman of TARC. The U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Mr. Ordway, immediately dismissed Mr. Phillips' ideas as his own, since he does not have a position in the government.

A few years ago Paul Goble was also dismissed as an individual with no State Department ties, when he released his trial balloon, by advocating land swap between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And that idea eventually came to the negotiating table in Key West, during the Kocharian-Aliyev meeting. The U.S. and Turkey need the land corridor over Armenia more than Azerbaijan needs it.

Mr. Phillips has come up with a plan to salvage Armenia by a poison pill. Indeed, the article is full of venom with utter disregard towards Armenia's interest and its future. Mr. Phillips' ideas also reveal the full intention of TARC.

The writer declares his intention right in the opening line of his article, as he states: "Inspired by Georgia's 'Rose Revolution', Armenians are also demanding regime change." He also charts the course for the opposition in the following line: "To avoid a bloody conflict, an internationally supervised referendum should be held to determine whether a majority want to recall President Robert Kocharian."

Mr. Phillips has also fully subscribed to the Azeri position by defining Nagorno-Karabagh as a "disputed Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan".

It becomes quite obvious from this article that the disturbances are mainly provoked by outside forces so that "Washington can help broker a solution to Armenia's political impasse by encouraging an agreement between the government and the opposition to hold a referendum within three months", as stated by Mr. Phillips. His cure-all panacea for Armenia is to sever its ties with Russia and rely on the tender mercies of its murderer, Turkey, as he concludes his article by the following remarks: "Progress in Armenia's democratic development could help revitalize peace talks on Nagorno-Karabagh, cause Ankara to open Kars-Gumri border gate, and reduce the influence of Russia and Iran in the South Caucasus. Moreover, it would enable the Armenian people to finally look forward and begin to build a brighter future".

Indeed, a "bright future" under Turkish hegemony!

There is an indirect tacit confession in this last statement; contrary to the administration's assurances that it has been trying to convince Turkey to lift the blockade, Ankara's intransigence is encouraged by Washington and it has become a hostage to the policy of dislodging Russia from the region. Lifting the blockade is beneficial to both parties, but the issue has become a part of superpower rivalry in the region.

Tilting the military parity in favor of Azerbaijan has also come to complicate the problem. The Bush administration has been arming Azerbaijan unilaterally. That is why Ilham Aliyev has been sounding more and more bellicose in recent months.

Kocharian's negotiations with Heydar Aliyev had moved the Karabagh issue almost to a breakthrough. His son, Ilham, refuses to subscribe to his father's commitment and wants to start negotiations all over again, because he feels he can renegotiate the issue from a position of strength. On the other hand, he has been flexing his military muscles to intimidate Armenia into a weaker bargaining position.

He recently attended the opening ceremony of a military garrison close to Armenia's border, and he announced, "The Azeri people and its army can at any moment take steps to restore the territorial integrity of the country".

In the face of these internal and external threats Armenia needs stability to chart its own course, away from international intrigues.

Unfortunately, Kocharian and his administration have been abusing their power, as it was demonstrated during recent events; that will have to be dealt with in due course. Once internal stability is assured, the first priority is to tend to the needs of the people and then keep the army strong against any provocation.

For a long time Armenia relied on Russia's cooperation for its security, but in view of Russia's weakness and readiness to withdraw at the first sight of any pressure, Armenia needs to develop alternative relations. That is why cooperation with NATO is a step in the right direction. Any country of Armenia's size will eventually seek those relations even if it has some reluctance to do so.

Therefore, military strength, economic development, and democratic changes need to be the priority items on the agenda.

As Armenia musters strength to withstand Turkish and Azeri threats, the Diaspora must complement that policy by intensifying its political activities throughout the world, and especially in the West, to counterbalance the pro-Azeri tilt manifested in the recent U.S. policy.

A very tough act to perform but there is no alternative for Armenia to survive.

May 25, 2004


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