Sunday, 31 May 2020

E Editorial

Russian-Turkish Tensions and Armenia

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Relations between Russia and Turkey are growing more and more strained, and already some are sensing the advent of a prewar situation.  It is difficult to say how realistic such an evaluation might be, but rationality refuses to accept the probability of a large war, taking into account that Russia is a nuclear power, while Turkey is still a NATO member and such a confrontation could have global consequences.

But aside from this pessimistic scenario, the severe decline in the relationship between these countries, which is a fact, cannot but have an impact on our region.  Let us not forget that the South Caucasus in essence is the united belt of influence of the two nations: Azerbaijan is Turkey’s strategic ally, and Armenia is Russia’s.  One must consider that Georgia does not have friendly ties with Russia, whereas Turkey’s influence there is significant.

The current situation permits us to draw parallels with 2016, when the relations between Russia and Turkey were tense and against that backdrop the Four-Day Armenian-Azerbaijani war took place in April.

At this moment in Syria direct conflict between the sides has been registered, and mutual strikes between the “proxies” under their influence have become customary.  Events are developing rapidly, and making predictions is a thankless task, so let us try to observe this from Armenia’s vantage point.  Until then, a quick historical point.

All 12 Russo-Turkish wars share certain common features, which might recur if things continue under the worst-case scenario.  During virtually all the wars, both Russians and Turks have attempted to attack the other from the rear.  The Turks would use the Turkic-speaking peoples of Russia and generally the Muslims, who would foment rebellion in the rear.  That was particularly effective in the Caucasus wars of the 19th Century, even during the Russian-Chechen war when Turkey openly supported the Chechens.  The Russians would do the same, backing Ottoman Turkey’s Christians and moving them against the government.  It is axiomatic that in war one does not discriminate among means.

Important also is the two nations’ “sacral” moment:  the Turks’ historical homeland, Altay, is on Russian territory, while the Russians’ spiritual homeland is Constantinople.  But this already is a factor of the emotive domain, which also can have psychological effect.

As for our reality, can a possible Russian-Turkish war or even a nose-dive in relations circumvent Armenia?  Historical experience and the contemporary geopolitical mosaic suggest the probability of being pulled into such a conflagration.  It is noteworthy that, in the context of the deterioration of Russo-Turkish relations, for the first time in the recent period cross-border gunfire was registered between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The delicate situation in Syria has stood Turkey, Russia, Iran, and other players before a virtually insoluble problem.  In all likelihood, that is a trap from which there is no exit.  And from all
appearances the Greater Middle East has become a comprehensive knot of various frozen and burning conflicts which are firmly intertwined and carry a great potential of having a chain-reactive influence on each other.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies

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