10 April 2016

Transcaucasia: Alliances and Arms Sales by Proxy

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has flared once again and is making the news. The conflict which erupted as the Soviet Union collapsed has never been fully resolved. The breakaway Armenian enclave lives in a state of siege and there continues to be dangerous border areas inhabited by snipers etc...

Interestingly, in terms of alliances, 'Christian' Armenia has been allied with Post-Soviet Russia while the Azeris find a natural ally in the Turks. Turkey has supported Azerbaijan and with the fall of the USSR, Baku was quickly brought into the American orbit. Oil riches played no small part in the US desire to woo Azerbaijan. But perhaps even more than the oil, it is Azerbaijan's location that continues to be desirable.

And yet it gets even more complicated.

The Azeri homeland is split between the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan centered on the city of Tabriz. There's a large Azeri (Turkic speaking) population in Northwest Iran. The border is artificial a result of early Cold War schemes and averted conflict.

While we don't hear about Kurds or internal troubles within Iran, there is also a substantial Kurdish population along the northwestern border with Iraq. Tehran is careful to make sure it doesn't unnecessarily antagonise its western minorities, the Kurds and Azeris. Azerbaijan is mostly Shiite which means they look (in part) toward Tehran for spiritual leadership. But, they're a mostly secular nation that finds its identity in its Turkishness.

The Azeris are caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between two of the culturally dominant strains of Islam.

And indeed there has been something of a cultural tug-of-war, the funding of schools, mosques and other interest as both sides vie for influence.

And yet it would seem the Turkish-US side has mostly won the day. Azerbaijan and Iran now eye each other with suspicion. The Armenians who hate the Turks because of their history with them and in particular the WWI-era genocide, ally with Turkey's old enemies, Russia and Iran. I know that's a little troubling to American Christians who want to champion the ethnic Christian groups of the Middle East. The same is true with regard to Syria and the Christian support for the Assad regime. The Armenians and Syriac Christians who live in Syria universally support Assad. Iran also has a substantial Armenian population and the Armenians get on rather well with Tehran, even after the 1979 Revolution. Many Armenians served in the Iranian forces during the Iraq-Iran War.

The United States won't officially acknowledge the genocide. It's a very touchy subject for the Turks. Though they have dominated Anatolia for about one thousand years they are the newcomers and if the genocide is acknowledged there are valid claims with regard to land and reparations. The whole of Eastern Turkey is rightly claimed by the Armenians, Kurds and Assyrians. The Greeks of course would lay claim to the whole of Turkey's Black Sea and Aegean coastlines which they inhabited for nigh on three-thousand years before their expulsion a century ago.

The US desperately wants Turkey within its orbit. It position is critical to control of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and as a means to contain Russia. The US was eager to bring Turkey into NATO and did so early on in 1952.

This means Armenia is the big loser. The Armenians sit in their tiny Transcaucasian republic gazing at Mt. Ararat and their vast ancient homeland which lies beyond. And in that homeland their archaeological heritage is being slowly dismantled and erased from history. And yet the Armenians are sometimes compared to the Jews. They have a large exile community spread around the world and like the Jews they tend to be successful, very energetic achievers and have a penchant for business. In other words they have a lot of money and wield a type of influence in many places. The Armenian lobby in the United States continues to put pressure on Washington and of course America has to maintain its narrative about freedom and being the champion of all that is right in the world.

This came to a head in the 1990s as the Azeris were becoming American allies. The Nagorno-Karabakh War was raging and there was a lot of pressure on Washington to back off supporting Azerbaijan and instead support peace.

Officially the United States only sells military hardware to Azerbaijan that's related to Caspian security. This is basically a move against Iran and a means to lay claim to transit routes for oil and gas.

But the Azeris continue to build their military. Who is fulfilling the role the United States decided to pass on?

It's very simple. Israel sells arms to Azerbaijan and on a large scale.

Of course the Israelis get many of their arms from the United States. It's rather convenient. The US gets to accomplish its goals, make money, wield influence and yet can maintain a degree of plausible deniability. Israel is one of several countries that serve as an American proxy.

What is particularly scandalous is that many in the Middle East know about these arrangements and these deals that Israel is involved in. Everyone knows the United States has a hand in the arrangement and this furthers the anger... the very rage that so few Americans can understand. They're not aware of what their government is doing.

The American media will not report on these types of issues. If the US media was truly 'liberal' then certainly it would aggressively pursue these stories to expose Washington's militarism and imperialism. Only the alternative media dares to dive into these stories. And yet even on this point the true American Left has been largely subverted by domestic concerns and has fallen into 'identity' politics, leaving much of the US Left ignorant and uninterested in international issues. In addition both Left and Right-wing versions of the alternative media are divided on the question of Israel which further complicates reporting on these issues.

Muslim nations are subverted and do business with the Israeli state, the very people who oppress Muslims. These Muslim nations are corrupted by Western and Zionist enticements... at least that's how it is perceived. Meanwhile the people in nations like Azerbaijan live under quasi-dictatorship, rights are suppressed and they see a ruling class literally raking in the money.

Of course Israel has reached out to Azerbaijan for other reasons as well. They have expanded trade, are purchasing oil, and secretly Azerbaijan has become a staging ground for spying on Iran and for possible air strikes. Azerbaijan has become a place of intrigue. There are spies and stories of assassination squads. And of course it is a major hub in the drug trade flowing out of Asia into Russia and the rest of Europe.

The US is happy to have it so because it serves their interests but it hardly fits the narrative of the nation that stands for peace, stability and virtue.

It is possible that the Israel-Azerbaijan relationship has flourished outside the officially endorsed circle of the State Department. The American Deep State, the Praetorians will sometimes work to foster these types of arrangements and then work to keep a lot of what they're doing secret from official circles. The fact that characters like General Secord as early as 1991 were haunting Baku representing an oil company and recruiting and training mercenaries indicates elements in the US government were very keen to pull Azerbaijan into the US orbit and almost immediately as the USSR collapsed. For those who don't recall Secord was involved in the CIA secret war in Laos and worked with Oliver North on the scheme that became the Iran-Contra Scandal.

This ties in with a larger story of American backed Jihadis in both the Nagorno-Karabakh War and the ongoing insurgency in Chechnya. Though the American public is unaware of this story you can be sure Putin knows it all too well.

Until recently the relationship with Turkey under Erdogan was on shaky ground. It's been somewhat remedied by recent deals with both the United States and EU but Erdogan knows all too well the tide could shift once more. At one point a few years ago the Turkish-Israel relationship was severely damaged. The fact that the US and the Israelis were cultivating such close ties with Azerbaijan was also viewed as a hostile move against Turkey, subverting and curtailing its regional influence. The US continues to support Turkish elements that seek Erdogan's removal. He's viewed as a traitor to the Kemalist ideals that formed the modern state of Turkey in 1923.

It would be a mistake to assume all is well now, but the degeneration of Turco-Russian relations, the EU's massive cash deal for Turkey with regard to the refugees, a patch-up with Tel Aviv, and US moves in Turkish favour with regard to Syria and the Kurds have at least calmed things down and apparently given Erdogan some (albeit limited) peace of mind. A Syria partition and the emergence of a Kurdistan will lead to an unleashing of war, but at present that has been averted. The Kurds will likely be disappointed once more, used and thrown away by the United States. The Iraqi Kurds have the best shot at autonomy. As Iraq splinters, they continue to become a de facto independent state.

That said, there are things afoot in the region that I'm sure are making everyone lose sleep. Much more could be said, but it's interesting that this little 'flare-up' in Transcaucasia cannot be divorced from the wider circle of issue affecting the region that stretches from the Bosphorus to the Brahmaputra.


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