KARABAKH SETTLEMENT: EXCHANGE OF TERRITORIES VARIANT
Levon Shirinian, Ph.D. (Philos.), senior research associate, Institute of Philosophy and Law, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia (Erevan, Armenia)
The Republic of Nagorny Karabakh (RNK) formed as a result of the national-liberation struggle of the people of Artsakh that had started during the perestroika developed into an international problem and an element of regional shifts as soon as the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In fact, today the issue of its international recognition is deadlocked despite the fact that the Autonomous Region of Nagorny Karabakh of Soviet times changed its status from an autonomous to an independent territory in absolute conformity with Soviet and international laws and according to the nation’s inalienable right to self-defense.
At the early stages the West was looking with sympathy and compassion at the Karabakh movement probably as one of the factors of the Soviet Union’s demise. Later as Russia’s influence in the Southern Caucasus was weakening sympathy gradually cooled and the issue was changed from the right of nations to self-determination (a purely domestic problem) to the territorial integrity problem (that belongs to international law).
Certain experts, Paul Goble among them, and international organizations while totally ignoring the democratically expressed will of the former Soviet autonomy to become the Republic of Nagorny Karabakh (that happened on 2 September, 1991) are seeking a solution rather than a just settlement. Exchange of territories is one of their variants. The Armenian side is invited to exchange (read: cede) the former Megri administrative district of Soviet Armenia (the so-called Megri corridor) for certain territories of the sovereign state of Nagorny Karabakh that have never been part of post-Soviet Azerbaijan. In this way the latter would have acquired through the efforts of international community a strategically important corridor (an inalienable part of sovereign Armenia) in exchange for certain strips of Nagorny Karabakh that do not belong to Azerbaijan anyway.
This will create a precedent without analogies in human history: a country that for decades was engaged in ethnic purges and cultural and historical genocide and that was punished for its own aggression (by this I mean Azerbaijan) is trying to dupe the world community and to subjugate a linguistically, culturally, civilizationally and ethnically different nation (the Armenians of Nagorny Karabakh are monophysites while the Azerbaijanians in the process of ethnic consolidation are mainly Shi‘ites). In this way, Azerbaijan is trying to acquire through diplomatic intrigues everything that it failed to acquire by force and arms. It totally disregards the U.N. Declaration of 1970 that established the right of nation to self-determination and imposed certain responsibilities on all states. “According to the U.N. Charter that registered the principle of equality of all nations and their right to self-determination they all are free to determine their political status without interference from outside and pursue their economic, social, and cultural development course. Each and every state is duty bound to respect this right.”1
This gives rise to another question: Why was the issue that defies any misinterpretations within international law moved to the foggy sphere of geopolitics? The “exchange of territories” option is a geostrategic one and has at least two aspects. One of them is regional: the suggested exchange of territories between two sovereign Armenian states in favor of post-Soviet Azerbaijan endangers both the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Nagorny Karabakh. It will also deprive the Armenian nation of a possibility of its continued existence and cultural originality on the last stretch of its historical homeland, so say nothing about its possible prosperity. In fact, this variant will deprive Armenia of its national security, which explains why the “exchange of territories” brings to minds of all Armenians the memories of the 1915 genocide.
Note. In the west the Republic of Armenia borders on Turkey; in the southeast, on the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (under Azerbaijanian protectorate) that has a common border stretch of about 10 km with Turkey in the west; in the south, on Iran (about 46 km of the border); in the east, Armenia and RNK border on Azerbaijan; in the north, on Georgia. As a result of the Karabakh war the Megri corridor was shifted about 170 km eastward.
Obviously, an annexed Megri corridor will form an uninterrupted land border between Turkey and Azerbaijan and will connect Istanbul and Baku by land. By the same token, Armenia will be separated from Iran, one of the major strategic pillars of its security and continued existence.
If realized this variant will turn Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh into a bottle floating in a Turkic swimming pool with the cork found in the pocket of Georgia torn apart by ethnic conflicts and leaning toward the Turkic world. From this it follows that a strategic catastrophe of Armenia and the Armenians all over the world would be inevitable.
Both republics will lose their strategic importance and will become a geographical backyard of sorts. Over time, Armenians will lose their civilizational identity. Naturally enough, the Armenian side cannot accept the “exchange of territories” option. Neither constant rotation of authorities in Armenia nor any settlement commission can force the variant on the Armenian republic.
There is an international factor as well. Indeed, who will profit from the “exchange of territories”? The obvious answer is Turkey and Turkic Azerbaijan. First, the pan-Turkists will realize their ideal: the Megri corridor and Nakhichevan will create a common territory of Turkey and Azerbaijan. The first step in this direction was made back in the 1920s when Turkey created a strip of about 10 km of common border with the Nakhichevan Protectorate.2 According to Ismail Jam, for example, the issue of the “security corridor” to connect Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan is on the agenda. This step will be probably followed by a community of the Turkic states (patterned on the European community). I do not know whether Goble and Co. are aware of these plans that Germany and Turkey tried to realize during World War I. One should remind, however, of an “innocent” design outlined in 1918 by Khalil Pasha, notorious Turkish military and political figure. Prominent Armenian military and political figure Ruben Ter-Minassian wrote about this design the following: “Victorious Khalil Pasha in principle never ruled out a possibility of extending the territory of Armenia. He believed that the Armenians should cede the Megri uezd of Zangezur so that Turkey would be directly connected with Baku. He was prepared to push the Armenian border to Jivanshir and Varanda at the expense of Azerbaijan. In fact, this would have strengthened pan-Turanism. In addition, he invited Armenia to join a military alliance against the Entente. This would bury all hopes.”3 The leaders of the young republic naturally declined the Turkish offer. General Ludendorff wrote that “when the Russian army had withdrawn from the Southern Caucasus in early 1918 Armenians were still fighting against Turkey and put off the capture of Baku by eight months”4 (italics mine.—L.Sh.).
On 11 August, 1926 Ruben wrote to Artashes Chilingarian: “Political situation in the country offers no encouragement. Armenia is weak and isolated. Today, they are discussing an issue of transferring Megri to Azerbaijan and extending Nakhichevan.”5 From this it follows that neither Goble nor others who want to “exchange territories” moved far from what Turkey had dreamt of.
Tactically the West will win—strategically it will be a loser. Tactically, the West will secure its, or American, present aim in the Southern Caucasus. Iran will be separated from the Southern Caucasus, mainly from Armenia, by a Turkic “sanitary cordon.” It will be deprived of its communication lines with Europe and probably with Russia. This will place the country in a labyrinth of artificially created ethnic conflicts. Russia will sustain huge strategic losses. It will try to explain its move to the south across the Southern Caucasus by the Turkish and Azeri intrigues, which will inevitably raise a wave of anti-Russian sentiments in Georgia.
The West will suffer a strategic defeat as well. “The Anaconda strategy” (the geopolitical conception of Atlanticism designed to detach vast border areas from Eurasia to contain its geopolitical extension) that the United States is currently pursuing will hardly develop into a strategic victory. By encouraging Turkey in its eastward movement Washington is wittingly or unwittingly boosting Ankara’s nationalist sentiments—something, which the West and the U.S. in the first place, fear most. Zbigniew Brzezinski, an apologist of Mackinder’s geostrategic model has rightly written: “…Turkey and Iran are themselves volatile in their geopolitical orientation and are internally potentially vulnerable.” What is more “…the future geopolitical orientation and even the national cohesion of both states remains uncertain.”6 The author supplied this with a geopolitical forecast related to Turkey and outlined three possible variants of future events: “Turkey, a postimperial state still in the process of redefining its identity, is pulled in three directions: the modernists would like to see it become a European state and thus look to the west; the Islamists lean in the direction of the Middle East and a Muslim community and thus look to the south; and the historically minded nationalists see in the Turkic peoples of the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia a new mission for a regionally dominant Turkey and thus look eastward. Each of these perspectives posits a different strategic axis, and the clash between them introduces for the first time since the Kemalist revolution a measure of uncertainty regarding Turkey’s regional role.”7 Brzezinski concluded: “…if Turkey’s Europeanization grinds to a halt, for either internal or external reasons, then Georgia and Armenia will have no choice but to adapt to Russia’s inclinations. Their future will then become a function of Russia’s own evolving relationship with the expanding Europe, for good or ill.”8
The above arguments and Brzezinski’s conclusions undoubtedly reflect the deep-rooted processes in Turkey and around it, yet the passionate desire to follow the Anaconda strategy and to see the Heartland (Mackinder’s term applied to continental Eurasia around which the spatial shift of historical development is taking place; coincided with Russia’s territory) routed do not permit Brzezinski to place correct geostrategic accents within a global strategy as applied to Turkey. He nearly ignores possible negative repercussions of the nationalist trend in Turkey’s geostrategy fraught with a global catastrophe and believes that the immediate task for the nearest and distant future is to stem the Islamic bias in its development. This can be said about other authors too.
Yet it was precisely Brzezinski who clearly formulated this approach: “…America should use its influence in Europe … provided internal Turkish politics do not take a dramatic turn in the Islamist direction.”9 Brzezinski even openly threatens Europe: “A Turkey that feels that it is an outcast from Europe, which it has been seeking to join, will become a more Islamic Turkey…”10 Naturally enough, the Turkish political leaders are skillfully exploiting this “fears” of brzezinskis’ for their own aims and purposes.
There is no doubt that Turkey’s turn in the direction of Islamic geostrategy will create certain problems in the region and will worsen its relations with the West. I am convinced that a turn in the direction of nationalist strategy will create even more problems because Turkey’s contradictions with Russia will probably reach their highest level. Moscow will have to “concentrate” itself and “concentrate” its near abroad. In the process it will trample down the first shoots of South Caucasian independence—something of which the West is apprehensive. One can expect China to “concentrate” as well. It will change its geopolitical priorities. Iran and other countries will have to join the bloc willingly or unwillingly. In this way, the openly demonstrated desire to “appease” the aggressor is fraught with a huge inner potential of outstripping the regional security limits. Brzezinski is quite right when he writes that Georgia and Armenia will have no choice but to adapt to Russia’s inclinations. One asks oneself: Is it the inner logic of Western strategy? What is its ultimate aim?
From this point of view it is interesting to turn to what V. Stupishin has to say. When writing about the future of Russia, Europe, and human values he says, for example: “In the Southern Caucasus, around Karabakh and other ‘hot spots’ that are a result of minor imperial thinking trampling down the national rights of peoples that cannot be assimilated the future of Russia and common human values is decided.” While totally agreeing with this one would like to believe that “Europe is very much interested in forcing the Turks to respect these values, to respect international law, to respect the moral principles of the world community lest the pan-Turkic plague start spreading across the world once more.”11 Let us turn to other Russian authors. Aleksei Arbatov has written: “It is especially important from the geopolitical point of view to preserve the small territorial gap—the so-called Megri corridor on Armenian territory that separates Turkey and the Azeri enclave of Nakhichevan from the rest of Azerbaijan with its direct communication with Central Asia across the Caspian. (This is why an exchange of territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including Nagorny Karabakh, would have not met Russia’s interests.)”12 Viacheslav Nikonov, another Russian expert, recently discovered for himself that under the Russian-Turkish Treaty of 1921 now in force when Armenia was divided between Kemalist Turkey and Bolshevist Russia “Russia is the guarantor of the southern borders of all three South Caucasian states as well as the guarantor of the autonomous status of Adzharia and Nakhichevan in Azerbaijan.”13 We all aware, however, that we are not living beyond the looking glass like Alice.
There is another important circumstance. In his forecasts of Turkey’s future Brzezinski envisaged three possible variants and drew dividing lines between them. Yet he cannot but know that in public life in general and in geopolitical changes in particular no trends can manifest themselves isolated or absolutely unalloyed. From this it follows that radical Islam in Turkey may present itself once more as pan-Turkism and all attempts, including American efforts, to channel Ankara’s attention eastward will strengthen radical Islam in Turkey.
It should be mentioned that not all American strategists agree with Brzezinski. Graham Fuller, for example, says that there are pan-Turkic elements in Turkish geopolitics stretching from the Balkans to western China. He has also pointed out that Turkey is doing its best to knock an alliance of Turkic-speaking states together. One is tempted to ask together with Brzezinski: Is Turkey strong enough to accomplish this?
Turkey does not belong to the West—Europe is fully aware of this. Its cultural identity is absolutely different. Samuel Huntington called it a “torn-state.” “Torn countries are identifiable by two phenomena. Their leaders refer to them as a ‘bridge’ between two cultures, and observers describe them as Janus-faced.”14 Huntington has written that Kemal made his country a “torn-state.” According to Huntington, such countries are dominated by one civilization but their leaders seek to redefine their civilizational identity. At the same time, they are not sure of their cultural identity. Obviously, such countries cannot offer long-term stability, something that Huntington knows and is prepared to accept.
Finally, Brzezinski writes: “…it is not in America’s interest to perpetuate American-Iranian hostility,”15 to the nation which he describes as possessing “…the high degree of national, even imperial, consciousness.”16 He is absolutely correct yet he is indulging in wishful thinking when he writes that Tehran’s pro-Moscow position is tactical and that it is determined, to a certain degree, by the United States’ “pragmatic” policies.
America probably wants, for strategic reasons, Iran to regain its pro-Western positions.17 This should not be done at the expense of confrontation with Moscow—the current geopolitical situation is not conducive to this. Such developments would have allowed the Republic of Armenia to pursue a more consistent policy aimed at strengthening its statehood and be more assured of its national security. This may probably happen in future. This would allow two Armenian states to think less of geostrategy and the dangers of foreign interference and would permit the Armenian nation, a vehicle of Western civilizational elements in the East, to think more about its modest mission. In these circumstances Brzezinski is obviously demonstrating a lack of “Wilson’s idealism.”
In the final analysis, the contradictory situation in the region and around it outlines precisely this variant of future development formed by powerful clashes and mutual neutralization of geopolitical interests. All sorts of “exchange of territories” variants should be cast to the refuse dump of history.
1 E. Jimenez de Arechaga, Sovremennoe mezhdunarodnoe pravo, Transl. from Spanish, Moscow, 1983, p. 160.
2 The present status of Armenian Nakhichevan was determined by a Russian-Turkish Treaty of 16 March 1921 Art 3 of which says: “Both sides (Russia of the Bolsheviks and Turkey of Kemal.—L.Sh.) have agreed that the Nakhichevan Region … forms an autonomous territory under the protectorate of Azerbaijan on condition that Azerbaijan will not cede it to any third state” (see: Dokumenty vneshney politiki SSSR, Vol. IV, Moscow, 1960, pp. 598-599). It should be said that the division and annexation of the “junior partner” of the Entente (that was Armenia) performed by Lenin’s Russia and Kemal’s Turkey was a precursor of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August, 1939 and the first case of practical application of its principles.
3 Ruben, Memoirs of an American Revolutionary, Vol. VII, Tehran, 1982, p. 145 (in Armenian).
4 G. Korganoff, La participation des Armeniens à la guerre mondiale sur le front du Caucase (1914-1918), Paris, 1927.
5 Airenik (Boston), No. 11, 1963, p. 21.
6 Z. Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Basic Books, New York, 1997, pp. 133-134.
7 Ibid., p. 134.
8 Ibid., p. 150.
9 Ibid., p. 204.
10 Ibid., pp. 203-204.
11 V.P. Stupishin, Karabakhskii konflikt. 1992-1994, Moscow, 1998, p. 23.
12 A.G. Arbatov, “Rossia: natsional’naia bezopasnost’ v 90-e gody,” Mirovaia ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia, No. 8-9, 1994, p. 14.
13 Novoe vremia (Erevan), 27 April, 2002.
14 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Touchstone Books, New York, 1998, p. 139.
15 Z. Brzezinski, op. cit., p. 204.
16 Ibid., p. 135.
17 See: Ibidem.