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The Fire beneath Karabakh's Fault Lines

By Ali Valigholizadeh, Expert on International and Geopolitical Issues (Source: Iran Review)

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a recent visit to South Caucasus at a time that this geo-strategic area is moving toward more instability. The reason for the instability is rekindling of war along the fault lines of Karabakh as well as the impact of Washington's multifaceted policies on the general atmosphere and political arrangements in this region, and traditional rivalry between the United States and Russia. What recently happened along the common border between the Azerbaijani Republic and Armenia has already drawn the attention of the international community. The new developments have raised a new question in the minds of political analysts: is it possible for these neighboring countries to engage in a new war? It is quite hard to answer this question. At present, neither country is really ready for a new war: Armenia is not willing to engage in such a war due to its economic woes while Azerbaijan is also reluctant to launch a determining war in Karabakh because of unsuitable social conditions in the country. However, geopolitical psychology tells us that two decades after the outset of Karabakh crisis and following the long deadlock in peace talks, the people of Azerbaijan and its public opinion are suffering from some kind of historical and identical humiliation. This feeling has got so deep that the people of Azerbaijan consider recourse to war as the sole way of restoring its historical as well as identity - territorial dignity.

Given the above conditions and in view of new tremors along conflict fault lines in this region concurrent with Clinton's visit, this article aims to explain the situation in these countries.

Nagorno Karabakh (View Larger Map)

In reality, the issue of Karabakh has turned into a geopolitical dark hole which is devouring different, and even sometimes totally contradictory, national and strategic interests of major players in the crisis. As a result, the crisis may give birth to a volcanic eruption sooner or later which will sow instability and insecurity through the entire region. In the meantime, the United States is among key players in Karabakh crisis which has entered the mediation process in order to find a peaceful solution to crisis in Karabakh with its own definition of strategic interests in mind. The raison d'etre of this measure by the United States is that Washington is quite willing to establish its permanent influence on South Caucasus in competition with Russia and even Europe. The reason for this tendency should be sought in two large-scale policies of the United States. The first policy is to gain influence in key areas of the world (including Karabakh which, due to its geopolitical situation is a hotbed for geostrategic rivalries) in order to protect the national interests of the United States. The second policy pertains to finding secure sources of energy. It is for this reason that Washington has, so far, avoided transparency in its approach to Karabakh crisis.

Washington has established many different trade and cultural companies in Azerbaijan and while expanding all-out relations with the Caucasian republic, has been trying to gain Baku's trust under the pretext of helping it to reclaim the occupied territories of Karabakh. At the same time, Washington is trying to improve trade and political relations with Azerbaijan in order to make the country a secure base in the face of Russia and Iran within the strategic domain of South Caucasus. Out of newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has shown the highest willingness to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Baku considers Russia as the root cause of the crisis in Karabakh and is also at serious loggerheads with Iran over ideological and nationalistic issues. The United States, on the other hand, has been sending hefty financial aid to the self-proclaimed republic in Karabakh, while concurrently supporting the Armenian diaspora. As a result, it has entered too many factors into the South Caucasus equation in order to keep the Karabakh crisis going and provide more grounds for the realization of its own strategic interests in the best possible manner. According to the available information, about half of the Armenian government's budget comes from Washington's gratuitous aid and financial assistance of the Armenian diaspora in the United States. In fact, since Russia is actually at the helm in Armenia, Washington is trying to control, at least, one side of the Armenian government through vast financial and political support. Therefore, it has emerged as staunch supporter of Armenians in recent years.

As a result of the above facts, Washington supports Armenia, one the one hand, while announcing that Karabakh is part and parcel of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Such a contradictory approach has caused both sides of the conflict to question Washington's goodwill. Therefore, recent border clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia can be considered a warning alarm because: 1) Azeri and even Armenian peoples who have been living for long years under unsuitable social conditions and economic poverty are losing patience about cynical interventions of profiteering mediators who pretend to be attempting to find a solution to Karabakh crisis; and 2) If the current trend for solving the problem in Karabakh continues, Washington should say goodbye to South Caucasus because after two decades that have passed since the onset of Karabakh crisis, the only thing, in terms of geopolitical psychology, which is lingering in the mind of regional people, especially Azeri people, is the historical - identity humiliation they have suffered as a result of that crisis.

In the meantime, Baku claims that the main goal of Azerbaijan in bolstering strategic ties with Washington and even Israel is to boost its diplomatic prowess and bargaining powers in order to bring Karabakh crisis to a peaceful resolution. Baku is doing so because Russia has lent its full support to Armenia and Yerevan has been able to bank on the Russian military presence on its soil and strong support for Armenia to withstand increasing national might of Azerbaijan and make up for its geopolitical weakness in its hostile rivalry with Baku. Interestingly, Russia's support for Armenia takes place under conditions that Western countries have raised no objection to Moscow's backing for Yerevan. Despite their populist claims about advocating a fair approach to resolution of Karabakh crisis, they have conferred their full political support to Armenia.

On the other hand, Russians are quite possible to get engaged in a contingent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Russians, especially after reelection of President Vladimir Putin, are by no means willing to see increased influence of the United States in their backyard. Therefore, the simultaneity of conflicts in Karabakh and Clinton's presence in the region has been even considered as a blow to Washington's prestige in the face of Moscow because the conflict can be considered a direct result of Washington's weak diplomacy in Karabakh crisis which stands in sharp contrast to Moscow's diplomatic finesse. Meanwhile, during the past few years, the Russian statesmen have been able to host tripartite meetings which have been also attended by Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders under a relatively calm and friendly atmosphere. Although those meetings have born no fruit, their continuation can gradually undermine the existing taboo in the public opinion of both countries by proving that reestablishment of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia is by no means impossible.

Moreover, although many experts believe that Russia will never agree to another war in Karabakh, it goes without saying that instability in south Caucasus by rekindling old conflicts in Karabakh or Ossetia, in addition to threatening the security of energy transfer lines in Azerbaijan can easily highlight role of Russians and their geoeconomic positions in supplying energy resources to Europe.

... Payvand News - 07/04/12 ... --

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