Wednesday, 29 June 2011

[EOB]Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia & World War III

The map of Caucasus
The map given below illustrates an area of territory known as the Nagorno-Karabakh (a Russian-Turkish term meaning “mountainous black garden”), an enclave precariously situated along the border with bitter enemies Armenia and Azerbaijan. The issue is that both sides claim this enclave. Before the break-up of the Soviet Union it was within the borders of Azerbaijan, but after the collapse of the USSR the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh (who make up the majority of the population) won a vote to break away from the Azeri side. Entwined in this also is Iran, which have an interest in this area (particularly in preserving the status-quo), and Georgia which sits directly to its north-west. Complicating matters, this area sits right next to the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea, which both Russia and Turkey would very much like a monopoly over. There are lucrative opportunities to build connecting pipelines, worth potentially trillions of dollars in revenue to the winning side.

When looking at the above map of this area and the complex geopolitical web that surrounds it, we immediately see the dangerous potential of miscalculation. Historically, Armenia has had Russia as its big brother to lend it moral (and full-blown military) support in times of crisis.As for Azerbaijan, they have Turkey, and by extension, NATO. An Armenian MP recently warned that any failure by both sides to reach a final agreement on the territorial issue of Nagorno-Karabakh could result in a Third World War. And his reasoning is logical. Any explosion of violence in this part of the world would draw in other powers such as Iran, Syria, France and Greece, all of whom are tied up in their respective security pacts with Turkey and Russia. Yesterday, the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Kazan, Russia to reach an agreement and avert such a catastrophic scenario. The talks failed, and both sides walked out. With tensions high enough on the Turkish-Syrian border, we can be forgiven for wondering whether Turkey’s decision today to put troops on high alert had something to do with developments further north where Armenia and Azerbaijan stand poised on the brink of conflict.

While the world’s attention is focused on events in Libya, Syria and Greece we may be witnessing the birth of a much more high stakes situation in this little enclave tucked away by the Caspian Sea. The First World War began over irreconcilable differences in a very similar set of circumstances. Two tiny ethnic powder-kegs backed by large world powers in a strategic part of the world. When the war began, existing security pacts came into force and the war spread like wildfire. The Second World War also began over the territorial disputes, but this time between larger powers (Nazi Germany and the British Empire), though the outbreak of actual fighting was due again to the same factor – intricate alliance systems in a volatile part of the world. May this never be the case, but a conflagration involving Turkey and Russia over this disputed territory could evolve into a Third World War, quickly spreading across the region and the broader world, thanks to existing security pacts. But that’s the worst-case scenario. For now,both sides should take a moment of pause and remember just how the last two world wars started and ended.

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