At the Crossroads of Strategic Pipeline Corridors - July, 2011

The quicker Armenians comprehend the true nature and character of international relations, the quicker will Armenia develop in an unforgiving world run by cutthroat geopolitics. While for us Armenians issues regarding Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) may be a matter of righting the wrongs of history, or a matter of self-determination, the rest of the world sees it simply as a matter of energy politics! Thus, matters concerning liberated Artsakh is better understood when looked at in the context of superpower politics and the control of energy production and distribution.

It is widely recognized that Central Asia is home to one of the world's largest reserves of energy. The Western inspired Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is one of the few sources of Central Asian energy that is not under Moscow's direct control or indirect influence. Moreover, Moscow's military presence in Armenia and the historic war that took place between Russia and Georgia in the summer of 2008 has put Moscow in the much enviable position to control the south Caucasus; thus threatening all sorts of Western projects in the region.

Although the Western alliance is desperately trying to preserve its presence in the Caucasus, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Moscow today is ultimately the judge, jury and executioner in the region. More and more nations are beginning to accept this hard reality. And this fact raises the following question: will the West give in to the region's strong Russian presence or will it attempt to intensify its efforts to foment unrest in the region? The ultimate intention for power-brokers in the West of course is to break Moscow's control; their ultimate prize being the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Caucasus.

As I had mentioned in my previous commentaries, in these times of widespread political turmoil, economic uncertainty and dwindling energy resources, various political/economic interests are preparing themselves for a major global confrontation. Strategically placed nations such as Armenia will most probably find themselves on the front-lines of this inevitable war. While there are many variables and factors that will determine the final outcome of the upcoming global bloodletting, those that find themselves in a position to control energy production and distribution will ultimately come out of the crisis as the winner.

When it comes to energy politics, one thing is certain: the Anglo-American-Zionist global empire will not give in to an energy rich Moscow - simply because doing so will ultimately subjugate them economically and make them vulnerable to Moscow's political machinations. How can the West's political/financial elite, who for centuries were the masters of exploitation allow themselves to become the exploited?

Simply put, the West will not allow itself to dance to music emanating from Moscow.

Similar to how its British and French predecessors found convenient opportunities to ally themselves with the dreaded Ottoman Empire in the 19th century simply to weaken Czarist Russia, the current global order will even ally itself with the devil to undermine a resurgent Russian Federation. For hundreds of years, major powers have had their eyes set on the vast territories controlled by Russia. Russia was the enemy when the Czars reigned, Russia was the enemy when communists reigned, Russia continues to be the enemy today. And, as long as it remains politically independent and ambitious, Russia will continue being the enemy in the future. As we see, the more things change the more they remain the same.

Within the high-stakes geopolitical chess game currently being played in the Caucasus, the Armenian factor in this international tournament will play prominently. If Armenia is an obstacle to Western energy interests in the Caucasus, for Russia, Armenia is a pivotal strategic player; a regional fortress against Western, Turkic and Islamic interests. As a result, we can all expect Moscow to fully back Armenia, politically, economically and militarily.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, a strong convergence of interests was developed between Moscow and Yerevan. Under Serj Sargsyan's competent rule, Armenian-Russian alliances has more-or-less been institutionalized. While Russia and Armenia enjoy strategic relations today (and will do so for the foreseeable future or as long as an Islamic, Turkic or Western threat remains in the Caucasus region), the Kremlin's primary job is of course to look after its interests. Thus, Russia's good will towards Armenia may be considered temporary or limited when considered in the long-term. For the foreseeable future, however, there is clearly a great window of opportunity for Armenia. Official Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora need to have the foresight to fully exploit its current relations with Moscow for the long-term benefit of the Armenian state.

It must be pointed out here that this exploitation cannot happen through Russophobia or through suicidal flirtations with the West; it can only happen through Armenia's deeper integration in the political and financial infrastructures of the Kremlin. So, in a certain sense, it's high time for Armenians to stop admiring Jews and begin acting like Jews.

For Armenians, issues regarding Artsakh is simply a matter of justice and nationalism. For Russian policy makers, a pro-Russian enclave in the Caucasus such as Artsakh is a geostrategic barrier against Western encroachment in the region. For Russian policy makers, Artsakh keeps oil-rich and Islamic Azerbaijan in a tight vice, in effect making Baku more-or-less a hostage to Moscow. It must also be pointed out that via the unresolved conflict in Artsakh, Russian officials are able to force Yerevan's dependence on Moscow. For reasons stated above, it's obvious that Moscow does not wish to see a real resolution to the conflict in question. It is obvious that matters concerning Artsakh are taken very seriously by Kremlin officials. The 1999 parliamentary killings in Armenia, in which several prominent Armenian politicians were assassinated, may have been directly connected to an ill-fated and foolish attempt at solving the dispute independent of Moscow.

Nevertheless, it must also be said that the prevailing status quo in the region, however troubling in the short term, is fully in Armenia's favor in the long term.

The longer the so-called peace process is dragged out the better it is for Armenia. There may come a day, however, when Armenia may be forced to pull back from some portions of the liberated territories in exchange of a serious peace deal with Baku. But, as of now, that day, if it is to come, seems to be very far away.
There are no indicators today that Moscow is putting any sort of pressure on Yerevan. On the contrary, all indicators on the ground suggest that Moscow is helping Armenia dig firmly into Artsakh for the long-term.

Again, allow me to remind the reader that a viable and a friendly Armenia is Moscow's security guarantee in the strategic yet troublesome Caucasus. Armenia is Russia's sledgehammer hanging over regional Turkic/Islamic heads. It must also be said that Baku has not waged another war against Artsakh not because it fears Armenia's small military or Armenia's big talking (but under-performing diaspora) but because it fears Moscow's reaction. Despite their constant barkings, the outcome of the historic events of August 2008 may have all but frustrated Baku's wishes of starting another war against Moscow's wishes.

CIA's "Radio Free Europe" quoted the following comment made by a Russian-Muslim political analyst that warrants a closer look:
"Political analyst Ilqar Mammadov told RFE/RL on July 28 that when Azerbaijani officials, including the president, predict that Armenia will collapse as a state, they are mistaken. "Nobody will let Armenia collapse," he said. "If we see a deterioration in the economy and a decline in the population, we should also note Russia's major economic growth.... Even if only 100,000 people lived in Armenia, Russia would protect it as it regards Armenia as its outpost"
This analysts clearly echoes what I have been saying for years: as long as it plays its geopolitical cards correctly, that is as long as it stays allied to the Russian Federation and continues hosting Russian forces on its soil, Armenia can expect unconditional protection from Moscow against regional threats. Armenians need to fully exploit this geopolitical opportunity.

Moreover, for the past several years, Moscow has clearly taken the initiative in conflict resolution efforts regarding Artsakh. Since Georgia's defeat and since the economic weakening of the Western alliance, Moscow has more-or-less been leading the peace process in Artsakh. Again, this is a clear sign that Washington has reluctantly given in to Moscow's influence in the strategic region in question.

Although the overall geopolitical situation at hand provides a clear political opportunity for Yerevan,
it must also be mentioned that the relationship between Moscow and Baku is also developing. Although it sees Armenia as a reliable strategic partner in an unreliable and volatile region, Moscow also realizes that it cannot afford to totally alienate an energy rich Baku. As a result, Moscow is carefully managing the situation as it struggles to maintain military parity between Yerevan and Baku. Despite its dealing with Baku and Ankara, however, it has become painfully clear for Azeris and Turks that Moscow will simply not sacrifice Armenia for mere financial gains.

Nevertheless, official Yerevan cannot become idle, it needs to be proactive and it needs to take advantage of the political, economic and military opportunities Moscow is currently providing it.
Armenians also need to stop wasting their limited resources in an anti-Armenian vipers' nest like Washington and seriously begin making a concerted pan-national effort within the halls of the Kremlin. Simply put, for the sake of Armenia and Artsakh, Yerevan needs closer, more intimate cooperation with the Russian Federation and Russian-Armenians need deeper integration within Russian society. Armenians are already well positioned in Russia. With some effort and foresight, Armenians can be in Russia what Jews are in America.

I have posted several recent articles concerning the on-going dispute between Yerevan and Baku
. The last two articles in particular are significant in that they clearly reveal the American and Russian styles of reporting when it comes to Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh. However, knowing the kind of psychosis that many Armenians suffer from these days, I realize that it may require the daylight bombing of Yerevan by American cruise-missiles to convince our nation's naive populace that official Washington was, is and will continue being an enemy to the Armenian state.

July, 2011


At the Crossroads of Strategic Pipeline Corridors: Settling the Dispute Over Nagorno-Karabakh

BTC Pipeline - Oil Connection:

When compared to the other disputed former Soviet territories of Pridnestrovie (also referred to as Transnistria, Transdniestria, Transdnestr and Trans-Dniester), South Ossetia and Abkhazia - Nagorno Karabakh (which Armenians also refer to as Artsakh) often seems to get the least attention. This despite the latter being the bloodiest of these conflicts. Geographically, Nagorno-Karabakh is further away from the European Union nations and the United States than the other mentioned lands. As is true with a number of other conflicts, some find this contested former Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic territory to have murky conditions, in terms of determining which side (Armenian or Azeri) to fully support. Materialistically, fossil fuel rich Azerbaijan is the greater prize. There is also a degree of understandable sympathy for the tragic past of the Armenian people and some expressed apprehension with the human rights situations in Azerbaijan and (to an overall lesser extent) Armenia.

Since last August's war involving the Georgian government's armed attack on South Ossetia, there has been an increase in diplomatic activity among countries considered as key diplomatic parties in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. In September, the president of Turkey (a country seen as sympathetic to Azerbaijan and historically at odds with Armenia) and his Armenian counterpart met in Yerevan. An optimistic overview was given of that occurrence. The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia held a November meeting in Moscow, in what was described as upbeat. In February, the Turkish president met his Russian counterpart in Russia. During his stay there, Turkey's president visited the predominately Muslim republic of Tatarstan. The Russo-Turkish meeting further encouraged the growing commercial ties between the two countries.

While differences still exist over Nagorno-Karabakh, a more peaceful climate serves to increase the possibility of a settlement. Azerbaijan remains unable to implement its authority in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, no nation (including Armenia) formally recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh's independence. Although close to Armenia's border, Nagorno-Karabakh is landlocked within Azerbaijan. With the idea of a compromise in mind, perhaps a unique situation can be arranged, where Nagorno-Karabakh is jointly recognized as a part of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The conditions worked out under this hypothetical agreement would concern the return of refugees and the finer points on how Nagorno-Karabakh would be administered.

A referendum on Nagorno-Karabakh's status (discussed at the November meeting in Moscow) has different options. The one having only the participation of Nagorno-Karabakh's residents is not preferred by Azerbaijan, because of the majority Armenian presence in that territory. The Armenians would still constitute a majority, even if verified refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh were permitted to vote (the 1989 Soviet census listed Armenians comprising around 75 percent of that territory's population). Armenians are not fond of a referendum that would include all of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan's population is over twice that of Armenia's (roughly 8 million to 3 million), with the main ethnic group in each country (Armenian in Armenia and Azeri in Azerbaijan) making up over 90% of the population. This statistic includes Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan (the current population of Nagorno-Karabakh is said to be around 140,000).

By and large, Armenians do not appear keen on the idea of making Nagorno-Karabakh a loose autonomous republic in Azerbaijan. There is analysis noting Azerbaijan's increased military budget in comparison to the Armenians. This reality has been suggestively used against Nagorno-Karabakh's seeking a continued separation from Azerbaijan. Offsetting this view is the notion that a future war over Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to be too bloody of an experience for either side to consider. It is questionable whether a stronger Azeri armed forces would be enough to intimidate the Armenians into accepting a non-war diktat against them. Relative to this point, there is the possibility that a noticeably improved Azeri military might not prevail in an attempt to takeover Nagorno-Karabakh.

Unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (its other members are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). The American and Azeri governments have discussed and implemented plans to assist Azerbaijan's military capability. In Azerbaijan, Russia leases the Soviet built Qabala (also spelled as Gabala) radar station, whose surveillance covers China, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, parts of Africa and the Middle East. With Azerbaijan's support, the Russian government in 2007 offered to share this station with the United States in place of the Bush Administration's plan to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Bush administration responded by expressing interest, to go along with the planned missile defense system deployment on former Warsaw Pact territory. Under a new presidency, the United States is currently reviewing the latter plan.

Iran is the country being targeted for radar surveillance. Tehran has pursued a policy of maintaining positive relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Iranian-Turkish relations have improved in recent years. Armenia and Azerbaijan have each shown geopolitical flexibility in their respective dealings with Russia and the West. Potentially, this aspect relates well to the desire of improving relations between Russia and the West. Armenia is no doubt partly influenced by its close ties with the émigré Armenian population in the West. Armenia's non-recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh's independence seems to take into consideration how the international community at large views the boundaries of former Soviet republics (a non-independence recognition of separatist claims).

Awhile back, there was commentary saying that Russia received a diplomatic setback at a 2006 summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Moscow. This opinion noted the absence of the Ukrainian, Georgian, Turkmen and Armenian presidents at that gathering (the Armenian president was said to have been ill at the time). Omitted form this thought was the presence of the Moldovan and Azeri presidents. Along with Georgia and Ukraine - Azerbaijan and Moldova are members of GUAM; an organization that was created with the stated intent to promote economic and political development. Although officially denied, GUAM's creation is viewed by some as an attempt to limit Russian influence in the former Soviet Union. In the period since the 2006 CIS meeting, the popularity of the Ukrainian and Georgian presidents has waned (something that was in process beforehand), as Moldova and Azerbaijan appear to come a bit closer to Russia. Moldova and Azerbaijan have been unable to govern over disputed land within their Soviet drawn boundaries. Whether one likes it or not, Russia remains quite influential on some primary matters pertaining to other former Soviet republics.

Of late, Azerbaijan is considering a gas deal with Russia that might undermine the Nabucco pipeline project (a Western initiative, undergone to diversify from the current dependence on Russian gas and its transit route through Ukraine). Last summer's Russo-Georgian war and the increased political unrest in Georgia makes the Nabucco project look like a less secure route. In contrast to the Georgian government's attitude towards Russia, Azerbaijan seems to be taking the position that good relations with the Kremlin is a way of getting a better settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh.


Russia does everything to prevent Karabakh settlement – Stratfor

Russia has taken the driver’s seat over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and does everything to prevent its settlement, Eugene Chausovsky, a Stratfor analyst writes in an article. “A cease-fire was broken between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday after an exchange of gunfire occurred between the two countries on the line of contact. These skirmishes occurred after the latest round of negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a disputed region between the two countries, failed to produce a settlement on Friday,” reads the article.

Further, it says that while negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh have been going on for several years, there are significant geopolitical realities that serve as obstacles to any sort of agreement over this issue. “The primary actor when considering the prospects for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement is not Azerbaijan or Armenia but, rather, Russia. Russia’s primary goal in the former Soviet Union is to advance its interests in these countries while blocking the interests of foreign powers and particularly the West,” writes Chausovsky.

“This is especially the case in the Caucasus region, which is made up of Armenia, Azerbaijan as well as Georgia, and these three countries are heavily pursued by the West. Within these pursuits, Azerbaijan is the key as it has the largest population in the region, it borders both Russia and Iran in strategic points, and perhaps most importantly, it has significant quantities of oil and natural gas”.

The author goes on to mention that these “energy resources allow Azerbaijan to be a significant exporter of energy to the West and therefore serve as a threat to Russia’s energy relationship and political relationship with Europe. “This then explains Russia’s relationship with Armenia, which Russia supports politically, economically and has a troop presence within Armenia. This also explains Russia’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is to appear that Russia is trying to do everything it can as a negotiator to reach a settlement while in reality do everything it can to prevent such a settlement”.

The article further says that as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains an issue, then Azerbaijan’s access to the west via Turkey is blocked through this corridor. And while Azerbaijan has been increasing its military expenditures on the back of its growing energy exports, the fact remains that Russia’s military presence in Armenia will serve as a significant blocking force to Azerbaijan.

“In addition, Russia also has a military presence in two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, giving Russia even more leverage over Azerbaijan. Therefore, it ultimately boils down to Russia’s position when assessing the prospects for any meaningful change to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh”.


Russia does not Want any Solution to Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Drawn by Other External Actors

Q: Recently, a meeting was held in Kazan between Azerbaijani and Armenian representatives with the mediation of Russia, achieving nothing at the end over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict just as the other similar meetings. Since Russia is not interested in the solution of the conflict, most experts stress that these kinds of meetings are nonsense in the solution of the issue. If so, in your opinion, what are the aims of holding these sorts of meetings?

A: First of all, describing these kinds of meetings as nonsense is unfair. That is because now, Russia is leading the meetings between Azerbaijan and Armenia itself, and in doing so, it is particularly enjoying being dominant in the region. Before the 1990s, the Minsk Group was the main actor in terms of finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. After that, we started to discuss Kochayev’s statement about Russia’s confrontation with the United States mainly after the Georgian-Russian War, and observed that Russia has been the only dominant actor in terms of finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There are certain implications for the Russian-led negotiations.

First of all, after the Georgian crisis, the aims, targets, and interests of the West were hampered by Russian movement in Georgia. We saw Russia giving a message that it would like to organize its ‘near abroad’ and does not want anybody interfering in its business. Actually, considering the dynamics in 2008, we can say that these kinds of messages from Russia could have been challenged then. However, in 2008, we saw other problems such as the economic crisis which forced Western countries in particular to concentrate on mostly domestic affairs and regional aspects of foreign relations. Considering the American case, there were other pressing issues such as Afghanistan and now the Arab uprisings. In this sense, it was important for Russia to send the message that it is the sole dominant actor in the Caucasus, and these meetings and negotiations emphasize that.

Secondly, if there will be a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh process, Russia does not want any solution to the conflict drawn by other external actors such as the United States, France, or even Turkey. In this sense, the Kremlin is trying to orchestrate the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and even though there were some attempts by the Minsk Group in the post-2008 period, we saw that these efforts were slowly weakened. In this sense, Russia is trying to enjoy the conjectural situation by taking steps forward in bringing these actors together.

As lastly as to why the negotiations are not nonsense, is that these talks should be continued. What we saw in 1990, if the negotiation processes stops, the currently frozen conflict remains as it is. So what we are looking for is the continuation of negotiations and a constructive solution to the problem. In this sense, it is identity building and an important initiative. However, the problem is that it is not pluralist. It is orchestrated by Russia, and we see that the position of Russia is supported by the Minsk Group, hoping that Russia will find a solution to the problem -- a long-lasting solution which will not gave a way an other Georgian-Russian war in the Caucasus. These kinds of skirmishes in the region between two parties are increasing tensions, and as we saw in the 2008 war, it is also negatively affecting international balances.

Thus, it is hard to say that these negotiations are nonsense. The problem is that they are nonsense in terms of Western interests, but in terms of regional and Russian ones, they are helping in some ways to find a solution. The main issue is whose version the solution is going to be.

Q: Eugene Chausovsky, an analyst at STRATFOR, stressed that the primary actors when considering the prospects for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement are not Azerbaijan or Armenia, but rather Russia. In reality, Russia is trying to do everything it can to prevent a settlement. How would you evaluate these statements and what do you think of it?
A: Actually, it is not a new statement. It was stated by many experts. Nobody believes that Russia would sit and watch a solution to emerge in the region, rather it has a great desire to find a solution in line with its interests. Why is that so?

To begin with, there is a problem of terrorism and instability in Russia’s backyard. The instability in the Caucasus is threatening the unity and stability within the Russian territory. So considering this fact, any solution that would not be in favor of Russia will make the solution leverage on Russian interests in the South Caucasus. Second, after the 1990s when Russia lost its positions mainly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there were signals it may be losing the South Caucasus as well. Russia got the feeling that it was being contained by the Western actors, particularly the United States. This revived previous Cold-War era thoughts about being threatened by the West. In this sense, I believe Russia is trying to enhance its position, especially in the post-Soviet regions by reviving old alliances in Belarus, Ukraine, or Central Asia. Since it could not succeed in creating some kind of alliance with Azerbaijan and Georgia, Russia chose the hard way with its military operation in the region. Considering all these facts, Russia will not let any solution to the conflict be drawn by other actors. However, this should not mean that Russia won’t find a solution in the region. We know that Russia has a military base in Gyumri and that this base is like a Russian fortress in the Caucasus. With the help of this base, Russia has control over the Caucasus region, northern Iran, and the Caspian Sea basin. It has also expanded this position by for instance deploying peacekeeping forces, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh. It formulates this position that if there is going to be a solution, then there are going to be some peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh to help enforce it. However, only so long as we see Azerbaijan and Armenia comfortable with this suggestion, because considering the balances in the region, increasing Russian assistance will not help the regional interests of Azerbaijan and Armenia. In this sense the situation or processes seems stuck. The problem is that there have been certain violations of the ceasefire, causing bigger problems for the near future.

Q: The Reuters news agency stressed the risks of war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you see any risks of war in the conflict zone?

A: As I mentioned in the second question, there is a problem of certain instability due to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, even though we are talking about a ceasefire. The problem is that the parties are not respecting the ceasefire. There are snipers and military forces which have seen some exchanges of fire, causing some losses from both parties between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Our biggest fear is that these kinds of exchanges cause snow-ball and give way to the bigger problem of emergence of another war in the region after 2008.

Secondly, both sides have increased their military expenditures and try to threaten each other with their muscle power, a situation that was observed in Turkish-Greek relations when both sides did the same despite their membership in the same military alliance, NATO. This caused huge burdens for the budgets of both Turkey and Greece. Considering the fact that there is not enough compromise toward a solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and there is an increased tendency of accumulation of military power a possible war will cause more problems than in the 1990s.

The last threat I believe, is Azerbaijan’s stance. In 2010, Azerbaijan ratified its military doctrine by mentioning that it prefers to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue by diplomatic means, but that if diplomatic means proved impossible in solving the conflict, then it would resort to military means in order to restore its territorial integrity. I believe this should be taken into consideration. Azerbaijan may feel that changing dynamics and conjecture in the region will not help her interests, which rely on a wait-and-see approach based on the fact it is enjoying revenue coming from energy resources while Armenia suffers from economic constraints. As we have seen in the Georgia war, I believe there is potential for a change in status quo as a result of Azerbaijan’s choice of possibly using military means. However, that is more unlikely now because Baku believes its wait-and-see strategy under the current status quo is the best option. However, if Azerbaijan sees that the international community isolates it and that negotiations are not serving its interests in the long run, then considering the internal dynamics of Azerbaijan even though it is unlikely, military means can be an alternative policy for the restoration of the state’s territorial integrity.

Q: The Russian expert Vladimir Zaxarov stated that the United States needs Nagorno-Karabakh in order to attack Iran due to the Azerbaijan’s neutrality in the US-Iran conflict, particularly after Iran declared that it will respond to any attack coming from Azerbaijan. How could you comment on that issue?

A: I believe it is too ambitious to give such an explanation for the foreign policy of the United States in the Caucasus. However, a state official Berijinsky during the 1990s stated that Azerbaijan is a pilot country in the region which has the potential to control the Caspian basin around Iran and Russia. In that sense, the strategic position of Azerbaijan in the region cannot be ignored. As we try to draw the dynamics of the Caucasus, Russia’s position there will not be available to the United States. Actually, we saw this kind of initiative from the US in Central Asia, but it did not last long because of it being vacated from Uzbekistan’s Khanabad Air Base. The Caucasus region is more important than Central Asia to Russia, so I believe it will be a source of tension in the area. Additionally, it is hard to fathom Russia allowing American access to the region. So, I believe this kind of a step has a potential to become one of the main sources of tensions in the region. Thus, it is hard to believe that Russia will be comfortable with American bases in the region in the aftermath of the Reset Policy between two parties.


Nabucco pipeline still up in the air

The “Southern Gas Corridor” is a problem for Europe rather than for Russia. This opinion was expressed by Russian experts commenting on the project aimed at delivering gas from the Caspian Sea region to the European countries bypassing Russia. European Commission Head Jose Manuel Barroso is visiting Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to formalize the project. The Southern Gas Corridor consists of three projects of which the Nabucco gas pipeline is an integral. Deposits in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are considered to be the probable resource basis of the Nabucco pipeline that is expected to pass through Georgia and Turkey. The potential importers of gas from the Caspian Sea region are almost the same countries of Europe as that of the Russian-Italian project, Southern Stream. 

The European Commission Head plans to re-energize the Nabucco project since Baku and Ashkhabad have no financial assurances from the European Union to construct the pipeline. Meanwhile, Europeans are quite uncertain about the reliability of the resource basis. In these circumstances, the project has little chances for success, says the head of the analytical department of the National Energy Security Foundation, Alexander Pasechnik. "The Nabucco project is facing financial problems, but how to fill the pipeline is the crucial issue. It has no resource basis. At present, it hopes for the Azeri potential, especially the supplies from the Shakh-Deniz deposit, which may be reserved for this project. However, this cannot be considered a breakthrough because gas from Azerbaijan will be insufficient. The EU has to find some other sources to fill the pipeline,” Alexander Pasechnik said.

Azerbaijan signed a long-term contract to sell gas to Iran ahead of the visit to Baku of Jose Barroso. Earlier, Iran took away part of Turkmen gas from Europe. Turkmenistan, like Azerbaijan, politically supports Nabucco, but has no knowledge of how to link its pipeline infrastructure to that of Azerbaijan to supply gas to Europe. Other Caspian Sea littoral states believe that it will be possible to lay a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan only after the approval of the legal status of the Caspian Sea. This has nothing to do with the visit to Baku, and from there to Ashkhabad, of the European Commission Head. In view of this, the director of the Russian Energy Development Foundation, Sergei Pikin has this to say.

“Until there is no a detailed project where everything is stated from the production of gas to selling it to the consumer and the payback period, we can talk only about the political aspect of the project. Undoubtedly, Europe needs the gas pipeline because this is diversification and an “assurance from eastern neighbours” as the European countries disire to express it. However, whether the project assures Europe is an open question,” Sergei Pikin said. Moreover, the “Southern Gas Corridor” is linked with risks because Kurdish separatists often launch attacks on Turkish territory. It is also a problem to guarantee safety to the gas pipeline in Georgia. This may worsen if Azerbaijan secures the backing of the EU that it will help the country to solve its conflict with Armenia. The reason here is that the Nabucco gas pipeline is expected to pass through a largely-Armenian populated territory.

The danger of miscalculation in the forgotten war over Nagorno-Karabakh

Since the beginning of the year, events have rocked places that seemed locked in time. One outcome has been utterly unpredictable oil prices -- $114 a barrel one month, and the low $90s for a barrel of crude that we see now. Shorn mainly of the Arab Spring, oil prices would be somewhere in the $60-$80 range per barrel, according to market watchers such as ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal. Traders say the Middle East trouble poses risks to the world oil supply, especially if another big oil producer goes off the market, such as Saudi Arabia. 

One place the market is excluding from its calculus is Azerbaijan, 1,400 miles further east, which has been shipping between 800,000 and 1 million barrels of high-quality oil into the global market for the last five years. As we've discussed, I myself don't usually think about Azerbaijan in terms of market-shaking instability. Yet, no one expected what we are currently observing in the Middle East, either. As we know from history, including the start of World War I, loose tongues, swollen heads, and distracted minds can lead inadvertently to war. Hence, Azerbaijan merits a look.

Tomorrow, the leaders of this Caspian Sea nation and its blood enemy, neighboring Armenia, are to meet in the Russian region of Tatarstan in an attempt finally to begin to bury their 23-year-long, on-and-off violence (Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serge Sarkissian pictured above, respectively, with Russia's Dmitry Medvedev). When the countries fought in actual combat -- from 1988 to 1994 -- Azerbaijan lost badly. Armenia captured about a fifth of its territory, including the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia continues to hold this turf, from which all Azeris have long fled or been expelled.

Yet, for at least the last couple of years, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and some of his ministers have engaged in a loud-mouth, trash-talking contest with Armenia. Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense said that ultimately his country would "meet the expectations of the people, the government, and the supreme commander-in- chief and will liberate the occupied land from the enemy." Here is a collection of such statements from both sides. In a piece this month, the New York Times' Ellen Barry said she found an antsy, pro-war mood in Baku.

Azerbaijan has spent the last several years rearming, spending more than the entire national budget of Armenia on its military. Thomas de Waal of Carnegie has written compellingly of the chance that one side or the other could miscalculate and trigger a resumption of combat. Seventeen years after the initiation of the current ceasefire, it is at least conceivable that time has softened Aliyev's memory of the mauling that Azerbaijan's soldiers suffered. It is also in the range of possibilities that Armenian President Serge Sarkissian could perceive the imminence of an Azerbaijan attack, and decided to pre-empt.

In either case, global oil prices would run amok. Considering what happened last time, I also personally think that Azerbaijan could be overrun. De Waal says the outcome locally would be a "catastrophe." In the talks tomorrow, I was told by diplomats that both sides are likelier than ever to close an initial deal, which would lead to a much longer period of talks. Friends tell me to temper the optimism. It is worth listening to them if only to be braced.


Ratification of Protocol No.5 between Russia and Armenia

Dmitry Medvedev signed Federal Law On Ratification of Protocol No.5 between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia on Amending the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia concerning the Russian Military Base in the Republic of Armenia of March 16, 1995. Protocol No.5 between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia on amending the Agreement between the two countries on the Russian military base in Armenia was signed in Yerevan, Armenia on August 20, 2010.

The amendments stipulate that in addition to its purpose of ensuring Russia’s interests, the Russian military base in Armenia is to jointly with the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia guarantee security for Armenia. To this end, the Russian side is undertaking to assist Armenia in obtaining advanced and compatible weapons and military (special) equipment. Besides, the Protocol extends the validity term of the Agreement from 25 to 49 years. The term shall be automatically extended for subsequent five-year periods unless one of the parties serves to the other party a written notice of its intent to terminate the Agreement, no less than six months prior to the expiration of the term.

Provisions of arms and military equipment for the Republic of Armenia’s Armed Forces will be conducted in accordance with the Russian legislation on military and technical cooperation with foreign states. Military and technical assistance to the Republic of Armenia will be funded through budgetary allocations to Russia’s Defence Ministry within the federal budget for the corresponding fiscal year.


Nalbandian, Lavrov discuss Armenia-Russia relations, Karabakh

During his official visit to Moscow, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. At the meeting, Nalbandian and Lavrov discussed implementation of agreements reached between Armenian and Russian Presidents, specifically stressing dynamically developing relations between the two countries. The two men exchanged views on a range of issues relating to military, political, economic, humanitarian cooperation as well as collaboration in international organisations' framework. They also focused on Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement, with Armenian Foreign Minister thanking Russian President for his contribution to negotiations. Lavrov, in turn, stressed Russia's adherence to peaceful settlement of the problem. A meeting with representatives of Moscow's Armenian community was also on Minister Nalbandian's visit agenda, RA MFA press service reported.

Armenia is Russia’s ally with all entailing consequences - CSTO

Armenia is Russia’s ally with all entailing consequences, said the Secretary General of CSTO Nikolay Bordyuzha on Yerevan press briefing after the meeting of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) drug control chiefs. Asked what the position of CSTO would be in the event of renewed hostilities with Azerbaijan, Bordyuzha responded in Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s words that Armenia is the ally of Russian Federation with all entailing consequences. “This says everything,” said Bordyuzha, adding that in the light of high sensitivity of the issue further comments would be counterproductive. Secretary General mentioned that serious, exhaustive but positively directed negotiations are still in action therefore it is not the right time for loud statements.


Uncertain World: Armenia and Azerbaijan’s shaky status quo

Russia has made a concerted effort since the fall of 2010 to break the stalemate in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region. The latest meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia in Kazan in June failed to produce any results. After the talks, Baku and Yerevan predictably accused the other side of standing in the way of an agreement, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev reminded for an umpteenth time that Baku’s patience is not limitless and that the war is not over yet. Commentators rushed to label Russia’s mediation efforts a failure, some with glee and others with sorrow. But this is not fair.

Under President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia is independently seeking a solution to the issue, albeit with the approval of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This is due to the fact that other members of the group see no hope for progress, nor any benefits from actively participating in efforts. Obviously, Moscow has a greater interest in stability in the region than Paris or Washington. The specter of a military conflict over Karabakh haunts the negotiating process, and puts Moscow in an extremely difficult position.

Russia has formal commitments to Armenia as an ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) and under bilateral agreements that were extended indefinitely last year. In the event of a military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia will have to defend Yerevan in order to uphold its reputation as a reliable patron. However, Moscow is aware of the growing importance of Azerbaijan as a key player in all energy and, therefore, geopolitical issues of the South Caucasus and Asia Minor. Russia simply cannot afford to ruin its relations with Baku. In other words, Moscow must avoid taking sides at all costs.

It is in Russia’s interests to keep the sides talking (even without results) and to help maintain military equilibrium, which in and of itself promotes a more durable peace. Toward this end, Russia has extended the lease of its military base in Armenia’s Gyumri through the middle of this century, primarily as a counterweight to Azerbaijan’s rapid military buildup, made possible by its vast superiority in terms of resources.

During my recent visit to both Baku and Yerevan I saw for myself that maintaining equilibrium is the only possible tactic under the circumstances. I didn’t see any evidence that the sides are willing to compromise and make real concessions beyond verbal balancing acts and polished statements. But this could be difficult, as the protracted conflict has taught both sides the value of words.

For Azerbaijan, reclaiming Karabakh has become all but a national priority, much like Kashmir for Pakistan. Azerbaijan’s confidence is growing as a result of huge profits from oil exports and rapid economic development, and it sees the occupation of part of its territory as a tremendous historical injustice that must be redressed by all means. This feeling is further aggravated by a suspicious attitude to Armenians in general. Far from receding as the events of the early 1990s fade into the past, this feeling has become institutionalized.

Meanwhile, Armenia does not trust Azerbaijan at all. Yerevan is convinced that any strategic concessions (at the talks the sides have discussed the phased return to Baku of the occupied regions that have not been part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region) will lead to the collapse of its positions and the entire system of checks and balances that took shape in the disputed area in the 1990s. War would be inevitable. Therefore, Armenia believes it should not make any concessions.

Concessions are also made impossible by the fact that the leaders of both countries are not strong enough to risk such unpopular actions. Although Ilham Aliyev enjoys a secure position in Azerbaijan, he lacks his father’s authority. Geidar Aliyev would have had more room for maneuver. The situation in Armenia is even more complicated because its political environment is more fragmented. There are many different interest groups, including outside ones (the Armenian diaspora). An attempt to compromise may trigger an acute domestic crisis, while the loss of Nagorny Karabakh may lead to a civil war and the collapse of the Armenian state. In this context Russia’s efforts to consolidate the status quo are rational and, indeed, there is no alternative for the time being.

The sides are aware of the risks involved in attempting to change the status quo by force. Azerbaijan, which is happily investing its windfall oil profits not only in the military development but also in its infrastructure and economic diversification, won’t put these achievements at risk unless the success of military action is guaranteed. But it cannot be guaranteed in the current circumstances. Armenia has an even greater interest in maintaining the status quo. Even a successful war for Nagorny Karabakh could precipitate an economic disaster in Armenia. Georgia, the only country to have an open border with Armenia, is already greatly dependent on Azerbaijan, and Baku could pressure Tbilisi to help blockade Armenia.

There is one factor that could dramatically alter the political landscape. I’m referring to a powerful outside shock with repercussions spreading all over the region. It could be a large international crisis linked to Iran – a neighbor of both Armenia and Azerbaijan that plays a major, albeit very different role, in both countries. Suppose the United States or Israel decides there is no time to waste anymore and Tehran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. The geopolitical fallout of such a decision could throw everything into disarray and create the grounds for other developments, especially considering that Iran has a substantial Azerbaijani minority.

Another possibility is the spreading of social and political instability from North Africa and the Middle East to the countries that play a major role in the South Caucasus – Iran and Turkey (which is unlikely) or the collapse of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The latter could result in a civil war, which would increase regional instability and unleash a flood of Armenian refugees from Syria. These scenarios may look hypothetical and even far-fetched, but if anything, the last few years and months should have taught us that anything is possible.


Aggression Against Armenia Spells Aggression Against CSTO

“August 2008 events proved use of force brings to no results in resolution of any issue,” CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha said at Moscow-Yerevan video-bridge, commenting on Azerbaijan’s statements on possible military resolution to NKR conflict. “Active meetings between RA and Azeri Presidents and Foreign Ministers prove parties want to achieve peaceful conflict settlement,” Nikolai Bordyuzha noted, adding that resolution of such a serious issue will take a certain time. CSTO supports peaceful settlement of NKR conflict, Bordyuzha said, emphasizing that aggression against one of CSTO member stats spells aggression against CSTO as a whole.


Sarkisian Hits Back At Aliyev's 'Anti-Armenian Slur'

President Serzh Sarkisian continued the war of words with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev after he said "something is missing" in the brains of Armenian leaders, RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services report. Aliyev made the remark at a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Baku on July 27. Sarkisian promptly hit back: "Was that a statement by a normal person, let alone a head of state?" he said at a press conference in Yerevan on July 28 with visiting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

The verbal battle between Azerbaijan and Turkey on the one hand, and Armenia on the other, began at a meeting in Yerevan on July 23 between Sarkisian and young people. Sarkisian was asked whether Armenia will ever regain control of territories in Turkey -- including Mount Ararat -- that were once controlled by Armenians. "That will depend on you and your generation...each generation has its responsibilities and they should be discharged with honor," Sarkisian replied. The comment angered Turkish officials.

An Elephant Should Not Be Compared With An Ant.

At a press conference in Baku with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Erdogan said on July 27 that Sarkisian's comments "do not befit a statesman or a president. A statesman should not fill youth with hatred.... Sarkisian has made a serious mistake. He has directly confirmed a historical mistake he has made. He should apologize for it and correct it." Aliyev interjected that he expected such comments from Sarkisian "because I have met him several times." Erdogan, for his part, said he does not know Sarkisian well.

"I know his way of thinking.... They think they have settled the [dispute over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of]Nagorno-Karabakh," Aliyev said. "But they are mistaken. Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan's land. The time will come when Azerbaijan will restore its sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh either through peace or war."

Aliyev added that "making territorial claims on a large country like Turkey indicates that something is missing in these people's minds. They don't live in the real world; they live in their make-believe world. They should wake up from that dream, return to the real world, and at least compare themselves with Turkey. An elephant should not be compared with an ant." He also said that Armenia would collapse if it didn't receive foreign aid.

'Russian Outpost'

Political analyst Ilqar Mammadov told RFE/RL on July 28 that when Azerbaijani officials, including the president, predict that Armenia will collapse as a state, they are mistaken. "Nobody will let Armenia collapse," he said. "If we see a deterioration in the economy and a decline in the population, we should also note Russia's major economic growth.... Even if only 100,000 people lived in Armenia, Russia would protect it as it regards Armenia as its outpost."

On other issues, Aliyev said in Baku on July 27 that Azerbaijani companies have invested over $4 billion in the Turkish economy and will invest a further $6 billion in the petrochemical industry in the next few years. Erdogan implied that Azerbaijan and Turkey have reached an agreement on the second stage of exploitation of the Shah Deniz Caspian gas field. He did not provide details. Turkish media had recently quoted officials from Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR as saying talks on Shah Deniz were bogged down over the issue of legal jurisdiction.


Russia’s proposals on Karabakh resolution may be pro-Armenian - MP

The Azerbaijani side goes on presenting excessive demands at the talks on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Chairman of Union of Political Scientists of Armenia Hmayak Hovhannisyan told reporters on Monday. He stressed Azerbaijan puts obviously impossible demands at each new stage of the peace process. “Meeting Baku’s demands is absurd to Armenia. This would mean for the first time in history the winner in the war actually surrenders,” he noted. The MP from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) Lernik Alexanyan stressed that following the presidents’ recent talks in Kazan, the international community is dissatisfied with Azerbaijan’s behavior rather than that of Armenia, taking into account 10 claims, presented by Baku during the last meeting of Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian Presidents. Referring to the presidents’ next meeting in Sochi, Alexanyan believed Russia’s proposals for peace process would be favorable for Armenia. “I believe Russia will remain a leader in the Karabakh peace process. Western countries are trying to seize Moscow’s initiative,” he emphasized.

Armenians urged to settle in border lands

A former foreign minister of this unrecognized republic in the South Caucasus wants to distribute land in border areas to Armenians who fled Azerbaijan two decades ago when war broke out. Arman Meliqyan says this would be compensation for the property they lost when they fled — and it would also, intentionally, help to wreck the proposed peace deal that is on the table. Azerbaijan, which still claims Nagorno-Karabakh, would be certain to see such a move as an enormous provocation. It says that, as the result of wide-scale ethnic cleansing, a million Azerbaijanis fled the territory now held by Karabakh forces, and that they want to return to their homes.

Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan stopped fighting in 1994, but have never come to terms. Both sides still shoot sporadically at each other across the so-called line of contact. Growing tension has already heightened fears that war could break out again — and that this time there’s a threat of drawing neighboring Russia, Iran and Turkey into the conflict. War would also probably disrupt a key supply route used by the United States to get equipment and other goods to its soldiers in Afghanistan.

Meliqyan’s idea is to move settlers into territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh itself that were seized by Armenian and Karabakh fighters during the war and have been held ever since. Those territories are now nearly empty of people, and most of the villages within them have been left in ruins. A framework peace agreement that Russia, France and the United States — together called the Minsk Group — have been trying to sponsor envisions the return of most of these lands to Azerbaijan.

If they were to be populated by ethnic Armenian settlers, that would become considerably more difficult. This is precisely what Meliqyan, who is completely opposed to the Minsk Group formula, hopes to achieve. His plan inevitably raises the question of what compensation would be available for the Azerbaijanis who also fled — out of Karabakh — during the war. But he thinks that’s Azerbaijan’s problem. Under Karabakh law, Armenians who fled Azerbaijan are entitled to land in the territories as compensation. But the program has never gotten underway, though a few settlers have trickled in on their own over the years. Meliqyan, who now heads an advocacy group in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, says his organization has submitted 35,000 applications for land and gotten no response.

“They’re not saying yes, and they’re not saying no,” he said of Karabakh’s leaders. “Sooner or later it will become a real question for them.”

Karabakh’s president, Bako Sahakyan, said the problem is that the territories are in such bad physical shape that it would take a major investment in roads and utilities just to make them habitable. He also made it clear he doesn’t want to undermine the peace talks. Another problem, said Karabakh’s prime minister, Ara Harutyunyan, is that most of those who left Azerbaijan were living in cities there, are used to an urban way of life and would be lost trying to set up farms.

It’s a half-good idea, said Saro Saroyan, a civil defense instructor who has become one of the most outspoken advocates for these dispersed people. (What to call them is a point of contention: Armenians use the word “refugee,” which is commonly reserved for people who have had to cross an international border. Azerbaijanis, who don’t recognize Karabakh’s independence, use the phrase “internally displaced persons,” arguing that they’re still in Azerbaijan. Some people here contend that those who fled Azerbaijan should be called “deportees.”) The problem, as Saroyan sees it, is that a few acres of farmland would hardly compensate someone who had to give up an apartment in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, especially considering the oil wealth and rise in property values that Baku has enjoyed since the war ended.

Saroyan left Baku in 1988, when the first stirrings of the Karabakh independence movement were felt. He went first to Stepanakert but eventually wound up in Shushi — known as Shusha to the Azerbaijanis — where both his grandfathers served time in a Soviet prison in the 1930s: one for being a rich peasant, the other for being the driver of a car in an accident that killed an important communist official. He loves showing visitors around the old quarters of the town, which was Karabakh’s most important city when it was under Persian and later czarist Russian rule.

But being a modern-day homesteader doesn’t have much appeal for him. He misses Baku, where his driver grandfather is buried, and he said that, like others, he’s never felt entirely at home in Karabakh.

Karabakh’s military secret is revealed

Shots are being fired on the border with Azerbaijan, but even under gunfire Armenians are growing wheat

There is no peace between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan – for which mutual distrust and fear of another war are to blame. In military textbooks it is written: “Grad strikes at a distance of 21 km, Smerch – more than 60 km. Armenians say that precisely in order to protect Stepanakert, the capital of the independent and unrecognized Karabakh, from gunfire, the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied seven adjacent Azeri districts so as to ensure that the rival’s artillery does not strike against the ‘holy land of Artsakh’.”

Speaking with us on this subject is Defense Army Deputy Commander Maj.-Gen. Andranik Makaryan: except that he calls the occupied territories a buffer zone. The Karabakh generals don’t drive Mercedes. Andranik Makaryan uses the UAZ army jeep. Every spare penny is spent on weapons and the support of combat-readiness. “Here, take a look,” sighs the general while flipping through a summary report. “In one week alone, our positions were fired at 600 times. In the last 24 hours there were 36 shootings! Grenade launchers, DShK, Dragunov sniper rifles, PK machine guns, AKMs, and other small arms are used.”

“And what do you do?” “We respond! What else?” “How much larger is the Azerbaijani army than your contingent?”

The general understands that I am trying to uncover a military secret, and answers floridly: “We do not, and will not, have the need to shoot at an empty space. Of course, some are talking about the superiority of the other side’s troops or military equipment. But we excel in something else. The most important thing is moral courage. One can defeat an army. But you cannot defeat a nation. We don’t have another choice – to live or to die.”

I look at the map of Nagorno-Karabakh. The frontline, or as it is diplomatically referred to “the line of contact of the armed forces” is drawn with a thick marker and instead of following the administrative borders it is drawn along the natural barriers: dams, rivers, and slopes. I travel to the site to see what is going on, how the small army of Karabakh has been able to stand against the Azerbaijani divisions, which are armed to NATO standards.

As soon as we find ourselves outside Karabakh, our UAZ begins jolting over the bumps on the road. The buffer zone is a no man’s land. There isn’t anyone to fix the roads. Here and there, there are palisades around Muslim headstones. Here, they are disdainfully called “skis” due to the resemblance to the sporting gear. But no one will destroy the graves. Over the decades they have become covered with shrubs, and it is practically impossible to get access to them.

Next to a dried-up dam there are two rusty Niva combine harvesters gathering wheat. Beyond the dam starts the frontline. It is about 200 meters away from the Azerbaijani trenches. “Are you not afraid to work?” I ask Vazgen. “No, we have the dam here, it covers us from bullets,” says the grime-covered combine operator. “Last year, we were shot at in that field, where the dam ends. Now we do not plant wheat where there is no cover.” I, of course, understand that I was brought to the most peaceful section of the frontline. But even here, under the dam, no one can feel completely safe. In addition to snipers, there are also grenade launchers that will strike through any dam. Therefore, as a first order of business, the soldiers put me into an armor vest and a helmet.

The detachment takes a break from service under an awning. Some play chess in deep thought. Others feed doves. Yes, in addition to the dog named Rizhyk, two white doves live on the frontline. This immediately calls to mind Picasso’s “Dove of Peace”. Lieutenant Edmon Saribekyan takes care of the birds. Especially for the journalist, he sends the two beautiful birds into the sky. But they immediately land on a billboard that reads: “Strong-spirited peoples shall not be conquered! Garegin Njdeh, royal general.”

“Are they afraid of snipers?” I point to the dam.

“The red-footed falcon! It’s a raptor of the falcon family. You can’t hunt here, as you could accidentally raise the alarm. So now the red-footed falcon has grown in number. We did have three doves at first…” the lieutenant explains. Although standard trenches have been dug out and lined with concrete columns, I do not sense a state of full combat-readiness, as it is portrayed in the movies, from the ruined vineyard (nearby is the exhausted Agdam district, home of the famous port wine). I share my concerns with the lieutenant.

“Is that so?” he says and issues a sharp command in Armenian. Suddenly, the sleepy trenches turn into a bustling bazaar. Soldiers in armor vests and helmets start moving quickly and in just seconds take their places at the gun-slots. Reports follow. Satisfied, the lieutenant clicks the timer: “In three seconds we exceeded the standard. That’s how we do things!” I approach the gun-slots. Behind rows of barbed wire with attached tin cans (frontline alarm system) stand permanent firing positions. Trenches are laid toward them. Between the Armenian and Azerbaijani fortifications is barren land. Neither there, nor here does anyone want to die.

Nearby, machine gunner Ashot Abramov stands in thought. His mother is from these territories. Ashot was born here. His father is from the Dinskoy District in the Krasnodar region. Then, the Abramovs moved to Russia. But Ashot came back to serve here, on the frontline, leaving his girlfriend, Natasha, school, and friends behind, and coming to bullets and shrapnel.

“You see, I could not have done otherwise,” explains Ashot. “It would be embarrassing for me to stay home while the motherland is in danger.” I think I have figured out the main military secret of the Karabakh people. Their strength lies in the fact that they harvest wheat under gunfire.

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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. Please note that the comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years has helped me see the Russian nation as the last front on earth against the scourges of Westernization, Americanization, Globalism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western/European civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. These sobering realizations compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of Cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and perhaps the only voice preaching about the strategic importance of Armenia's close ties to the Russian nation. From about 2010 to 2015, I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult for me as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling, dare I say voice, inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and fully integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relief, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that generally speaking Armenians are collectively recognizing the vital/strategic importance of Armenia's ties with the Russian nation. Today, no man, no political party is capable of driving a wedge between Armenia and Russia. That danger has passed. Anglo-American-Jewish agenda in Armenia failed. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal.

Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say anything if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several "anonymous" visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what. Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply insult/attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a historical record and a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.