"Iranians can no longer smuggle in and this has led to tensions with Baku"
    Matthew Bryza talks to Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  09 February 2023 - 17:58

    Vadim Mansurov

    A new headwind has emerged in the South Caucasus. It is enough to make a point of how many external actors are involved in the geopolitical processes in the region. Armenia is avoiding negotiations with Azerbaijan, making revanchist statements. In the south, Iran is showing hostile attitudes towards our country. One of them, the bloody incident in Tehran, resulted in the evacuation of Azerbaijan's Embassy in Tehran, an unprecedented diplomatic move. Matthew Bryza, an expert in international relations, and ex-US ambassador to Azerbaijan shared his views on the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus with Сaliber.Az.

    - A catastrophic earthquake hit Türkiye. It must have affected you too since you are living in that country. How strong is the blow to our brother country Türkiye and what do you think such natural disasters teach mankind?

    - The two earthquakes and massive aftershocks in Türkiye have dealt a tremendous blow to the country and have been among the six most powerful earthquakes in the history of the country. The damage caused is simply unbelievable. The earthquake affected a vast area of 155,000 square kilometres. It is more than the area of Azerbaijan, and imagine if God forbid, every city and every village in your country has been completely destroyed, that is the size of the disaster. Some 5,000 buildings have been destroyed, and 15, maybe all 17 million people in Türkiye have been affected, including the refugees from northern Syria. No government, no matter how well prepared it is, including the Turkish government, with its Disaster Management Authority (AFAD), which has extensive experience with earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic, and hospital preparations, could have fully coped with the effects of an earthquake of this magnitude. The damage to the country's economy caused by this tragedy is enormous. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild towns and villages, infrastructure, and social facilities - and no one knows how long that will take. But the main problem now is to save the people who are still alive and dying of cold and mutilation, buried under the rubble of many buildings almost all over Türkiye.

    It is impossible to send rescue teams to thousands of buildings at once. Areas with repeated earthquakes, sometimes triggering avalanches and other disasters, are particularly difficult. The survivors are afraid to return home, living on the streets, in most cases without electricity, heating, natural gas, water, and food. Their entire former lives changed forever at 4:30 in the morning. I would not be surprised if this earthquake goes down in history as one of the worst natural disasters. I think it is important.

    We could talk for a long time about the geopolitical consequences of this tragedy, but I see something positive here as well - international support. As of today, brotherly Azerbaijan has sent a special rescue force of several hundred people from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, US President Biden has promised any assistance, EU and NATO member states also offer assistance, and even countries with which Türkiye has had difficult relations, such as Greece, Israel, and Armenia, are providing considerable support. I hope that what is happening - rescuing many of the victims together and providing them with shelter, food, and warmth, i.e. all the international support will lead to some new stage of rethinking. Türkiye's strained relations with some countries now seem irrelevant and unimportant when you see how they have come together to help the Turks. If you think back to the history of Greek-Turkish relations, during the horrific earthquake in Türkiye in 1999, when 17,000 people died, Greece immediately offered help. A few months later there was an earthquake in Greece, and Türkiye offered its assistance. After that, Greek-Turkish relations became so strong that they turned to diplomatic cliché. However, tensions then flared up again between Türkiye and Greece, but thanks to the cooperation sparked by the earthquakes in both countries in 1999, they abandoned trivial diplomatic differences and maintained strong ties. I think this can happen now. Of course, we should pray for the victims who are now under the rubble and do not lose hope of rescue, for the families of the victims, for the survivors thanks to the rescuers, Azerbaijani, and others, for the rescuers themselves, who in this frosty weather are doing everything possible to save people from the deadly disaster.

    - The new US State Department Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Luis Bono, has recently been appointed. Do you think he will be effective in his post? Will he be able to cover the full range of tasks ahead of him?

    - I have had the opportunity to work with Luis Bono in the past, I know him personally and I want to say that he is a very talented diplomat. I also believe that his effectiveness will depend on how much support he gets from the Secretary of State and the President of the United States. I can say from personal experience that such support is very stimulating. Generally, the current activity of the Biden administration in the South Caucasus is very indicative and important. I was pleased to see Secretary Blinken having important talks with the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov and President Aliev. The more such meetings and conversations the better. But so far, I think it is too early to say anything about how actively the US wants to be involved in today's processes in the South Caucasus.

    - As you know, the relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have aggravated to a critical level, especially after the attack on our embassy in Tehran. How do you assess the level of tension between Azerbaijan and Tehran, could it escalate into a real war and what position would the US take in that case?

    - In my opinion, Azerbaijan and Iran are far from a military action phase and there is no such threat yet. It should be taken into account that the Iranian authorities have arrested a terrorist who killed the security chief at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran. I know that there was a lot of information coming from the Azerbaijani high-ranking diplomats that he might have been working for the Iranian government, for the IRGC. I doubt that Iran wants war with Azerbaijan and vice versa. Yes, there was political and economic tension between the sides, Tehran is concerned about the instability in the north of its country, and the leaning of the ethnic Azerbaijani population towards the Republic of Azerbaijan. I saw for myself that many people in Iran were unhappy that Baku had taken control of transport in the formerly occupied Azerbaijani territories. And now the Iranians can no longer smuggle in. This has led to tensions between the sides, but such disagreements are unlikely to lead to war.

    - Who and what prevents building up a peaceful dialogue between Baku and Yerevan and do you think that the situation in the South Caucasus could become even more tense with the deployment of a new EU mission in Armenia?

    - I do not think that the European mission sent to Armenia can have a negative effect. Let us remember that all along, Charles Michel has played an important role in easing tensions in Georgia, and later in holding productive meetings between President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan. So I see only benefits from the involvement of the EU, and from the organisation as a whole, and not from a particular member state. In general, I think the Minsk Group is practically dead - how can it function if Russia is also a member? This country is not a peacemaker, but the initiator of the war in Ukraine and, incidentally, a decade earlier in Georgia.

    At the same time, anyone who calls Pashinyan an American agent is simply illiterate. Pashinyan is on his own. Putin clearly does not trust Pashinyan. The Armenian prime minister adheres to western democracy but is careful not to alienate himself from Russia or join western organisations. I believe it's Putin's agents who are trying to portray Pashinyan as a provocateur, when in fact many Armenians are disappointed that Russia didn't intervene in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Meanwhile, it was Azerbaijan that was under attack all along, not Armenia. But then again, Pashinyan is on his own. It's rather foolish to believe that he plays by American rules. It is important that South Caucasians finally realise that they are responsible for their own future. Power does not determine your future unless you let it happen.

    Azerbaijan today has a historic opportunity to determine its own tomorrow, without outside influence. You have won the war, you have liberated the territories, and now it is time to consolidate your forces.


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