Forbes: Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict can change regional balance of power
    Omitted version

    POLITICS  28 September 2023 - 16:08

    The American magazine Forbes published an article by Melik Kaylan on the changing balance of power in the world after Azerbaijan regained full sovereignty over Garabagh. Caliber.Az reprints the article.

    “Apparently nobody wants to address the deeper geo-political struggle behind the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, now flared up again and invading the front pages worldwide. A decades-long story about a localized enclave in a deeply isolated zone – how can it have wider ramifications in terms of the global power balance? How can it affect, say, China or Europe or the Middle East? Seems fanciful but what happens between Armenia and Azerbaijan, even specifically the control over mountainous Garabagh, does potentially shift far-flung inter-continental alignments. Only the neighbouring countries talk about that – if they choose to. Some don't because it's the elephant in the room. This column is not about the historical grievances or human rights outrages of the Garabagh conflict. Those are important but exhaustively covered elsewhere. What you don't see anywhere is a proper look at the superpower stakes hidden in the geography.

    Take a close look at the map of Karabakh, an outcrop of the Caucasus mountains inside Azerbaijan that, in maximal extent, reaches far enough south to touch the border with Iran. Logistically whoever controls the Garabagh heights in Azerbaijan potentially dominates that sensitive stretch of border, which offers a clue to the decades-long bloodshed. Now this part of the argument cannot advance without some serious attention to geographical detail. We'll call it the tale of two corridors. First, the Zangezur Corridor. Along that Iran-Azerbaijan border zone, overlooked by Karabakh’s mountains, runs the putative 'Zangezur Corridor'.

    The corridor then goes across a sliver of Armenian territory, thereby directly connects Azerbaijan to Türkiye - a long cut-off connection which the two Turkic countries aim to restore. Here’s an article about the Zangezur project. The Iranians are against it. The Armenians are against it. Moscow used to oppose it. Why is it so important? Answer: because the 'Zangezur Corridor' is potentially the last leg of a much longer north-south route called the 'Middle Corridor' that would connect Central Asia's Turkic republics to Türkiye proper via Azerbaijan. We're talking a rail and road lifeline, and various fuel pipelines, that can revive the ancient Silk Road trade route which Moscow cut off two centuries ago under the Czars.

    As this column never tires of saying, Ukraine aside, Central Asia is the next big thing geostrategically, now that the Afghan war is over. We covered the momentous Biden meeting with Presidents of the 'Stans at the recent UNGA, a forum entitled C5+1. We are talking about Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan aka the C5. Currently, that entire bloc is effectively hemmed in by Russia, China, Iran etc..

    Currently, the C5 'Stans need to go through those tampon countries to reach the world, to sell raw materials which include strategic amounts of gold, gas, oil and the like. But once you add Azerbaijan and Türkiye geographically, the implicit blockade is broken. That's where the ‘Middle Corridor’ comes in, avoiding regional superpowers and linking from Central Asia down to the Zangezur Corridor thereby creating a direct highway between the Turkic countries (and their natural resources) to the outside world. That is to say, the five 'Stans, Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Türkiye and beyond. The Armenians are the only geo-obstacle. That's how the Soviets planned the borders, so that a whole slew of countries were mutually opposed and landlocked except via Russia. With Karabakh no longer a tactical threat, the Turkic artery is one step closer to completion.

    If the Turkic bloc begins to gel and act in concert, a new threat emerges to Iran, Russia, China, not to mention Armenia. In China, the Uyghur Turks would feel emboldened. In Russia, numerous Turkic regions from Tatarstan to Buryatia might start seceding. Iran, above all, would feel the threat as the population of its own Azerbaijan province would want to unite with their cousins to the north who have a country of their own. Turkic solidarity is why Turkish President Erdogan, in the teeth of global criticism, has just visited Baku to congratulate Azerbaijani president Aliyev for his 'victory' in Karabakh.

    Why, then, didn't Putin protect Armenia against Azerbaijan in the recent Garabagh debacle? Why has he taken the latter's side? It's a multiplex calculation. As Amberin Zaman notes in her article, Armenia's President Pashinyan is a 'colour revolution', the worst kind of threat to Putin's own power especially if it gets going inside Russia. He prefers to deal with Azerbaijan, Türkiye, and Georgia.

    China, equally, calculates that it can do the same by helping forge the 'Middle Corridor' via Beijing's 'Belt-and-Road Initiative' even though that would break the Russia-China-Iran blockade. Chinese goods would flow through Central Asia to the world and the Turkic republics would be economically dependent on Beijing.

    That, then, is the Moscow-Beijing calculation. But it's a tricky one, that could lose control very quickly. Most commentators argue that both Azerbaijan and Armenia will soon kick out Russian peacekeepers.

    Add to that the enthusiasm of Western oil companies for alternate pipelines, and you've got a sizable momentum. A large part of their hopes pivot on the Türkiye-Azerbaijan link along Iran's border and across Armenian land. Garabagh was but is no longer an impediment to the Zangezur corridor,” Kaylan writes.


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