Let us observe Nagorno-Karabakh. Let us observe it, all of us, attentively, because nowhere else is it clearer to see how deeply the world has evolved – a world that has become so utterly improbable – than in this micro-territory of every religious, cultural and national passion imaginable.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan has been able to take the upper hand through Russia, Turkey and Israel, through three countries whom virtually everything keeps apart but whose interests have nevertheless converged so well that Armenia has lost this battle. It was against Recep Erdogan, Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu that the Armenians lost, but why?
As far as Turkey is concerned, it is clear. By supplying Azerbaijan with arms and back-up from Syria, Recep Erdogan rushed to the aid of a country whose religion is Islam, whose language is very close to Turkish and whose history is intimately intertwined with that of the Ottoman Empire, which had twice included it within its borders. The Turkish president thus affirmed himself as protector of the “ummah”, of the community of believers, as a new leader of the reviving Islam, against Saudi Arabia, which used to be the traditional role of a vanished Empire of which he is the true heir.
For Recep Erdogan, supporting Azerbaijan was like turning the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, challenging the borders of the Greek waters or deepening the division of Cyprus. It was a new way of proclaiming a “return” of Turkey, a century after the ending of the First World War reduced it to its present territory. No surprise then that “the Sultan” was so active in helping the Azerbaijanis prepare for their reconquest of Nagorno-Karabakh, but what about Russia?
How can we understand that this historical protector of Christian Armenia wanted to turn a blind eye to the preparations for the Azerbaijani offensive against his ally? How can we explain that Vladimir Putin not only failed to nip in the bud this reconquest of Nagorno-Karabakh, but that he hardly helped Armenia before imposing a ceasefire which endorses Azerbaijan’s victory?
In terms of raison d’état, this is quite incomprehensible, but by allowing such a cruel defeat to be inflicted on a bastion of Russian influence in the Caucasus, Vladimir Putin had a goal. He wanted to weaken the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, guilty of having relied, in 2018, on a popular revolt to come to power by driving out a Kremlin protégé.
Nikol Pashinyan is today contested by the streets and by the opposition, who reproach him for having had to accept the loss of most of Nagorny Karabakh – Azerbaijani territory under international law but historically Armenian land, from which Armenia had pushed Azerbaijan out by force after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin’s calculation has been right because, faced with a severe economic crisis, a deadlock in Ukraine and serious difficulties in Belarus, Vladimir Putin has just reminded his “near abroad” and the Russians themselves that he is not to be defied without risks.
This is no more surprising than Recep Erdogan’s attitude, but Israel?
Why did the Israelis provide Azerbaijan with the drones that made the war come to this end, when relations between Israel and Turkey have become detestable and the genocides of Jews and Armenians should create solidarity between Israel and Armenia?
The reason for this is that Israel’s diplomatic priority is to get closer to as many Muslim states as possible and that Azerbaijan is not on good terms with its Iranian neighbour, Israel’s greatest adversary. In this crisis, Armenia has also been the collateral victim of the great game that now brings Israel and the Sunni states together in the common fear of Iran, which is redrawing the Middle East and now its Marches in the Caucasian.
It is obviously no longer the political blocks of yesteryear that make history. It is no longer the opposition between dictatorships and democracy or even between Westerners and others. No, it is the nostalgia for lost territories and the will to resurrect defeated empires, the competition between regional powers, the growing impotence of the great powers and, consequently, the rising chaos on the international scene.