Armenia: Eye in the Storm

Team Keghart Editorial, 28 February 2010

“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland [Eurasia] Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island [Eastern Hemisphere] Who rules the World Island commands the World.” — Sir Halford Mackinder, geopolitician, 1904

When the Cold War came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union political pundits pontificated that the world was entering an era of long-lasting international peace. These premature optimists forgot or disregarded that ideology wasn’t the only reason for the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The two political, military and economic giants competed also for good-old fashioned national dominance.

Team Keghart Editorial, 28 February 2010

“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland [Eurasia] Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island [Eastern Hemisphere] Who rules the World Island commands the World.” — Sir Halford Mackinder, geopolitician, 1904

When the Cold War came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union political pundits pontificated that the world was entering an era of long-lasting international peace. These premature optimists forgot or disregarded that ideology wasn’t the only reason for the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The two political, military and economic giants competed also for good-old fashioned national dominance.

Thus the much-ballyhooed peace dividend never materialized as the U.S. increased its military budget rather than reduce it. After undergoing an economic earthquake due to the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia recovered sufficiently to boost its military arsenal but Moscow’s investment in military hardware significantly lagged behind that of Pentagon’s. Taking advantage of Russia’s perceived military and strategic decline, the U.S and NATO intensified their encroachments on the Soviet Union’s former turf in Eastern Europe, in the Caucasus and in the Middle East. Washington strategists remained avid students of Sir Mackinder.

In January the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, James Warlick, said that Washington is entering into negotiations with Bulgaria to station interceptor missile facilities, probably in one of the three military bases the Pentagon has established there. A week earlier the Romanian President Traian Basescu had announced that his country—where the U.S. has four bases—would host land-based U.S. interceptor missiles. About the same time Poland revealed that a U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-ballistic missile battery will be stationed 35 mile from the Russian border. Meanwhile the Czech Republic has stated that it will provide sites for a new-generation U.S. radar.

Georgia is also expected to offer bases for new U.S. missiles. Already U.S. airmen have been stationed at the hugely expanded and modernized Krtsanisi National Training Centre in Georgia. U.S. Marines are training Georgian soldiers and have held at least one war game not far from the Russian border. America’s number one ally in the Middle East—Israel—is providing aerial drones to Tbilisi and is delivering large amount of arms and ammunition to Georgia.

Azerbaijan, Armenia’s neighbor, is clamoring to join NATO. America sees that country as an ideal launching pad for an attack on Iran. Since as many as a quarter of Iran’s population is believed to be ethnic Azeri, Baku may also be deployed by the Americans to destabilize Iran. Further south, America is building land- and sea-based interceptor missile capabilities in the Persian Gulf.

The Washington claim that the missiles in Eastern Europe are intended to defend against Iranian and Korean missile threats is so patently a falsehood that it doesn’t deserve to be contradicted.

In the past few years we have heard the almost daily threats of U.S./Israeli attacks on Iran. While Iran is in itself an important country to have in the Western camp, it’s also important to Washington as the last link in the encirclement of Russia.

One doesn’t have to check the map to realize that Armenia is in the centre of this strategic and military chess game. We are, in fact, the eye of the storm.

Georgia in our north in embroiled in conflict with our long-time friend Russia. Iran, our southern neighbor, is facing regular threats from the world’s mightiest nation. The Baku regime in the east is trying to persuade Washington that it’s a reliable ally which would provide the West with oil and gas at reasonable prices. The price of that courtship is, of course, Western pressure on Armenia to hand Artsakh to Azerbaijan. And let’s not forget the heavily-armed genocide-denying neighbor which occupies most of historic Armenia.

So far Yerevan has managed to stay out of the American strategy to constrict Russia. We have remained friends with Moscow, Washington, and Tehran. This might seem like a miraculous tightrope walk. It isn’t.

While Yerevan has played its cards well, Moscow, Washington and Tehran understand that tiny Armenia—caught between a rock, a hard place, and another harder place—has to stay friendly with the three major parties. Like the Armenian community during the Lebanese Civil War, Armenia has wisely chosen the path of positive neutrality.

But to remain in Washington’s good books in the long term, Yerevan needs the concentrated support of American-Armenians. If someday the push comes to shove and militarists in the Pentagon tell Armenia “you’re with us or against us”, Armenia will need deft lobbying from the American-Armenian community. Rather than chase fires as they blaze here and there, our lobbyist should have in hand a robust and clearly-enunciated argument to convince Washington that it is not in its interest to push tiny Armenia.

Whether it sides with Moscow or Washington, in case of conflagration, Armenia would evaporate faster than one can say “Ayp, Pen, Kim”. Some Lebanese Arabs—on both sides of the warring factions—initially expressed their disapproval, if not hostility, when Armenians decided to opt for positive neutrality during that country’s Civil War. But eventually, the warring sides honored the Armenian position. We hope Washington and Moscow demonstrate similar wisdom and sophistication and not try to drag Armenia into their dangerous war games.

  1. Doom and Gloom, Dumb and Dumber

    What a sanitized doom and gloom editorial based on the antiquated saying of an obscure British knight! The poor chap seemed never to envision that the sun will set down on what was once a British dominion and that world will acquire hitherto unimaginable technological advances, where communications will be fluid, instant and newer order of social realities will be ever evolving and issues such as employment, economy, environment will consume our day to day lives. I am sure the readers know what I mean.

    In the sanitized version of this editorial naturally there could be no room for emerging global economic and military powers such as India and China, nor could there be room for ever evolving regional alliances such as Turkey, Syria etc. Much like the Pope who divided the world, this editorial’s world is divided into antiquated opposing camps with Armenia being in the center of their playing field.

    C’mon guys. Granted that it is always easier to show one’s intellectual prowess by tackling subjects on grandeur scale. Let us humble ourselves at the cost of sounding dumb and dumber and discuss things that we can actively do to perpetuate our wonderful culture and heritage that has been entrusted to us over millennia. Let us discuss how can we be active and pro active in our immediate community rather than go to bed praying that may God All Mighty give wisdom to these opposing superpowers not to drag Armenia in their mindless game, as this editorial concludes. Let us discuss how can we urge and entice our sons and daughters to learn a bit more Armenian to connect to their rich heritage, to come together and revive Gomidas’s choir, build another school or church, adopt another family and follow on their children’s well being, subscribe to an Armenian newspaper and so forth and so on…

    1. A short response to Vahe’s note
      Dear Vahe,

      As I understand from your note, you are supposing if we build churches or subscribe to an Armenian newspaper we can survive in diaspora. 

      As a father of two university graduates I am deeply convinced that without a homeland generations will be gone with the wind. So we must be focused on Hayrenik as a first priority not on churches and Armenian newspaper subscriptions. 

    2. A reply to “Vahe on Sun”

      After reading the balanced editorial of Keghart and then the commentary following, I just wanted to finish the last sentence of the author of the "Doom and Gloom…" with the following addition (in italics) and a short comment of my own:

      "…Let us discuss how can we urge and entice our sons and daughters to learn a bit more Armenian to connect to their rich heritage, to come together and revive Gomidas’s choir, build another school or church, adopt another family and follow on their children’s well being, subscribe to an Armenian newspaper and so forth and so on…" and then disappear like the Armenian communities in Poland or in India did…

      It has been 19 years that Armenia/Karabagh have become independent. The continuation of this race will only depend on a strong and prosperous Armenia/Karabagh. While having a strong Diaspora (culturally or otherwise) is desirable, our main focus should be on this last piece of land that we still managed to keep. The reason of our 3,000 plus years of survival is because until 1915 we were on our own lands. Last century we lost that essential factor. So no matter how strong we are in New York, LA, Sydney or Paris, we can not match the possibilities of an independent state, on our own lands, for our future.

    3. Doom and Gloom

      If a saying is antiquated because it was written a century ago, then the Armenian Genocide is an antiquated event… we should move on, get over it, as some supercillious people maintain.
      To call Sir Mackinder an obscure British knight show lack of knowledge in geopolitics, in addition to being a cheap ad hominem tossed at a respected historian.

      Re modern technological changes making Mackinder’s words irrelevant, the U.S. military and diplomatic activities around  the perimeter of Russia prove the British geopolitician’s words remain valid. The editorial demonstrated this repeatedly through examples.

      Re China and India being new and important factors in international politics, the U.S. is trying to control the rise of those two Asian giants by keeping its hands on the oil faucet. Through the support of Arab countries, Turkey and Israel, the U.S. is trying to control the oil wells from Azerbaijan to the Persian Gulf. No oil, no growth, no economic-military might. 

      While no one needs to mention how important our culture and heritage is to us, I am sure Vahe would agree that nothing is more important to the Armenian nation than the survival of Armenia. That’s the point the editorial made.

      I also believe that the editorial encourages Armenian readers not to be transfixed by minutae and look at the big picture. Even islands are not islands when it comes to international relations and wars.

  2. Eye of the Storm – re-dux

    We have two points of view. On one side there are hard facts presented by the editorial. Anybody who has a modicum of analyzing capability , without being a pundit of current Caucasian events, would see the same dangers as the article suggests

    On the other side we have the wishfull thinking of Vahe. True …I wish what he says could be accomplished..BUT as the song says " Que sera sera". Call me a pessimist but living in a dreamworld does not cancel  out the "real-politik" of USA-RUSSIA- IRAN-AZERI  Circle…

  3. A historical perspective

    During the 8th to 10th centuries, one fundamental point of Byzantine diplomacy emerged very clearly, that on no account could the Kingdom of Armenia be allowed to fall into rival Arab or Persian hands. Armenia’s independence was so essential to preserve regardless of the difficulties in dealing with it were.  

    Medieval Armenia was bounded on the west by the Byzantiine Empire, on the south by the Arabs of Caliphate of Baghdad, and to the east by the Persian Empire. 

    Armenia’s foreign policy conduct was complimentarian to the three neighboring superpowers of the era.  In the interest of achieving peace – a state alien to Armenians – Armenia carefully balanced the influences of its rival neighbors.  This foreign policy resulted in the golden age; Armenia’s capital city Ani flourished; Armenia became a populous and prosperous nation, exerting political and economic influence over surrounding states and nations. 

    Its existence depended on these rival empires desiring an independent Kingdom of Armenia as a buffer state, and Armenia itself being strong enough to maintain this status.

    Fast forward to the 21st century, replace the Arabs of Caliphate of Baghdad with the Russian Federation; replace the Byzantine Empire with the West (Turkey, US State Department, and EU); and the Persian Empire with the modern state of Iran. 

    No sides! – Armenia can not and will not chose any side; Armenia’s foreign policy is complimentarian.

  4. Pipelines

    The Russian Federation (and Armenia) have the US State Department by the pipelines.

    That is, oil & gas pipelines.  Armenia & Georgia are the gateway to the Caspian basin oil & gas fields. The goals of the US State Department is to reach the gas reserves of Turkmenistan and the oil fields of Kazakhstan. It is reported that Turkmenistan has enough gas supplies to satisfy the needs of the West for the next 300 years, and Kazakhstan has more oil reserves than the entire middle-east.

    Europe is dependent on gas supplies from the Russian Federation; the US State Department would like to lift that dependency.  This will weaken Russian leverage and power over Europe and deprive Russia form revenues.  The original plan was to bring Georgia into NATO to secure a corridor from Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and across the Caspian sea to Turkmenistan and Kazakistan. The project will entail several pipelines known as NABUCCO.

    Should the US State Department plan have succeeded in bringing Georgia into NATO ranks, Russia and Iran would have been effectively surrounded, and Russia would have lost control of Central Asia’s energy reserves. Under no circumstances was the Russian Federation going to allow that to happen; so, Georgia was invaded in August of 2008, with on-going Russian destabilization attempts in Georgia. The US State Department deems Georgia as unreliable and unstable as a route for pipelines.

    Armenia is viewed as a homogeneous state with no separatist movements as in Georgia’s Abkhazia or Ossetia, and does not have borders with Russia.  Unlike Georgia’s disastrous incalculable foreign policy conduct of siding 100% with the US State Department and 0% with its giant neighbor to the north, Armenia has proven itself to follow a balanced complimentarian foreign policy towards the superpowers’ interests in the region.

    Why is it so important for the West to see Armenia’s borders open?

    1) It provides an end to Russian dominance (leverage and influence) over gas supplies to Europe.

    2) Russian Federation would be wakened and in the future dismembered into the independent republics that form it (Dagestan, Tataristan, Chechnya, etc..).

    3) Control China’s economic development and prevent it from challenging the West; prevent China from competing for the same energy reserves in Central Asia.

    4) Prevent Iran from gaining direct access to Europe via Armenia and the Black Sea port of Batumi in Georgia. Iran is deploying oil & gas pipelines, with plans for railway and highway projects from Tabriz in Iran, across Armenia and on to the port of Batumi. The Armenia route provides Iran with the shortest direct route to Europe, for import and export independent of Turkey’s influence.

  5. I rest my case

    I should have clarified what I took for granted that it is understood that our Diaspora institutions are not ends in themselves but means to the ultimate guarantor of our existence, Armenia.  And yes, subscribing to an Armenian newspaper in Canada and the like are means of focusing on Hairenik.

    Judging from the names of the participants of the discussion on this forum, Berge, Kevork, Tro, Ghazaros, Vartkes, Noubar, Mesrob, Minas, Mgo, Viken, Dikran, Vahe, I liken them, true or not I am not sure of course, to myself. Mostly Middle-aged Armenians, hopefully I do not sound offensive, born and raised in Middle East and the recipients of the education passed to us by a dedicated cadre of teachers whom many of us remember fondly. I do not believe that on these shores we are doing nearly the job they did

    Therefore instead of focusing on analyzing the play of powerful forces and quote an imperial minded British knight of a by gone era, I believe we should focus on our tasks at our hands, how to improve and better our immediate communities.  When  and if these forces unleash their fury in the final Armageddon, I am afraid there may not be many who would know the Armenian alphabet well enough to utter its first three characters “Ayp, pen, kem”.  By taking care of the so-called small matters, the larger matters take care of themselves, in my view that is.

    As to the analogy of positive neutrality to the Armenia’s stand. The positive neutrality was not honored, but accepted, albeit very grudgingly by some.

  6. Doom & Gloom

    Albert is 1000 % correct. I wish all our bretheren could give up building churches . We have enough of them to last as long as we have enough "Armenians " left in the Diaspora. Just enough. If there is no world conflagration of another world war in  the next 200 years , the only Armenians left in the world will be in Motherland, not in New York, not in Paris, not in Los Angeles . Just remember the vibrant communities of Lwow Poland. We will be gone their way.LOST to history.

    We have to give all our strength to Motherland.

    They are building a 15 million dollar religious center in Los Angeles…FOR WHAT…That money could save orphans , hospitals, schools in Armenia and in Karabagh. What will happen to those soul-less edifices when we are gone in 200 years.?

  7. Is it an ominous sign?
    There was a time in my childhood when we would not have school in February in celebration of Vartanants War, baderazm. I am not sure if the same tradition is still maintained by the Armenian schools in Lebanon. The month of February came and went and I remained oblivious of that  important historical date. After all for some 16 centuries we have been celebrating or commemorating it, I am not sure which. It also occurred to me that Vartanants War  never got mentioned in Keghart as well. I admit I also did not bring to the readers’ attention that important historical date too. As I said, I simply forgot all about what once I would not have! Is that an ominous sign of my gradual slipping away from our history and commemorative dates? Come to think of it, we, as a family, have not celebrated our Christmas on January 6 for good many and many years now. If I have happened to take off from work on a January 6, it has not been to celebrate Christmas. Would it not be nice to editorialize the month’s significant Armenian feast on Keghart?

    I have attached  a link about Vartanants War by Antranig Chalabian. It makes an interesting reading. The article appeared in the Military Magazine, a reputable magazine of military history. Dr. Antranig Chalabian was an invited contributor to the magazine. He may be the only Armenian historian who has published in that internationally acclaimed magazine.  Something new I learned when I read the article and I want to share it with the readers in case I cannot attach the link to this note.

    I never knew that Vartanats War was waged in May. Why is it that we celebrate it in February, if the war actually happened in May? Well, Dr. Antranig Chalabian concludes his article with the interesting explanation and writes “The Vardanian War, as it came to be called in Vardan’s honor, began on May 26, 451, but the Armenian church celebrates the event in February. In the past, spring was considered the season for warfare. Armenia’s ecclesiastical fathers had decided to commemorate the event in February, before spring, in order to inspire the youth and prepare their minds for battle, in defense of church and fatherland”.

    1. About Vartanants

      Had Vartan Mamigonian be a better military leader the Vartanants War would have been won. This is the conclusion of a military expert who has studied Vartanants. I do not remeber the author’s name but I read the work in "the Armenian Reporter " 20-25 years ago. I was very impressed by his cold analysis.  We consider Vartanants as a moral victory. I think being massacred and claiming victory is " ayratz srdi ……mkhitarank".

      The gist of his analysis is that the Persian army had assembeled at Avarair plain, the Armenian forces were on much higher ground overlooking the Persians. According to historians of the time the enemy was not aware of Armenians on the hills surrounding Avarair. We are told that Mamigonian waited till sunrise to confront the Persians.

      Here is the blunder:  while the Persian army was sleeping thru the night, the Armenians were praying. If Armenians had attacked as the Persians slept it would have been a real military victory; but no….they had to pray the whole night and missed the opportunity.

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