Armenia at a Сivilizational Сrossroads
The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is expected to unfreeze in the near future. And it is no longer about Nagorno-Karabakh (or, to be more precise, not only about it). This war may well escalate into an international conflict for global dominance in the Transcaucasian geopolitical cluster. That is, the war is not only for Karabakh, but also for Central Asia.
In fact, Azerbaijan, in close cooperation with its "titular ally" - Turkey, is gradually resolving the key issue of its national history, which has been elevated to the rank of a national idea. The first stage was the liberation of seven districts that made up the so-called "Nagorno-Karabakh security belt" - the "indigenous" Azerbaijani districts surrounding the autonomous region and occupied by Armenia during the first phase of the war in the 1990s.
Back then, success was on Yerevan's side, and the occupied areas were used by Armenia as an ace in the hole - returning the territories to Baku's control in exchange for recognition of Armenian jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin corridor linking it to Armenian territory.
The situation changed in 2021, when Azerbaijan was already enjoying military success. But after liberating the "seven districts" in a successful war in the fall of 2021, regaining control of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh itself, and taking control of all the "corridors" connecting the region to Armenia, the Azerbaijani army stopped and even allowed Russian peacekeepers into the region.
The preliminary peace agreement between Baku and Yerevan also envisaged further actions, at least the development of a modality for transferring all of Nagorno-Karabakh to Baku's control while preserving the cultural rights of the Armenian community. And another important point: the creation of a logistics corridor between Azerbaijan and the autonomous Nakhchivan Republic.
The problem for Armenia is that this corridor hides the interests of a more powerful geopolitical player, Turkey. The fact is that the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is an exclave (from the Latin clavis or key) - a non-sovereign region separated from the main territory of the country and surrounded by other states (one or more). In this case, the Nakhchivan region is surrounded by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey.
And the neighborhood with the latter is key. The fact is that the ideology of Turkish President Recep Erdogan today is not "Kemalism" Ataturk's "Kemalism" aimed at Westernization and integration with the West, but rather Pan-Turkism or Ottomanism, aimed at creating a Turkic geopolitical proto-cluster that should unite not only Turkey and Azerbaijan (the concept of "two states - one people"), but also almost all of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
But even this list is not final. Metaphysically, Pan-Turkism extends further, beyond the Altai to Tuva and Yakutia. Such a vector seems too fantastic a futurology today, but any geopolitical metaphysics can, under certain circumstances, become a global "physics."
In the long run, the pan-Turkic proto-cluster is a conglomerate with a population of 170 million people, which is higher than the Russian Federation. But the "Turkic wolf" has a growing demographic on its side, unlike the Russian "bear." The young "Turkic wolf" in Russia's soft underbelly from the Urals to Western Siberia is a more dangerous geopolitical puzzle for Russia, with a potential that exceeds even the risks of the Chinese Far Eastern vector of influence.
Especially given the Muslim factor and the connection between Central Asia and the Volga region, and the Transcaucasus and the North Caucasus (here we can recall Turkey's role in the Crimean War and the uprisings of the peoples of the Caucasus: Circassians, Chechens, Ingush and Dagestanis). There is one weakness in this entire structure: the lack of a geopolitical corridor connecting these countries into a single puzzle.
A Narrow Corridor
The fact is that Turkey is connected to the autonomous Nakhchivan Republic by a very narrow strip of common border 10 km wide, where there is a bridge connecting the two countries with the eloquent name Umid (Hope). But then this corridor rests against Armenia, which separates Nakhchivan from the rest of Azerbaijan. Moreover, it separates it with a relatively narrow strip of territory in the form of the so-called "Zangezur corridor" (Syunik province).
During the wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan at the stage of the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917-1920, it was transferred to Baku under the protection of Great Britain. But in Soviet times, this territory was returned to Armenian control. Perhaps to curb Pan-Turkic nationalism, or perhaps as compensation to Armenia for the territories of "Greater Armenia" transferred to the Republic of Turkey, including the sacred Armenian Mount Ararat.
The interests of the Kurds are also intertwined in this puzzle (remember the self-proclaimed Ararat Kurdish Republic, which existed in 1927-1930 and was liquidated by Turkish troops). As well as the interests of Iran, which fears the strengthening of the Azerbaijani-Turkish alliance, remembering the creation of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan in January 1946 during the Soviet occupation of northern Iran.
In addition, during the same period, the Kurdish Mehabad Republic was proclaimed in Iranian Kurdistan (Western Azerbaijan province). Then, under pressure from Great Britain, Soviet troops left Iran and all these quasi-state entities ceased to exist, but the historical memory of those events remained in Tehran.
A War That May Not Happen
Thus, a new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which may break out this fall, will be less about regaining control over Nagorno-Karabakh (which, in total isolation, is already doomed to return to Baku's jurisdiction) than about creating a full-fledged corridor: Turkey - Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic - Zangezur Corridor - Azerbaijan - Caspian Sea - Central Asia.
As strange as it may sound, this may become a civilizational milestone for Armenia. Since the 1990s, the country has been ruled by the so-called "Karabakh political clan," which was a "militarized part" of society that controlled all political and economic processes in the country, up to the famous shooting of some members of parliament right in the session hall as a reaction to peace talks with Azerbaijan.
The "militarized" superstructure in Armenian society can be characterized as follows: ultra-radical patriotism bordering on nationalism, archaization of political processes, and at the same time, systemic corruption and low living standards. At the same time, the Armenian diaspora, especially in Europe and the United States, would like to see the country's rapprochement with the West, security guarantees from the United States and Britain, while implementing liberal reforms and eradicating corruption.
But to do so, Armenia needs to be pulled out of the CSTO (military alliance with Russia), the Customs Union, and the EAEU, with Armenia moving in parallel with Georgia toward the EU and NATO. Accession to the EU in exchange for Armenia's reconciliation with the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh and the opening of the Zangezur corridor to Turkey could become a new strategy for Armenia and a factor in diversifying its security system.
The Armenian authorities have already begun to act in this direction: the start of the implementation of the Rome Statute (which carries a personal attack against Putin), the visit of the First Lady of Armenia to Kyiv for the First Ladies and Gentlemen Summit hosted by Olena Zelenska (with the transfer of humanitarian aid to Ukraine), joint exercises with the US military in Armenia.
All of this has become a matter of undisguised irritation in Moscow, and the Russian Foreign Ministry even summoned the Armenian ambassador to provide explanations. This irritation is exacerbated by the fact that Russia cannot afford to go to war with Azerbaijan, which is backed by Turkey, even if Baku attacks Armenian territory and Yerevan receives the formal right to seek military assistance from CSTO members. Russia is not capable of waging a war on two fronts, against Ukraine and Turkey, because the Russian army is the backbone of the CSTO response force. There is a Russian military base in Armenia, in Gyumri, but its forces are clearly insufficient, as are the forces of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Obviousness of the Non-Obvious
A possible war could thus become the first default of Moscow's military alliance obligations in the post-Soviet space and the beginning of the collapse of the CSTO structure, whose members are the very Turkic states in Central Asia that are getting closer to Turkey and will clearly not fight it in favor of Armenia.
Such a default could also be a very convenient excuse for Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan, who would thus prove to the public the irreversibility of the loss of Karabakh, the transfer of the Zangezur corridor, and the change in geopolitical orientation. Armenia will not survive another clash with Azerbaijan, and Russia will not be able to help it either.
Giving up the already lost Karabakh, transferring control of the Zangezur corridor to Turkey in exchange for real security guarantees from the United States and Britain and the prospect of joining the EU is what the Armenian diaspora in the world (except for the diaspora in Russia) will support, not only with its lobbying but also with its capital.
Such events could mean Russia's almost complete ousting from the Transcaucasus in the context of its ability to use "hard power" in the form of a military presence. In this case, Moscow will have only soft power tools in the form of economic influence, as is already happening in Georgia (after the 2008 war) and Azerbaijan.
Given the specifics of the region, Armenia will also be happy to use the bonuses of Russia's soft power to maintain trade preferences on the Russian market. At the same time, it is "imperceptibly" drifting toward the EU and NATO. Just as Azerbaijan did for a long time, maintaining contacts with Moscow and drifting "imperceptibly" toward Turkey. As Georgia is doing now, where Turkey's influence (Adjara) is also great. And where the European integration course is maintained, despite attempts to freeze it under the influence of "fright" Tbilisi by Russia's war against Ukraine.
For Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, such events may be the final victory of his model of country development over the concepts of "militarized elites" who kept Karabakh for Armenia, but at the cost of corruption and low living standards, which made Armenia's military superiority over Azerbaijan a thing of the past.
After his defeat in the war, Pashinyan had already received a vote of confidence in the elections, despite the fact that former President Serzh Sargsyan advised Pashinyan to shoot himself and another opposition leader, Kocharyan, even challenged him to a duel with any weapon. Pashinyan won the next elections, or rather, his civilization model won in the form of liberal reforms and development of the country instead of controlling territories as an end in itself at the cost of human lives. Pashinyan felt very uncomfortable among the "elders" of the CIS, remaining, in fact, a black sheep there. His move to the West will finally bring the form and content of his policy into harmonious unity.