We evaluated extremely important subjects and events in South Caucasus with Dr. Alexander MURINSON for Strategic Outlook readers.
An exclusive interview by Mehmet Fatih ÖZTARSU
Mr. Murinson works as an expert in Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel and he is now Visiting Scholar at the International Institute for Caucasus Studies in Ilia State University - Tbilisi. His main subjects of study covers Turkish Foreign Policy, Geopolitics of Caucasus and Central Asia. In this interview, he touched the "last elections in Armenia", "identity construction of Yezidis", "PKK’s failure in Armenia" and last developments in Caucasus.
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Sir, what is your opinion about last elections in Armenia? What will change for Armenia’s domestic and foreign policies?
The 2012 elections in Armenia brought some new people to the parliament, but they represent the same business and political interests deeply affiliated with Russia. These changes are of tactical character, but do not constitute any major shift in Armenian politics and orientation.
With the election of Serj Sargsyan, I do not foresee any major changes in Armenia’s foreign policy. He obviously possesses more diplomatic and foreign policy experience, but I do not expect any softening of Armenia’s position on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. The Armenian electorate supported nationalist forces and do not seek peaceable solution, expecting stronger support from Russia and Iran in the conflict with Azerbaijan. Some Russian pro-government “independent” experts even promote an idea that Russia and Iran can under certain circumstances, especially a Western intervention in the region,will recognize this self-proclaimed Armenian enclave. In time, N-K might evolve into a new geopolitical hub of Russian influence in the Caucasus.
This is the unspoken subject which is not talked by experts about Yazidi-Kurdish population in the side of Armenia’s border with Turkey. According to some analysts, PKK is receiving supports from this Yazidi-Kurdish population in Armenia. Is this a hesitate for Turkey about process of opening borders?
In the 1980s and 1990s, the main centers for indoctrination and training of Kurdish and Armenian terrorist organizations such as PKK and ASALA were located in Syria and Lebanon. It was not an accident that the leader of PKK Abdulllah Ocalan headquartered in Syria, and PKK set up training operations in the Syria-controlled Bekaa Valley. PKK extensively cooperated with the Armenian ASALA in training, international networking and weapons procurement. Some members of Dashnaktsutyun political party, active in Yerevan based politics today, were actively involved in these activities. This provides an institutional link to the ongoing activities of PKK internationally and the Caucasus, especially in Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabagh.
Revelations from Wikileaks shed some light on the activities of PKK in Armenia, especially its cooperation with Dashnaks. In an exchange dating back to 1993, the American ambassador and an ex-minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Vahan Papazian, touched upon possible links between ARF "Dashnaktsutyun" and the Kurdistan Workers' Party. According to 1news.az report, the dispatch of the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore on July 26, 1993, published on WikiLeaks. "In a meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Papazian in 1993, U.S. diplomats raised the possibility of the presence of ties between Armenia and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)”. V. Papazian said that a similar question was posed to him by journalists during his recent visit to the United States, and he responds with the following answer: "Between the Government of Armenia and Kurdistan Workers' Party[PKK], there are no ties, but ties may exist be between the PKK and certain groups, such as the Dashnak", - said V.Papazyan. Responding to a diplomat's question which Dashnak about he has in mind, V. Papazian stated that "There all the same." According to the published dispatch, the U.S. embassy tried to check whether the reality of widespread rumors of a PKK-sponsored magazine publishing in Armenia.
Today Yazidis live primarily in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, they also have communities in Russia, Georgia, Armenia and some parts of Europe, especially Germany. Their total population is estimated to be 300.000-500.000. Yezidis in Armenia are split politically and ethnically. In Armenia, there are several tens of thousands, mostly in Yerevan and western part of Armenia. According to the 2001 census population is around 40.620 in Armenia. Some pockets of Yazidis, are influenced by Kurdish nationalist narrative and identify as Kurds, hence, they are more likely to join PKK-sponsored networks. For the purposes of nationalist propaganda and recruitment, PKK established the Kurdish Cultural Center in Yerevan. In particular, religious identification creates a gap between Yezidis, who claim to represent a separate ethno-religious minority from the Kurds. Armenian ethnographers contributed to nurturing a separate identity for local Yazidis. The majority of Armenian Yazidis differentiate between themselves and predominatly Muslim Kurds.
The Yezidis in Armenia have joined the Dashnak military forces against the Ottoman army in 1918, and participted in the war in Nagorno-Karabagh on Armenian side, but they do not want to be associated with Kurds and desire to preserve a separate identity. In my opinion, PKK attempts of recruitment among Yazidis were mostly unsucessfull in Armenia, unlike their footprint in Syria and Lebanon, where they represent a force to be reckon with.
It is important to talk about other actors in the region. How do you explain the role of Azerbaijan about Turkish-Armenian normalisation process?
Azerbaijan was extremely upset -if not to say felt betrayed by the Turkish side- after President Gul co-signed the Swiss Protocols with Armenia. Azerbaijan desires to establish peaceful relations with Armenia, after resolution to its satisfaction of the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabagh. Azerbaijani leadership feels that Turkey did not included the Azerbaijani national interest in its strategic assessment of the sighning of the protocols without directly linking it liberation of the Azerbaijani territory. Turkey should have considered the position of Azerbaijan before proceeding with the Armenian track of the “zero-problem” policy.
This is also a big debate : What is the status between Georgia and Armenia about Javakheti problem, today?
Javakheti region will continue to be a source of tension and mutual suspicions between the two countries, because of the rise in separatist tendencies among Armenians in the region and Yerevan’s mingling in the domestic affairs of Georgia. But due to increasing energy needs, Georgia might need to cover up the local disputes with Armenia in order to receive energy supplies from Iran via Armenia.
According to your opinion, why Iran creates a supporter profile to Armenia about Karabakh problem?
Iran wants to exclude any Western or Israeli influence in the South Caucasus. Armenia feels emboldened by the Iranian support of its stand on the Nagorno-Karabagh and “band-wagonning” with Iran against Azerbaijan and Turkey. The Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabagh provides a potential leverage for Iran in pressuring Azerbaijan to cease cooperation with the Jewish State and the United States.