Post Soccer Diplomacy

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian meeting in Yerevan during a September 6 soccer match between the two countries' national teams. Photolur

After Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Armenia and met with his counterpart Eduard Nalbandian and President Serzh Sarkisian last week, the announcemen’s coming out of Yerevan signaled a steady grip on the Karabakh peace process.

This week, however, a series of announcemen’s from Azerbaijan, Russia and then Turkey signaled a consolidated effort to rush to a resolution of the Karabakh conflict, as a pre-condition for ensuring and establishing stability in the region.

First there was Novruz Mammadov, an Azeri Presidential advisor, who said that many issues remained unresolved especially pointing to the Lachin issue and the Karabakh status, urging all sides for a quick consensus on this issue and bringing back the "phased" resolution process.

In remarks to a Russian newspaper, Lavrov echoed the Lachin issue and expressed confidence that after Wednesday’s presidential polls in Azerbaijan, the Karabakh conflict resolution would be on the horizon, since, without that Armenia and Turkey would not be able to establish normal diplomatic relations–a sentiment long echoed by Turkey.

Then there was the US, with its often loose cannon Matthew Bryza saying that the US held Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in highest regard in continuing to mediate the Karabakh conflict as one of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

There are several scenarios at play in the Caucasus region, as two world powers rush to flex their muscle. An announcement by Turkey’s Abdullah Gul that he would fly to Moscow to discuss the Caucasus and the stability pact it has created further indicates a loose–or perhaps strong–collusion between Turkey and Russia to consolidate power in the region aiming to ward off US and EU efforts to create a foothold in the area. This coupled with recent reports of a very lukewarm reception of Vice-President Dick Cheney by Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev and an almost all-out rejection of the West-proposed Nabuco Pipeline bypassing Russia, signals a new order in the region.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s post soccer diplomacy and continued declaration of its unique position in the region after the Georgian-Russian war do not seem to be providing it with much leverage power in the region. This week’s announcemen’s signal that a dangerous noose is beginning to tighten around Armenia’s neck with all at stake, including Karabakh and everything Armenia’stood to gain from its overtures to Turkey.

Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan this week said that for Armenia the most important issue was establishing friendly relations with all its neighbors, however, hinting that Azerbaijan was more of a priority that Turkey these days. Meanwhile President Sarksian went to Tbilisi to reassure his failing counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili that Armenia was willing and able to be the ally that Georgia needed in the region.

While the world has been focused on the disastrous consequences of the economic crisis in the US and its impact on the world, Turkey and Russia have been quietly forging an alliance that could prove dangerous for Armenia in the long run.

Absent any concrete statemen’s or posturing from Armenia and its officials, we are left hoping that the Sarkisian administration, with its foreign policy apparatus, is ready to confront these new challenges that will have an indelible impact on Armenia’s and Karabakh’s future, as well as on any chance of supporting the large Armenian population in Javakhk.

With no surprises expected in the upcoming Azeri presidential race, this week’s rhetoric is a sign of things to come: a more vocal call for a quick fix in Karabakh, in the name of regional stability. The Armenian government must be forceful in defending Armenia’s national interests and not make any concessions that could jeopardize our political gains of the past several years. It’s a very volatile waiting game.

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