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Returns on Diplomatic Investment: Zionist Policies and the Armenians

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There were repercussions to Zionist pursuits associated with the Armenian Question over a century ago. The Armenian Question refers to the protection and the freedom of Armenians from their neighboring communities and the Ottoman Turkish government. The Armenian Question spans forty years of history in the context of international power politics generally from the 1878 Congress of Berlin to the start of World War One.

These Zionist pursuits appear continuing to the present day.  The advancement of a surrogate Turkish identity onto Muslim-centric Turkish leaders was initiated in large part by Jews and crypto-Jews in influential and leadership positions. The resulting ultra-nationalist ideology along with the manipulation of external conditions or direct involvement in internal events of the Ottoman Turkish state by international players had a devastating effect on the Armenians. It provided the ideological basis for, and encouraged, the genocide of the Armenians under the guise of World War One. The subsequent policy of genocide denial by Turkey was supported by the state of Israel for decades. These actions should provide a lesson for today’s semi-official Israeli public relations policy regarding present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Theodor Herzl faction of early Zionism attempted to secure influence with the Turkish Sultan in the very late 19th century by offering to help calm anti-Turkish opinion in European press in the aftermath of empire-wide repressive measures against Armenians. Near the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when scores of Jews were subject to pogroms in central and eastern Europe, the Armenians in Turkey were being eliminated in state-sponsored massacres on the order of tens of thousands, later into hundreds of thousands with their possessions and lands expropriated, Armenians were eventually subjected to a genocide which exterminated nearly two thirds of the Armenians in Turkey and neighboring countries. It was during this time when Herzl offered to secure financing to pay off the massive Ottoman debt in exchange for medium-scale Jewish immigration into Palestine and the outright purchase of large swaths of land for that purpose. These actions will be examined and contrasted with other policies:

  • Aiding in the ideological formation of an ethnic Turkish uniqueness to replace the traditional religious identity
  • During the 1980s and into the early 2000s kowtowing to Turkish denials of their genocide of the Armenians during World War One
  • Today’s anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani articles and political commentary, the majority being authored by Jewish writers and posted in leading Israeli or otherwise Jewish-centric on-line sites.

Theodor Herzl, Early Zionism, and the Ottoman Sultan

Early Zionism as defined by Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, had a goal of alleviating the deteriorating conditions under which Jews lived, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, in an attempt to catch up with the nationalist and societal consolidation that was sweeping across Europe. As part of that goal, it was concluded that Jews ultimately needed a sovereign homeland. It was not immediately apparent where such homeland might be, but Palestine was at the top of the list. Palestine had been ruled by the Turks since the early 1500s. There was a brief period, from 1832 to 1840, when Palestine was conquered by Egypt, but the British eventually re-secured Turkish rule over the region. Such realpolitik certainly caught the attention of Zionists, that is, a power such as Great Britain could determine the fate of a piece of land Zionists eyed as the Jewish homeland. However, the issue for Herzl and his Zionist contemporaries was that Palestine was an integral part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire with its sultan as the Sunni Islamic Caliph. A confluence of opportunities presented themselves to the Herzl camp in the late 1890s. Herzl was a journalist and businessman well aware of the dire financial situation of Ottoman Turkey. Being well-versed in contemporary European politics, with contacts in centers of power in Europe, acquaintances in the publishing industry and centers of finance, Herzl was introduced to the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. This initial meeting took place on May 17, 1901, in the aftermath of the sultan ordering the empire-wide massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Ottoman Turkey was receiving negative press across Europe, which made its financial condition critical due to a near complete erosion of trust and sympathy towards Turkey in general and the sultan in particular.

Herzl offered the sultan financing for the payment of the sizeable Ottoman state debt and use his influence in countering anti-Turkish/pro-Armenian sentiment that existed throughout European press. In return, Herzl wanted to acquire large regions of Ottoman Palestine accompanied by Jewish immigration. Herzl also met with Armenian leaders in an attempt to end to their demands for equal rights as Ottoman citizens. Herzl’s association with the sultan was not universally accepted by others across the Zionist political spectrum. Max Nordau wanted nothing to do with Herzl’s dealings. Bernard Lazare, a French Jew quit the 1899 Zionist Congress with the statement, “How can those who purport to represent the ancient people whose history is written in blood extend a welcoming hand to murderers, and no delegate to the Zionist Congress rises up in protest?” He protested the Herzl Zionist faction’s public honoring of Sultan Hamid II. After back and forth meetings between Herzl and the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Herzl’s offers were rejected.
Some present-day Jewish hypotheses surrounding Herzl’s motives suggest that Herzl sold out the Armenians or had contempt for the Armenians and their plight. In most likelihood, there wasn’t an anti-Armenian sentiment working here, but rather the Armenian condition was exploited.

The global power of Great Britain was apparent to Zionists, whose goal was at least securing Jewish immigration into Palestine, but whispers of dismembering the “Sick Man of Europe” was heard again across the capitals of Europe during these early years of the early 20th century. A catalyst for such dismemberment was the introduction, organizing, and manipulation of latent ethnic identities and national aspirations among the constituent population of Ottoman Turkey. Amplifying such a group ethnicity was challenging since Sunni Islam permeated the Ottoman Muslim constituency. The national emergence of the Empire’s Christian populations resulted in the independence of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and eventually most all the Balkans between the late nineteenth and just before out outbreak of World War One. Greece had become independent much earlier in the nineteenth century. European powers, especially Great Britain, in an attempt to counter Russian expansion in both Central Asia and towards the Adriatic shores based on a pan-Slavic ideology, looked favorably upon the introduction of a pan-Turanist (pan-Turkic) ideology which glorified a mythical ethnic origin of the Turks. The mechanics of this pan-Turanist doctrine were rather crude as compared with the republican implementations seen in Europe, such as with Garibaldi’s unification of Italian city-states and Bismark’s Prussian homogenization. In Ottoman Turkey, Sunni Islam was the element of identity, ethnic and linguistic association was secondary. Something needed to be instilled into the Turkish element of the empire, just as Arab nationalism was championed by Lawrence of Arabia as its public face, to generate enough centripetal force to replace Islam as the leading or only group identity with a national, and subsequently a geo-ethnic character. Directed nationalism ushered in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by the British and French, the most capable colonial powers.

The Young Turk Movement and Dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire

The Young Turk movement, also known as Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) with its origins many years earlier, overthrew the Ottoman Sultan in 1908 and initially promised equality among the constituent ethnicities of the Empire. However, soon after that putsch, the hard-line faction within the CUP prevailed with its Social Darwinist ultra-nationalist ideology. Its many tenets were based on concocted racial theories put forth by contemporary writers, including Arminius Vambery a Hungarian Jew and “The man most responsible for popularizing the concepts of Turan and pan-Turkism…”.  Vambery published many works on the necessity for the revival of Turkish nationality, language, literature and generated theories about ethnic ties between Turks and Hungarians. His 1864 work, Travels in Central Asia, was written for [British] Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, implying it was of military interest. For decades Rawlinson advocated that Russia was hostile and expansionist, threatening British interests in Afghanistan and India. Tekin Alp, born Moiz Cohen was a writer, philosopher, and one of the founding fathers of Turkish nationalism as well as the Pan-Turanist movement. The 1912 work Turan was his seminal work. The efforts of these and other writers resulted in the mythic Turkish ethos espoused by individuals such as Ziya Gokalp considered the CUP central ideologue along with a noteworthy individual, Dr. Nazim.

There were high-ranking CUP officials and other lesser known figures that were secret Jewish converts to Islam, known as dönme in the Turkish language. Many had an association with Masonic clubs and other societies in Salonika (now in Greece) cooperating with Turkish military leaders across Ottoman lands in the now ex-Yugoslav areas and Albania.  An Italian Jew, Emanual Carrasso founded the Macedonian Masonic Lodge and spearheaded the Young Turk movement. Many leaders of the Young Turks movement were from the Salonika region, especially local dönme. In his book, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks, Marc Baer states on page 96 “Dönme played a significant role in the turn-of-the-century Ottoman politics and an important founding and supporting role.” Talaat Pasha, considered the architect of the Armenian genocide, was a member of the Salonika organization, as was the dönme, Dr. Nazim. Nazim, a chief ideologue in the CUP, was vehemently anti-Armenian, and also championed the expulsion of Greeks from Anatolia. Dönme Mehmed Cavid was the Ottoman Turkish Minister of Finance until 1914 but remained as a financial adviser until 1917.

It was in the interest of Zionists to instill a sense of Turkishness in a constituent population that was otherwise Islamic-centric. This mechanism was in the plans of imperial Europe bent on the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Imperial European and Zionist interests were parallel. Zionist intelligence organizations, such as the Nili group, were in the service of Great Britain during WWI. Memoirs of the Nili spies describe the Turkish extermination of Armenians. Zionists feared the Turks would seek the elimination of Jews, for the Turks not only went after Armenians, but Greeks and Assyrians were to be eliminated as well. Indeed, the Jews in Palestine were to be deported. Initially, thousands of Jews were deported from Jaffa in 1917, but this was quickly halted.

With Turks expending enormous resources exterminating the Armenians and plundering their wealth,  less energy would be spent in fighting the Allied Powers during the war. Simultaneously, the effort creating a new geo-ethnic identity, the Turk, was crudely successful, mechanically manifesting itself by eliminating the Armenian presence in Anatolia, the heartland of an envisioned Turk-only republic. The elimination of the Armenians, as the significant ethnicity controlling commerce and trade in Anatolia, was also encouraged by the Germans as they would co-opt Armenians to increase their influence along and far beyond the Berlin-Baghdad railroad. In fact, the elimination of the Armenians was suggested by influential Germans years before World War One. One such example is Dr. Paul Rohrbach, Settlements Commissioner in German Southwest Africa, the location of the German genocide of the Herero in 1905. He was an advocate of eradicating native Africans to make room for the “white race.” Rohrbach also proposed a deportation of the Armenians as early as 1913 to solve the “Armenian Question.”

Early after the outbreak of World War One, the Sykes-Picot agreement had been agreed to with British and French mandates over large regions of former Ottoman territories. This agreement included a British mandate over Ottoman Palestine, and in association Jewish immigration, as spelled out in the Balfour Declaration. The Armenians were in the way of these European powers economically controlling areas stretching from the Mediterranean to the oil fields of Baku, where the Rothschilds found Armenians competitors and irritants to unfettered transport and control of oil.

Jewish and Israeli Support for Turkish Genocide Denial

Israel’s semi-official policy of supporting the official Turkish state policy of genocide denial, unfortunately, meant that denial of genocide could be rationalized for the benefit of more significant interests. It should not be concluded that Israel is anti-Armenian or even pro-Turkish, but rather the interests of Israel is a simple calculation. The prospects (economic or regional) appeared brighter for Israel in detente with Turkey than to deal with a frail ex-soviet Armenia and politically weak Armenian diaspora. To encourage better relations with Turkey, Israel was in a position to offer their influence to minimize or otherwise obfuscate the genocide of the Armenians. Israel has never politically recognized the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and is still not part of the official Israeli school curriculum, even though a large percentage of books, articles, and analysis about the Armenian genocide are authored by Jewish and Israeli authors. Israel could get away with claiming Armenians were not subject to genocide, or claim Armenian suffering cannot possibly be compared with the Holocaust. However, as Turkey’s relations began to improve with Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s, official Israeli statements regarding the non-genocide of the Armenians intensified. It hit a peak on April 10, 2001, when Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted on the front page of April 10, 2001, Turkish Daily News, “Armenian Allegations Are Meaningless.”

What followed were Jewish organizations in places such as the United States quietly supporting Turkish efforts in defeating US congressional resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide, year after year. As relations between Turkey and Israel soured in the latter half of this decade, many US Jewish groups began distancing themselves from supporting Turkish genocide denial.

Azerbaijan Gets Free Anti-Armenian Public Relations

Ever since members of the Israeli Knesset visited Baku in September of 2015, with some of them (Israeli Knesset Member Oren Hazan and advisor Mendi Safadi) pledging to counter Armenian claims over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, there has been a spike in the number of articles written that are thoroughly anti-Armenian and pro-Azerbaijani. At that rather high-level meeting, Safadi, in particular, said, “I’ve always been on the side of Azerbaijan, and we are ready to provide assistance and patronage of the Azerbaijani side to neutralize the influence of the Armenian lobby in the US Congress, the EU institutions, and international organizations.” The themes are so conspicuous that propaganda is the only purpose of such yellow journalism. It has been observed that an overwhelming number of these politically targeted articles are written by Israeli or diaspora Jews with publicly verifiable affiliation with Israeli or Jewish groups. See the table below.

Nurit Greenger
Jacob Kamaras
Alexander Murinson
Israel Barouk
Arye Gut
Diana Cohen Altman
Samuel Rahmani
Justin Amler
Lloyd Green
Jason Katz
Marcia Bronstein
Raoul Lowery Contreras
Eugen Iladi
Neil Richards
Peter Tase

Note: While not exhaustive, the table above includes those affiliated with organizations in Israel or the Jewish diaspora, and only English language articles. Other authors are listed whose affiliations are indeterminate. Every listed author has nearly the same themes through their published articles. The table is based on publicly available information. Samples of their writing can easily be found by searching for their names on the internet.

Many articles usually combine themes extolling zero anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan, Jews living idyllically in Azerbaijan, or how Azerbaijan surpasses all expectation of a state exhibiting multi-cultural tolerance. Armenia is portrayed as the devil incarnate, being racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, pro-Russian and Iranian, buying and selling illicit nuclear material, having powerful lobbies in the United States, etc. This propagandist effort is detrimental to readers because it generates a completely inaccurate view of reality. For example, Israeli flags are burned on Azerbaijani streets, and the Azerbaijan President Aliev in 2012 was given the title of the Corrupt Man of the Year. Only a couple months back the term Azerbaijan Laundromat was used to describe widespread money laundering and influence peddling discovered based in the UK. Armenia isn’t perfect, no state is, but the universal representative theme of these articles is zero-sum, 100% positive for Azerbaijan, 100% negative for Armenia.

It appears some of what Theodor Herzl suggested to the Ottoman Turkish Sultan in Constantinople is being played out a century later in Baku. Hypotheses can be proposed to account for this targeted public relations campaign, and they include:

1) Israeli Knesset members were sweetening deals made with Azerbaijan by offering positive Azerbaijani public relations at the expense of Armenia.
2) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel purchasing half its crude oil imports from a Muslim country.

3) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel’s selling billions of dollars of high-technology weaponry as well as covert security arrangements with a Muslim state.
4) Since Armenia has cordial relations with both Iran and Russia, Armenia is an indirect secondary target for both anti-Russian and anti-Iranian propaganda regardless of Azerbaijan also having close relations with both Iran and Russia.

Israeli concerns about Azerbaijan receiving negative public relations are not new and can be traced back to the early 1990s when the use of the internet began. Starting in the late 1980s, the first facility that today is known as social media was called Usenet newsgroups. The mechanism of information transfer, clearly preceding the World Wide Web, looked like emails sent to all those registered for the particular topic of interest. This author was a prolific contributor to the issue of the denial of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, exposing real-time human rights violations taking place against Armenians across Azerbaijan, and fighting taking place in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The reports coming out of Azerbaijan were horrific. I was the top contributor to these Usenet newsgroup reports. In early 1992, I was contacted by the purported president of the Shawsheen Valley Zionist Council, a chapter located in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area at the time. Interestingly, I worked with this woman at a previous job and knew her well. She was extremely interested in what I was posting about Azerbaijan, why I was posting, where I was getting my information, and asked for an account on my server for somebody in their organization. I was told that my efforts were interfering in the interests of the state of Israel.  After a few questions and answers, a several year friendship came to an end.

What Lessons Might be Learned

Not recognizing a genocide that was the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust apparently had almost no downside for Israel. Israel and the Jewish diaspora absorbed a lot of political backlash from allegations made about crypto-Jewish involvement with the Young Turk and the CUP movement, as well as Israel supporting Turkish genocide denial. Israeli non-recognition of the Armenian genocide caused angst in the Jewish diaspora.  Many were torn by the dissonance between supporting Israeli actions, while such policies denied a crime of genocide. The latter is something antithetical to modern Judaism. Recognizing claims of genocide where none occurred is equally disgraceful especially in the most sacred of Jewish venues, synagogues.

Today’s blatant anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani propaganda will have lingering repercussions. It will linger because these actions are inevitably woven into issues associated with continued non-recognition of the crime of genocide committed on the Armenians and existential threats to the survival of Armenia.  It is not necessary for the state of Israel to create a soft [Armenian] enemy where no enmity exists, even if half of the gasoline tanks in Israel are filled with an Azerbaijani crude distillate. Israel could purchase just as much crude from Azerbaijan, sell Azerbaijan billions of dollars of high technology weaponry yet not engage in anti-Armenian propaganda. Policy makers in Israel weighed the numbers and compared the possible reaction of land-locked Armenia with a population of three million against an oil-rich Azerbaijan with eight million people and its long border with Iran. Experts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry might want to review such policy, given its lack of return over the past century.

The Diplomatic Returns

Armenians today view the Jewish or crypto-Jewish influence in both the Young Turk movement and its ideology as at least a contributing factor in the genocide of the Armenians. This view might be a logical hypothesis. However, there is no evidence of any organized Zionist or crypto-Jewish universal interest in seeking the destruction of the Armenians. However, it would be rather unlikely for dönme in leadership positions in the CUP not to have known of the planned elimination of the Armenians. In the end, the process of forced ethnic homogenization of Anatolia continues as Turkish state policy, unabated to this day, taking on a path of its own.

Theodor Herzl’s foray with the Ottoman Sultan at the expense of the Armenians ended in a dead end. Zionists certainly aided European forces associated with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Turkish nationalism. Their participation at the highest levels of the CUP attests to this. The results of this were indeed the dismemberment of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the Balfour Declaration, but also the genocide of the Armenians. Were the Armenians mere collateral damage, as a result of an operational ultra-nationalist Turkish policy?

The genocide of the Armenians became the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust. Over eight hundred German officers were in the Turkish Army before and during World War One, many witnessed the extermination of the Armenians, but others planned and participated. The German General Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorf, the Chief of the General Staff of the Ottoman Army, justified actions against the Armenians – even after World War One. In 1919 he stated, “The Armenian is like the Jew, a parasite when outside his homeland, who sucks up the health of other country in which he settles. Thence comes the hate which was discharged in a medieval fashion against them as an undesirable people and which led to their murder.”  (See another translation) Von Schellendorf became a fervent supporter of Hitler in the 1930s. If the Armenian Genocide didn’t occur or if the Turks were not allowed to evade justice, the political discourse in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany could have been different enough that it is possible the Nazi Holocaust may not have taken place. Every significant political or diplomatic effort has its effect and overtones. The human condition is a continuum.

Israeli support for Turkish genocide denial only brought attention to Israel’s, seemingly hypocritical, policy regarding its non-recognition of the Armenian genocide, although minority parties in the Israeli Knesset periodically open debate on the topic. In the end, Israel appears to be holding the Armenian genocide like the Sword of Damocles over the head of Turkey.

Armenia’s geopolitical situation is not of its making. After a devastating genocide, what remained of Armenia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. This incorporation included Joseph Stalin placing heavily Armenian populated regions, such as Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. During the breakup of the Soviet Union, fighting escalated between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1994, Armenians were able to defend and establish sovereignty over this region, to the dismay of Azerbaijan. Subsequently, both Azerbaijan and Turkey blockaded their borders with Armenia. Seventy percent of Armenian’s borders are currently blockaded. During this same period, the West being euphoric having won the Cold War and with NATO busily dismembering Yugoslavia, Armenia had no choice in turning to Russia for its defense, having been strategically threatened by Turkey and ignored by the West. In contrast, Azerbaijan was signing lucrative oil extraction and transportation deals with western suitors funding both Baku’s oligarchic system and its substantial arms purchases. Unless another party comes along and offers a better deal to Armenia, a Russian retreat from its treaty obligations to defend Armenia’s borders will spell the end of what exists of Armenia. As it was a century ago, the international community perceives Armenia as an irritant to broader corporate, regional and international interests. What will Israel do when Azerbaijan is critically out of oil? It will buy it from somebody else or pump it out of the Golan Heights, but the fallout of its unofficial anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani policy will linger.

These series of Zionist policies and activities over a century are essentially realpolitik, with results both chaotic and riddled with Machiavellian indifference.

The Armenians over a century ago were in political situations beyond their ability to influence. Powerful forces were in motion then, and the Armenians were used, manipulated, and eventually deemed an inconvenience, relegated to extermination. The existence of Armenia, today, appears to be an inconvenience and remains a tool to be used by others.

David Davidian is a Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has spent over a decade in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanians fight for silence

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The Ministry of Defence of Denmark has made an important decision supporting human rights of Danish citizens.

Thus, Denmark’s new fleet of F-35s, which are to replace the F-16s currently in use, will arrive at Skrydstrup air base in South Jutland starting in 2023. When the new air force is finally ready, far more neighbours will be bothered by the noise exceeding limit values, calculations by the Danish Defence Ministry show. The 100 worst-affected homes will have to suffer noise levels of over 100 decibels, which is comparable to a rock concert or a busy motorway.

The noise pollution from F-35s is projected to exceed that of the F-16s, though noise pollution from F-16 also bother locals. Discontent of citizens reduced their confidence not only in the Ministry of Defence but in their current government and NATO as well.

Thus decided to compensate the victims.This step has improved the image of the armed forces and showed the population the care that the Ministry of Defense shows to a residents of the country.

A similar situation has developed in Lithuania. Lithuanian citizens demand compensation from the Ministry of National Defense due to high noise level made by fighter flights from Šiauliai airbase as part of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing.

Lithuania is a NATO member state and contribute to the collective defence of the Alliance. Thus, Šiauliai airbase hosts fighter jets that conduct missions of the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing.
Citizens also initiated on-line petitions in order to attract supporters and demonstrate their strong will to fight violation of human rights in Lithuania.

According to peticijos.lt, the petition was viewed more than 5 thousand times. This shows great interest of Lithuanian society in the subject.At the same time existing control over any political activity, as well as silence of current government and Ministry of National Defence don’t allow people openly support such idea. All websites with petitions demand the provision of personal data. Nobody wants to be punished and executed.

The lack of response is not a very good position of the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence in case Lithuania wants to prove the existence of democracy. Denmark is a prime example of a democratic society caring for its people.

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Eastern Europe

Georgia Returns to the Old New Silk Road

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Georgia has historically been at the edge of empires. This has been both an asset and a hindrance to the development of the country. Hindrance because Georgia’s geography requires major investments to override its mountains, gorges and rivers. An asset because Georgia’s location allowed the country from time to time to position itself as a major transit territory between Europe and the Central Asia, and China further away.

This geographic paradigm has been well in play in shaping Georgia’s geopolitical position even since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of modern technologies. Thereafter, Georgia has been playing a rebalancing game by turning to other regional powers to counter the resurgent Russia. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran (partly) and bigger players such as the EU and the US are those which have their own interest in the South Caucasus. However, over the past several years yet another power, China, with its still evolving Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been slowly emerging in the South Caucasus.

This how a new Silk Road concept gradually emerged at the borders of Georgia. In fact, a closer look at historical sources from the ancient, medieval or even 15th-19th cc. history of Georgia shows an unchanged pattern of major trade routes running to the south, west, east and north of Georgia. Those routes were usually connected to outer Middle East, Central Asia, and the Russian hinterland.

Only rarely did the routes include parts of the Georgian land and, when it happened, it lasted for merely a short period of time as geography precluded transit through Georgia: the Caucasus Mountains and seas constrained movement, while general geographic knowledge for centuries remained limited.

It was only in the 11th-12th cc. that Georgian kings, David IV, Giorgi III and Queen Tamar, spent decades of their rule trying to gain control over neighboring territories with the goal to control the famous Silk Roads. Since, foreign invasions (Mongols, Ottomans, Persians, Russians) have largely prevented Georgia from playing a major transit role for transcontinental trade.

This lasted until the break-up of the Soviet Union. After 1991, Georgia has returned to its positioning between the Black and Caspian seas, between Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Major roads, pipelines and railway lines go through Georgian territory. Moreover, major works are being done to expand and build existing and new Georgian ports on the Black Sea with the potential to transform Georgia into a sea trade hub.

A good representation of Georgia’s rising position on the Silk Road was a major event held in Tbilisi on October 22-23 when up to 2000 politicians, potential investors from all over the world, visited the Georgian capital. The event was held for the third time since 2015 and attracted due attention. In total, 300 different meetings were held during the event.

The hosting of the event underscores how Georgia has recently upped its historical role as a regional hub connecting Europe and Asia. On the map, it is in fact the shortest route between China and Europe. There is a revitalization of the ancient Silk Road taking place in Georgia. This could in turn make the country an increasingly attractive destination for foreign investment. Indeed, the regional context also helps Tbilisi to position itself, as Georgia has Free Trade Agreements with Turkey, the CIS countries, the EFTA and China and a DCFTA with the European Union, comprising a 2.3 billion consumer market.

Thus, from a historical perspective, the modern Silk Road concept emanating from China arguably represents the biggest opportunity Georgia has had since the dissolution of the unified Georgian monarchy in 1490 when major roads criss-crossed the Georgian territory. In the future, when/if successive Georgian governments continue to carry out large infrastructural projects (roads, railways, sea ports), Tbilisi will be able to use those modern ‘Silk Roads’ to its geopolitical benefit, namely, gain bigger security guarantees from various global and regional powers to uphold its territorial integrity.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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Eastern Europe

Strategic Black Sea falls by the wayside in impeachment controversy

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Presidents Donald J. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a plateful of thorny issues on their agenda when they met in the White House this week.

None of the issues, including Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria, its acquisition of a Russian anti-missile system and its close ties to Russia and Iran, appear to have been resolved during the meeting between the two men in which five Republican senators critical of Turkey participated.

The failure to narrow differences didn’t stop Mr. Trump from declaring that “we’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day-one. We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from.”

Mr. Trump’s display of empathy for an illiberal leader was however not the only tell-tale sign of the president’s instincts. So was what was not on the two men’s agenda: security in the Black Sea that lies at the crossroads of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and NATO member Turkey.

The Black Sea is a flashpoint in multiple disputes involving Russia and its civilizationalist definition of a Russian world that stretches far beyond the country’s internationally recognized borders and justifies its interventions in Black Sea littoral states like Ukraine and Georgia.

The significance of the absence of the Black Sea on the White House agenda is magnified by the disclosure days earlier that Mr. Trump had initially cancelled a US freedom of navigation naval mission in the Black Sea after CNN had portrayed it as American pushback in the region.

The disclosure came in a transcript of closed-door testimony in the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump’s policy towards Ukraine by Christopher Anderson, a former advisor to Kurt Volker, the US special representative to Ukraine until he resigned in September.

Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Trump phoned his then national security advisor, John Bolton, at home to complain about the CNN story. He said the story prompted the president to cancel the routine operation of which Turkey had already been notified.

The cancellation occurred at a moment that reports were circulating in the State Department about an effort to review US assistance to Ukraine.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report… I can’t speculate as to why…but that…operation was cancelled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion,” Mr. Anderson said.

The operation was cancelled weeks after the Russian coast guard fired on Ukrainian vessels transiting the Strait of Kerch that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and separates Russian-annexed Crimea from Russian mainland. ‘This was a dramatic escalation,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Trump at the time put a temporary hold on a condemnatory statement similar to ones that had been issued by America’s European allies. Ultimately, statements were issued by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley but not by the White House.

The Black Sea’s absence in Mr. Trump’s talks with the Turkish leader coupled with the initial cancellation of the freedom of navigation operation, the initially meek US response to the Strait of Kerch incident, and the fallout of the impeachment inquiry do little to inspire confidence in US policy in key Black Sea countries that include not only Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia, a strategic gateway to Central Asia, but also NATO members Bulgaria and Romania.

In Georgia, protesters gathered this week outside of parliament after lawmakers failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have introduced a proportional election system in advance of elections scheduled for next year.

The amendment was one demand of protesters that have taken to the streets in Georgia since June in demonstrations that at times included anti-Russian slogans.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 and Russia has since recognized the self-declared independence of two Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some 1500 US troops participated in June in annual joint exercises with the Georgian military that were originally initiated to prepare Georgian units for service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The absence of the Black Sea in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Erdogan raises the spectre that the region could become a victim of the partisan divide in Washington and/or Mr. Trump’s political priorities.

The Republican-dominated US Senate has yet to consider a bipartisan Georgia Support Act that was last month passed by the House of Representatives. The act would significantly strengthen US defense, economic, and cyber security ties with Georgia.

A Chinese delegation that included representatives of several Chinese-led business associations as well as mobile operator China Unicom visited the breakaway republic of Abkhazia this week to discuss the creation of a special trade zone to manufacture cell phones as well as electric cars.

The Black Sea is one region where the United States cannot afford to sow doubt. The damage, however, may already have been done.

Warned Black Sea security scholar Iulia-Sabina Joja in a recent study: “The region is (already) inhospitable for Western countries as they struggle to provide security… The primary cause of this insecurity is the Russian Federation… Today, Russia uses its enhanced Black Sea capabilities not only to destabilize the region militarily, politically, and economically, but also to move borders, acquire territory, and project power into the Mediterranean.”

Ms. Joja went on to suggest that “a common threat assessment of NATO members and partners is the key to a stable Black Sea. Only by exploring common ground and working towards shared deterrence can they enhance regional security.”

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