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.
Diana Cohen Altman
Raoul Lowery Contreras
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.
Revisiting the Ukraine- Russia- EU triangular dynamics
With the narrative that floats around, one is tempted to think that the Ukraine crisis is all about Crimea; that it started and ended there. So what about the internal oblasts like Odessa, Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk (the South- Eastern regions) where a protracted conflict broke out? Are they not part of the resolution to the Ukraine crisis? But before any party decides on how to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, it is crucial to understand what needs to be resolved.
What needs to be Resolved?
First, the negotiating status. Formal peace talks began with the Minsk-I ceasefire in September 2014 but Kyiv refused to engage with rebels as negotiation partners, even while Kyiv’s negotiators had no official status, proceeding to brand rebels as ‘terrorists’ (Matveeva, 2018, p. 260). For as long as the insurgents are not considered cohorts in negotiating a peace deal and power sharing arrangements, the Ukraine crisis will not resolve. Second, the political fate of the insurgent territory. At the crisis’s outset, Donbas seemed to concord with Russia about the federalization idea (Davies, 2016, p. 737), but as the conflict progressed, rebels’ aspirations were geared either towards complete independence or irredentism with Russia – the former, Ukraine would never give, and the latter, Russia did not want. The ‘Special Status’ option running into a political impasse coupled with Ukrainian civil activist efforts against Minsk agreements meant that the crisis was not ripe for peace from Kyiv’s side. On the split side, the Donbas rebels’ dissatisfaction with Moscow and Kyiv for neglecting rebel wishes also meant that the crisis was not ready to be resolved from their side either. All parties were dissatisfied with the outcomes. It is not wrong therefore to say that Ukrainian nationalism and monist identity approach was only becoming stronger with rebels’ resistance to Kyiv’s biddings. Thus, for as long as the rebels are not awarded some sort of autonomy or freedom to live their “Russianness,” the crisis will not be resolved. At the same time, for as long as the rebels are firm on irredentist motives instead of attributing some form of loyalty to Kyiv, the SE-Ukraine crisis will prolong and cannot be resolved. It goes without saying that the resolution needs to be political, not military. As with any conflict, ceasefires are only temporary arrangements for until a greater political plan is formed. As the many (failed) ceasefire attempts indicate, Ukraine needs to seriously determine a political solution for the conflict to truly stop.
Ukraine Crisis and European Security
No matter how the Ukraine crisis is resolved, some things from the crisis serve as important notes for European security. First, the Donbas conflict is a strong reminder that for regional stability and order, it is necessary to devote attention to grassroots rebellions instead of single-mindedly fantasizing over the “all-Putin” narrative. Crimea was the tip of the iceberg; it is possible that such dormant grassroots rebellions could foment and induce a regional domino effect throwing the fragile balance off the continent. Second, it is unreasonable to take insurgent groups’ military organization and political aspirations for granted. Within Ukraine, rebels have showed the skill and experience needed to spontaneously mobilize and acquire modern warfare methods, which means, that such revolutions can very much happen despite state defense methods. Was (is) Ukraine prepared for this? Are Kyiv’s European friends prepared for this? Furthermore, when grievances are addressed in the form of violent conflict, a pro-war culture unites people with similar ideologies. How can Europe stop European fighters from fighting in Donbas? The moment that a cultural war becomes war-culture is indeed tricky – so Europe needs to take into account the strength of identities, symbols, and beliefs, and how that can affect the fragile security in the region, instead of brewing the ‘Russia-orchestrates-all’ beverage. Lastly, with whatever political resolution that Ukraine comes up with, European security and stability is only possible with Russia’s cooperation. Antagonizing Russia will not help integrate pro-Russian factions within pro-West states like Ukraine. This would mean not only cooperating with Russia for further regional stability, but also not isolating it. Russia’s past attempts of halting the Novorossiya project in Donbas, postponing elections in rebel territories, enthusiasm for peace prospects including suggesting UN peacekeeping troops cannot be simply rewarded with more economic sanctions. That defeats good faith from Russia. This causes Russia to turn away from cooperation with the EU, and with it, induce its pro-Russian supporters (scattered all over the FSU) to imitate the same.
Ukraine Crisis and Russian Security
If a political-military resolution is found to end the Ukraine crisis, it has some implications on Russian security too. First, Russia needs to be prepared for calls to the ‘Russian World.’ A population who was driven to go to war because they had faith Russia would repeat Crimea means that such dormant attitudes maybe present within other FSU populations. Matveeva (2018, 286) states that “Russia does not have a universalist approach to regional conflicts,” and Donbas is a clear example of that. Whatever the resolution is agreed upon for Ukraine, a big question that looms over Russian security is about how it would take care of regional military confrontations. Russia uses a bilateral and multilateral approach in order to bind states into a regional order, but the aspect about a military confrontation remains unanswered (Slobodchikoff 2014). Whether we look at CIS or some other multilateral organization, there needs to be some forum which either addresses collective security operations (actual military confrontations) or allows Russia to intervene as necessary. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has been a good tool for Russia in integrating Eurasia against external threats (Hansen 2013), but has Russia seriously considered civil and transnational (internal) conflicts which can turn into full-blown civil wars if allowed? Even if Russia finds it pointless to entertain civil skirmishes like the one in Donbas, how can it ignore the fundamental drive – Novorossiya– which served as the rebels’ motivational catalyst? All this indicates that Russian security is invariably a matter of regional stability, very much taking into account Ukraine. So, it is only in Russian security interests to mollify such uprisings using support from mainland governments and/or a multilateral security architecture, thereby standardizing its approach to such regional hostilities. Unless, of course, it is Russia’s wish to stay mysterious with its security approach. If that be so, such an approach does not bode well for regional security. Secondly, for any sort of crisis resolution to sustain, Russia will have to understand Kyiv’s perspective. Although it has to rush to aid its Russian World when she summons her, Moscow cannot overplay this cultural dimension so much as to explicitly challenge the West and thereby feed into the Western normative discourse. Ukraine will be more than unwilling to make any more concessions past Crimea, so Donbas’s resolution (when it happens), would require sacrifices on both fronts and acknowledgment of bitter history.
Of course rebels in Donbas or Kyiv, the governments in Moscow and Kyiv, as also the wider continents of Europe and America would appreciate a true peace, but ‘peace’ cannot be viewed as an absolute dichotomy: either my way or the highway. A ceasefire may bring about a transient military resolution, but without a political one unanimously agreed by involved parties, it is unlikely that the Ukrainian crisis will end in spirit.
In order to avoid such future conflicts, both Russia and Europe must understand how overlooked conflicts such as those in Donbas have security implications for both of them. For Russia, it means acknowledging the dormant (but very potent) society within the Russian World, as also Russia’s obligation as leader of that world – and while doing all of this, maintaining a delicate balance between itself and the West. For Europe it means acknowledging indigenous uprisings, giving due value to cultural enthusiasm uncontaminated by political conspiracies that feed in the all-Putin perspective, and faithfully cooperating with Moscow to attain regional stability.
So as we see, there is much theoretical resolution to the Ukraine crisis and how that will affect Russian and European securities, but practically, one has to wait to see. As Matveeva (2018,298) writes, “we can only hope humanity survived in those who went through it,” to which it would do well to add: I hope some foresight and rationality is present in those who are to resolve it.
How to Make Peace in Ukraine Five Years After Minsk II
Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Hubertus Hoffmann
Five years ago, in February 2015, the first steps towards a vision for peace in Ukraine were taken with the Minsk II agreement. Five years is a long time not only in human life, but also in European history: World War I only lasted four years, and World War II was only two years longer. Five years after Minsk, the crisis in and around Ukraine is yet to be resolved, and the country remains a bleeding wound of Europe with a profound negative impact on the overall relationship between the Russian Federation and the West. The tragic deaths of more than 12,000 people and more than 23,000 injured remind us of the human suffering in this conflict on all sides.
Many hoped that the Normandy summit in December 2019 would become a historic breakthrough, but the outcome of the meeting was quite modest. At best, the four leaders made a cautious step towards freezing the conflict rather than solving it. Protracted and painful discussions in Paris once again demonstrated that there is significant mutual resistance on both sides regarding a genuine settlement. Too many politicians in both Kiev and Moscow still believe that time is on their side, or, at least, that the risks associated with maintaining the current status quo in Donbass are lower than risks resulting from a status quo change.
In order to reach a breakthrough, we need to demonstrate enhanced creativity and out of the box thinking a la Albert Einstein, who observed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge…we can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” One of the ways to ignite creativity is to look beyond the current crisis seeking mindset and adopt the positive crisis resolution experience accumulated in Europe.
Why South Tyrol?
European history knows many examples of how complex territorial, ethnic, confessional and other conflicts can last for many years and even decades without any clear prospects for a “final” solution. Take, for instance, the Armenian-Azeri dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh or the Serbia-Kosovo unfinished divorce. On the other hand, there are also success stories that we should not forget. One of the latter is the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) settlement of the dispute between Italy and Austria. This case, in our view, has certain similarities with the situation in East Ukraine.
South Tyrol was a bone of contention between the newborn Italian Republic and the Republic of Austria for decades. The conflict has never reached the scale of what we are witnessing today in East Ukraine, but it also generated violence, ethnic hatred and victimization. Moreover, it poisoned Austrian relations for a long time. After World War II, from the beginning of negotiations in 1947 until 1971, a series of agreements recognized equal rights for all citizens, despite their language, as well as a balanced decentralization of administrative, legislative, executive and economic competences to be exercised autonomously over the regional territory.
Historical and cultural bonds within the Austrian-Germanic world, Italy’s Trentino- Alto-Adige (South Tyrol) sought a highly autonomous status within the Italian Republic constitution. The process of deriving this status shows the value of reaching an agreement based on a high level of regional autonomy in political, economic, and cultural issues. This status received an appropriate codification within the Italian constitution. This approach eased the institutional balance between the centre and periphery, defusing, in the medium to long term, potentially disruptive political unrest.
South Tyrol successfully consolidated its autonomy over the last decades, fostering ties between the central state authority and the peripheral regional authority. Now, the German-speakers there live peacefully within Italy as citizens of the European Union.
This integration-through-decentralization process into the Italian national identity shows how a widely shared process and agreement recognizing a high level of institutional autonomy would lead, in the medium-to-long term perspective, to constructive and balanced power-sharing, stability and economic development. This achievement is particularly spectacular, given the long history of Austrian-Italian conflicts and even wars.
What Would It Mean for Donbass?
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had every reason to refer to the “South Tyrol model” at his meeting with President Vladimir Putin on March 5, 2015. The Russian leader welcomed it as a “valuable suggestion to resolve the situation”. After three hours of discussion in Moscow regarding the EU-Russia crisis involving Ukraine, Putin and Renzi gave a joint press-conference to review their discussion and proposals.
The Italian Prime Minister said, “I think it’s worth highlighting the crucial step forward made,” regarding the signature of the Minsk Agreement. “We will work to implement the statements of this Agreement. Europe and Italy can become a reference point.” Italy in particular, according to the Prime Minister, might “provide all possible support for a solution concerning the urgent request of a new status and a wider autonomy to be granted to the Eastern Ukrainian Regions held by the separatists. We had a wonderful experience in Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol). This is an excellent example of how you can successfully solve the problems of decentralization.”
“We agree that both the parties have to respect the Minsk II Agreement, paving the way to a peaceful solution,” stressed Russian President Putin. He added the need for a broader political dialogue involving the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk as well. “We expect Italy, in its national capabilities and as a major European Union member, will play a key role in this process,” he argued. Putin told the media, “The Prime Minister made several valuable suggestions about what could be done to resolve the situation in the future. The situation there remains difficult, and we have to stop the fighting, killing and destroying cities.” The conflicting parties should strictly comply with the agreements reached in Minsk. “I count on more active help of the EU.”
If referred to within the context of the situation in Eastern Ukraine, many ingredients constituting the Austrian-Italian deal could help to settle the Donbass conflict, all the differences between the two cases notwithstanding.
The same rights extended to the local German population in Alto Adige (60 per cent in 1971) should be given to the predominantly Russian speaking (and Russia-oriented) locals in the Donbass. Rights similar to those preserved by Rome as the central government in Italy should be assigned to Kiev. Both languages should be granted official status, and no discrimination of any minority and cultures should be practised in Donbass.
Of course, this arrangement implies that the territory will be Ukrainian, including border-control. The Donbass should be de-militarized. That also applies to the Russian-Ukrainian border like it was the case with the Austrian-Italian border. The status of autonomy calls for guarantees embedded in the Ukrainian constitution, rather than merely a law, which could be changed at any time.
The South Tyrol experience also suggests that it would be impossible to solve and formulate all principal or small regulations for autonomy under Ukrainian law, as it adds up to several thousand details. Therefore, a smart framework agreement is needed and would lay the groundwork for ensuring the rights of ethnic Russians in the Donbass on the same level as those of ethnic Germans in South Tyrol. Such an agreement would also guarantee rights to Kiev similar to those of Rome. Leveraging this framework agreement as the model for Eastern Ukraine seems to be the only reliable way to handle the autonomy smoothly and avert further crisis.
The Austrian-Italian experience also suggests that there will be many bumps on the road to reconciliation and reintegration. To deal with these bumps, it would be helpful to establish a standing Donbass committee with ambassadors from each country within the OSCE in Vienna, with a special best practice team involving Austria and Italy. This committee could appoint an Ombudsman to handle complaints and resolve disputes. The Ukrainian government, together with the Donbass OSCE committee, should prepare an annual progress report and present it to the Verkhovna Rada.
What Is Missing?
Matteo Renzi came up with his proposal in March 2015. Unfortunately, not much has been done to apply the lesson of South Tyrol to Donbass. Therefore, the critical question is why implementing a strategy similar to South Tyrol in Donbass is not yet considered.
The answer, in our opinion, is in the international environment and the nature of the Austria-Italy relations. By the time of the South Tyrol deal, both Austria and Italy considered themselves organic parts of a greater European family of nations. This is despite the fact that Austria, even now, is not a NATO member and only joined the EU in 1995, 24 years after the agreement on South Tyrol had been reached.
Neither country had a fundamental identity problem that could feed radical nationalism and block a settlement. Their respective national identities emerged long before the deal was achieved. Neither side was fearful of aggression, deliberate provocation or gross interference into domestic affairs from the other side.
Both Vienna and Rome saw many advantages in building their economic, political and humanitarian ties with each other. Both Austria and Italy experienced rapid economic growth followed by an expanding middle class, vibrant civil society, maturing political institutions and successful fight against populism, political radicalism and nationalism. No external player in or outside of Europe demonstrated any interest in instigating the conflict through supporting one of the sides. In other words, the overall environment for reaching a compromise was overwhelmingly positive.
Unfortunately, most of these preconditions are currently absent in the case of Donbass. Therefore, we cannot push for the application of the South Tyrol model until such prerequisites are created. This will be difficult, but not impossible.
Going Beyond Minsk
Using the best practice from South Africa, one then is lead to think of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Donbas, reporting live on TV in Ukraine and Russia with an annual report. More than twenty countries have done this successfully in the past.
However, the problem of reconciliation is not limited to Donbass only. Both Russia and Ukraine today lack the know-how for true reconciliation, which had been mustered by Austria and Italy after World War II. Let us all learn from the American philosopher Eric Hoffer who said, “A war is only won after you have turned your enemy into a friend.” We can draw upon the lessons of other European states that have mastered the art of reconciliation, including decentralization, after two bitter world wars.
The governments, political parties, opinion leaders and media should learn how to make peace with (former) enemies and utilize European best practices – such as in South Tyrol or Northern Ireland. For the Russian population in Ukraine and all other minorities, including Hungarians and Tatars, fresh Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance should be implemented. The Kiev government should appoint a Minister for Tolerance and Reconciliation with sufficient staff and funding. The United Arab Emirates established the first minister for tolerance in February 2016. The tolerance minister in Kiev would promote respect toward all ethnic and religious minorities in Ukraine and report annually to the parliament and the OSCE in the form of a Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance and Reconciliation Report. Within the context of reconciliation, an amnesty committee would be established, as in South Africa, for people from all conflict parties.
Rebuilding trust will not get us too far until we build the economic foundations of the settlement. The goal should be to turn Donbass from a headache into an opportunity for all. We propose establishing a special reconciliation fund for the region, financed equally by the EU, the US, and the Russian Federation, and utilized to rebuild destroyed infrastructure. By rebuilding, we do not mean restoring the region as it was back in 2013 – this is hardly possible and rather undesirable. We suggest turning the devastated war area into a modern and vibrant ecosystem attractive to both international investors and millions of refugees and displaced persons.
Carefully designed and skillfully localized reforms can stimulate new jobs, especially for small businesses. It is essential to address burning issues of documented property ownership, competitive access to capital, legal enforcement of contracts, governmental and regulatory transparency, and rules that promote and safeguard foreign direct investment. The environment presents yet another challenge, but also another opportunity for multilateral cooperation in Donbass with the European Union taking upon a leadership role.
At the same time, the European Union should move in the direction of a free trade agreement with Russia and other members of the Eurasian Economic Union. A new Ostpolitik by Ursula von der Leyen could help to bring Europe closer together via trade and visa-free travelling.
Towards a New European Security Architecture
A new, fresh and intense dialogue between NATO and Russia, including the discussion of a non-aggression pact and new arms control agreements, is now needed. It was counterproductive to freeze the NATO-Russia Council in April 2014 as punishment. This forum, meant for crisis management, is now active again. It took too long to understand that we need more, not fewer, meetings during crises. Despite many state-banquets and vague speeches in the past years, real discussions were missing for far too long. The western “no-talk no-meetings approach” neglected the lessons learned in the months before World War I.
The dialogue about a common security structure in Europe should start with fresh bi-monthly meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in Moscow and Brussels, as well as in other NATO capitals. Russia and NATO should openly discuss all strategic military issues to find solutions to alleviate tensions and promote cooperation, with several working-groups established for major political, technological, or geographic regional concerns, including mutual threats.
A high-ranking NATO-Russia Summit should be held in Moscow to discuss security issues openly. At this summit, NATO and the Russian Federation should declare not to utilize their military capabilities against each other. They will not use their forces, equipment, active or non-active soldiers or allow those activities against each other.
Both Moscow and Kiev should find their rightful places in the new European security architecture. Confidence building measures between Russia and Ukraine should become a part of a broader CBM system between the East and the West of the continent.
In this new environment, we can broaden the limits of what is possible. All sides have to look for a creative compromise, based on respect for international law, recognizing the national interests and minority rights of all stakeholders, while drawing upon best practices in Europe.
The ultra-nationalists on both sides will be disappointed. Still, only a broad political compromise would be in the national interests of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the EU, the United States of America and the international community.
We all need humanity, creativity and efficiency for a new Europe 3.0.
External Implications of Domestic Reforms in Azerbaijan
The restructuring of the governance system, the appointment of Western-educated young professionals to the leading positions, and more decisive fight against corruption in energy-rich Azerbaijan promise a quicker betterment of the internal socio-political situation and allows the country to overcome the challenges posed by volatile energy prices in the global market. These developments in the South Caucasian country have, however, some implications for the wider region in general, for its immediate neighborhood in particular.
Azerbaijan’s political system has gone through a remarkably stable period since 1993 when Heydar Aliyev was elected the President of the then just two-years old republic in gravely troubled times for the country amidst the war with Armenia and tensed domestic situation. In a short period of time, President Aliyev managed to reach ceasefire with Armenia, quell separatist movement in the south, sign important contracts with Western oil companies, and navigate the country through troubled geopolitical waters. There have been few changes to the political system established at that time as it, supported by lucrative revenues from oil and gas exports, provided necessary conditions to implement the overall priorities of the country. As an American expert aptly observed, “There was simply enough money to keep almost everyone happy”.
The latest political and economic challenges the country confronted due to new realities in the international relations, however, revealed some shortcomings of this system and necessitated comprehensive reforms. Important to note that, this process had started even before the start of sharp fluctuations in oil prices since 2014. The optimization of the public services at an unprecedent pace exemplified by the establishment of the Azerbaijani Service and Assessment (ASAN) in 2012 strictly reduced the Soviet-style bureaucratic procedures marred by unbridled corruption. These measures were back then lauded by many international observers primarily for “eliminating the conditions that [were] conducive to corruption”.
The existence of strong centralized government has allowed the authorities to initiate and implement such amendments with immediate effect at all levels of the political establishment. The past year of 2019 marked the zenith of these changes in Azerbaijan. The replacement of the old cadres, some of whom held their positions at the highest posts in the government since 1990s,with younger and mostly Western-educated people, the dissolution of the unpopular parliament on the ground of its failure to catch up with the reform process and calling for snap parliamentary elections were some of the changes made in 2019. In the course of this process, in December, for the first time in the history of post-Soviet Azerbaijan, a regional executive head was arrested on charges of corruption and theft committed during his service.
The reforms have been, however, not confined to the political branch of the government. Over the last few years, the country has made immense efforts to diversify economy and reduce the dependency on oil and gas reserves that still supply major segment of national revenues. The government targets a quick development of the so-called non-oil sector which primarily includes tourism, agriculture, national industry, transport, logistics and communications. President Ilham Aliyev repeatedly highlighted in the recent year that the reforms would be expanded, and they are inevitable and irreversible.
The provision of the favorable business environment and independent judicial system has been on the top of the agenda. The achievements reached have also reflected in the Economic Freedom report by the Heritage Foundation where Azerbaijan’s ranking progressed from 91stto 60th in 2019. According to the report, Azerbaijan’s “overall score has increased…, led by a dramatic rise in judicial effectiveness and higher scores for property rights and government integrity that offset declines in labor freedom and fiscal health.”The new situation makes it possible for the country to recover from the economic shocks of 2015 when it went through devaluation twice in a year.
These developments in Azerbaijan have, however, some implications for the wider region in general, for the country’s immediate neighborhood in particular.
First and foremost, as the reforms promise that the country will maintain its leading role in the economic map of the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan will likely continue to have necessary financial resources to invest in large-scale transportation and economic projects. The new generation of technocrats, transparency in financial management, and fair judiciary are other factors that bode well for the future of Azerbaijan’s economy. This is highly important for the South Caucasus as most of the monumental projects in the region would have not been possible without the financial backing of Azerbaijan.
For example, the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which connects Azerbaijan with Georgia and Turkey and boosts the region’s appeal as a hub on the transportation route between Europe and China, has been financed solely by the Azerbaijani side. Likewise, the ongoing construction of a new Baku International Sea Trade Port (Alat), which targets to be the biggest multi-purpose port in the Caspian Sea, with a potential capacity to handle 25 million tons of cargo per year, will be completed thanks to economic recovery of the country.
In the meantime, Baku continued to expand its relations in the neighborhood with major partners like Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine, embarking in 2019 on ambitious transportation and energy projects, starting from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and to launching TANAP gas pipeline on November 30, 2019, targeting the European market. These projects have a regional significance and are as hugely important for the economy of the participating countries from the region as for that of Azerbaijan.
The internal political and economic situation in Azerbaijan has also a very critical link with the regional security in the South Caucasus. The country’s multi-faceted relationship with its north-western neighbor, Georgia, has proved itself utmost important for the latter in the most troubled periods. Azerbaijan provided Georgia with crucial support in 2008 which helped its neighbor to overcome the challenges posed by sudden disruption of the trade with the country’s major partner Russia. Azerbaijan, with its oil and gas exports and investments, have often played an indispensable role for the Georgian economy. In 2019, Azerbaijanis ranked first in the number of foreigners visiting Georgia which provide an important contribution to its tourism revenues. The political stability and economic well-being in Azerbaijan aimed to be maintained by the recent reforms will boost the existing dynamics between the two countries which are vital for their national security in general.
The domestic reforms in Azerbaijan provides also a useful opportunity to revitalize the country’s relationship with its Western partners. The optimization of the public services, the rejuvenation of the government and the new political atmosphere built by the recent changes are all in line with the targets declared by the Eastern Partnership program of the EU and need to be supported. The new situation also promises a push for Azerbaijan’s relations with the United States as Svante Cornell, Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, suggested in October 2019: “The reform effort in Azerbaijan provides an opportunity for the U.S.-Azerbaijan political dialogue to be centered on positive cooperation, and thus to strengthen rather than weaken the bilateral strategic dialogue.”
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