The Armenian defense agenda
Before considering Armenian gains and losses in the event the Minsk Group peace plan (or any other peace plan that envisages territorial concessions to Azerbaijan) is implemented, let us first examine Armenia's present strategic situation and determine the country's defense requirements. The Azerbaijani- Turkish blockade of Armenia has severely damaged the economic and, hence, the social security of the country. However, the most fundamental and essential layer of the national security of Armenia that is, its military security, is relatively strong. The Armenian defense agenda requires the safeguarding of two fronts, Azerbaijani and Turkish. For the time being, the Turkish threat is neutralized bó the Armenian-Russian defense alliance and the presence of Russian troops in Armenia.
As for the Azerbaijani front, the weaponry of the Armenian Army (including the defense Army of Karabagh) is not inferior to that of Azerbaijan. At the same time, the Armenian army maintains a considerable superiority in organization, professionalism (especially in its officer corps), and morale in addition to holding superior strategic positions. The latter factor is crucial. Thanks to the advantage of high ground, Armenian positions are favorable for both defensive and offensive operations, and unlike Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, Armenia and Karabagh have direct and secure land communication. It is also likely that in the event of a full-scale war Armenia would be able to take Nakhichevan and, thereby, radically transform the regional geostrategic situation in its favor. Of course, this would be a most dangerous development, since Turkey has repeatedly warned that it would directly invade Armenia if the security of Nakhichevan is at stake. However, Armenian options in a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war - what would amount to a battle for survival for Armenia -would be critically limited, and the escalation of war into Nakhichevan and subsequent Turkish, Russian and Iranian involvement in fighting could not be ruled out. In addition, Turkey itself could instigate a pre-emptive Nakhichevani strike in order to create a pretext for the direct military invasion of Armenia or for the Turkish occupation of Nakhichevan.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, Armenian defense doctrine would have to satisfy two essential requirements: (1) the capacity of Armenia to independently confront and win wars with Azerbaijan, and (2) a defense alliance with at least one external power which would neutralize the Turkish threat. In the foreseeable future, only Russia is interested and willing to assume such a role.
However, it should be clear that Russian commitment to the security of Armenia is grounded first and foremost, on strategic calculations made in Moscow rather than the "historical friendship and fraternity of the Armenian and Russian peoples", or other similar notions. If, or as soon as, Armenia is deprived of its capacity to independently cope with Azerbaijan, the strategic value of Armenia for Russia would evaporate, causing any Russian military commitment to Armenia to be withdrawn.
Thus, the first point of Armenian defense doctrine, the independent capacity to confront and win a possible war against Azerbaijan, requires constant and unrestricted Armenian military control over Nagorno-Karabagh, that is, the presence of the Armenian army in Karabagh and the absence of any other military force from the territory.
The recognized pivot around which the conflict evolves is the future of the indigenous Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabagh. However, there is yet another pivot that is inseparably interwoven with the first. It is Siunik (Zangezur), the southernmost region of Armenia. The security of this region is the key to the national security and survival of the Republic of Armenia.
The borders of Soviet Armenia, drawn in 1920-23, precluded any possibility for Armenia to be a geopolitically viable state in the event of any future repetition of the collapse of the Russian Empire. Siunik, the mountainous southern region of Soviet Armenia, represents a case of extreme strategic vulnerability. This region is totally lacking in any strategic depth. Its territory extends for some 50 kilometers between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan, in the two narrowest parts of Meghri and Jermuk, it shrinks to only about 40 kilometers. The threat to Siunik becomes clear when we consider (1) the ferocity of combined Azerbaijani-Turkish attempts to conquer Siunik by force in 1918-21 with the aim of providing a direct territorial link from Turkey to Azerbaijan and from there to Turkophone Central Asia; (2) Azerbaijani historiography's decades-long revisionist attempts to prove that Siunik is historically "an Azerbaijani land"; and (3) the open and repeated territorial claims of the current Azerbaijani leadership. Notably, not only is Siunik (Zangezur) proclaimed "an indigenous Azerbaijani land" but also other parts of Armenia, including Lake Sevan (or, as the Azerbaijanis call it, Geycha) together with its coastal regions and even Yerevan. As just one example of such claims, below are excerpts from the speech of President Gaidar Aliev at the January 14, 1998 session of the Constitutional Commission of Azerbaijan:
...The lands around Nakhichevan were also Azerbaijani lands, although the Armenians were living there as well". Precisely in the same fashion as they were seizing other land -for example, certain lands currently within the territory of Turkey, or Azerbaijani lands, where the Armenian Republic is now situated -in the same fashion they were trying to seize Nakhichevan If in its time the Azerbaijani lands were not turned over to Armenia -the province of Zangezur which separates Nakhichevan from Azerbaijan -then, perhaps,
Nakhichevan would not have needed autonomy, Azerbaijan would have been a country with a united territory. However, the transfer of Zangezur to Armenia in 1920, including the districts of Meghri and Ghapan, was a very grave event in the history of the loss of our lands.
The Armenians were always trying to seize our lands… . It is a well known fact that the founders of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic gave their consent to the delivery to Armenia of part of Azerbaijani lands, including Yerevan ...
...Such was the process of the gradual loss of our territories.
...We have to know these facts. I believe that the territories that were formerly given up should be taken back. The historical lands of Azerbaijan should be taken back. And our people must know what lands are our historical lands, what lands we have lost and why we have lost them. Certainly, these lands should be taken back. If we prove to be incapable of accomplishing this, then future generations will do it.
...I have told you about these lands. Fifty years ago, in 1948-53, the Azerbaijanis were deported from Armenia. Those were Azerbaijani lands, the lands that through conflict were delivered to Armenia in 1918, 1919, 1920. Next, after 40-50 years of living there, in 1948 the Armenians decided that the Azerbaijanis need to be totally deported from there, so that no înå later would say that these are Azerbaijani lands ... The autonomy of Nakhichevan is an historical achievement, we have to defend and sustain it. The autonomy of Nakhichevan is a very serious factor that can help us t9 take back our other territories ...it serves this goal. In his Decree of December 18, 1997, entitled " About the Mass Deportation of Azerbaijanis from their Ethnohistorical lands on the Territory of the Armenian SSR in 1948-l9S3", President Aliev went as far as to define the present day Republic of Armenia as "the so-called Armenia":
As a result of the purposeful policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide, conducted against the Azerbaijanis in the Caucasus for the last two centuries, our people has suffered burdens, national tragedy and hardships. As a result of these progressively carried out inhuman policies, the Azerbaijanis became exiles from the territory of the present so-called Armenia, from their ethnohistorical lands where they lived for millennia ...
The military vulnerability of Siunik was further attested to in 1991-93 when its main cities, Goris and especially Ghapan, were ravaged bó direct gunfire from Azerbaijani firing positions, making any normal life there impossible. Siunik is not merely indefensible in the case of a possible full-scale simultaneous offensive from the east (districts of Kelbajar, Lachin, Kubatli, Zangelan) and the west (Nakhichevan), but simple border clashes suffice to bring life in the region to a halt, since almost all of its territory can be easily shelled from the other side of the border.
Siunik's geostrategic importance to Armenia becomes fully clear when we consider that Armenia lacks a common border with Russia. Siunik provides Armenia with an essential outlet to the outside world through Iran, bypassing hostile Azerbaijan and Turkey, and volatile Georgia. By 1991, the last bastion for the defense of Siunik was Karabagh, and beginning in 1991, Karabagh itself came under a fullscale Azerbaijani offensive with the categorical objective of driving out its indigenous Armenian population.
If Azerbaijan succeeded in conquering Karabagh, Armenia would experience a sharp deterioration in its strategic position and be laid open to one of three possible scenarios. First, along with the drastic deterioration in the strategic situation of Armenia, Siunik would immediately come under the threat of occupation, either permanent or temporary. Even during a temporary occupation, the infrastructure and economy of Siunik would be destroyed, depriving the population of the means and desire to live there, especially in view of the possible repetition of hostile attacks. In the second scenario, Azerbaijan would invent various border provocations and follow them with prolonged artillery bombardment of the cities and towns of Siunik, with the same results as described above. The third, and best possible scenario for Armenia, would not differ significantly from the first two. Even if Siunik was neither occupied nor bombarded, it could remain only formally part of Armenia since the mere threat to execute the first and second options would suffice to turn Armenia into a puppet of Turkey and Azerbaijan, a kind of Transcaucasian Swaziland. As in Swaziland, where the country's geopolitics prevented the leadership from conducting any policies that would contradict the policies of South Africa prior to the fall of apartheid, Armenia would be forced to accept a Turkish-Azerbaijani orientation, and reject its defense alliance with Russia and its strategically important relations with Iran. Furthermore, the absolute strategic worthlessness of Armenia would destroy any incentive for Russia, and, to a lesser extent, Iran, to continue their support of Armenia. At first Siunik, then all of Armenia, would become a transit highway between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Turkish-Azerbaijani control of Armenia would then spread from the political-economic to the national and educational spheres, including the attempt to impose the revisionist Turkish version of Armenian history through textbooks. There is no doubt about this, since Turkey has been and is doggedly engaged in the falsification of the history of Armenia through all available means and channels including its connections with NATO country security agencies.
All of this political, economic, and military pressure would cause massive psychological complexes and divisions within Armenian society, resulting in nothing less than the final Armenian national catastrohe and the disappearance of Armenia from the world map.
In this context we can see that Armenian military victories in Karabagh in 1991-94 were the only opportunity Armenia had to save Siunik and provide Armenia with the time and opportunity to strengthen its independence. Thus, the present stage of the Armenian-Turkish/Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabagh is about the very survival of Armenia. Armenia cannot become a viable state without the permanent presence of strong and effective Armenian armed forces in Karabagh.