MILITARY confrontation between the newly independent republics
of Azerbaijan and Armenia now risks degenerating into a much
broader regional conflict.
Should this happen, the long-term consequences will not be
limited to the warring factions or to their immediate neighbors.
Its destabilizing effects will extend far beyond the immediate
neighborhood. Moreover, coming shortly after the Yugoslav debacle,
the handling of this crisis by the international community, most
notably the great powers, will say much about the future order or
disorder we can expect.
The crisis is due to two factors. The first was the rapid,
disorderly disintegration of the Soviet Union. This led Azerbaijan
and Armenia to create facts on the ground as they sensed the
emerging military and political vacuum. The second, more important
factor was the fragmented nature of Azerbaijan leadership and the
fierce competition for power between existing leaders and the
Azerbaijani Popular Front.
The APF, in particular its extremist ultra-nationalist and
pan-Turkic branch, used and abused the Karabakh issue and the
conflict with Armenia both to arouse nationalist passions and to
discredit and eliminate rivals. Some observers feel the APF
encouraged the Azerbaijani forces' defeats in order to get rid of
Ayaz Mutalibov, the republic's president. This may be far-fetched.
Still, the fact remains that Mr. Mutalibov was a victim of defeats
in the village of Khodjali. Later, he tried the same tactics
against APF rivals by blaming them for the fall of Shusha.
Some observers now suspect that the APF, whose pan-Turkic
leanings are clear, of wanting to create a situation in the
Nakichevan area, in order to force Turkey to intervene on its
Rivalries for influence in the region complicate the situation.
This has been reflected in the approaches of different parties to
various mediation efforts which have been undertaken in the last
few months. Turkey, for example, favored mediation by the
Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), where it
would play a leading part.
Beyond the inherent value of this approach, invoking CSCE would
exclude Iran and thus a chance that it would gain influence from
mediation. For that reason, Iran welcomes United Nations efforts -
which Turkey can also accept - but Teheran is not a member of CSCE
and is suspicious of it.
This rivalry has been reflected in Azerbaijani attitudes.
Moderate elements in both the APF and existing elites were
receptive to the Iranian efforts. But the APF's ultra-nationalist,
pan-Turkic elements opposed them. In fact, however, Iran has deep
historic, cultural, and religious ties with Azerbaijan, as well as
a long history of friendly coexistence with Armenians. So Teheran
has credibility both with Armenia and segments of the Azerbaijani
COMPLICATING the picture further is the attitude of the West,
especially an aversion to any Iranian role, even one promoting