Solve the Caucasus Crisis an Effort by the Western Powers to Mend the Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan Will Help Defuse Old Ethnic, Religious, and Regional Forces

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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 behalf.

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 groups.

COMPLICATING the picture further is the attitude of the West, especially an aversion to any Iranian role, even one promoting reconciliation. …


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