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EDITORIAL Turkey’s empire-building ambitions and Nagorno-Karabakh: a complex conflict

THE most suitable mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which is convulsing the conflicted region that includes the southern republics of the former Soviet Union is, according to the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Russia.

This bald statement from the man who succeeded his father as president is something of an insurance policy. He, like his father before him, is caught between great powers.

How do we understand this particular conflict which involves both Armenian and Azeri forces and those of the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region?

The Azerbaijan military has attacked Nagorno-Karabakh which is largely populated by Armenians and which claimed its separate status in a bloody war that killed over 30,000 people.

The Azeri claim is backed by Turkey which is asserting its influence as a regional power. Apart from its claim for much of the eastern Mediterranean as its exclusive economic zone, Erdogan’s government has given substance to its diplomatic support for Azerbaijan by sending arms and military “advisers” and deploying some of its jihadist mercenaries which it had earlier transferred from Syria to Libya.

In the Azeri media there is reported an alarming uptick in the volume and toxicity of nationalist anti-Armenian and anti-Russian propaganda.

There is a certain narrative on the liberal left that sees each of the present-day regional conflicts that stud the perimeter of the Euro-Asian landmass as essentially discrete.

Thus we are asked to see the Ukrainian situation which has put the heirs of Nazi collaborators in power as a question of democracy.

We are asked to understand what is happening in Belarus as question of electoral fraud and as a special concession to the left, trade union freedoms.

Hong Kong’s troubles are presented again as a question of democracy, with the former colonial power which ruled for decades without the pretence of democracy the favoured arbiter.

It would be foolish to argue that the post-Soviet Ukrainian regime was not a corrupt kleptocracy, that political power is always exercised in Belarus with an absolute respect for democratic norms, or that the material interests of different sections of Hong Kong’s population do not diverge.

But the big picture is of a tumultuous economic development that is convulsing this new East-West axis in which China is the most active force but which is rapidly creating new economic and political realities that challenge the Atlanticist pretensions of the US and its European allies — and change the balance of power in a region of vast mineral and energy resources.

The response of dominant circles in the US imperialist bloc to these developments included the Iraq war, Barack Obama’s pivot to the east, the attempts to isolate Iran, ramping up conflict with Russia and the creation of a huge chain of military bases.

Turkey’s contribution is to give effect to Erdogan’s concept of a new Ottoman empire that, not by accident, entails the construction of a corridor of influence along the southern borders of Russia that fits in with the grander imperial plan to isolate and inhibit China and Russia and disrupt their emerging economic ties with other states like Pakistan and Iran.

Not much of the post-WWII architecture of international relations is left untouched by these developments. But neither are simplistic pictures which posit an abstract moral framework for understanding any of these conflicts much use.

The foundation of a genuine internationalism always rests on a partisan struggle against the foreign policy of our own state where this is inimical to the interests of working people.

But it also depends on a hard-headed analysis of what interests are in play in any of the complex disputes which threaten peace.

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