Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Armenia's Kurds Get in the Way of Any Karabakh Resolution

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 12 -- Twenty years ago, an Armenian samizdat author suggested that restoring Kurdish autonomous districts in the southern Caucasus could help resolve the Karabakh dispute, but now Armenia's 60,000-strong Kurdish community has taken a step likely to make finding a solution to that conflict even more difficult.
Last week, the leaders of that community endorsed Serzh Sarkisyan for president of Armenia in the hopes that the latter would work to re-establish the Kurdish autonomous district in the Lachin corridor of Azerbaijan, where in 1992, the Kurds played a key roe in breaking through Baku's military encirclement of Karabakh.
Sarkizyan, for his part, did nothing to encourage or discourage the Kurds in this regard, saying only that he was "proud that national minorities living in Armenia support [his] candidacy." But if he said nothing about the restoration of a Kurdish district, other Armenians and Kurds were outspoken about that possibility.
According to a Russian analyst, Kurds in Iraq support the restoration of a Kurdish district in the Lachin corridor, viewing it as analogous to and a precedent for a Kurdish region in Iraq. And Armenians across the Middle East have spoken in support of Kurds in both places (
Among the Armenian activists doing so, Aleksei Baliyev says, are members of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), the successor to the Dashnaksutyun, which conducted terrorist attacks against Turkish officials, and whose anti-Turkish actions Ankara has routinely blamed Yerevan for fomenting.
Kurdish officials, including Farkhad Mardin, the representative of the Kurdistan Societies in Russia and the CIS, dismiss Turkish complaints on this score as an effort to derail efforts in the U.S. Congress to declare the massive deaths of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 a genocide.
Mardin suggested that the Turks believe that any such declaration by Washington would lead to a reopening the question of the future status of Western Armenia, a region within Turkey that both Armenians and Kurds are interested in raising the question of national self-determination.
But by taking such a stance while assuming a higher profile in Armenian politics, the Kurds have simultaneously reinforced this view and made it more difficult for Turkey and its ally Azerbaijan to take the kind of steps that might be necessary to defuse rising tensions over the status of Karabakh and move toward an agreement.
Moreover, by implicitly linking the restoration of Kurdish districts in the Lachin corridor to the possible establishment of broader Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, the Kurds of Armenia m made iay also have made it more difficult for the United States to help structure an accord between Yerevan and Baku over Karabakh.
And a suggestion by Yuri Nabiyev, the advisor to the representative of the government of Iraqi Kurdistan to the CIS, to Baliyev only exacerbates this problem. He said that there were possibilities for an enormous expansion in economic and humanitarian cooperation between Armenia and Iraqi Kurdistan.
At a moment when some officials are expressing hope about a breakthrough via the Minsk Group and others, including the International Crisis Group, are suggesting that there is a threat of renewed fighting, the Kurdish initiative in Armenia provides those opposed to any settlement with yet another means to block it.

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