As the West lifts its sanctions against Iran in foreign trade, financial services, energy sectors and technologies, experts anticipate certain geopolitical changes in the Middle East and Transcaucasia – Iran is bordering with these regions and has vital interests there. Tehran will be restoring the positions it has lost, thereby creating nuisances for the regional powers. Iran is an actor that has declared its stand and interests both in the Middle East war and the Karabakh conflict. On the other hand, Turkey has become quite active lately. It is seriously pressing the Kurdish rebels. Vagharshak Haroutiunyan, former minister of defense of Armenia, tells an EADaily correspondent about possible military and political consequences of lifting the West’s sanctions against Iran, amid the growing tension over the Kurdish problem in Turkey.
Mr. Haroutiunyan, P5+1 have achieved a long-term nuclear deal with Iran and the sanctions against Tehran will be lifted gradually. What does this all mean for the Caucasus and Middle East from the politico-military point of view?
First, lifting of sanctions against Iran is a long process. Today, it is too early to argue convincingly that everything will be implemented successfully. The agreement was signed and the signatories have certain commitments. There is specific term for the implementation of the agreement. After the UN Security Council approves it, Iran will be required to reduce uranium enrichment and the number of centrifuges. In this light, there are many circumstances that may stall the peace process at any moment.
Second, Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khameinei said that the agreement with P5+1 does not preclude the confrontation with the United States. U.S. President Barack Obama, in turn, said the United States signed the agreement to avoid even more problems, but there are still disagreements with Iran. Why did the United States do it? The point is that U.S. has global interests and it is no longer able to fight on all fronts amid growing international tension. Therefore, U.S. decided to remove Iran from the list of its vocal rivals. The agreement with Cuba also fits into this context. U.S. is remobilizing its resources after facing global resistance.
Actually, Iran will strengthen its economy after regaining access to technologies and markets. Is it favorable for U.S.?
One of the major issues here is Iran’s return to the global oil and gas market. By the way, Azerbaijan will lose more from it, as its share in the global oil and gas market is not big, but vital for its state budget.
The Iranian gas will be exported to Europe. This will certainly affect Russia too, as oil prices may fell. Lifting of the sanctions against Iran will stiffen competition and even confrontation with Turkey that is struggling for a leadership position in the region. Certain changes are anticipated in the Middle East too. What U.S. seeks now is not to let Iran involve into the Middle East war, namely, the Syrian conflict, not to let it support the rebels in Yemen or openly fight the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State. U.S. has set such tasks, but whether it will manage to fulfill them? I think it is a very complicated task, at least, in the light of Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement that Iran will not give up its claims in the region.
In addition, Iran is joining SCO and the U.S. tries to prevent Iran’s integration into the Shanghai “family.” The recent summits of BRICS and SCO in Ufa, Russia, showed that specific measures are taken to boost cooperation within the given formats, create another universal reserve currency, which is not in favor of the United States, indeed. It is hard to say whether U.S. will manage to prevent this all and settle its regional and global problems. It will hardly manage to oust Iran from these processes, as Tehran will be acting on its own rules now.
Bloodshed continues in the Middle East, despite the air strike of the international coalition. ISIL’s positions are becoming stronger, as it is gaining control over more territories in Syria and Iraq – these countries are not very far from Armenia. Questions arise as to whether ISIL constitutes real threat to Armenia and whether Iran will help neutralize that threat.
ISIL is not just a threat; we have suffered real losses in the Armenian Diaspora in the Middle East. Any Islamic movement hits the Armenian Diaspora first. This is weakening Armenia and creating problems for it. The Islamic fundamentalism is a very big threat to us. We are a Christian country in the region. Turkey may use the Islamic fundamentalism for its geopolitical goals, which is also dangerous for Armenia. However, ISIL constitutes no direct threat to Armenia. Iran and Turkey is a certain shield for us, however strong and big the Islamic State is. ISIL will not be able to approach our borders via Turkey or Iran. Therefore, I see no direct threats within the near future, unless there are any catastrophes. Armenia must closely follow the situation in the region to minimize the losses we are suffering now.
The Kurdish problem is growing rapidly both inside and outside Turkey. It may be said without exaggeration that Kurds have already created autonomy in Syria and a state in Iraq. Some processes are underway in Turkey too. After the terrorist act in Suruç, the Turkish authorities started pressing the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). What do you think about it?
The Kurdish issue is not new. It covers the greatest part of the Middle East. The Kurdish factor is very serious and sustained. There may be various ways out of the situation. Much depends on the West-East global confrontation. We can say now that the center of economic, political, and, to some extent, military influence is shifting from the West to the East (Asia). Even U.S. admits that the globalization process is no longer European, Western, but Asian. In this light, U.S. can use the growing Kurdish factor as a measure to press Turkey, but it does not mean that Washington welcomes the idea of the united Kurdistan. Yet, this process is getting out of control. Much depends on Turkey where serious processes concerning the national issue are underway. It is a very complicated issue for Turkey. After all, Turkey’s Constitution says that only Turks live in Turkey. It is not for nothing. It is a forceful method to keep the state integrity. The national issue is growing tense in Turkey, as that forceful method does not work as before. This may have any consequences, even genocide of Kurds. In this light, the weakening of Turkey that keeps Armenia in blockade – it is an element of war – is in favor of Yerevan.
Turkey’s weakening may lead to its collapse with quite unpredictable consequences. Turkey is now a state one can negotiate with. If the Middle East chaos spills over into Turkey, there will be no one to negotiate with. Turkey’s weakening and probable collapse is a threat to Armenia, isn’t it?
It is a matter of remote future. Even if this such scenario comes true, Russia’s factor, our army and the Russian military base in Armenia are able to neutralize all this. In addition, the situation in Turkey is not so critical. Turkey constitutes threat to Armenia’s security, while the threat of Turkey’s collapse is a matter of remote future. I think the threat coming from Turkey is bigger than the one of its possible collapse in future. Turkey is waging an open anti-Armenian policy now.
Interviewed by Arshaluys Mghdesyan specially for EADaily