Not one Westerner in a hundred could identify the area in question on a map, let alone tell you its significance, but that doesn't make the consequences of a renewed Azerbaijani/Armenian conflict any less grave.
What if World War III started and CNN wasn't there to cover it? Would it make a sound? Well, it isn't quite WWIII (yet), but the most significant story of the past week barely rated a headline in most of the western MSM outlets.
On Wednesday an Armenian Mi-24 combat helicopter was shot down over the Nagarno-Karabakh conflict zone by Azerbaijani forces, killing all three crew members on board. Baku claims that the helicopter was attacking Azerbaijani Army positions in the area of Agdam, a claim immediately denied by Armenia's foreign ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovannisyan, who stated: “Examination of the wreckage will prove that the helicopter carried no weapons.” Armenia is now threatening “grave consequences” for the incident, and now both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department have stepped in, calling for calm from both sides and stressing, in the words of State Department spokeswoman (and serial liar) Jen Psaki that there can be “no military solution to the conflict.”
If the preceding paragraph sounds like Greek to you, join the club. Not one Westerner in a hundred could identify the area in question on a map, let alone tell you its significance, but that doesn't make the consequences of a renewed Azerbaijani/Armenian conflict any less grave. As keen observers of the region (and even a high-ranking Armenian MP) have been warning for years, the Nagarno-Karabakh territory may just be the spark for a conflict that could draw in Turkey, Russia, and, by extension, much of the rest of the world.
The Nagarno-Karabakh zone (literally “mountainous black garden” in Turkic/Persian/Russian) is a landlocked, mountainous region completely within the borders of Azerbaijan. The conflict between the region's ethnic Armenian majority and Azerbaijani neighbors dates back to the 19th century, as Christian Armenian influences competed with Turkic Azeri influences for regional dominance. The area was subsumed by the Russian empire in the 19th century and after the Bolsheviks took over it was turned into the Armenian-dominated Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan.
As the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s, Armenian secessionists began a long and bloody battle with Azerbaijani forces, leaving as many as 30,000 dead. When the dust settled and a truce was signed in 1994, the ethnic Armenian majority were left with a de facto independent state within Azerbaijan, but a state which has not been officially recognized by any member of the UN, even Armenia. The conflict also displaced most of the region's Azeri population (25% of the population before the conflict started) and most of the Armenian population in the rest of Azerbaijan.
Since the signing of the truce in 1994, representatives of the governments of both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks through the auspices of the “OSCE Minsk Group” co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States. And exactly as you might imagine given the players at that table, the dispute splits along the growing lines of the much hyped “new cold war” that is supposedly taking place between the NATO powers and Russia (and/or China and/or various allies). Azerbaijan has been courted by NATO for years now and is currently a member of NATO's “Partnership Action Plan” programme, and it is supported by Turkey, itself a NATO member. Armenia, meanwhile, enjoys both the moral and the military support of Russia, whose 102nd Military Base is located at Gyumri in the country's north.
So why all the brouhaha over a relatively minor blip on the geopolitical radar screen? Why do NATO and Russia care about a local ethnic and political rivalry in a little-known area of the map? The same reason they care about the local ethnic and political rivalries in the Middle East (and everywhere else): control over a geostrategic part of the Grand Chessboard, of course. In this case, the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh happens to be located smack dab in the heart of a prime piece of real estate in the Caucasus region sandwiched between the Caspian and Black Seas. As attentive followers of The Corbett Report (or reporters like Pepe Escobar) will know, this is prime Pipelinestan territory.
The Caspian region is awash in oil and gas deposits and control of the region is essential to controlling the future pipeline network that can transport Kazakh, Uzbek, and even Turkmen oil across to Turkey and, eventually, Europe. The power that is able to effectively dominate (or at least control) this vital section of the globe will hold massive leverage over not only trillions of dollars in potential oil and gas and transit revenues, but also a prime piece of real estate in the Caucasus leading to the doorstep of the current “new cold war” boogeyman Russia.
Attentive Corbett Report followers will also recognize that this region is the primary field of operations for “Operation Gladio B,” the covert NATO operation to drive Islamic extremist destabilization of Central Asia and Caucasus. As revealed by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds in a series of landmark interviews on The Corbett Report in 2013, Gladio B extends and updates the old NATO “stay-behind” operations commonly known as “Operation Gladio” (technically the name for the Italian version of the program) which used the 'strategy of tension' to further its proponents' political aims by (among other things) committing kidnappings, assassinations and false flag terror attacks and blaming them on their political opponents. In its current incarnation, operatives help foment, foster and even commit violent terror acts in order to destabilize key areas of the global chessboard, necessitating either a response by NATO opponents (Russia or China) or an increased military presence by NATO itself in order to “restore order” to the region.
Azerbaijan, as Edmonds revealed, was also a specific target of the original incarnation of Gladio during the period 1994-1996. At this time Azerbaijan was still diplomatically quite close to Russia, a significant problem for a NATO eager to get a toehold in the Caucasus. In 1995 Azerbaijan's President, Helmar Aliyev (father of the country's current president), was targeted in an assassination attempt by a group including Abdullah Catli, a key Gladio operative and someone whose unlikely career (including imprisonments and helicopter breakouts) would make even the most imaginative screenwriter jealous. After this point, Azerbaijan began to move into the NATO fold and is now a candidate for entry into the alliance itself. As Edmonds explained:
“So again, if people were to go and look at the records on this assassination attempt on Aliyev, they would see Abdullah Çatlı’s name. They would see that Aliyev came out and said, 'The people responsible for this were NATO/US via Turkey.' And the Turkish President calling and saying, 'No, these were the thugs, the mafia people, you know? They have nothing to do with us.' All these denials. Whatever happened is, Aliyev very quickly switched position after this assassination attempt, OK?
“You fast-forward, look at Azerbaijan. Since 1996, Azerbaijan’s been the closest ally of the United States and NATO. In fact, they are becoming a NATO member. For the last eight years, NATO has been there with a base training them. They’ve been passing the tests. They went from purchasing something like $25 million dollars weapons… worth of weapons from the United States, today to something like four… three and a half… $4 billion dollars of US weapons. So, success. Gladio was successful.”
The Russians were not witless spectators of these events, of course, and those within their ranks who are part of the “new cold war” conflict (a real, but manipulated, conflict) are not eager to see the same thing happen to Armenia, or South Ossetia, or other of the important buffer states in the Caucasus region.
The stakes at the moment are high, and the possibility for a rapid acceleration of tension in the region, however slight, is there. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group have wrung their hands and expressed their disappointment, but as they have been unsuccessfully negotiating a “peace” between the two sides in the Nagarno-Karabakh conflict for two decades now, perhaps an event like this will finally see them pushed to the side as the ineffective talking shop they evidently are. The consequences could be the derailment of peace talks and even a breaking of the truce. Everything hinges on how Armenia reacts to this latest incident, and whether Azerbaijan will back down.
...Not that you'll hear this on CNN. There's Kardashian news to cover. Still, although these names, places and events may seem obscure to the average Western reader today, within the decade they will start to become as familiar as the Middle East has to those who only learn geography through warfare.