Caucasus, Central Asian Countries Warily Assessing Impending Attack On Syria
The impending attack by the U.S. on Syria has dominated the world's attention for the last week or so. And the powers surrounding the Caucasus and Central Asia -- notably Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- have been among the most active in discussing Syria, with Russia and Iran backing the government of Bashar al-Assad and Turkey one of the strongest supporters of the rebels. In spite of, or perhaps as a result, of that, the countries in between have taken a cautious approach to the possibility of U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Befitting its strong attachment to the U.S., Georgia's foreign ministry made a statement that appeared to endorse the American position that Assad's government should be punished for the use of chemical weapons:
“Georgia welcomes and supports readiness of the international community to play more active role in resolving humanitarian crisis in Syria and to hold the regime that committed this crime accountable for violating the fundamental international humanitarian norm."
Georgia's position is largely a factor of its ties to Turkey and the U.S., Michael Cecire, a Washington-based analyst of Georgia and the Caucasus, told The Bug Pit:
The Georgian government is happy to defer to their partners in the West and in nearby Turkey to take the lead on the issue. When it comes to Syria, Tbilisi's primary geopolitical concerns would be to ensure that the consequences from an intervention did not lead to destabilization in the South Caucasus. The Assad regime's closeness to Hezbollah and Iran, which both operate in the Caucasus to varying extents, makes this at least a possibility -- particularly in light of Hezbollah's alleged role in an early 2012 disarmed bombing attempt in Tbilisi.
But overall, I think Georgia is most keen to demonstrate its support to the West and Ankara without committing itself to an issue with which it currently has no immediate, clear national interests.
Azerbaijan has been more circumspect about its position, which again would seem to be a factor of its attempt to maintain good relations with both Turkey and Russia. The head of the foreign relations department under the president of Azerbaijan, Novruz Mammadov, told reporters: "The position is being discussed between the Congress and the President of this country... It would've been better if we have expressed our own opinion after their opinion is made concrete,"
Perhaps the keenest interest in the region is on the part of Armenia, given that a substantial Armenian minority lives in Syria. Many Syrian Armenians have already fled to Armenia, though the government has struggled to cope with the wave of refugees. As for Yerevan's policy on an American attack, the government is trying to stay out of it, though privately is against such an attack, Sergey Minasyan, a Yerevan-based analys at the Caucasus Institutet, told The Bug Pit. "Armenia's vital interest is just to avoid any attack/deepening of the conflict/external involvement (especially from Turkish side," he said. "The Armenian government will try to preserve neutrality as long as possible without any strict respond/positioning and to prepare for a new Armenian refugees wave from Syria."
Naturally, the events in Syria also have provided an opportunity for Armenia and Azerbaijan to spar over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh: Azerbaijan complained to the United Nations that Armenia is resettling Syrian refugees in Karabakh, while Karabakh's de facto foreign ministry has denied that is the case with even a single Syrian refugee:
Azerbaijan is trying to use the Syrian crisis for its political goals, which is currently under the focus of the international community, in particular the fate of the Syrian Armenians that, along with other Syrian refugees, are forced to find refuge in different parts of the world.
Overwhelmed by its mania of distorting the essence of the conflict and misleading the international community, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan did not hesitate to use obvious lies and misinformation.
Across the Caspian in Central Asia, the governments have less at stake and are more inclined to defer to Russia. Kazakhstan's foreign ministry issued a statement saying that, if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons by the government would be a "crime against humanity." But it added, "Kazakhstan calls on the international community to show restraint and to assess the situation based on the final conclusions of UN experts."
In the end, though, Astana will follow Moscow, Daniyar Kosnazarov, an Almaty-based analyst at the Eurasian Research Institute, told The Bug Pit: "Kazakhstan's position or the tone of its statement, if the intervention will begin, will certainly depend on the Kremlin's reaction, which is strongly against any military intervention by the U.S. However, one should assume that Astana in any case will again call for the urgent end of the conflict."
The government of Kyrgyzstan is taking a similar stance, Shairbek Juraev, a political analyst at the American University of Central Asia, told The Bug Pit: "The only dimension of this case that is relevant to us [in Kyrgyzstan] is the fact that the key major international partners of Kyrgyzstan are on different sides of the debate, with Russia and China clearly opposing, and U.S. and Turkey clearly ready to attack. An eventual statement of Kyrgyzstan would most likely come from its solidarity with some of its international partners. The approaching [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] summit in Bishkek may speed up taking a stance."
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.
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