As Moscow tests for Turkey’s weaknesses in the fight over the downed SU-24 fighter plane, Russia’s communists have gone on a mission to revoke a treaty that their Soviet forefathers signed with Ankara. Heads are turning in the South Caucasus, which was essentially sliced and diced into its modern-day shape by the treaty and another 1921 Soviet-Turkish accord.
The document under debate, the 1921 Treaty of Moscow, drew a line between the Turkish Republic and the Soviet Union, and also set the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia without the consent of the three newly Bolshevik-occupied nations. The partitioning was further cinched by the Treaty of Kars, signed by the then Soviet republics’ Bolshevik-installed authorities.
The idea of revoking the treaty, pitched to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, comes amidst an unscheduled military exercise in Russia’s Southern Military District, which borders on the South Caucasus. Russian military analyst Viktor Murakhovsky commented to gazeta.ru that the exercises are meant as “a little signal” to Turkey. “[B]ecause we’re headed toward war with them, very quickly and certainly,” he predicted.
In remarks to the Azerbaijani news service APA, however, the Russian Communist Party’s deputy chairperson, Valery Rashkin, pooh-pooh’d the notion that Moscow withdrawing its signature from the 1921 Treaty of Moscow could lead to war with Turkey. “[O]n the contrary, we will begin the negotiation process.”
“Ankara must understand how the escalation [of tensions] could turn out,” Communist Party Central Committee Secretary Sergei Obukhov, one of the petition’s authors, told Izvestia.
The Communist Party’s motion is backed by the socialist Fair Russia, but has not yet passed official muster with Russian President’s Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.
Moscow, of course, no longer represents the territorial interests of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Nonetheless, the petition could serve the Kremlin’s purposes as it seeks revenge against Turkey for the downed fighter plane.
The proposal’s goal clearly is to set Armenia and Georgia, already jittery over the Russo-Turkish clash, against Turkey. Both cherish memories of territories ceded to the Turks nearly a century ago.
There is plenty of bad blood between Armenia and Turkey as it is, mainly stemming from the Ottoman-era massacre and deportation of ethnic Armenians from present-day Turkey. Armenia’s territorial resentment of Turkey is best embodied by Mount Ararat, a major national symbol for Armenia that went to Turkey through the Treaty of Kars.
Still, Yerevan has stopped short of endorsing the campaign against the 1921 accord, also known as the Treaty of Brotherhood. Even Armenia’s small Communist Party only cautiously backed their Russian comrades and said that experts should look into the ramifications of such a move. “It may seem a simple matter, but has lots of subtext that must be studied,” said First Secretary Tachat Sarkisian.
In Georgia, there is nostalgia for land lost to Turkey under the 1921 Kars treaty, but Tbilisi’s modern-day strategic partnership with Turkey, the nearest member of the NATO alliance Georgia longs to join, carries stronger weight.
One Georgian foreign affairs analyst nevertheless sees a risk. “This could start a dangerous chain reaction in the region,” Simon Kiladze, a foreign affairs analyst, commented to this week’s Kviris Palitra. “Turkey could potentially ask to take Batumi back, while Georgia demands for Artvin [a town given to Turkey under the 1921 Kars treaty — ed] back,” he said.
While such a scenario is highly unlikely, the possibility alone is worrisome enough, he added.
Azerbaijan, Turkey’s closest ally in the region, also seems concerned. The Kars treaty transferred Nakchivan, homeland to the ruling Aliyev family, from Armenia to then Soviet Azerbaijan.
One Azerbaijani analyst has cautioned against declaring war on the past. “This can lay a mine for explosions of international conflicts in the future,” political commentator Tofiq Abbasov predicted to the Kremlin-aligned Sputnik Azerbaijan.
The Russian foreign ministry has been quick to assure Azerbaijan that, whatever happens with the Communist Party's proposal, its interests will not be affected.
“A lot links us with Azerbaijan in all spheres, and we will do nothing that could worsen our relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told the Russian parliament on February 10.
Turkey has not yet commented on the proposal. But the document suggests one of many ways that the big-power confrontation between Moscow and Ankara could go from bad to worse.