At a press conference last week in Los Angeles, every tier of lawmaker gathered at city hall to, one by one, condemn Azerbaijan’s Turkish-backed invasion of its breakaway ethnic Armenian Republic of Artsakh.
The organizer was Los Angeles City Council member Paul Krekorian, who minced no words about the “moral, logistical and military support” from Turkey and the “infusion of over a thousand jihadist mercenary terrorists paid for by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in order to kill people in this part of the world.”
One almost did a doubletake, given that we haven’t heard the word “jihad” or “jihadist” escape from our elected officials’ lips in a decade, let alone “jihad” and “terrorist” in the same sentence — and this wasn’t Donald Trump “talking trash.” Not since every manner of security agency booted “jihad” from our linguistic lexicon in the Bush administration’s last year back in 2008. Nor was Mr. Krekorian too shy to presume the destruction that now looms for ancient churches such as the one he was christened in.
Something truly extraordinary must have been happening. Without a hint of irony (given our own intelligence agencies’ favorite form of special ops), Mr. Krekorian continued, “Americans should never tolerate the spread of jihadism in this part of the world. Americans should never tolerate the use of cluster bombs against civilian targets and other war crimes that carry with them the echoes of the Armenian genocide.”
Jihad, targeting civilians, church destruction, cluster bombs, and a world power sponsoring it all. There’s something familiar about all this. Oh yes, it’s precisely what we did to those surrogate Russians of Southeast Europe, the Serbs, at the turn of the millennium, and never looked back.
It’s definitely better to be Armenian, it seems, with a stronger voice in America. When we were the ones flying in mujahideen to Bosnia and Kosovo 20 years ago to chop Serbian heads (even using the same tarmac as Iran doing the same), the Serbs didn’t get this kind of turnout from our politicians. The echoes of the Bosnian-assisted genocide of Serbs in Croatia — a half-century more recent than the Armenian one — must have been too faint.
Nonetheless, last week L.A. City Council member Paul Koretz Zoomed in to lend his indignation to the presser, saying that Azeri “missions flown over civilian neighborhoods, schools and churches are just outrageous … . Azerbaijan and Turkey are engaged in an attempt at ethnic cleansing again. In 2016, Armenian elderly villagers were murdered and had their ears cut off as trophies for Azeri soldiers to take back. What could be more disgusting?”
How about a bowl of Serbian eyes from Croatia’s World War II genocide of almost a million Serbs, as attested to by author and traveler Ruth Mitchell (sister of Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, “Father of the U.S. Air Force”). Then in Croatia’s 1991 redux that we backed, three Croatian ex-soldiers talking to Reuters had seen at least one brother in arms wearing, yes, an ear necklace. And if targeting civilians is the outrage of the day — as it should be — shouldn’t these politicians have had some choice words for NATO’s “Supreme Allied Commander” Gen. Wesley Clark when he bragged about his strategy of targeting civilian infrastructure, and committed ecocide in Yugoslavia using not only cluster bombs (as has Ukraine, that most “vital American ally”) but also depleted uranium, which to this day claims lives via cancer.
In 1999, still in a weakened post-Cold War position, Russia was forced to stand idly by and even be recruited into underhanded diplomacy against its fellow Slavic Orthodox. Is it any wonder that Russia started to eye us with suspicion and eventually elevated Vladimir Putin? Yugoslavia was where we lost Russia. And yet Russia was intent on getting over it, choosing to view the Balkans episode as an American aberration and even asking for inclusion in NATO in 1991 and again in 2000.
No, and no. That would have made too much sense. Imagine two great powers like Russia and the U.S. — with the hindrance of opposing systems now gone — working together, as God intended. The bad guys wouldn’t stand a chance.
Unless, of course, we did something crazy, like let the bad guys into NATO.
On which point Rep. Adam Schiff took the podium: “We are calling on Azerbaijan to cease the murder of civilians … and telling Erdogan to back off, to stop recruiting foreign fighters from Syria. We have a strong bipartisan message for Turkey and Erdogan: You’re a member of NATO. Start acting like one.”
That Turkey is very much acting like NATO in 1999 aside, who didn’t see this coming? As if we weren’t chumps to begin with by creating an “alliance” with Turkey — and keeping it despite its rising Islamism. The speakers demanded that the Trump administration take action, and signed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for decisive U.S. action to condemn Azerbaijan, demand a ceasefire and call out Turkey for the Libyan and Syrian jihadists it has sent into the conflict zone. “This is an obligation of President Trump to act against Turkey,” Mr. Krekorian explained. That is, of the guy who said from the beginning that NATO makes no sense.
In fact, what Turkey is doing — and has been doing all along — is exposing NATO for the mockery that it is. Especially when, every so often, it gets into a skirmish with fellow NATO member Greece. With two NATO members fighting, how would one invoke NATO’s oh-so-seriously dangled Article 5 (“An attack on one is an attack on all”)?
Turkey tried to somewhat cash in on it this past February, asking for U.S. military help in Syria against Russian-backed forces that killed 33 Turkish soldiers. Instead, American attack helicopters did joint exercises with Turkey’s nemesis, Greece. And late last month, in part because Turkey “has threatened the key ground force [in northeast Syria] that beat back the Islamic State,” The New York Times reported, and “has detained U.S. citizens … and hosted Palestinian militia,” Mr. Pompeo made his second trip in a year to Greece to show support, culminating in the headline “U.S. Will Base Mammoth Ship in Greece, Near Disputed Territory.”
Mr. Schiff continued about Armenia-Azerbaijan that “This conflagration must cause us to reexamine our relationship with both Azerbaijan and Turkey.”
You think? Because it wasn’t enough of a clue when Mr. Erdogan seized 50 churches, or had himself officially declared Great Sultan, or called a mine-disaster protester “Israeli sperm” and slapped him, or had cops who say “I will rape your Christian wife,” or called Jerusalem “our city,” or bankrolled Muslim Brotherhood networks across Europe, or helped migrants cross into Greece, or supported Islamic State in India. And that’s more or less just the past year.
With friends like Turkey, who needs Russia?
The Russian approach is often compared to chess play, but we’re so busy outplaying ourselves that Russia hasn’t had a chance to try. The seeming contradiction of Russia — such as its medical supplies to us during the quarantine, or its help with Iran and North Korea, or its magnanimity toward Israel, or the constant olive branch it’s extended in the last 20 years even after the job we did on Yugoslavia — are not contradictions either but, again, desperate clues of a backward perspective.
It’s been pointed out that a more direct fight with Armenia — which houses a Russian military base — by NATO member Turkey has the potential to lead us to war with Russia. But one hopes that, as in Syria, Turkey is overplaying its hand and causing us to scratch our dense collective head. Which could force us to untangle the web we’ve woven. It’s quite possible that what’s irking our leadership the most about the Azeri-Turkish aggression on Armenia is that Turkey is throwing us off the wrong warpath.
Julia Gorin was a Soviet Refusenik who came to the U.S. in 1976. She is editor of “Hillarisms: The Unmaking of the First Female President.”