BY ARUNANSH B. GOSWAMI

On 10th of March of this year an important news especially from the perspective of observers of South Caucasian geopolitics, was shared by an Indian newsgroup, Indian Aerospace Defence News tweeted “India establishes Air Corridor to Armenia to handle exports of strategic importance, HAL & CONCOR have established HALCON, a Joint Working Group for the purpose of the same. This will strengthen logistics between India & Armenia.” HAL here stands for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. and CONCOR stands for Container Corporation of India Ltd. both Government of India undertakings.

This decision highlights the importance India ascribes to it’s defence partnership with Armenia, and the reason is India understands that it is difficult to move from a regional power to a global power status without helping, friendly countries in need outside the Indo-Pacific region, with old civilisational connections with it and similar historical trajectories. But a big challenge for military cooperation between Armenia and India is connectivity because of geopolitical complexity of South Caucasian and wider Near Eastern region.

Iran and Azerbaijan
Even though both majority Iranians and Azeris share faith being Shia Muslims, in present times Persian Iranians and Turkic Azeris do not consider each other friends (geopolitically). “The time has come: Southern Azerbaijan should secede from Iran,” went an August 26 headline on Caliber.az, a website connected to Azerbaijan’s presidential administration. (“Southern Azerbaijan” is the irredentist term for Iran’s Azerbaijani-dominated northern provinces.)

Several Azeris proudly mention that there was a time when Iran was ruled by an Azeri dynasty the Safavids (But as per another theory they were of Kurdish origin but were Turkified). Shah Ismail the ruler of Iran is a hero for Azeris who have even named a metro station in Baku after him, they consider him Azeri, as per the website of the First Lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva “He was a ruler and poet who has laid the foundation of united Azerbaijani state,  raised the Azerbaijani Turkish language to the level of a state language, and created nice works in lyrical and epic styles.”

Westward Tilt of Armenia
Iran knows that Azerbaijan aspires to create this so called “United Azerbaijan” with significant parts of it’s territory, it also knows that Azeris got Israeli support during second Nagorno-Karabakh war, and in order to stop the Azeri expansionism with possible western and Israeli support, it wants to militarily strengthen Armenia the enemy next door of Azerbaijan, but now because of changed geopolitical dynamics this approach appears to change.

Iran is observing the significant westward tilt of Armenia and it’s aspiration to join the European Union and move away from Russian led Collective Security Treaty Organization, this makes Iranian leadership think, what is then the “geopolitical benefit” of Iran in supporting Armenia in this South Caucasian regional rivalry, when Armenia moves closer to western bloc led by USA, a country that has imposed economic sanctions on her? Iran may try become more balanced and this may become a problem for Armenia. Iran is a gateway for Indian weapons to reach Armenia, Dipanjan Roy Chaudhary writes for Economic Times “India supplies arms to Armenia via Iran corridor.”

Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi

Challenge of Connectivity
Indians understand how it feels to be isolated from a major region with huge trade potential, because of hostility of adversarial neighbors, India’s link with Central Asia have suffered because of Pakistani unwillingness for Indian connectivity with these areas to increase. On October 17, 2023, the National Security Adviser of India, Ajit Doval at the NSA Conclave of India, and Central Asian countries held in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan slammed and criticized Pakistan for blocking India’s land access to Central Asia.

Like over the years India’s land connectivity with Central Asia has become hampered, it will likely become increasingly difficult for Indian exports to reach Armenia by land when it comes to military cooperation because of complex geopolitical reality of this region, especially changed geopolitical thinking in Iran alternatives should be there. Armenia and India cannot wait for Iranians to realise that Armenia is turning towards West because traditional supporters of Armenia like Russia and Iran herself were unable to stop Azerbaijan in it’s genocidal campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Conclusion
What can be possible solutions for better connectivity between India and Armenia? First Armenia moves towards a “non-bloc” status like India’s non-alignment approach but avoid becoming a part of the so called “Western bloc” to keep Iran non obstructive towards it’s defence partnership with India. Second, India uses it’s friendly ties with Russia (India’s foreign minister Dr. S. Jaishankar said Russia’s relationships with other countries have had tremendous ups and downs but with India it has been tremendously stable) to help Armenia get better Russian support in any possible regional crisis in South Caucasian region.

Third Greece and other Balkan countries with Orthodox Christian majorities along with Georgia can offer a solution to India’s connectivity problems with Armenia, Georgia is a regional opponent of Russia in the South Caucasus and if Armenia moves away from Russia and maintains a “non-bloc” approach, her geopolitical relationship with Georgia will improve, this can help Indian exports reach Armenia by a longer but viable Balkans Black Sea route. India Armenia defense cooperation is backed by our civilizational connections and modern shared interests. Pakistan an irresponsible nuclear state has joined Türkiye and Azerbaijan, for peace in the South Caucasus India is very important for Armenia and for both to work together connectivity is essential, leadership of both these countries are indeed working to improve the same.

Arunansh B. Goswami is an Advocate and Geopolitical Analyst

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