Memorandum submitted by Mary Kaldor, Centre
for the Study of Global Governance, LSE
The Transcaucasus region comprising Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia, is torn by conflicts. These conflicts
are comparable to those in the Balkan region but they have received
much less attention.
The conflicts have caused much suffering. Thousands
of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been
forced to leave their homes. The economies of all three countries
have been devastated; during the height of the conflicts GDP fell
by between 50 and 74 per cent. Out of a total population of all
three countries of 15.2 million, according to the last Soviet
census, between 1 and 2 million are refugees and displaced persons
and probably a similar number have left the region for economic
reasons. The conflicts also constitute a serious obstacle to democratic
development; nationalist ideologies have helped to sustain authoritarian
political cultures. Moreover, there is a real risk of spread to
neighbouring regions where conflicts are also simmeringRussia
and the conflicts of the North Caucasus to the North, Turkey and
the Kurdish conflict in the South West and Iran in the South East.
The role of outside powers has been ambiguous.
On the one hand, most of the key playersRussia, Iran, Turkey,
and the United Stateshave tried from time to time to act
as mediators. On the other hand, they have all pursued geo-political
agendas and tended to side with one or other party to the conflicts.
At the time of writing, there appears to be developing a new set
of alignments with Russia and Iran siding with Armenia and the
US and Turkey with Azerbaijan, which could betoken a dangerous
East-West division in the region.
The main argument of this memorandum is that
Britain should promote a common European policy towards the region
aimed at the long-term solution of the conflicts. This `ethical'
approach to the area is much more likely to lead to stability
and prosperity, especially in view of the oil reserves in the
Caspian Sea, than a competitive geo-political approach.
There are three main conflicts in the region:
the Nagorno Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan;
the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts in Georgia. Nagorno Karabakh
used to be an autonomous province of Azerbaijan in Soviet times
although it was mainly populated by Armenians. Armenian and Karabakh
demands for its incorporation into Armenia marked the beginning
of the nationalist movements during the perestroika period which
eventually led to the demise of the Soviet Union. After the withdrawal
of Soviet forces, a war over the status of Nagorno Karabakh was
effectively won by Karabakh forces who now occupy 20 per cent
of Azerbaijani territory. Some 300,000 Armenians were expelled
from Azerbaijan. Around a million Azerbaijanis were expelled from
Armenia and the occupied territories. A cease-fire was negotiated
by Russia in 1994 and the so-called Minsk group of the OSCE (the
three co-chairs are Russia, the US and France) continue to negotiate
the future of the region.
Abkhazia used to be an autonomous province of
Georgia. The so-called titular nationality, however, the Abkhaz,
only represented some 17 per cent of the population. The remainder
were Georgians, mainly Mingrelians, and Russians. South Ossetia
was an autonomous region of Georgia with a mixed Ossetian and
Georgian population. Wars in those two areas led to the expulsion
of 250,000 Georgians from Abkhazia and some tens of thousands
of Georgians from South Ossetia. Many Ossetian people also sought
refuge in North Ossetia inside Russia. Cease-fires were negotiated
in 1992 and 1993. In the case of Abkhazia, there is a Russian
peacekeeping force supported by a UN observer mission UNOMIG;
the Friends of the Secretary General (Russia, the US, Britain,
France and Germany) together with with CIS try to encourage negotiations.
In the case of South Ossetia, there is a joint Russian-Georgian-Ossetian
peacekeeping force under the auspices of the CIS.
All three conflicts are frozen conflicts. Fighting
has been more or less halted but the issues of status and the
return of refugees and Dps has not been solved. In both Abkhazia
and Nagorno Karabakh, there are continuing violent incidents across
the cease-fire lines. Moreover in Abkhazia, a further bout of
ethnic cleansing took place last May, when 40,000 Georgians who
had returned to their homes in the Gali region were expelled again
and their houses looted and burned.
There are other lesser conflicts in the regionfor
example, the Lesgyn minority in Azerbaijan, the Armenian minority
in Georgia and the status of Adjaria, an autonomous region in
Georgia ruled by a typical post-Communist leader, Abashidze, according
to one commentator in the manner of an Ottoman clan chief.
The immediate cause of all these conflicts was
the rise of nationalist ideologies in the dying days of the Soviet
empire. In all three countries, nationalists came to power in
the aftermath of Soviet collapseGamsakhurdia in Georgia,
Elchibey in Azerbaijan and Lev Ter Petrossian in Armenia. The
first two were overthrown in 1992 and replaced by former Communist
leadersShevardnadze in Georgia and Heidar Aliyev in Azerbaijan,
perhaps with Russian connivance. Although both leaders have succeeded
in restoring some degree of stability; both still rely on nationalist
ideologies to retain their power positions. Ter Petrossian was
overthrown in 1997 after proposing a conciliatory approach to
the Nagorno Karabakh conflict; he was replaced by the Prime Minister
he himself had appointedRobert Kocharian the former President
of Nagorno Karabakh.
It would be wrong to treat nationalism as a
throwback to the past, even through narratives of nationalism
are replete with historical claims about who came first and who
has the right to which territory. In particular, the Turkish genocide
of Armenians in 1915 is deeply imprinted on Armenian consciousness.
But by and large, the whole region was historically very mixed
and most conflicts were directed against the various empires that
came and wentthe Persians, the Ottomans and the Russiansrather
than against each other. When I visited Nagorno Karabakh in February
of this year, I was struck by the fact that the Armenians and
Azeris who face each other across the frontline know each other
from before the war and used to be friends. Indeed, even now,
they sometimes stop to take a coffee with each other. However,
when I asked one of the same Armenian border guards about an incident
in which an American Armenian was killed, he told me that he had
been killed by a "Turkish" tank. In other words, the
Azeris are not traditional enemies but they become Turks the old
enemies of Armenians, when engaged in violence.
Contemporary nationalism has several sources.
One is the popular movements that emerged during the perestroika
period and which envisaged independence from the Soviet Union
as a way of gaining democracy. Former dissidents were able to
mobilise popular feeling under the banner of nationalism. Another
is the administrative arrangements under the Soviet Union according
to which administrative status was linked to titular nationalities
who were given privileged positions in the administration and
who encouraged local language and culture. In a situation of bureaucratic
competition and shortage, nationalist claims became a method of
competing for resources within the bureaucracy and patronage networks
based on ethnicity or clan became a mechanism for distribution.
For former nomenclature wishing to retain their positions, alliance
with the democrats under the umbrella of nationalism was a natural
development. Nationalism has provided an easy substitute for communism
as a tool for authoritarian leaders with much the same black-white,
we-them, good-bad mentality. In societies where people are accustomed
to obey, such ideologies can be very powerful.
The electronic media has facilitated contemporary
nationalism, as in other parts of the world. Although there has
been some progress towards establishing independent media in all
three countries, their position remains precarious and the state
continues to dominate television and radio which reaches out to
the countryside and reproduces nationalist propaganda. In the
case of Armenia, the role of the Diaspora has also been crucial
in supporting and publicizing the Armenian position especially
in the United States.
The explosive growth of nationalism has to be
understood in terms of the military and economic context of the
region. The Transcaucasus region is said to be the most heavily
militarised part of the former Soviet Union. Weapons were stolen
from or sold by departing Russian soldiers. In the immediate aftermath
of the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were no regular armed
forces. Rather the wars were conducted by paramilitary groups
formed on the basis of extreme ideologies and/or organised crime.
Their tactics were to gain control of territory through population
expulsion rather than to fight each other. As in the Balkans,
most of the violence was directed against civilians. Where forces
were professionalised, they easily prevailed. This was the case
with the Karabakh forces, which received training and even combat
leadership from American Armenians and from Russia. In the case
of Abkhazia and Ossetia, Russian forces, perhaps breakaway units
seem to have fought on the side of the Abkhazians and Ossetians.
In the aftermath of the wars, the Azerbaijani and Georgian forces
have been consolidated and professionalised. But they are still
weak and paramilitary groups have not been completely eliminated.
The economies of the region have been severely
disabled by the collapse of trade, following the collapse of the
Soviet Union, blockades imposed as a result of the wars, physical
destruction of utilities and plants, and in the case of Armenia,
the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake. Indeed, Armenia, the poorest
of the three countries has been worst affected by blockades from
Turkey and Azerbaijan and the difficulty of trade with Russia
which has to pass through Abkhazia. Income and tax revenues in
all three countries plummeted during the wars. somewhere between
40 and 50 per cent of the economy went underground. In this context,
war generated income from loot, pillage, hostage taking and illegal
trade has been an important way of sustaining paramilitary groups.
In the Armenian case, Diaspora support acounts for two thirds
of the defence budget of Nagorno Karabakh and is sustained by
a permanent sense or emergency. Although the economies of all
three countries have begun to recover, especially Azerbaijan which
is now benefiting from oil investments, there remains widespread
poverty and inequality; tax revenues are still very low and the
grey economy is still considerable.
Thus there remains a considerable risk that
the conflicts will reignite because of the confluence of political
and economic interest. For the ruling elites and their political
opponents, the conflicts provide a reason why other problems are
not solved and a mechanism for mobilistion and political competiton.
The disabled economies and the markets in surplus weapons still
provide a breeding ground for violence and organised crime. In
the case of the breakaway regions especially Karabakh and Abkhazia,
they remain dependent on war generated sources of revenue.
Outside powers have tended to act in contradictory
ways. The main actors are Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United
Russia, as Margot Light has put it, has been
both "peace-maker and trouble maker". On the one hand,
it is Russia, which has been primarily responsible for the cease-fires
and, in the case of Abkhazia and Ossetia, for peacekeeping. On
the other hand, Russian forces whether officially or unofficially
seem to have been involved in formenting conflicts. some, especially
in the region, would argue that this has been Russia's method
of controlling the "Near Abroad". A more likely explanation
is the lack of co-ordination within the Russian State as well
as various independent groups, often involved in illegal activities,
which may or may not have official connections. Russia`s role
in maintaining and policing cease-fires is, however, problematic
and, indeed an important reason for fragility of the cease-fires
is, since Russia is not seen as an impartial mediator. Russian
peace-keepers did not prevent the ethnic cleansing of the Gali
region last year; although it is not clear whether this is because,
as the Russians claim, of their reluctance to risk lives as a
resultof the "Chechen syndrome", or whether it is, as
perceived by the Goergians, evidence of Russian partiality. Russia
has been augmenting its military forces at bases in Armenia and
in Adzharia, providing a focus point for Azerbaijani and Geogian
concerns about Russia's partiality.
Iran and Turkey both have serious concerns about
the pressure of refugees and the dangers of conflict spreading.
In particular, a large part of the Iranian population is Azerbaijani
and there are fears that Azerbaijani nationalism could be generated
with Iran. Both have economic interests in the region. Both are
interested in pipelines from the Caspian Sea as well as trade.
At various times, both have tried to mediate and retain an impartial
stance. But both are increasingly seen as partialTurkey
is seen as the ally of Turkic speaking Azerbaijan expecially in
the light of American-Turkish interest in a pipeline through Turkey
which would cut out Iran and Russia. Iran is increasingly seen
as an ally of Armenia both because of its fears of Azerbaijani
irredentism and its alleged support for the banned Islamic party
The US was initially seen as an ally of Armenia
especially in light of sanctions imposed by congress on Azerbaijan
under pressure of the Armenian Diaspora. However, American interest
in reducing dependence on Persian Gulf oil has been the justification
for recent support for Azerbaijan as a way of gaining access to
Caspian Sea resources. Some claim this interest is exaggerated
since Caspian Sea oil reserves seem likely to be much lower than
was expected and that the main US interest is in offsetting Russian
and Iranian influence. The US has also tried to mediate and pressure
from the US seems to have been an important reason why Ter Petrossian
proposed a new peace initiative. However, there does not seem
much effort in that direction at presenta US official told
me that "we" the OSCE "are just the postbox"
for negotiations, ie not active. After the announcement that Russia
was to deploy additonal Mig-29 aircraft in Armenia, the Azeri
Foreign Minister called for a NATO base in Azerbaijan. In contrast,
the European role in the region has been comparatively minor.
The British have a relatively strong diplomatic presence in Azerbaijan,
especially in light of the leading role played by British Petroleum
in AIOC (Azerbaijani International Operating Company). The French
are part of the Minsk group and France, Britain and Germany are
Friends of the Secretary General. All three countries have signed
Partnership and Co-operation Agreements with the European Union,
Partnership for Peace Agreements with NATO and all are hoping
to join the Council of Europe.
European countries, which, as yet, are seen
as relatively impartial, could put a major co-operative effort
into solving the conflicts of the region. What might this involve?
First of all, it is very difficult to envisage
long-term solutions so long as nationalist ideologies prevail.
The most important task is to develop an alternative political
culture which is much more cosmopolitan in outlook and which recognises
that increased integration of the region will contribute towards
stability and prosperity. Despite obstacles posed by a totalitarian
tradition and by unfavourable regulations concerning NGOs, civil
society is emerging in all three countries. It is probably strongest
in Georgia, at least in those parts controlled by the Government.
Nevertheless, independent media, independent intellectuals and
NGOs are engaaged in public debate in all three countries, even
outside the capital cities. In particular, there are NGO specifically
working on peace and human rights issues who co-operate throughout
the region. These include the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, International
Alert, and the Transcaucasia Women's Dialogue. The Helsinki Citizens
Assembly has, for example been responsible for the release of
over 500 prisoners of war and hostages and engages in dialogue
across the conflict zones, especially involving refugees and Displaced
Persons. Support for civil society is crucial in building an alternative
political culture, especially in encouraging democratic participation
and individual civic responsibility so as to undermine the authorisation
mentality on which nationalist ideologies feed.
Secondly, efforts need to be made to thaw the
conflicts. Civil society cannot flourish in conditions of conflict.
Conflict is polarising and can be used to suppress civil society.
Thus efforts need to be made to freeze the violence and to encourage
a process of normalisation. In this context, negotiations need
to be aimed not at a final solution to the conflicts but rather
at stabilising the conflicts. Thus they need to focus on maintaining
cease-fires, and on confidence-building measures, such as return
of refugees, lifting of blockades, economic reconstruction, freedom
of movement, or Demining and demilitarisation rather than on status.
European countries should consider the option of making available
peacekeeping forces and police. They could also play a role in
putting pressure on the various parties to agree to such measures.
And finally, they could support confidence-building measures at
citizen's level. For example, there is a proposal to create a
peace zone among local municipalities from all three countries
in the Red Bridge area, which is where all three countries meet.
Similarly there are proposals for cultural exchanges, media co-operations,
youth co-operations through summer camps and universitiesall
of which should be encouraged.
Thirdly, a programme of normalisation needs
to be developed which would include economic reconstruction, control
of surplus weapons, assistance to war victims especially demobilized
soldiers, refugees and Dps. Economic reconstruction should focus
on two areasreconstruction of infrastructure which would
facilitate economic integration of the region as a whole, and
local economic development with a special emphasis on job creation
so as to provide alternative sources of livelihood for the very
poor who are likely turn to the black economy.
The British government could play a very constructive
role in encouraging such an approach to the region in co-operation
with British companies active in the region such as BP and Midland
Bank as well as NGOs such as International Alert and Vertic, British
NGOs, and the Helsinki Citizens Assembly which has a British branch.