KARABAKH AND ABKHAZIA: THE DYNAMICS OF NON-SETTLEMENT1

Ivlian KHAINDRAVA


Ivlian Khaindrava, Leading researcher, Development and Cooperation Center—Center of Pluralism (Georgia)


Introduction

This is an attempt at a parallel analysis of the development of two major South Caucasian conflicts. My personal experience allows me to look at the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia from the inside while I shall be looking at the situation around Nagorny Karabakh from the outside. I feel strongly about both conflicts. I do not think that they are similar and the settlement of one of them should be applied to the other as a pattern. I do believe, though, that one settlement will spur on a quest for the other settlement. There is no doubt that the Karabakh conflict is the key South Caucasian problem—a key to a full-scale political, economic and any other cooperation which the three regional countries need very much. It seems that such cooperation is the major regional project. The sad post-Soviet experience in the Southern Caucasus looks even sadder against the background of successful cooperation of the Baltic states. This cooperation and other factors favorable for that region have predetermined the different situations in three northern and three southern states. I know that I am not a trailblazer when talking about the negative role of the South Caucasian conflicts, the Karabakh conflict in particular.

Brenda Shaffer, research director at Harvard University’s Caspian Studies Program, believes: “Central to the development of the Caucasus and Caspian regions is resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Today, important policy and development options are obstructed due to this conflict. As long as the borders, citizenship of residents and political organization of the region are not clear, it is difficult to implement long-term development and investment designs. The small states of the South Caucasus must deal with many great challenges, especially living with strong neighbors like Russia, Turkey and Iran. Open trade and cooperation between these three states is necessary in order to meet these challenges. The current status quo (no war, no peace) should not be considered a viable option in the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict: Thousands of Azerbaijanis are still displaced and living in deplorable conditions, and the economic hardships and political instability in Armenia have led to emigration of a significant portion of the population of the small state, and these situations should be remedied.”2

John M. Ordway, a new U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, said when handing in his credentials to the Armenian president that the longer the conflict remained unresolved the greater would be the factor of risk for Armenia and the entire region.3

Secretary General of the EU Council Javier Solana informed the foreign ministers of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan that the frozen regional conflicts interfere with the South Caucasian states’ development and their drawing closer to the European Union. He said that their drawing closer to the European Union depended on a peaceful resolution of the conflicts, extended regional cooperation and continued economic and political reforms. He also added that the EU would like to play a more active political role in the region to attain these goals and that the Karabakh settlement depended on whether the Armenian and Azerbaijanian presidents were prepared to demonstrate courage needed for making “very painful decisions” and whether both nations were ready to mutual concessions.4

These statements are expected to force Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to ponder seriously over what was said. Everybody got the message: the political decision-makers, those who prepare the decisions for them, the public and those who shape public opinion. Speaking about the challenges Brenda Shaffer mentioned in her report, one should bear in mind that each of the three South Caucasian states had complicated (let’s put it this way) relations with at least one of the neighbors outside the region: Azerbaijan with Iran, Armenia with Turkey, and Georgia with Russia. The relations inside the region are far from simple either. This creates additional obstacles on the road to regional stability.

It is not expected to be an all-embracing article: there is vast literature dealing with the South Caucasian conflicts, in the West there are experts in this particular subject of the science of conflicts. The international observers are observing, the U.N. regularly passes resolutions, the Council of Europe and OSCE organize hearings, seminars, training sessions and conferences on the subject but things are still right there where they started. Where is this “there”? I shall start with the year 1994 so that not to go further back—so far few have avoided being bogged down in the past. It was the year when an armed stage of the Karabakh and Abkhazian conflicts ended. It was in May 1994 that a treaty on cease-fire and discontinuation of large-scale hostilities in Nagorny Karabakh was signed in Bishkek. In Moscow, Georgia and Abkhazia signed an agreement on cease-fire and disengagement of the forces. Thus, May 1994 was the formal beginning of what some people call “a peace process,” others, “a settlement,” still others, “transformation of the conflict.” This was almost eight years ago.

The Position of the Authorities

One cannot but be amazed by the passivity the top people in Baku, Erevan, and Tbilisi (and also in Stepanakert and Sukhumi) demonstrate when it comes to suggesting plans and conceptions of settlement. Erevan, Stepanakert, and Sukhumi proceeded from the “military-political realities” and seem to have insisted on their freezing. Tbilisi and Baku looked inadequate. They were obviously shaken by the military defeats, burdened by domestic problems and were, in general, not prepared to think and act in accordance with the current demands. They wanted to restore the pre-war situation, that is, the status of autonomy for Abkhazia and Nagorny Karabakh. Later, they started talking about “an autonomy with the widest possible rights known in international practice.” The presidents of Georgia and Azerbaijan repeated this several times. In case of Georgia the autonomy was to be applied to a subject of a single federal state. In October 2001, Novaia gazeta published in Moscow carried an interview with President Shevardnadze in which he stated that his country was prepared to give Abkhazia “truly exclusive rights” within a federal state, much wider than those enjoyed by North Ossetia or Tatarstan within the Russian Federation. Yet this found no positive response either in Stepanakert or in Sukhumi for at least two reasons.

First, the memory of their Soviet autonomous past (and the federation) is still very much alive. The pre-conflict situation cannot be described as normal precisely because it ended in a conflict. In other words, at least one of the sides could not agree to the offer because the old order of things was possible only within a repressive Soviet context. As soon as the system slackened, the signs of the coming bloodshed appeared in Abkhazia (1989) while Karabakh had become a conflict zone still under Soviet power (1988).

Second, the promises of a “wide autonomy” contained no specific details of which the Abkhazians said more than once to the Georgians. Giulshen Pashaeva, Director of the Azerbaijan Center for Conflict Studies, has actually agreed with this: “Armenia has supplied another, not quite important, argument against the autonomy: it says that the Azerbaijanian side has so far failed to forward specific propositions about its content. Indeed, there is a lot of work for Azerbaijan’s diplomats and experts in international law.”5

There were different reproaches: “The new Constitution states that Georgia is a federation, yet all the related questions remained unresolved. They will be addressed when the country’s territorial integrity is restored. This deepens mistrust of Georgia.”6

A section of this constitution adopted in August 1995 was left out so that to widen a field for compromises. Indeed, if the constitution registered Georgia’s administrative-territorial division, in particular, in relation to Abkhazia, the latter would have been able to state that the territorial question had been resolved without its participation, which Abkhazia found unacceptable. It seems that the good intentions of one side were misinterpreted, wittingly or unwittingly, by the other side. Back in November 1994, the Constitution of Abkhazia, adopted without participation of the Georgian population of this republic, considerably narrowed down the field of negotiations. The situation became even worse after the Act of State Independence of the Republic of Abkhazia was passed in 1999. Here is another thought-provoking feature. Art 49 of the Constitution of Abkhazia says: “Only a person of Abkhazian nationality can be elected President of the Republic of Abkhazia.” I shall discuss this below.

I would like to point out that the failure of the authorities of the three countries to settle the conflicts can also be explained by the not quite legitimate positions of the presidents in their countries where societies have not yet realized that concessions should be made. There are subjective factors in each of the three countries: any unpopular decision by any of the presidents (Aliev, Shevardnadze, Kocharian) may be used by the opposition to fan anti-presidential feelings that might end in their resignation. It seems that neither of them wanted to follow in Ter-Petrossian’s footsteps. Any concessions by those who look at themselves as victors in the conflict will invite a logical question: “Why was our blood, and the blood of our adversaries, shed?”

Still, there were varied initiatives and conceptions of conflict settlement.

Proposals for Nagorny Karabakh

It was back in 1994 at the talks on Nagorny Karabakh that John Maresca who represented the United States put forward an idea of an associated state. Paul Goble, a prominent American political scientist, formulated his plan (known as Goble’s plan) of exchanges of territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He suggested that part of Zangezur (that will provide Azerbaijan with a direct access to Nakhichevan) should be exchanged for part of Nagorny Karabakh and part of adjacent territories so that Armenia would get a direct access to Nagorny Karabakh. Later, other variants were suggested, all of them coolly received, especially in Armenia.

In 1996 the Lisbon OSCE summit listened to the major principles of settlement: territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic; legal status of Nagorny Karabakh defined in an agreement based on self-determination which confers on Nagorny Karabakh the highest degree of self-rule within Azerbaijan; guaranteed security for Nagorny Karabakh and its whole population.7 The consensus was never achieved (all OSCE members agreed on the document, Armenia was the only exception), yet the moral and political importance of this approach was significant enough.

In 1997, the OSCE Minsk Group suggested a step-by-step solution accepted by Baku and rejected outright by Stepanakert. The plan that took the Lisbon principles into account presupposed that the occupied territories should be returned under jurisdiction of Azerbaijan, yet the Azerbaijanian army should be banned from them. Instead, international peacekeeping forces should be stationed there. Nagorny Karabakh would be allowed to have its own defense forces. The international community pledged to recognize Armenia as guarantor of Karabakh’s security. The Lachin humanitarian corridor was expected to function properly. The decision on the status of Nagorny Karabakh would be postponed. Ter-Petrossian, the then president of Armenia, demonstrated a flexible approach and tried to convince his opponents that the plan was realizable. This cost him presidentship. Robert Kocharian who replaced Ter-Petrossian as the president favors the package variant.

In November 1998, the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group visited Baku, Erevan, and Stepanakert with new proposals that boiled down to a “common state” of Azerbaijan and Karabakh. The proposals were designed to overcome a contradiction between Azerbaijan’s desire to preserve its territorial integrity and Erevan and Stepanakert’s objections to any form of vertical subordination of Karabakh to Baku. A new term was coined to avoid the old one—autonomy—to which all former autonomies had developed an allergy. This was a trick that made Karabakh de facto an independent state while de jure Azerbaijan preserved its territorial integrity. Baku rejected the plan by referring to the Lisbon principles that mentioned no “common state.” Azerbaijan did not like the juggling with the de jure and de facto concepts.

It seems that the intermediaries lost any hopes of elaborating a plan acceptable to both sides: all proposals coming from outside had been categorically rejected by one of the sides. The emphasis was shifted to personal contacts between Aliev and Kocharian in a hope that they would work out mutually acceptable approaches. About twenty personal meetings yielded no results: having returned from the November 2001 CIS summit in Moscow, President Aliev refused to speak about the details. He said that the sides had not changed their positions, which implied that there had not been breakthroughs.8

Today, Armenia is insisting on an integrated approach to all problems, regional cooperation included. It would hardly object to positive developments in communications, economy and trade even if the status of Nagorny Karabakh remained unsettled. Azerbaijan is insisting on a withdrawal of the occupational troops from its territories, return of the refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP), and settlement of the status issue. Only after that Baku would be ready for cooperation. There is not a glimpse of hope that these contradictions can be overcome: the sides are still arguing about the step-by-step versus package approaches.

Proposals for Abkhazia

At first glance the conflict in Abkhazia looked solvable: neither other states nor international organizations doubted Georgia’s territorial integrity that was amply demonstrated by the final documents of the 1996 Lisbon summit. The possible solutions rested on Georgia becoming a federal state with a corresponding status for Abkhazia. Specific proposals were few and far between—on the official level, in recent years, there were none of them. In 1997, the Republican Party of Georgia published a settlement conception that suggested that a dividing line should be drawn between the Abkhazian and Georgian communities in Abkhazia with asymmetrical statuses and jurisdictions.9 The conception offered specific solution to the problem of citizenship and addressed the demilitarization and a constitutional treaty issues, and other problems. Later there appeared a work by Abkhazian researcher Viacheslav Chirikba Gruzia and Abkhazia: predlozhenia k konstitutsionnoi modeli (Georgia and Abkhazia: Proposals on the Constitutional Model) where he has written: “The draft state model offered below is based on a combination between the principles of federation and confederation to make it acceptable to both sides.” Georgi Khubua, Georgian expert in federal legislation, has made similar proposals.10

In the year 2000 three Georgian authors suggested a new conceptual approach to the problem of Georgian refugees and IDPs from Abkhazia that would help them adapt in the places where they were living. The authors aimed at correcting the demographic balance in Abkhazia (while giving all IDPs a chance to return to their homes) as compared to the pre-conflict situation. The Abkhazians regard any attempts at restoring the demographic balance of the past without correction as a direct threat to their future.11

In 2001, the Chairman of the Republican Party of Georgia D. Berdzenishvili specified the idea of a “common Georgian-Abkhazian state.”12 The following briefly outlines his ideas: “We believe that a united state Georgia could have become a common state with the Republic of Georgia and the Republic of Abkhazia as its member-subjects. Each of them would elect its one-chamber parliament and both would elect deputies to the parliament of the United State. The Republic of Georgia would have been arranged according to the principle of asymmetric regionalism.” Further: “Tbilisi and Sukhumi would work together on a constitution of the United State. Upon a discussion with its autonomous units the Republic of Georgia, on the one hand, and the Republic of Abkhazia, on the other, would lay the foundation of a common state within the frontiers of the former Georgian S.S.R. without the right of its subjects to secede.” Abesalom Lepsaia from the Abkhazian Institute of Humanitarian Research, has addressed the problem of intermediary solutions in his work.13

Finally, in October 2001 an original initiative came from Sukhumi in the form of a statement of Premier Anri Djergenia who said that Abkhazia was drawing up documents on “entering into an association” with the Russian Federation: “An associated membership of one country in another presupposes elements of a confederation. There will be jointly administered subjects: border guards, customs service, a single currency, closer economic cooperation, etc.”14 Dieter Boden, special representative of the U.N. Secretary General on Georgian-Abkhazian regulation, reacted in a very interesting way: “The statements of the Abkhazian leaders to the effect that they are prepared to become associated members of the Russian Federation are a signal of Sukhumi’s readiness to discuss the status even if not in relation to Georgia.”15

Naturally enough, there was no shortage of bilateral and multilateral official statements, agreements, decisions, and resolutions that ended in nothing because they failed to present an all-embracing working scheme and pointed to no mechanisms.

It should be added that Western academics have been working on the Abkhazian problem: Bruno Coppieters, one of the authors of the Caucasus Stability Pact, Marten Theo Jans, and others.

This list, even if not a complete one, amply demonstrates that it was mainly nongovernmental structures that addressed the settlement issue, therefore their proposals cannot be regarded as the sides’ official stands. The official stands are: Abkhazia wants its independence recognized and the problem of the refugees and IDPs shelved while Georgia wants to return them to Abkhazia that should remain in Georgia as part of a federal state. As in the case of Nagorny Karabakh, the original contradictions have not yet been overcome.

One can say that Erevan, Stepanakert, and Sukhumi are inclined toward the Cyprus model, which means that the conflicts should remain frozen indefinitely, probably at the expense of certain concessions. Similar ideas were voiced at the seminar in Venice “The Caspian Sea: A Quest for Environmental Security.” It seems that the idea of Armenia’s withdrawal from the occupied Azerbaijanian territories in exchange of Karabakh remaining outside Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction might be widely supported in Armenia. In case of Abkhazia a similar solution will return the Gali District (96 percent of its pre-conflict population were ethnic Georgians) under Georgian jurisdiction. In exchange, the Georgians would not claim the rest of the territory.

Proposals for the Caucasus

The Caucasus Stability Pact16 is an unprecedented document. It is not free from failures the greatest of them being disregard for the local realities. This alone makes it a theoretical rather than practical document. Some of its proposals not only stem from previous and recent European experience—there are original proposals tailored to fit the geo-economic realities. The pact provides rich food for thought related to both conflicts.

Intermediaries, International Organizations, Third Countries

The international community is trying to settle the Abkhazian conflict mainly under the U.N. aegis, similar efforts in Karabakh are made under the OSCE guidance. I have already touched upon the Minsk Group’s initiative. Here is an interesting detail related to the conflict in Abkhazia: “A draft U.N. document on delimiting the powers of Tbilisi and Sukhumi are being discussed by the ambassadors of the states members of the Group of Friends of the U.N. Secretary General for Georgia,” said Dieter Boden at a press conference. He refused to divulge any details because “serious work” was still in progress. The completed document was expected to be presented to the sides as a starting point of discussion on Abkhazia’s political status. This information came from the Prime News agency on 28 September, 2000. On 23 October, 2001 Mr. Boden informed the same agency that on 30 October the U.N. Security Council would discuss the document on delimiting jurisdictions between Tbilisi and Sukhumi prepared under the aegis of the countries members of the Group of Friends of the U.N. Secretary General (the United States, France, Great Britain, Russia, and Germany). On 30 October, however, the U.N. Security Council, contrary to its habit of periodically passing a resolution on Abkhazia (there are over 20 of them), passed no resolutions. The regular reports of the U.N. Secretary General “On the Situation in Abkhazia, Georgia”17 give details of the major aspects and describe the sad picture of the sides’ positions moving further apart instead of moving closer together. While the Communiqué on the Second Round of Talks Between the Georgian and Abkhazian Sides (Geneva, January 1994), the Statement on the Measures of a Political Settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict (February 1994) and the Four-sided Agreement on Voluntary Return of the Refugees and IDPs (April 1994)18 offered certain specifics, later documents offered none thus betraying the negative dynamics of the talks.

After the Moscow CIS summit of 30 November, 2001 the Georgian leaders said that Russia had changed its position and would no longer interfere with the document’s adoption in the U.N. and that breakthroughs could be expected. More likely than not we shall witness the same juggling with the de jure and de facto concepts and with terms “sovereignty” and “independence” as was in case of Karabakh. It seems that no real breakthrough will take place because “Anri Djergenia, the premier of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia and Ardzinba’s personal representative at the Georgian-Abkhazian talks, is convinced that a dialog with Georgia should proceed as talks between two independent states.”19 Sergey Shamba, Foreign Minister in the Sukhumi government, declared that Abkhazia would only follow the U.N. recommendations after it became a U.N. member.20 This sounds like an ultimatum to the United Nations.

It should be said that as distinct from the inertia displayed by the international organizations the third countries show great progress. Giulshen Pashaeva quoted above has written: “During the twelve years of the Karabakh conflict we have been witnessing a dual standards approach and a gradual shift in the Western assessments of the stormy events. At first, Western Europe and the United States showed no interest in the conflict or, at best, demonstrated a biased approach. Gradually, as the resources of energy fuels in the region have been developed and the situation changed because of the proposed international West-East transport corridor they have moved to more pragmatic positions and have taken a closer look at the region’s geostrategic and geo-economic parameters.”21

This opinion is supported by the fact that the United States stopped Sec. 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act that the Armenian diaspora spared no effort to keep alive. Obviously, this could not go on indefinitely. The new realities created by 11 September have naturally played their role. A wide anti-terrorist coalition in which Azerbaijan participated was a catalyst.

There are signs that Moscow has somewhat altered its position in relation to Abkhazia—if not in deed then in word. On 12 October, President Putin clearly stated that the settlement of the conflict was Georgia’s domestic concern. He went even further by saying: “If Georgia decides to restore its jurisdiction over Abkhazia through the use of force, Russian troops should not be present there.”22

Significantly, the U.S. Congress conducted hearings on the Caucasus and the Caspian region a month after the tragedy of 11 September. I cannot exclude that the above-mentioned shift in Moscow’s position was in a way determined by the key opinions expressed at the hearings. To illustrate: “We need Russia’s cooperation in the war against terrorism, and clearly there will be a price tag attached. But that cannot be a free hand in Georgia. Moreover, Georgia should not become an excuse for the failure of the Russian military actions in Chechnia. There were extremely worrisome reports yesterday that helicopters that took off from Russia bombed Georgian territory in Abkhazia. The U.S. administration needs to communicate firmly with Russia at the highest levels that anti-terrorism cooperation in Central Asia and against the Taliban by no means translates into turning a blind eye to Russia’s actions in Georgia.” And further: “Now is the time to prove that even in extremely challenging times, the United States will remain committed to the stability of Georgia, and through Georgia, the whole Caucasus region.”23

The post-11 September realities should be comprehended in the most serious way, certain positions that looked unshakable should be revised. It seems that many geopolitical and geo-economic projects, including those touching upon the vital interests of the South Caucasian countries, will probably be readjusted. Their future will depend, in many respects, on Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia themselves. If they demonstrate that they can be a small but reliable in all respects regional component of the global anti-terrorist effort, then their real perspectives will not disappear. If they fail to manifest political will and an ability to reach agreements and stick to them and, by this token, to remain a full-scale partner in a prolonged anti-terrorist campaign, then they run a risk of becoming mere pawns in games played by others or an arena on which other states would sort things out among themselves. The talks about the Caucasus being a crossroads of civilizations may acquire an ominous meaning.

Obviously, the international organizations, mediators, third countries, people’s diplomacy and other components of the peace process may help resolve the conflict but they are unable to resolve it single-handedly. In the conditions of the Southern Caucasus where the authorities have not yet learned to take public opinion into account only the leaders’ political will and political decisions may defrost the process. Jonathan Cohen was quite right when he said in connection to the conflict in Abkhazia: “Expectations are influenced by hopes that peace and development can be delivered by external actors—by the U.N., Russia, the United States or even NATO. Yet intervention to date has stabilized the conflict but not moved it towards resolution. At best intervention will create conditions that are conducive to the parties themselves reaching an accord.”24

Information for Consideration

The participants of the Strategies of Conflict Settlement25 conference that took place in October 2001 in Gudauri (Georgia) were invited to compile a table of requirements, interests and positions of the sides in Abkhazia. The sides involved in the conflict were divided into several actors. Without claiming an all-embracing and scientifically substantiated presentation (in any case, the participants were not invited to do that) I shall share one observation shown in the table below.

Table

GEORGIANS:

ABKHAZIANS:

Authorities in Tbilisi

“Abkhazian government in exile”

Refugees and IDPs

Population in Georgia

Civil Society in Georgia

Authorities in Sukhumi, population of Abkhazia, Abkhazian NGOs

Position

Peaceful settlement of the conflict in Abkhazia within Georgia’s territorial integrity

Return to Abkhazia under any condition

Return to Abkhazia under Georgian jurisdiction

Return of Abkhazia

Settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian relations

Independence of Abkhazia

Interest

Restoration of Georgia’s jurisdiction across Georgian territory

 

Domination of Georgians in Abkhazia

Return to Abkhazia and restoration of the trampled-down rights and dignity

Return of IDPs to Abkhazia

Development of democracy in Georgia

Improvement of socioeconomic conditions in the “frozen” conflict

Requirements

Preservation of power and the state’s unity and further development

Continued existence as a government

Return to Abkhazia on condition of its secure socioeconomic development

Improvement of its own socioeconomic conditions

Development of democracy in Georgia

Ethnic domination of the Abkhazians in Abkhazia

These observations are supported by my personal experience and that of my colleagues, and by sociological polls.26 The picture produced by the table is far from being complete (certain actors are absent from it), it is one-sided (with emphasis on the Georgian approaches) yet representative enough. One should bear in mind that the Abkhazian approaches may differ greatly from those presented in the table.

The Georgian components differ to different extents on all three parameters. The “Abkhazian government in exile” is nurturing the most bellicose sentiments and can be described as a “party of war” in Georgia. This is a noisy but a small group. One can surmise that parts of the refugees and IDPs, together with part of Georgian society, and certain officials in Tbilisi are siding with it. This does not make it numerous enough to become a dominant factor.

The Abkhazian side looks more united; its components agree on all positions. To confirm my opinion I shall quote from N. Akaba’s article: “The official Abkhazian position is changing gradually: on the eve of the 1992-1993 war the Abkhazian leaders wanted a federation treaty between Abkhazia and Georgia. They even drew a draft and sent it to Tbilisi where it was rejected by the State Council headed by Shevardnadze. Georgia opted for the use of force. Several years ago the Abkhazian variant looked like something between a confederation and federation, yet the Act on State Independence of the Republic of Abkhazia (adopted late in 1999) narrowed down the already narrow field for political compromises. There can hardly be a political leader bold enough to call on the people to abandon the idea of independence and return to Georgia, the country that brings no positive associations to the Abkhazian minds. Like any other small community, Abkhazia is united in not returning to the pre-war situation. In any case the Abkhazian position is absolutely clear, which the U.N. and other intermediaries probably see as inflexibility.”27

The table may produce an impression that the Abkhazian position is not too bellicose, yet the sum total of interests and requirements leads nowhere but “freezes” the conflict and, in fact, pushes the sides to war. The demographic problem is the key one for Abkhazians, they are much less concerned with the problem of status and delimitation of power. It is their strategic, rather than tactical, aim to freeze the conflict, keep the refugees and IDPs away from the republic and to achieve ethnic domination for the Abkhazians. The constitutional demand for the president to be an Abkhazian is another proof of this. This breeds no optimism and no hopes that the sides may recognize and respect the interests and requirements of one another and will move toward mutual understanding.

One may imagine that a similar table drawn for the Karabakh conflict will be much more complicated: there is a third side directly involved in the conflict that increases the number of actors not by one but by several units. On the other hand, it seems that the consolidation level inside each of the sides is closer to the Abkhazian rather than to the Georgian pattern. A table may look much simpler that leaves even less space for optimism. Here are two examples.

Isa Gambar, leader of Musavat, the major opposition party in Azerbaijan, says: “Economic cooperation can be restored and will probably be inevitably restored after a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan is signed. It should rest on the international principle of territorial integrity and meet the interests of both sides.”28 On the surface the opposition agrees with the official position—in fact it is dead set against any agreement on Karabakh. Each personal meeting between Aliev and Kocharian produces a storm of statements from the opposition that the president of Azerbaijan is allegedly prepared to sign a “defeatist” treaty.

Agvan Vardanian, leader of the parliamentary faction of The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutiun, insists: “We have suggested and are suggesting that the blockade of the communication lines should be lifted. This may create a starting point for a more open and frank dialog on the Karabakh settlement. This means that Armenia is prepared to restore economic cooperation even before a political solution is reached.”29 In this case it is natural that the official position coincides with the position held by one of the parliamentary parties: Dashnaktsutiun has already left its opposition period behind and has a say in the country’s policies. The opposition in Armenia is outspoken about the president who has retreated in the talks, agreed to exclude Karabakh from the process. It is convinced that Armenia is losing the results of its military and political victories.30

We should keep in mind that any opposition is more pluralistic than a party in power: the range of the opposition opinions is much wider than presented here.

Conclusion

In his definitive article, the most profound of all those published in 2000, Director of the Center for Caucasian Studies in Moscow Alexander Iskandarian said, in particular: “As for the most acute issue of ethnic conflicts, we can say with cautious optimism that all of the parties to all of the conflicts have achieved a balance of forces under which cease-fires are not simply chance occurrences, while to prolong or speed up negotiations is no longer a means of turning the situation in a region around in general. On the other hand, the common (for the CIS) processes of disintegration in the Caucasus have been strengthened by ethnic and political conflicts and their consequences. The Transcaucasian states are not at the stage where they can formulate their attitude to the processes of integration, but are still at the previous stage of national self-identification. The emergence of political systems that are true to the political culture of the corresponding nations will help the countries in question to achieve sustainable growth and internal stability. Only afterwards will it be possible to speak of cooperation between the states of a region and with the rest of the world.”31

A year later prominent Armenian politician David Shakhnazarian offered a similar opinion about the situation: “The conflicts in the Southern Caucasus have developed into latent ones. The stage of armed confrontation in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict has come to an end, it will hardly be revived. Throughout the last two years the Abkhazian question has been used in Georgia as a political instrument even in the most critical situations. The Georgian political elite and the public are ready to look for a consensus and a formula of peaceful coexistence acceptable to both sides. The problem of Adzharia is to a greater degree connected with domestic political contradictions and is aggravated by nepotism and corruption. Yet it has never caused bloodshed. The conflict in South Ossetia is not an obviously geopolitical one, it cannot noticeably affect the position of Georgia in the world and its future. The Karabakh conflict is different: it has developed from a regional into a geopolitical issue.”32

The events of the last fall around Abkhazia that brought to mind the events of May 1998 demonstrated that a different scenario was still possible: “If in the nearest future Georgia remains a fragmented imitation of a state bogged down in corruption, then not only Georgian democratic institutions will be suppressed. The same fate will await all pluralistically minded Georgians. If Georgia develops into an arena of mafia wars, then the problem of Abkhazia will be involved in the confrontation alternating with anti-state deals. Any election battle will create a danger of a resumed war there or even military operations. A victorious war may not be an aim in itself—the bloodshed may be a result of a wild and demonstrative form of power struggle.”33 I can add: there might be no need to wait till another election campaign—there is no shortage of pretexts. To confirm: late in November President Shevardnadze called on the Abkhazian leaders to immediately move toward a peaceful settlement: otherwise the processes in the conflict zone may escape control of Tbilisi and become uncontrolled. He added: “We should take measures now—it may be too late tomorrow.”34

The relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are even more menacing. The Co-chairmen of the Minsk Group declared 2001 a year of a peace settlement in Karabakh, yet the events do not suggest its speedy achievement.

Deputy Defense Minister of Armenia Artur Agabekian pointed out at a seminar organized by the George Marshall European Center for Security Studies and the Defense Ministry of Armenia that a possible “military aggression” by Azerbaijan still remained the main threat to the national security of his country. He said: “As soon as the military and political leaders of Azerbaijan believe that they have attained military superiority over Armenia the military actions will become inevitable.”35

In 2001 at the Bucharest meeting of the OSCE Council of Ministers the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged another salvo of “niceties.” Vardar Oskanian, the Foreign Minister of Armenia, said that Azerbaijanian claims to Nagorny Karabakh were legally invalid: “Azerbaijan will not profit from its absolute and blind devotion to the principle of territorial integrity because Nagorny Karabakh has never belonged to independent Azerbaijan.” The foreign minister of Armenia blamed Azerbaijan for the barriers on the road to the settlement. Vilaiat Guliev, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, retorted: “Azerbaijan will never accept the loss even of one square meter of its territory. It will restore its territorial integrity.” He was convinced, in his turn, that the only road leading to peace and stability in the Southern Caucasus lay through “granting Nagorny Karabakh the highest degree of self-administration within Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan will never agree to any other settlement.”

This background testifies that today the sides are even farther removed from one another in both conflicts that in the years that immediately followed the end of wide-scale hostilities. Life has shown that if left unsettled for a long time a conflict starts breeding negative factors and becomes even more complicated and multi-layered. The many-sided socioeconomic component of both conflicts (including, for example, the problem of ownership) that was practically of no importance at the early stages has already become equal to their ethnic and political components. Over the years tiredness and disillusionment have accumulated. People are tired of disappointments with repeated failures to find and apply mutually acceptable schemes. The intermediaries irritate, there is an opinion that the third countries do nothing but shuffle the cards while pursuing their interests. The governments of all three South Caucasian states are doing their best to shift the responsibility for their bad governance to the conflicts though the cause-and-effect relationship here is probably inverse. This explains why though the common people do not want to fight, the positions of active (wishing a revanche) and passive (wishing to preserve the military-political status quo) “parties of war” are strengthening. When it becomes hard to explain all the advantages of the peace process, the unwillingness to fight moves dangerously close to a situation when fighting is inevitable.

It seems that Brenda Shaffer’s apprehensions she expressed during the Congress hearings are quite justified: “Failure to achieve an effective agreement soon could trigger renewed violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia, perhaps even war.” Violence may be rekindled in Abkhazia (this has already happened on a smaller scale). This is even easier there because the external actors are not threatened to the same extent as in Karabakh.

* * *

My pessimism may look exaggerated. I shall be grateful to anybody able to supply arguments in favor of more optimistic expectations of the future of the conflicts in the Southern Caucasus.


1 The author extends his thanks to the participants in the international conference “Transformation of Conflicts in the Southern Caucasus (Tbilisi, 9-11 December, 2001)” for their valuable suggestions.

2 Testimony before Congress: ‘The Caucasus and Caspian Region: Understanding United States Policy’,” 10 October, 2001.

3 See: Mediamaks Information Agency, Erevan, 23 November, 2001.

4 Mediamaks, 24 November, 2001.

5 G. Pashaeva, “The Karabakh Conflict: Is there a Way Out?” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 2, 2000, p. 175.

6 N. Akaba, “Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict: Rooted in the Past, Resolved in Future,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 6, 2000, p. 119.

7 See: OSCE Lisbon Document, 1996.

8 See: Prima Information Agency, Moscow, 3 December, 2001.

9 See: Rezonansi, 5 August, 1997. See also: Poiski al’ternativ dlia Gruzii i Abkhazii, ed. by B. Coppieters, D. Darchiashvili, N. Akaba, Ves Mir Publishers, Moscow, 1999.

10 See: “Aspekty gruzino-abkhazskogo konflikta,” Irvain, No. 7, 2000.

11 See: D. Berdzenishvili, P. Zakareishvili, I. Khaindrava, “Obdumat’ i poniat’,” Kavkazskiy aktsent (Tbilisi), 19-30 April, 2000.

12 D. Berdzenishvili, “Edinstvo posredstvom razdelenia,” Vzgliad iz Gruzii, Tbilisi, 2001. The conception was also presented at a Georgian-Abkhazian conference “The Caucasus Stability Pact and the Strategy of the Peacekeeping Process, Sochi, Russian Federation, 19-23 March, 2001.”

13 See: “Aspekty gruzino-abkhazskogo konflikta,” Irvain, No. 7, 2001.

14 Prime News Information Agency, Tbilisi, 18 October, 2001.

15 Prime News, 23 October, 2001.

16 Center for European Political Studies, Brussels, 2000.

17 See: Sbornik dokladov General’nogo sekretaria OON o polozhenii v Abkhazii. Gruzia, UNDP, Tbilisi, 1999.

18 See: Sbornik dokumentov, kasaiushchikhsia voprosa uregulirovania konflikta v Abkhazii. Gruzia, UNDP, Tbilisi, 1999.

19 Prime News, 6 November, 2001.

20 See: Prime News, 25 October, 2001.

21 G. Pashaeva, “Myths and Realities of the South Caucasian System of Regional Security,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 1 (7), 2001, p. 24.

22 Glasnost-media, independent information center, 5 December, 2001.

23 Zeyno Baran, Director, Georgia Forum, Center for Strategic & International Studies.

24 Accord, No. 7, Conciliation Resources, London, 1999 [http://www.c-r.org/accord7/intro.htm].

25 The Organizers from the Conciliation Resources and the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Development, and Democracy have made their best to ensure full-scale representation of the Georgian side’s groups of interest.

26 See, for example: Opinion analysis, Office of Research, Department of State, 22 November, 1999.

27 N. Akaba, op. cit., p. 120.

28 Press club electronic bulletin, 24 October 2001, No. 3 [www.pressclubs.org].

29 Ibidem.

30 See, for example: M. Karapetian, “Proigrannaia diplomatia,” Novosti Tsentral’noi Azii i Kavkaza, No. 4 (33), 15 April-15 May, 2001 (first published by the Aravot newspaper, Erevan, on 7 and 14 April, 2001).

31 A. Iskandarian, “State Construction and the Search for Political Identity in the New Transcaucasian Countries,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 4, 2000, pp. 16-17.

32 D. Shakhnazarian, “Armenia: kak preodolet’ usilivaiushchuiusia izoliatsiu,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 27 June, 2001.

33 D. Berdzenishvili, op. cit.

34 Prime News, 26 November, 2001.

35 Prime News, 30 October, 2001.


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