Hrant Mikaelian, Research fellow at the Institute of the Caucasus (Erevan, Armenia)

The severe depression of the 1990s that served the background for Armenias foreign policy determined many of its outstanding features. Isolation and blockade forced the country to turn to the Armenian diaspora. The landlocked country living in neither peace nor war could not attract the West; however it established effective cooperation with Russia and Iran. In recent years it has widened its contacts with the European Union and the United States. This helped the Armenians to survive in the hardest first post-Soviet years.

The Soviet successor states (with the exception of the Baltic countries) were ill-prepared to conduct an independent foreign policy: the statehood experience and skills of coexistence had largely been lost in the region. Over the 70 years the three Caucasian states (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia) were detached from their immediate neighbors (Turkey and Iran) they cooperated solely with Russiait was not until the 1990s that they returned to their natural regional environment.

The region borders on Russia, Turkey, and Iran (in fact, on the Greater Middle East and Central Asia), while on the other side of the Black Sea it finds itself at the doors of the European Union. This explains why each of the countries has had to look for an acceptable balance of forces to protect its interests.

Their newly acquired independence suggested that the three Caucasian states build their foreign policies from scratch. The three republics preferred to indulge themselves in the myths of their advantageous geographic location and the possibility of making the best of both worlds by living on their own resourcesit was generally believed that the Center had hindered their development. Reality proved to be different: the region plunged into an abyss of economic crisis and post-Soviet chaos; Armenia suffered more than its neighbors: its standard of living took a nose dive.

The Armenian and Georgian leaders obviously placed their stakes on civilizational aspects: both countries presented themselves as outposts of Christianity in the Muslim East. Azerbaijan likewise stressed its secular nature and dedication to democratic values to draw closer to the West; it never tired of reminding the world that it was the first republic in the Islamic world while its parliament was the first European-style legislature here.

Georgia, which in Soviet times had been very open about its Western bias, expected to receive Western cooperation and economic and national prosperity in return. Instead it encountered sharp confrontation with Russia while the Georgians grumbled about.

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