The analysis of international responses to ethnopolitical conflicts in the South

Caucasus suggests that the pattern of international involvement has been largely

similar in all three cases. The two main international agencies tasked to perform

mediating and conflict resolution functions have been the OSCE and the United

Nations. In addition to mediation efforts much of the humanitarian and developmentoriented

assistance has been provided both to the conflict zones directly and to the

South Caucasian states more broadly. A few noticeable exceptions, however, can be

observed. In the case of Abkhazia, international assistance has largely been

conditioned on the resolution of the status issue and thus has been limited in scope.

US non-humanitarian assistance to Azerbaijan also was restricted by the decision of

the Congress referred to earlier in this paper, although starting from 1997 many of

these restrictions have been lifted. Nagorno-Karabakh differs from the other conflicts

in the region by two main factors. One is that it can be characterized as an

international as opposed to an internal ethnopolitical conflict, since it involves two

independent states, Armenia and Azerbaijan, that have been fully fledged participants

in both the active phase of the conflict and in the current negotiations phase. Second,

it is the only zone of conflict where peacekeeping forces have not been deployed. In

the two other cases, Russian units have been leading the peacekeeping operations.

In spite of the above differences, one may conclude that the international

community perceives the South Caucasus as a single unit and has developed a pattern

of its involvement with very limited variations across the cases. The variations,

across time, however have been quite significant. It has started with the complete

acceptance of Russia's 'special rights and interests' in her 'sphere of influence' and

evolved into the acceptance of region's 'strategic importance' to the world and to its

only superpower, the United States. The author would set down three main stages of

international involvement in the South Caucasus, which can roughly be characterized

as the following: the first stage of Russian dominance and international neglect lasted

from 1991 to 1994. The second stage of international organizations roughly

corresponded to the period of 1994-97, during which international organizations took

a more active stance both in terms of conflict resolution and in general support of the

newly independent states. The third and current stage can be characterized as that of

balancing Russia and increasing US involvement.

The development of the above stages coincides with the increase of American

interests in the region and the simultaneous decrease of Russia's dominance. It is

worth pointing out, however, that there is much overlap of the three stages. For

instance it is hard to draw a strict line between the first and the second stages and

identify the exact time and extent of activation of international organizations. At the

same time, the decrease of Russian dominance is a relative term and one has to keep

in mind that Russia has continued to be an important regional player throughout all

three stages of international involvement. However, the author has employed the

above division mostly for analytical purposes, since it can well illustrate the evolving

pattern of international engagement and identify the changing real or perceived

obstacles to settling ethnopolitical conflicts in the region.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the period of 1991-94,

international organizations and Western powers started to slowly enter the former

Soviet space by opening up regional offices and local representations. However, apart

from symbolic and rather limited activities, the international community did not take

great interest in the fate of the newly independent states. On the contrary, the

persistent Soviet legacy contributed to the perception of these emerging new states as

Russian satellites that belonged to the Russian sphere of influence and required no

external interference in their internal troubles. Michael Lund in his EastWest Institute

report well summarizes the position of the United States towards the South Caucasus

in the early 1990s, which largely corresponds to the general Western position towards

the region:

The US did not take an active interest in the Caucasus region and tended to

regard it as lying within a Russian sphere of influence that implicitly accepted

the Russian notion of the so-called 'near-abroad'. As the 1990s unfolded,

however, several factors led the US to increasingly develop a more explicit set

of goals and policies toward the Caucasus and to build the bilateral relations

with each of the three independent governments there. (Lund 1999:6)

The above position of the international community coincided with the active phase of

ethnopolitical conflicts in the region, allowing Russia to step in as the only 'legitimate'

power to mediate the conflicts and even use them for furthering Russia's own strategic

interests. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was preoccupied with the

possible loss of her military presence in the southern tier states and a restriction of her

access to the Black Sea. By the beginning of 1993, neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan

had agreed to join the CIS. Azerbaijan also refused to allow Russian troops on its

territory and despite heavy pressure from Moscow continues to remain the only state

in the South Caucasus free of Russian military presence. Georgia has also managed to

negotiate an agreement with Russia on a gradual withdrawal of troops, which in 1993-

94 seemed inconceivable for Russia's interests. The Russian defense minister at the

time, Pavel Grachev, reportedly stated that, "every measure should be taken to ensure

that our troops remain there" (Cornell 2001:345).

Under these circumstances maturing ethnopolitical conflicts in the South

Caucasus presented an opportunity for Russia to pressure the newly independent

states back into her sphere of dominance. Moscow played a controversial role in

Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting one conflicting party or the other depending on

Russias immediate interests at the time. A similar pattern was repeated in Abkhazia,

when on the one hand Russia was handing over part of the Soviet armaments to

Georgia and on the other, supplying war planes to the Abkhaz and assisting them in

bombing the Georgian held Sukhumi (Zverev 1996:53). In both Nagorno-Karabakh

and Abkhazia, Russia also tried to organize mediation talks in parallel to those of the

OSCE and the UN often without cooperating or even informing the international

participants. According to the American representative of the OSCE in Karabakh,

John Maresca:

At first, Russia fully supported the Minsk Group. But in 1993 Russia

reactivated its earlier independent mediation effort Russia wished to reestablish

its dominance in the region and to exclude outsiders, namely the US

and Turkey Moscow would like to re-establish control of the former

(Azerbaijani) Soviet frontier with Turkey and Iran, and to share in

Azerbaijan's oil riches For leverage, the Russians have used an implicit but

dramatic threat if Azerbaijan does not comply, Russia will step up its backing

for Armenia with disastrous military results for the Azeris. (cited in Cornell


Azeri sources have repeatedly maintained that Russians fulfilled their promise and

provided substantial military backing to Armenia not only during the war but also in

its aftermath. According to Neil MacFarlane, there was a covert transfer of arms to

Armenia, which, "according to a March 1997 comment by Defense Minister Vazgen

Sarkisian, allowed the Armenians to double their military capabilities with no impact

on the budget" (MacFarlane 1999:53). The patterns of Russian involvement in the

conflicts of South Caucasus suggests that Russians used the conflicts in order to exert

pressure on these states and force them into accepting Russian rules and preferences.

As MacFarlane has observed, the "classic example here was the manipulation of

Georgia's conflicts to secure Georgia's accession to the CIS and long-term leases on

military facilities in Georgia" (Ibid). After the humiliating defeat in Sukhumi,

Georgia agreed to join the CIS and prolong the Russian military presence on its

territory, while Russia recognized the territorial integrity of Georgia and imposed

economic sanctions on Abkhazia. Similarly, Azerbaijan agreed to join the CIS and

made serious concessions fearing even greater humiliation from the Russian-backed

Armenians in Karabakh.

Both Georgia and Azerbaijan had been extremely disappointed with the

passive, observer role of the international community, which has effectively pushed

them back into the arms of Russian influence. Both countries had made significant

concessions and thus saved their recently acquired independent statehood and nominal

territorial integrity. Russia on the other hand succeeded in temporarily weakening

South Caucasian states and restoring her influence over the region, which Russia saw

to be in her immediate interest. However, destabilization of the southern borderline

regions could hardly have been in Russia's long-term interest. Moreover, it had a

spillover effect and culminated in the bloody conflict in Chechnya, proving Margo

Light's observation that "Russian policy itself sometimes threatens Russian security"

(Light 1996:48). On the positive side, Russian mediation did stop the fighting on the

ground and brokered a fragile peace, which later enabled the greater involvement of

international and non-governmental organizations.

From 1994, both the UN and the OSCE had their mandates expanded in the

conflict zones and the overall role of international organizations in the region

increased. This development marks the second stage of international involvement in

the South Caucasus, coinciding with the attempts of the local governments, especially

of Georgia and Azerbaijan, to pursue a strategy aimed at increasing international

involvement in the conflict and replacement of Russian peacekeepers with

international forces. In 1995, UNOMIG increased from 40 to 136 members and

received an extended mandate to monitor the activities of the peacekeeping force and

verify that troops of heavy military equipment remained outside of the security zone.

UNOMIG was also tasked to investigate reported or alleged violations of the ceasefire

agreement and attempt to resolve such incidents (UNOMIG mission survey 2001:9).

In Karabakh, the OSCE started to work on the deployment of an international

peacekeeping force consisting of 600 soldiers, but the plan was never realized. At the

same time, the range of general assistance programmes to Georgia and Armenia

increased significantly. The US Agency for International Development launched a

number of development-oriented programmes and even though the United States did

not follow an explicit and integrated policy toward conflict prevention and resolution

in the Caucasus, the concern over these conflicts did underlie the array of US

government activities. According to Michael Lund, "this is the theory that

programmes such as economic reform to marketwise economies and assistance for

building democratic institutions and the rule of law are themselves the best antidotes

against the emergence of violent conflicts" (Lund 1999:7).

The position of the United States has become more focused on conflict

resolution activities in the recent years, especially since the US discovered strategic

and oil-related interests in the region. A 1997 speech of Deputy State Secretary

Strobe Talbott marks the turning point in the US policy towards the South Caucasus

and the beginning of the third stage of more active international involvement to an

extent of balancing and challenging Russia's dominant position. In his speech, Talbott

made it clear that:

It matters profoundly to the Unites States, what will happen in an area that sits

on as much as two hundred billion barrels of oil. That is yet another reason

why conflict-resolution must be the job one for US policy in the region: it is

both the prerequisite for, and an accompaniment to, energy development.

(Talbott 1997:2)

The oil riches of the Caspian basin, therefore, put the region in the spotlight of

great power interests and consequently intensified international efforts to resolve the

conflicts. As pointed out in the USIP report by Patricia Carley, the current fever over

oil pipeline routes elevated the existing ethnopolitical conflicts from obscure regional

strife to a significant source of concern for international political and business leaders

(Carley 1998:1). The positive results, however, from the increasing international and

in particular US involvement in the region are yet to follow.

Up until now, the ongoing oil politics has been a mixed blessing for the

region. On the one hand it brought long awaited attention to the South Caucasus and

to the regional conflicts. On the other hand, it has further exacerbated existing

political divisions and turned the region into a scene of intensified regional and great

power rivalry. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey find themselves on the same side as

the United States, supporting exploration and transportation of Caspian oil through

non-Russian routes. The US is interested in diversifying world oil supplies and

decreasing its dependence on the Persian Gulf. Georgia and Azerbaijan see the

pipeline projects as guarantors of both their economic and political viability. These

projects are expected to diminish their dependence on Russia and consequently to

loosen Russia's hold on the region. Armenia, on the other hand, continues to be

Russia's main ally in the region given its traditional fear of Turkey and the growing

power of Azerbaijan. Armenia has sided with Russia and Iran, creating an alternative

and opposing alliance. Such intra-regional divisions significantly complicate the

possibility of constructive regional cooperation both in political and economic

spheres, which in turn could have provided ground for the resolution of ethnopolitical


In spite of the clear shift in US policy towards greater involvement in the

South Caucasus and the retreat of Russia's dominating power, the question of

ethnopolitical conflicts remains unresolved. There is increasing talk about the

resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as the construction of pipelines comes to

an end and the first oil starts to flow to Europe. Some even hope to use the pipeline as

the main bargaining chip to negotiate a peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. For

instance, John Maresca, formerly US negotiator for the conflict over Nagorno-

Karabakh, proposed to build the so-called 'peace pipeline' through Armenia, which is

not only economically the most efficient option but also politically important and may

result in the final settlement of the conflict. However, such proposals are not popular

in Baku and the current US-backed plan is to build a Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline

bypassing Armenia. The latter plan is certainly more acceptable to Georgia and

Turkey, but threatens to leave Armenia

isolated and pushes her into an ever closer alliance with Russia.

Geopolitics or Ethnopolitics?

Throughout all three stages of international involvement geopolitical factors

seem to have played a role obstructing the settlement of ethnopolitical conflicts and

raising questions about the desirability of a dramatic politicization of ethnic conflicts.

On the one hand, too much emphasis on the discourse of nationalism and ethnicity

leads to a deadlock situation in terms of conflict resolution since matters of national

identity, sovereignty, ethnic or national affiliation and political recognition are valueladen,

non-tradable concepts that can hardly be bargained and compromised around

the negotiation table. In this respect, it is not the ethnic but the political aspect of

ethnopolitical conflicts that makes a rational bargaining and search for compromise

solutions possible. On the other hand, an excessive politicization of ethnic conflict

may also complicate the situation, as it did in the South Caucasus by introducing the

political interests of not only conflicting parties but also those of the regional and

great powers. This leads to a rather paradoxical situation to be observed in the

example of the South Caucasus. Mediation efforts of an interested party make it

difficult to find a relatively just and sustainable solution. However, mediation of noninterested

parties such as that of international organizations seems to be ineffective

precisely due to the lack of interest and commitment of mediators as well as to the

lack of bargaining mechanisms that might be able to induce the parties to


In what the author has marked as the first stage of international involvement, it

was Russia's perceived geopolitical interests that prevailed over her commitment to

the conflict-resolution process and rendered mediation a tool for furthering Russia's

interests in the region. As a result, Russia promoted her own short-term political

objectives at the expense of finding a final settlement and allowing the conflicts to be

frozen for an indefinite time. By the mid-1990s, the international organizations took a

more proactive stance in the resolution of conflicts in the South Caucasian states, but

positive results failed to follow. The common explanation for this failure has once

again been geopolitical, but this time it was the lack of geopolitical interests of the

great powers that left international efforts half-hearted, while international

organizations had no particular leverage on the belligerent parties and thus were

incapable of brokering a settlement. If in the first stage it was the passive attitude of


international institutions and an excessively aggressive one of Russia that seemed

obvious reason for failure. The second stage made it clear that the efforts of

international organizations as well as a more cooperative position of Russia were also

insufficient for bringing the conflicting parties to an agreement and for increasing

their commitment to end the confrontation.

The overall failure of international efforts in the first and second stages led

many Caucasian and foreign observers to conclude that nothing gets done until the US

intervenes (Nodia 1999:25). The US, however, did not intervene actively until it

discovered geopolitical interests in the region that were worth defending. In terms of

conflict resolution, the US has kept a relatively low profile and was absent from the

negotiations and unable to influence them. The change in US policy was promoted by

American oil companies that were eager to exploit the oil riches of Azerbaijan and

decided to mount significant lobbying efforts to counter the Armenian lobby in

Congress. There was increasing pressure to remove Section 907 (see p.9) and support

Azerbaijan in securing its independence and stability. In his speech "Azerbaijan: A

Geopolitical Factor in the Region" Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out that Azerbaijan is

strategically important for the United States, since it contributes to the diversification

of energy sources and provides access to Central Asia. In the words of Brzezinski, it

also promotes Russia's understanding that prosperity of the region would not harm but

rather benefit Russia (1999:2).

Russia herself, perhaps unintentionally, played a role in triggering a more

assertive policy of the United States towards its southern neighbors. First of all, it

was the American perception of Russia which changed as a result of Russia's

mishandling of the war in Chechnya. According to Svante Cornell, "it seems in

retrospect as if the US leadership gradually lost all respect it had for Russia as a great

power with which it desperately needed to keep good relations" (Cornell 2001:375).

It became clear that Russia would not be able to maintain stability on her periphery,

and hence Russia's retreat allowed the US to step in and promote its own strategic and

oil-related interests in the Caucasus. Even though Russia has not been welcoming

increasing international and especially US presence in its neighborhood, it was unable

or unwilling to put up strong resistance which would make the US leadership think

twice before engaging in the region at the expense of antagonizing Russia.

Russias changed position could be explained either by the weakening of her

military and political power, or by the adjustment of foreign policy priorities in the so26

called near abroad. Russia has most likely realized that she would not be able to

maintain a monopoly over the Caspian basin and its resources and therefore decided

to support the 'uncertain stability' in the region as it may also be in line with her

political and economic interests. Stability would allow Russia to engage and benefit

from the ongoing international projects connected with the exploration of oil and

development of the transport corridor. At the same time, uncertainty about the future

of the region given the unsettled conflicts also serves Russia's interests leaving a

certain leverage at her disposal, which she may decide to use if the need arises.

However, other external powers that primarily have an economic stake in the region

are more interested in its sustainable stability, which can only be achieved through the

resolution of the existing ethnopolitical conflicts.

Given its growing geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus, the United

States began to more actively engage in the conflict resolution process. It is becoming

clear now that any prospective settlement of the conflicts will have to take into

account the changing geopolitical context. In this respect, the conflict in Nagorno-

Karabakh is particularly important and is expected to be settled first, given the rising

Western and especially US stake in the stability of the region. There is a danger,

however, that South Caucasian states could get carried away with geopolitical

calculations and forget about the ethnic component of their ethnopolitical conflicts. A

long-term and sustainable settlement of the existing conflict as well as the prevention

of any possible future ethnic-based disturbances could only be achieved through the

creation of an extremely elaborate and democratic system of power-sharing based on

a re-evaluation of minority-majority relations. It would also require a set of

thoughtthrough, conscious policies aimed at either strengthening the ethnic and hence

more communitarian elements in the political system or downplaying it through the

adoption of a more universal and individualistic approach.

Georgia is a good example in that sense, as the authorities there are trying to

promote the idea of an asymmetric federation in order to accommodate the claims of

the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians. However, restructuring of the Georgian state

would be incomplete without accommodating the interests of other, currently nonhostile

minorities. For example, Armenians in Javakheti would most likely seek a

degree of autonomy within the new Georgian federation. If the Armenian claims

were to be met, then the Azeri population of southeastern Georgia would also try to

acquire a certain political status. Respect for all the existing minority claims would be

a precondition for Georgia to join any international and especially European

institutions and would thus require the development of a new, more consociational

approach, based on the respect of group-differentiating rights. This seems to be the

model currently promoted by the international community and most likely to be

included in the proposed settlements of the existing conflicts in the South Caucasus.

The possibility of settlements based on the promotion of minority or groupdifferentiating

rights reflects the ongoing debate in the Western scholarly literature

between communitarian vs. universalistic or group-differentiating vs. individualistic

approaches in the management of multiethnic states. Georgia sees a clear need for

accommodating minority cultures by allowing them greater autonomy and political

participation without losing territorial integrity and national cohesiveness. These are

complex and controversial issues that introduce the ideational aspect of international

involvement, which seeks to translate some of the Western norms and highly debated

ideas into the practical reality of states that have only recently emerged.

Types of International Involvement

Traditional analysis of international involvement in ethnopolitical conflicts

focuses on the mediation efforts, peacekeeping operations, as well as on rehabilitation

and assistance programmes provided by the international donors. International efforts

in the South Caucasus have also been directed at the liberalization of economies and

the democratization of civil and political activities, with an underlying assumption

that liberal democracies are inherently stable and peaceful. Hence, as MacFarlane

observed, "support of democracy is an element of security policy" (MacFarlane

1999:3), echoing the words of Ambassador at Large Stephen Sestanovich, who

underlined that the prime objective of US policy in the Caspian area is "the formation

of democratic institutions, because they are the long-term guarantor of stability and

prosperity" (cited in MacFarlane 1999:3). In this respect, the international agenda

encompasses both normative and geopolitical interests, which in theory are to be

mutually reinforcing. In addition, the international agenda also has significant

ideational elements that tend to be relatively underemphasized. In terms of conflict

resolution, international involvement brought to the South Caucasus recently

developed ideas in the West with regard to power-sharing systems, group28

differentiating rights, respect of ethnic minorities, as well as multiculturalism and

cultural tolerance. Some of these ideas and norms are new to the region and to a

certain extent to the West itself. They are waiting to be implemented and tested as

proposed solutions to the ethnopolitical conflicts in the newly independent states of

the former Soviet space with the international backing and support. In previous

sections of this paper the author has discussed some practical aspects of international

involvement and will now focus more on its normative and ideational aspects.

According to Neil MacFarlane, Western states try to spread their system of

ideas and beliefs that "not only embodies universal norms but also serves the interests

of the developed states" (MacFarlane 1999:3). In this respect, the normative

commitment to democracy and liberal economy presupposes geopolitical interests in

peace and stability. It is a commonly held assumption that democracies do not go to

war with each other and open trading economies also see no incentives in waging

wars. Therefore, democratization of the emerging states serves Western interests in

their stability as trading and political partners. In this case political and normative

interests are mutually supporting. However, in other cases geopolitical considerations

come into conflict with normative commitments and undermine the normative and

practical coherence of the international agenda.

One obvious example of the above contradiction in the South Caucasus is the

case of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is not a model democracy and special efforts have to

be made in order for Azerbaijan to avoid oil inflicted inequality and authoritarian

underdevelopment. However, given the pro-American attitude of the current

Azerbaijani government and the US interest in Caspian oil resources, democracy and

respect for human rights has stopped being the top international and especially

American priority over the past few years. Similarly, the commitment of the United

States to prevent Iran from emerging as a significant regional player in the Caucasus

is strong enough to sacrifice some elements of the normative agenda. This even

contradicts American economic calculations, since American oil companies seek to

exploit Iran's geographical position in the transport of the Caspian oil and disagree

strongly with American efforts to avoid Iranian pipeline routes (MacFarlane 1999:5).

The international normative agenda also carries with it a set of more abstract

ideas, such as those of sovereignty, national self-determination, territorial integrity

etc., which according to MacFarlane have been self-consciously promoted by Western

states and international organizations. "In this respect, one could argue that the

experience of the post-Soviet civil conflict in Georgia and Azerbaijan is in some

respects responsibility of the West" (MacFarlane 1999:4). Even though it would be

an exaggeration to blame Western ideas for local misfortunes, it is the responsibility

of the international community to ensure that once exported these ideas yield positive


Given the proliferation of armed confrontations and ethnic conflicts on the

basis of conflicting rights of self-determination and territorial integrity, Western

scholars and practitioners started to reinterpret self-determination not as an

independence, but rather as a recognized autonomy based on principles of cultural

protection, self-government, power-sharing, group differentiation and other

mechanisms that ensure the protection of collective identity. This new interpretation

of self-determination provides the basis for the proposed solutions to the existing

ethnic conflicts and minority related problems both in the South Caucasus and in other

parts of the world. Acceptance of these ideas is often a precondition for membership

in international organizations and supranational institutions such as the EU and

requires rather dramatic reorganization of not only state structures but also a change

of perceptions with regard to minority-majority relations, identification with a

particular state and an understanding of shared statehood. This can be characterized

as an ideational aspect of international involvement which is likely to have significant

practical implications.

According to a 1999 UNESCO report of an international conference of

experts, the majority of today's conflicts take place within states where communities

are aspiring to greater recognition of their cultural and political identity. This induced

the international community to reevaluate the existing understanding of selfdetermination

and redefine it not as a source of conflict and confrontation, but rather

as a just solution to existing and potential conflicts. The common view advanced at

the UNESCO conference was that "in most cases it is not the assertion of claims by

oppressed communities but the denial of self-determination by state authorities which

causes armed conflicts" (van Praag/Seroo 1999:23). Self-determination in this

context is reinterpreted as a cultural recognition and attribution of 'new' cultural rights

to the minorities. The example of the former Soviet Union, including that of the

South Caucasus is often evoked as an illustration for the need of greater respect for

group identity, autonomy and culture, which had previously been ignored both by

practitioners and political theorists. Previously, the prime emphasis was put on

individual human rights; however, as Kymlicka argues it has become increasingly

clear that ethnopolitical conflicts cannot be resolved simply by ensuring the respect of

basic individual rights (Kymlicka 1996:3). The extreme individualism of the liberal

tradition has come under increasing attack since it failed to recognize rights of

minority cultures and accord due importance to group identification in the

contemporary world of globalization and ethnopolitical struggles (Kymlicka 1996:5).

As a result, there is increasing interest at the international level to supplement

the traditional human rights approach with a theory of minority rights. International

organizations such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the UN have all adopted

different declarations on the rights of national minorities, minority languages,

indigenous rights etc. The protection of ethnic minorities through different forms of

self-determination and political recognition is also a guiding principle for the

settlement of ethnopolitical conflicts in which organizations such as the OSCE and the

UN are actively involved. In the case of the South Caucasus, the promotion of either

group-differentiating rights or individual rights is likely to be a long and complex

process, since both are sets of values which are new to local political cultures and

meet with long established historical traditions and beliefs.

According to Alexander Rondeli, the post-Communist states inherited a

political culture that "lacks democratic traditions, elements of civil society, mutual

trust and a culture of dialogue" (Rondeli 1997:21). Under such circumstances statebuilding

turned out to be a painful and conflict-ridden process, and has "revealed the

extreme weakness of civic elements of nationhood and the corresponding emphasis on

ethnicity" (Rondeli 1997:20). In the context of collapsing state structures, national

economies and social security, identification with one's ethnic kin became extremely

important and further strengthened the role of ethnicity as a prime source of personal

identification. Individuals were identified mainly in terms of their ethnic or other

collective identities, which practically brought ethnic conflict from the public into the

private sphere, blurring the distinction between the two and further encouraging a

stigmatization of individuals solely in terms of their ethnic affiliations.

These developments have also contributed to the understanding of selfdetermination

in absolute terms as a right of the ethnic community for political

recognition through independent statehood. Even today, after great efforts of

international and non-governmental organizations, the mutually exclusive

understanding of self-determination remains the prime obstacle in the resolution of

existing conflicts. Reinterpretation of the concept of self-determination in terms of

group rights within a common state has not been widely adopted, especially among

the minorities aspiring to secession. The interpretation of cultural self-determination

as a conflict-preventing mechanism referred to above must therefore be considered

too simplistic. A good example is the Basque country, which enjoys one of the widest

cultural and political autonomies available to an ethnic group in Europe, but the

violent struggle of the Basques for independence has not ended. Similarly, the author

would argue that even if the Karabakh Armenians, the Abkhaz and South Ossetians

had been granted extended respective autonomies within the independent Azerbaijan

and Georgia, the conflicts would have occurred nevertheless. The secessionist

movements were driven by the interests of group elites seeking to take advantage of a

collapsing Soviet state and to redraw borders according to their perceived political

preferences. By denying these preferences recognition, the international community

pushes the secessionist regimes into acceptance of the new rules of self-determination

and discourages them from breaking away. At the same time, renewed international

emphasis on group rights defined in terms of ethnicity and culture may further

strengthen the already strong ethnic affiliations at the expense of civic and

individualistic elements that are strikingly lacking in the South Caucasian nations.

There is a danger in the South Caucasus that a re-organization of states

according to ethnic boundaries would create closed and antagonistic ethnic

communities that may themselves become intolerant of internal minorities or

representatives of the majority culture. These countries have already experienced

significant ethnicization of personal and public relations and would only succeed in

managing their ethnopolitical conflicts if a group-based approach to human rights is

balanced by due emphasis on individual and universal rights. Group identification is

already very strong in the South Caucasus, as well as an awareness and appreciation

of distinct ethnic and cultural affiliations. What is lacking, however, is respect of

individuals notwithstanding their cultural and national belonging. The basic universal

norms of individual freedom and human autonomy are what is most needed now in

the South Caucasus, while international emphasis has been shifting towards the

communitarian values of group membership and cultural autonomy.

Many Western liberal thinkers reacted to the recent ethnonational revival in

post-Communist Europe by placing greater emphasis on the importance of

communities, particularly national or ethnic. As Van Dyke has argued, the main flaw

of liberal tradition is its individualism, which cannot accord any status to groups and

acknowledge people's need for belonging and group identification (cited in Kymlicka

1996:4). For many Western liberals recognition of group-differentiating rights and

protection of minorities have become essential in promoting peace and justice,

introducing a shift from the individualistic conception of human rights to a more

communitarian one. The author would argue, however, that in the cases of existing

conflicts efforts should be directed at striking the right balance as opposed to

promoting one approach at the expense of another.

The so-called benign neglect of minority issues, which has dominated world

politics since World War II, has come under increasing criticism and is being revised

by introducing special group-differentiating rights on both the international and the

local levels. However, such an approach also carries the danger of buying into the

nationalistic rhetoric of different ethnic groups and acknowledging their value as a

group, while downplaying the individual significance of group members. The author

believes that it is precisely basic human rights with its emphasis on individual

autonomy and freedom of choice that should become the primary concern of conflictridden

regions like the South Caucasus. The South Caucasian nations already have a

strong communitarian culture, which identifies and values individuals in terms of their

group membershipand within which a group is defined primarily in ethnic or religious

terms. Universalnorms about the proper separation of the personal from the public,

and of nationality from citizenship have always been rather weak, and the demise of

Communist states has further strengthened kinship loyalties and encouraged the

creation of even closer particularistic societies. Under these circumstances, greater

emphasis on ethnic distinctiveness and group differentiation, unchecked by the

already existing local culture of communitarianism, may significantly undermine civic

cohesion and impede the development of a multiethnic citizenry loyal to the state and

its constitution.

Post-Communist experience in the author's view showed that recognition and

delimitation of minority cultures and rights was not sufficient for the successful

management of multiethnic states. Most ethnic minorities were entitled to groupdifferentiating

rights under the Communist regime, expressed in the form of

administrative territorial autonomies of a varying degree. According to Roger

Brubaker, the distinctive feature of the Soviet Union was "the thoroughgoing statesponsored

codification and institutionalization of nationhood and nationalityexclusively on the sub-state rather than a state level" (Brubaker 1996:27). Such an

organization of the Soviet state on the 'principle of nationality' contributed perhaps

unintentionally to the heightened awareness of ethnonational differences and perhaps

later to the rise of aggressive ethnonationalism, which contributed to the ultimate

demise of the Soviet state. The acceptance of ethnic differences and their recognition

through group rights failed to prevent outbursts of ethnic confrontation among the

minority and majority groups of the former Communist states, since their political

culture as well as loyalty to the state and civic and political institutions was extremely

weak and could not survive the change of a regime.

Post-Communist South Caucasus provided a good ground for nationalist

leaders to use ethnic based communitarian values of their societies in order to

mobilize people against their neighbours or former compatriots. The author believes

that there is little hope that minority rights will be protected in the South Caucasus

without first creating democratic states based on universal norms of individual

freedom and respect for human rights. This is not to say that rights of minorities as

groups should not be protected, but they should not be overemphasized at the expense

of individual rights and civic, institutionalized inclusion of all citizens both within the

autonomous units and within states in general. Such an overemphasis may prevent

the newly independent states from changing their relatively exclusive and ethnically

defined political culture, which has been the source of ethnopolitical conflict and a

threat to territorial integrity and political viability.

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Tags: Caucasus


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Comment by Bhanu Parajuli on January 17, 2011 at 11:46pm
Good to read it.. keep it up.

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