Georgia’s Contagious Separatism

11 05 2006

Transitions Online: Unique coverage of all 28 post-communist countries
11 May 2006

It seems only natural for minorities in the former Soviet Union to feel a constant pull towards separatism. Their national borders were drawn almost arbitrarily—often to encourage conflicts—and a nascent sense of self-determination that followed the end of Soviet communism certainly plays a role in the region’s separatism, even today. Georgians, in particular, have witnessed their share of nationalist struggles, together leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. In Georgia’s mostly Armenian region of Javakheti, however, the potential for conflict has always rested just beneath the surface, requiring a greater and untapped impetus to inspire rebellion.

As Georgia’s southernmost region, Javakheti shares not only a border with Armenia, but also a culture, religion, and language, as Javakheti is more than 90% Armenian. Despite being born in Georgia, few of these Armenians feel any allegiance to Georgia at all.  After all, Soviet leaders in the early 20th century relocated thousands of Armenian families to Georgia’s southern regions to provide a protective buffer between the Ottoman Empire and the rest of the Soviet Union.  Culturally, linguistically and politically, the Georgians in Javakheti are Armenian.

And while any unrest in Javakheti pales in comparison to the tension in Georgia’s authentic separatist regions—Abkhazia and South Ossetia—Javakheti has all the makings of a civil ethnic conflict. To start, the most common language in Javakheti is Armenian, and Georgian is not a required part of the local curriculum for the same reason that Russian is not a required part of the Georgian curriculum—both nations feel a burgeoning sense of pride and self-determination. Javakheti has a better relationship with Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, than it does with the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The central government provides very little financial assistance to Javakheti, citing economic difficulties and limited resources, which inevitably leave the undeveloped region’s infrastructure in pieces and the people alienated.

Unlike in Abkhazia and South Ossetia—breakaway regions enjoying de-facto autonomy under Russian patronage—calls for secession or reunion with the “home country” have never been quite as loud in Javakheti, even though most of the unrest tethers to economic and cultural concerns—both typical catalysts for rebellion. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget Abkhazia

17 03 2006

Georgian Messenger
17 March 2006

While Georgia and Russia focus their efforts on addressing the potential for renewed conflict in South Ossetia, a series of provocative events and statements coming from Abkhazia should not be overlooked.  In fact, a number of mixed messages from Abkhazia are ripening the region’s political environment for advances toward peace.  Unfortunately, Tbilisi might be too preoccupied or temperamental to take notice.

For more than a decade, Abkhazia has been siphoning resources and support from Russia for no other reason than because Russia continues to offer them.  Ethnic Abkhazians have no more allegiance to Russia than they do to Georgia; after all, Abkhazia was also subject to the iron fist of Soviet rule.  Yet after breaking off from the rest of Georgia, Abkhazia desperately needed a pillar to rest on, and Russia provided that—again, not out of loyalty to Abkhazians, but merely to maintain its influence in the rapidly westernizing south Caucasus and Black Sea region. Read the rest of this entry »

Georgian Peacekeepers in South Ossetia?

3 03 2006

3 March 2006

Georgian officials have made it clear that they neither support nor trust Russia’s military peacekeeping force in South Ossetia. But what are the alternatives to this presence? Georgian ministers and members of parliament have advocated two different alternatives. Both assume that the Russians will abandon their interests in South Ossetia, and both invite more questions than answers.

The first alternative to the current, mostly Russian Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF) is an international peacekeeping force (PKF), perhaps led by the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On such an international force, the number of Georgian and Russian soldiers is unlikely to be greater than that on any other PKF in the world.

Georgian officials know, however, that they are not likely to be offered a truly international peacekeeping force. PKFs from the United Nations and the OSCE are dead ends for achieving Georgian goals in South Ossetia because Russia retains veto power in both organizations. NATO might offer an outlet, but only if the conflict seriously escalates to the level of Kosovo in 1999. Read the rest of this entry »

Russia Calls Our Bluff

20 02 2006

Russia is Raising the Price of Western Ambition
Georgian Times
20 February 2006

Guided by President Putin and his foreign ministry, Russia’s foreign policy is pushing America deeper into a corner it has come to know and hate.  After declaring a “universal principle” on January 31, President Putin said that the fate of Kosovo (a UN protectorate within Serbia) should be the same as secessionist regions across the globe, specifically post-soviet nations like those in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Putin implied that secession has become an expression of self-determination.  In so doing, Russia has added serious legitimacy to a movement well under way: the altar of western values is crumbling under the feet of its most confident sermonizer, America.  And Russia would never miss an opportunity to shift the terrain in their favor.

Since the end of the Cold War, American and European politicians have trotted around the globe stamping out injustice after injustice—proudly mopping up the mess left in the wake of Soviet disintegration.  From the Caucasus and Central Asia to the Balkans and South America, the West has rescued millions of helpless people with a formula that is said to be end of ideological history.  For the last sixty years, the West has charitably spread the values of self-determination and tolerance to all corners of the globe.

Yet now, after years of watching America take credit for cleaning up its own backyard, Moscow has forced Washington into a lose-lose game dead-set on tearing a hole in the sanctity of self-determination.  Does America want to save Kosovo or Georgia? Does it want democratic cooperation or fiery rhetoric about freedom? The answers to these questions go beyond President Bush’s ambitious foreign policy; they challenge our most fundamental questions about liberty and democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

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