Beyond Russia and the West: the Third “Giant” of the Caucasus

Recently, Meydan TV published an article , which summarized the main events of a recent conference held in Tbilisi on the theme of difficulties in the South Caucasus that have come about as a result of recent events in Azerbaijan, Turkey and the Russo – Turkish rapprochement.

Recently, Meydan TV published an



which summarized the main events of a recent conference held in Tbilisi on the theme of difficulties in the South Caucasus that have come about as a result of recent events in Azerbaijan, Turkey and the Russo – Turkish rapprochement.

One analogy from a Georgian expert compared Georgia to a person who is stuck between two giants – if the two giants make war, the person in the middle suffers. But if the giants make love, the person in the middle suffers even more.

This is, of course, a rather humorous analogy. But I was struck by the fact that no one in the course of these discussions spoke of the possibility of the appearance of a third giant: the South Caucasus itself, united and dedicated to the defense of its citizens and the improvement of their quality of life.

Of course, many people will say that this is an unrealistic, idealistic and even fantastic idea the moment they read this. But, I assure you, this is one of the most realistic solutions to the problems facing the countries of the South Caucasus. And it is a solution based in both the history of the region and its current situation.

Harmful Tradition

That same Georgian expert, Tornike Sharashenidze, stated that Georgia is currently in a difficult situation because unlike its neighbors, it is not a part of any military alliance. According to the expert, in the case of a revived military conflict in Karabakh (not to mention Abkhazia or South Ossetia), Georgia would be under threat from its neighbors – Armenia and Azerbaijan – and their allies – Russia and Turkey. For this reason, he explained, Georgia needs alliances with the USA, NATO and the EU.

These same concerns can sometimes be seen in Azerbaijan as well. As an example,

in another recent article published on Meydan TV


the Azerbaijani politician Elman Fattah expressed his concern over the possible Russian threat to Azerbaijan. He even suggested that the solution to this problem might be similar to Georgia’s: an alliance with NATO and the USA.

On the other hand, Armenia and the unrecognized states of Abkhazia, Nagorno – Karabakh and South Ossetia seek Russian patronage.

But while everyone in the South Caucasus is busy seeking help from third – parties against each other, everyone has their own complaints about the very nature of this aid – Georgia and Azerbaijan (and, by the way, Turkey) complain that the process of Western integration has gone on for too long, that there are too many demands and too few results.

Moreover, the experts mentioned above also mentioned the fact that now, aide from the West may not be a realistic option – in both the USA and Europe we are witnessing the beginning of a conservative, right-wing reaction, and it is as of yet unclear what these countries’ foreign policy will be in the near future. The Turkish expert also emphasized that Turkey is not in a position to oppose Russia on its own, considering all of its current domestic and foreign crises.


South Ossetia

they are beginning to understand that help from Russia does not benefit the people, only supporting corruption and making the Ossetians into pawns in a game of geopolitics. The

de facto

government of Abkhazia


that it wants “to be an independent state and also a loyal and reliable ally of the great Russia”, at the same time


together with South Ossetia that Georgia and the Western world are isolating them.

After the brutal murder of an Armenian family in Gyumri and the recent clashes with Azerbaijan on the line of contact in Nagorno Karabakh, people in Armenia




the benefit of the alliance with Russia and of the presence of Russian military forces on the territory of Armenia.

It’s interesting here that all this is a very old story, which has been repeated in the Caucasus thousands of times. In his book

The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus

, historian Charles King writes the following about the relations of foreign powers with those living in the Caucasus:

“The state was highly dependent on local techniques of violence already employed in the mountains. Russians treated some groups as loyal and cooperative and others as potentially inimical and suspect. Indigenous groups, in turn, could become violent subcontractors, settling scores with old enemies by offering their superior knowledge and warrior skills to imperial powerbrokers […]

“Over the course of the nineteenth century, religious identity became a useful rule of thumb for deciding which groups to trust. Russia assumed the mantle of protector of Eastern Christians […] while the Ottomans often attempted to utilize Islam as a link to Caucasus Muslims in Circassia and Dagestan”.

If we change several words, this picture is perfectly fitting for the modern South Caucasus – today, like then, local groups, governments, residents readily play the role of pawns in foreign powers’ geopolitical games on one condition: that they don’t need to give up their grudges and enmity. People are absolutely right to hold in suspect Russian interests and actions in the region: the tactic remains the same as it was 200 years ago. But this tactic is enabled by the readiness of some local actors to accept it.

On the other hand, it’s interesting that people don’t show more suspicion to non-Russians, as if Western actors, in contrast to the Russians, are helping out of the goodness of their hearts, without any sort of personal interests. But we can learn a few lessons from history about this as well: how the British, Germans, Italians and others came to help during World War I and immediately after, in exchange for exclusive access to the natural resources of the South-Caucasian lands, and left as soon as it suited them.

The problems of the South Caucasus will not be solved by any sort of external aid, military alliances, investment, and so on. No, the problems of the South Caucasus can only be resolved by the South Caucasus itself, united and committed to the principle of peaceful coexistence, and recognizing the

simple fact

of the region’s multi-ethnic history and the impossibility of using this history to establish precise borders or insist that one bit of land is the true home of one ethnic group, to the exclusion of all others (this last bit is the fallacious and pernicious legacy of academics and politicians).

And afterwards, one can think about external aid, alliances, and investment, because not one country of the South Caucasus will likely be accepted, for example, bya the European Union, so long as they don’t show that they can peacefully exist in union with their neighbors.

If Azerbaijan and Georgia are concerned about Russian incursions, the most productive move is to make peace with their neighbors and put an end to long-term conflicts, so that those neighbors no longer have an excuse for Russian military forces on the territories they control. If Abkhazia, Armenia, Karabakh, South Ossetia are afraid of isolation, they also should find a peaceful end to the conflicts and somehow unite with their neighbors to move forward; otherwise there won’t be an end to this isolation. As was emphasized in a

recent article

on Meydan TV, there won’t be an end to problems with refugees without all sides acknowledging people’s right to return home, regardless of their nationality. And the conflicts of the South Caucasus probably won’t be resolved so long as there exist states that see themselves as the home of a single ethnic group, rather than multi-ethnic states in which citizens of any ethnic identity have an equal right to exist.

On the example of one village

Of course, as mentioned above, voices will immediately ring out, saying that this is impossible, that the conflicts are too old and the enmity has been established for too long. But yet another recent


on Meydan TV showed that it is completely possible for representatives of supposedly enemy peoples to peacefully coexist. Moreover, this example even provided a formula, through which such coexistence can be achieved: we must share one another’s grief and joy, and give priority to the present, nevertheless not forgetting the past.

What are we talking about here? First, regarding grief and joy. Too often in the Caucasus people grieve only those historical tragedies to which ‘their own’ group has been subjected. And they treat those tragedies that have afflicted other peoples, religious and ethnic groups, with suspicion and distrust, saying that the numbers of those who died or were displaced are incorrect, or suggest that the events took place as the result of some sort of plot or the actions of provocateurs (is bloodshed as the result of a plot or provocation less monstrous?).

Rather than this, as a first step towards making peace, people throughout the Caucasus should share one another’s grief. In Armenia, there should be a day of remembrance for the Khojaly Massacre, and in Azerbaijan days of remembrance for the Baku pogroms, the Armenian Genocide. Abkhazians and Ossetians should establish days of remembers for the ethnic cleansing and massacres of Georgians from the territories under their control, and Georgia – days of remembrance for the cleansings of these two peoples.

Or maybe just a general day of remembrance for all the victims of such nonsensical acts, since all bloodshed is a brutal and monstrous business, and the history of the Caucasus is full of it. In each conflict that has torn apart the Caucasus, horrors have been committed by people supposedly representing each side. But supposed representatives are not an entire people. And in each conflict the victims have also been representatives of each side – all of them are equally deserving of remembrance, and the highest, most fitting remembrance for them is to create a world where such things will not happen again. But this will be impossible until that time when the people of the Caucasus begin to grieve together and equally all the outrages that have blackened the region’s history.

On the other hand, throughout the Caucasus can be found stunning, unique cultural, architectural, artistic and other monuments. But rather than rejoicing in these things together and in the fact that they live amongst all this, people try to use these monuments to define eternal national boundaries (in contradiction to the entire history of movement and mixing of peoples and states throughout this region), or use them to brag (I don’t generally understand the logic here – how one person can brag about the actions of another). But again, the residents of Tsopi showed us the proper attitude towards such questions – they have disagreements regarding the origin of monuments in the surroundings of their village, but understand that such questions are for good-neighborly discussion; or in the case that discussion cannot be good-neighborly, that it’s better to not discuss such things at all, because they have nothing to do with every-day life in the present.

And here we have come to the most important point – the people living in the South Caucasus must make a choice, whether they want to live in the land of the living, or the kingdom of the dead, i.e. in the present or in the past. At present, the Caucasus seems more like the kingdom of the dead: in contradiction of all talk about future generations, about children, about family, the focus remains on past actions, insults, and sorrows. Or maybe I just don’t understand how the accumulation of military hardware and forces, the drawing of borders, and the handing down of enmity from one generation to the next helps to create a good world for the next generations.

Of course, I’m not promising here that it will be easy to create such a world. And despite what many will say having read this article, I’m also not saying that the people of the Caucasus should forget about the past. Quite the opposite, I’m saying here that the people of the Caucasus should look on the history of their region with open eyes, honestly, openly, and without any sort of prejudice, acknowledging that the death of any of them is a tragedy for all, and that each instance of mass killing was committed not by an entire people, but by individual people, falsely asserting that they are acting in the interest or the name of an entire people. Because based on what I can see, there is only one path to a better world, which requires that the people of the South Caucasus unite, in doing so making themselves powerful and capable of ensuring a better world for their own and for others, which in reality is two inseparable sides of the same act.

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