From Hot Spots to Frozen Conflicts:
Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Comparison
Talk at the International Conference at the University of Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh
Origins and development of conflicts in and about sub-state entities in the Soviet sys-tem
Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have in common, that – as adminis-trative entities – they were set up against the will of the ethnic majority or nominal population. However, compared to each other, they represent quite different and distinct conflict situations:
Nagorno Karabakh is the case of an ethnic majority, which was at the time of its se-cession to Soviet Azerbaijan a near to mono-ethnic area, linked to Armenia not only by the ethnicity of its majority, but by two and a half millenniums of shared cultural and economic contact. In the early 20th century, the overwhelming majority of the Nagorno Karabakhis defined themselves as Armenians.
The secession was a result of power policy inside the ruling communist elite, domi-nated at the time by non-Armenians. Their decision to secede Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan came also as a result of Turkish demands in support of Azeri interests. The artificially created administrative unit of a so-called Autonomous Region of Mountainous Karabakh brought only the central third of the historic Armenian prov-ince of Artsakh under the regulations of a Soviet autonomy. Adjacent areas, once populated by Armenian majorities or considerate Armenian minorities, but ethni-cally cleansed after massacres in the early 20th century, stayed outside. Most impor-tant of all, the definition of the autonomy’s boundaries in 1923 resulted in an artificial corridor between the Soviet Republic of Armenia and the Autonomous Region of Nagorno Karabakh, which became at the same time a no-go-area for the residents of the Soviet Armenian republic.
The case of South Ossetia (Республик Хуссар Ирыстон, Respublikæ Xussar Iryston) is similar, although not identical. South Ossetia covers 3.900 square km and in 1989 had 99.000 inhabitants, 66 percent Ossetians and 29 percent Georgians.
The historic homeland of the Ossetians is situated north of the central Caucasian range, where the Ossetian nation in its modern composition emerged during the 16th and 18th centuries. Contacts with Georgia intensified since the 15th century, when parts of the Alano-Ossetians were driven southward. These Ossetian communities lived in feudal dependency from Georgian regional overlords. Poverty and lack of arable land caused a persistent migration into the fertile Georgian plains and de-creased the number of Ossetians in South Ossetia proper. After the incorporation of the Georgian kingdom of Kartli into the Russian Empire, the South Ossetian areas were made into an Ossetian district, or “Osetinskyj okrug” inside the province of Ti-flis in the beginning of the 19th century. However, the “Osetinskiy okrug” was abol-ished as early as 1843.
A revolutionary movement started in South Ossetia as early as 1903. Sergey Kirov directed the Bolshevik activities in the region since 1909, and shortly after the out-break of the February Revolution of 1917 a soviet was set up at Vladikavkaz. With the break up of the Russian Empire in 1918, South Ossetia became part of the Geor-gian Menshevik Republic while the North formed part of the Terek Soviet Republic.
After the Georgian declaration of independence in May 1918, South Ossetians re-volted against the Georgian state for the first time, demanding national rights and the official recognition of the Soviet Republic which they had established under the influence of Soviet Russia. In a cruel campaign of retaliation, Georgian forces crushed the Ossetian rebellion in June 1920, by setting fire to Ossetian villages and deporting many residents. In the historic memory of the Ossetians, this expulsion of 1920 is commemorated as a genocide. North Ossetia became an “Osetinskyj okrug” in the Autonomous Mountains Soviet Republic of November 20, 1920 and was upgraded into an Autonomous Soviet Republic in December 1936. South Ossetia remained un-der Soviet Georgian rule, since April 1922 as an Autonomous Region. Cultural divi-sion added to the political one: Although Ossetians used the Kyrillic alphabet since the end of the 18th century, the South Ossetians were compelled to introduce the Georgian alphabet and had to use it until 1954.
In 1989, in the freedom of Glasnost and Perestroika and frightened by rising Geor-gian nationalism, the South Ossetians demanded unification with North Ossetia. In December the next year, the Georgian Parliament abolished the autonomy of South Ossetia and authorized suppression of newspapers and bans on demonstrations. One issue at stake was the language. Georgian was made the official language, while the Ossetians declared their native tongue as the official language. Fighting and inter-ethnic violence commenced in November 1989 and continued in spring 1991 towards the end of 1991 during which many South Ossetian villages were attacked and burned down as well as Georgian houses and schools in the capital Tskhinvali. As a result, approximately 1,000 died and 60,000-100,000 refugees fled the region, most across the border into North Ossetia or into Georgia proper. Many South Ossetians were resettled in uninhabited areas of North Ossetia from which the Ingush ad been expelled by Stalin in 1944, leading to conflicts between Ossetians and Ingush over the right of residence in previous Ingush territory. Only 15% of the entire Ossetian popu-lation still lives in South Ossetia.
The fighting ended in July 1992 when a cease-fire, brokered by the Russian President Yeltsin, was agreed and a peacekeeping force of Ossetians, Georgians and Russians was set up. The agreement is monitored by the Organization for Security and Coop-eration Europe (OSCE) in Tbilissi. Since then little progress has been made. South Ossetia is in a state of permanent economic crisis and there is a lack of almost every-thing including jobs, clothes, food heating and electricity. Schools and universities are closed because of lack of heating and books. The situation is worsened by Geor-gia cutting electricity supplies, which has led to North Ossetia running an electric cable from Russia through the mountain range.
The de facto Republic of South Ossetia is not a territorially contiguous entity. It is, instead, something of a patchwork of Georgian and Ossetian-inhabited towns and villages in an arc around the largely Ossetian capital city of Tskhinvali. The capital and most of the other Ossetian-inhabited communities are governed by the separatist government in Tskhinvali, while the Georgian-inhabited villages are governed by the Georgian government. This close proximity and the intermixing of the two commu-nities has made the conflict in South Ossetia particularly dangerous and difficult, as any attempt to create an ethnically pure territory would necessarily have to involve population transfer on a large scale.
Although talks have been held periodically between the Georgian and the South Os-setian sides, little progress was made under the government of Eduard Shevard-nadze (1993-2003). His successor Mikheil Saakashvili (elected 2004) made the reasser-tion of Georgian governmental authority a political priority. Having successfully put an end to the de facto independence of the province of Ajara in May 2004, he pledged to seek a similar solution in South Ossetia. After the 2004 clashes, the Georgian gov-ernment has intensified its efforts to bring the problem to international attention. But on 29 September 2005, the region erupted into violence again when unidentified per-petrators subjected Tskhinvali to mortar fire from a neighbouring Georgian-populated village, injuring 10 people.
Still in 2005, Georgia unveiled three successive revisions (in January, August, and October) of the peace plan for South Ossetia that President Mikheil Saakashvili first presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2004. But the leadership of the un-recognized Republic of South Ossetia rejected all three overtures. Tbilisi is now seeking to secure a greater role for the international community, which has expressed support for Saakashvili's peace proposals, in monitoring the situation in South Os-setia. Late in October 2005, the U.S. Government and the OSCE expressed their sup-port to the Georgian action plan presented by Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli at the OSCE Permanent Council at Vienna on October 27, 2005. On December 6, the OSCE Ministerial Council in Lyublyana unanimously adopted a resolution support-ing the Georgian peace plan which was subsequently rejected by the South Ossetian de facto authorities.
Tbilissi has accused the Russian peacekeepers deployed there of turning a blind eye to abductions and arms and drug smuggling. Moscow and the South Ossetian lead-ership, however, have rejected Georgia's proposal to include the United States and European Union into the existing peacekeeping arrangement.
Abkhazia covers 8,700 square km and had 525,061 inhabitants in 1989, 44 percent Georgian, 17 percent Abkhazian, 16 percent Russian and 15 percent Armenian.
The minorization of the nominal population of Abkhazia is the result of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus and even more of the Georgian assimilation policies during Soviet times. In 1823 there were as many as 321,000 Abkhaz according to Abkhaz figures. Various sources agree that the population was at least halved after the final Russian colonisation of North Chechnya in 1884, a fate similar to that of the related Circassians in the Northwest Caucasus. The exodus paved the way for an active Rus-sian settlement policy that succeeded in increasing the number of Georgians and Russians in Abkhazia more than 50 times during 100 years. However, a Russian cen-sus of 1886 still gives an Abkhaz figure of 59,000 constituting more than 85 percent of the population in Abkhazia.
The above-mentioned demographic processes are closely related to the major issues and claims of the Abkhazians: the repatriation of their Diaspora and the strengthen-ing of Abkhaz language and culture after many years of Georgian and Russian influ-ence and repression.
Bolshevik power was established in 1918, to endure only 40 days when Menshevik Georgia, protected by German and British forces, incorporated the region. The Abkhaz supported the Bolsheviks in their struggle for more independence. In 1921 Soviet power was re-established, and Abkhazia and Georgia signed a Union treaty. Abkhazia was recognised as a Soviet republic by the Bolshevik leaders of Georgia. In 1922, Abkhazia and Georgia entered the Transcaucasian Federation as equal mem-bers. In 1931 however, Abkhazia was once again subordinated to Georgia as an Autonomous Republic. Abkhaz resistance to collectivisation was considerable.
During the repressions in the late 1930s and early 1940s forced assimilation and Georgianization of Abkhaz took place, led by Beria, head of the Transcaucasian Fed-eration at the time. Many Georgians settled in Abkhazia. The Abkhaz language was no longer taught in schools, and many prominent Abkhaz were killed. After Stalin, there was again room to work for Abkhaz culture. In the 1970s, a national movement was formed with the goal of seceding from Georgia and become part of the RSFSR. In 1978, Abkhaz intellectuals wrote an open letter to Brezhnev, expressing their concern for their ethnic population, and were met by certain economic concessions. Also, an Abkhaz university was established in Sukhum.
When Abkhazia declared its independence in August 1990, the political elite of Georgia reacted with an attempt to regain the area by military intervention. The con-flict escalated after Shevardnadze came to power in 1992 and after the Georgian par-liament decided to reinstall the Georgian constitution of 1921, which did not relate to Abkhazia. The Abkhaz parliament reacted to this humiliation by reinstalling their constitution of 1925 when Abkhazia was a Soviet republic. The Georgian government sent troops into the region in August 1992, triggering a war in which both Russia and Chechnya backed the Abkhaz. After 13 months of fighting, the Georgian military re-treated, and most non-Abkhaz, including some 250,000 Georgians, fled Abkhazia.
During the war the Abkhaz were supported not only by the North Caucasian minori-ties but also by native Russians and Armenians, who often felt that they had no other option. It was Russia's role however, which has raised the most concern. Cossacks and volunteers from the Russian army took part in the fighting, and weapons and other materials were delivered from the backdoors of Russian army depots. Russian fighter planes were also spotted over Abkhazia. The UN became involved, and nego-tiations between Georgian and Abkhaz leaders started.
In June 1994 Russian peace keeping forces, commissioned by the CIS and approved and observed by the UN, entered the border zone between the Georgian and the Abkhaz armies. It became a major task of peace keeping arrangements to secure a safe return of the approximately 250,000 Georgian refugees. Abkhazia has so far re-fused to let Georgians return who participated in the fights.
Abkhazian leaders have made alternating demands in recent years. At times, they have insisted on full independence, while at other times, they have requested associ-ate membership in the Russian Federation. However, the Russian government has been slow to respond to the latter proposal, fearing the negative effect of such an ac-tion on its relations with Georgia. On 28 November 2003, Russian MP Vladimir Zhir-inovsky tabled such a resolution in the State Duma, but saw it rejected. Nonetheless, most citizens of Abkhazia now possess Russian citizenship, and Abkhazians, unlike Georgians entering Russia, do not require a visa.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union and the United Nations have continued to insist that Abkhazia must remain part of Geor-gia, and that at the very least, the Georgian refugees must be allowed to return, be-fore any acceptable vote on independence can be held.
The Georgian government has continued to insist on Abkhazia's reunification with Georgia, but has differed in its suggestions of means to achieve this, particularly un-der the government of Mikheil Saakashvili.
The Georgian governments and presidents have, at times, proposed two main peace deals. The first one would divide Georgia into seven autonomous entities, each with power over police and economic issues, but relinquishing power over defence and foreign affairs to the federal government. In a later proposal, it was suggested that Georgia and Abkhazia could form one federal Georgian republic, somewhat along the lines of Serbia and Montenegro.
The Georgian government has, at times, suggested that they may attempt to resolve the conflict by military means. After the 2004 removal of Ajarian leader Aslan Aba-shidze from office, Saakashvili suggested that Abkhazia and fellow separatist entity South Ossetia could be reintegrated in the same manner. However, over the follow-ing months, he distanced himself from this idea. And, despite having assured NATO that it would slim down its armed forces, Georgia is reportedly engaged in a massive military build-up. Unconfirmed reports suggest Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili has ordered the acquisition of primarily offensive weapons such as battle tanks, along with tens of thousands of machine guns to arm reservists.
Saakashvili has also attempted to portray the Abkhaz dispute as being mainly be-tween Georgia and Russia, owing to the latter's support of the separatists, with the separatist government being portrayed as little more than a Russian puppet. To this end, they have pushed for either the complete removal of or major changes to the mandate of the Russian peace-keepers and the removal of Russian military bases from Abkhaz territory. During 2003, they achieved that Russia removed its bases, leaving only its peacekeeping force. Both the Abkhaz de facto separatist government, as well as Abkhaz opposition parties (Amtsakhara) resolutely oppose reunification with Georgia under any circumstances.
While Saakashvili has concentrated his diplomatic offensive primarily on forcing a solution to the South Ossetian conflict, it has been left largely to the United Nations to continue the search for a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. In August 2005, the UN mediated talks in Sukhum between Georgian and Abkhaz government officials on security issues for the non-resumption of activities and confidence-building meas-ures in the conflict zone.
Sergei Bagapsh, who was elected Abkhaz president in a repeat election in January 2005, has sent mixed signals. He has repeatedly stressed that Abkhazia's self-proclaimed but unrecognised independence is not negotiable. And he has said he regards Russia as Abkhazia's key ally and partner.
At the same time, Bagapsh has signalled a more pragmatic and conciliatory approach to economic cooperation with Georgia. He has also seemed willing to put in place security measures that would facilitate the return to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion of the Georgians who fled the district during the war. In more recent times, however, Bagapsh has toughened his position, insisting that Georgians who return to live permanently in Gali must adopt Abkhaz citizenship.
Interference in the Caucasus
Being a land-bridge between Europe and Asia, the Caucasian isthmus is vulnerable to outside interference, which is mostly about political and economic control of natu-ral resources, of trade routes and international pipelines. Vulnerability to external interferences is in particular true for the internationally not recognized sub-state enti-ties, which are used as fore-posts, trump-card or even hostage. Inter-ethnic as well as inter-religious conflicts and dichotomies add to the region’s complex difficulties. The many disparate groups in the Caucasus have warred for centuries. The mountainous terrain is conducive to ethnic and social instabilities and tensions, of which outsiders have always taken advantage for own purposes.
Today, there are two main groups of competing external players: The neighbouring countries Iran, Turkey and Russia are traditional contestants in the area, whereas the United States, the United Nations and international European institutions such the O.S.C.E. , the European Union and the European Council are newcomers.
The negotiations about conflict resolutions have been internationalised in all three cases: The United Nations plays a mediating role in the detailed negotiations over Abkhazia, whereas in South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh that role is played by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. The internationali-sation is mainly the result of the state interests of Georgia and Azerbaijan, which lost “their” sub-state entities during the collapse of the U.S.S.R. In particular Georgia has invited the US and European political bodies as a counter-weight to Russia’s tradi-tional influence.
The position of Russia
Russia has for the past two decades conducted a policy of strengthening itself through economics at the cost of geographical influence, until President Vladimir Putin decided that this plan will not give Russia the best chance to remain a strong player in the world arena.
Since then, Russia has been especially active in consolidating power in the Kremlin and reinforcing its position in its near abroad. The "colour revolutions" in the former Soviet Union (FSU) have destabilized the Russian flank and precipitated moves to centralize and reinforce Moscow's power in the region. Recent events in Ukraine and Georgia have hinted at Russia's attempts to reassert control over its interior and pe-riphery. President Vladimir Putin's administration has used natural gas policy to im-pose Putin's will on Russia and the former Soviet states as well as Europe.
Hostilities are on the rise between Russia and Georgia after a series of announce-ments regarding the future of Georgia's secessionist regions. On January 17, 2006, Russia announced it would consider heeding the Georgian Parliament's request to withdraw peacekeepers from the disputed Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On the same day, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili announced an additional military draft. This series of actions, plus the recurrent tensions in the Gali region on the Abkhaz border, indicated a willingness among both the Russians and the Georgians to esca-late the situation.
Three explosions on January 22, 2006 along two natural gas pipelines and an electric-ity transmission line -- all close to the Georgian border in Russia -- precipitated yet another confrontation. The incidents disabled energy delivery to Georgia, which quickly rerouted supplies from Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. Saakashvili had been pushing to diversify the natural gas supply even before the explosions, and the tran-sition to alternative sources was relatively easy.
Georgian authorities have accused the Russians, specifically Russia's military intelli-gence agency GRU. The Russians in their turn have blamed the Chechens and pinned a charge of terrorism to the investigation. However, there are additional implications. The natural gas pipelines were struck in Russia's North Ossetia, just across the bor-der from the Georgian-controlled South Ossetia. The electricity transmission line went down in Russia's Karachaevo-Cherkessia, near Abkhazia.
On January 31, 2006, President Putin said during his press conference broadcast live on Russian state television that there is a need for ‘universal principles’ to settle "fro-zen" conflicts such as the one in Kosova or those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"We need common principles to find a fair solution to these problems for the benefit of all people living in conflict-stricken territories.... If people believe that Kosovo can be granted full independence, why then should we deny it to Abkhazia and South Ossetia?" Putin said.
"I am not speaking about how Russia will act. However, we know that Turkey, for instance, has recognized the Republic of Northern Cyprus," Putin added. "I do not want to say that Russia will immediately recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, but such precedent does exist."
In April 2006, Russia’s prohibition of imports of Georgian products further deterio-rated the relations between both countries. Russia is the most important market for Georgian vines and mineral waters. Georgia reacted with the threat to cancel its membership in the CIS. Tensions during the change of Russian peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia increased the conflict.
But as further developments prove, neither Georgia nor Russia seem interested in overstretching the tensions. On June 13, 2006, Saakashvili met Putin at the occasion of an International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, and the Georgian President con-firmed his attempt to reconcile Russia by emphasising traditional partnership, while at the same time insisting on the Russian recognition of Georgian territorial integrity.
Officially, Moscow does recognize Georgia's territorial integrity and refuses repeated requests from Sukhumi and Tskhinvali for "admittance into the Russian Federation." All the same, Russia provides various forms of aid to the governments of both un-recognized republics; most of their residents have been granted Russian citizenship, and the rouble is used as currency on their territories. Tbilissi accuses Moscow of "creeping annexation."
Most observers attribute the periodic hardening in the positions of the South Os-setian and Abkhaz leadership to pressure from Moscow, on which Bagapsh in par-ticular depends for support in the face of increasing pressure from the Abkhaz oppo-sition. In Tbilissi, many believe that the fate of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is sealed: sooner or later, Russia will annex them. At the official level, Moscow tries not to pro-vide the slightest reason to suspect it of harbouring such intentions. Unofficially, Moscow makes it clear to the Georgians that if Tbilissi attempts to use force to settle the question of Abkhazia or South Ossetia, Russia is unlikely to stand aside. So it's better to negotiate, not fight. But the negotiations have been deadlocked for years. Moscow will almost certainly continue to use Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2006 to exert pressure on Georgia in retaliation for Georgia's high-profile campaign to secure a formal invitation, possibly as early as 2006, to join NATO.
Also in the Caucasus, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resurfacing. A tenuous cease-fire has been in place since 1994, monitored by the OSCE, the world’s largest regional security organization. However, Azerbaijan is in a position to escalate hostilities. Since his recent election, President Ilham Aliyev has been consolidating power in preparation for the income Azerbaijan will receive when the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline launches (which is due any time now). The revenue will surpass anything Azerbaijan has ever collected, and the possibility of it buying arms and attacking is substantial.
During his visit to Baku on 24 January 2006 Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov said Russia wants to station peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh rather than risk de-pending on troops from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and that it is willing to arm both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani defence minister, in turn, said if the negotiations do not go well, Azerbaijan is ready to retake Nagorno-Karabakh by force. Azerbaijan counts on U.S. financial and military sup-port, as well as on heavy Western investments into its energy sector. Russia would stand to benefit from its involvement in this conflict as well, de-stabilizing both of the factions and establishing itself in the South Caucasus.
The West's position
The United States and Europe are in full solidarity with Georgia, recognizing its terri-torial integrity and calling for both conflicts to be resolved via peaceful negotiations. Last year, when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili seemed on the verge of launching a military operation against South Ossetia, the Americans pressured him to exercising restraint. A war was averted. However, the West has been arming and training the Georgian military.
Similarly, the West keeps in bay the president and government of Azerbaijan, whose ongoing belligerent rhetoric is rejected now and then by Western speakers. In all, however, the United States maintains close relations with Azerbaijan, encouraging it to pursue "a foreign policy independent of Russia." Relations with Armenia are more complicated, since Washington considers that the Armenian government looks to Moscow too much. However, the Armenian diasporas in the United States and in Europe prevent the West from siding entirely with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno Kara-bakh conflict.
The position of the EU
Until recently, the EU as a whole was far from being over-committed in the South Caucasian region. This is in particular true for the European Commission and the European Council; the European Commission being the one which is most influent and in possession of considerable financial resources. The European Parliament (EP) has little influence over the EU political issues, but acts as an idea catalyst. The EP managed to schedule and put on the agenda some ideas which are for most of the member states much too ambitious, or considered unrealistic. Those ideas are not systematically integrated, but it is the role of the EP to support and defend concepts so as to EU does not lose sight of this region.
Since 2003 the EU has become more of a security actor in the South Caucasus, par-ticularly in Georgia. It has appointed a Special Representative for the South Caucasus, launched a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) mission, and employed the Commission’s Rapid Reaction Mechanism to support post “Rose Revolution” democra-tisation processes. It has included Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and started Action Plan negotiations due to end mid-2006. The Commission has allocated some €32 million for economic development confi-dence building programs in Georgia, and it has cooperated closely with the UN and the OSCE.
However, the EU’s relations are still not strong with either Azerbaijan or, to a lesser extent, Armenia. It does not participate directly in negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia or South Ossetia. In and around Nagorno-Karabakh, it has done little for conflict resolution. It has rarely raised the South Caucasus conflicts in its high-level discussions with partners and has employed few sanctions or incentives to advance peace.
Compared with Russia, the U.S., the UN and the OSCE, the EU’s financial and politi-cal engagement in the region has been minimal. However, as it gives more aid through new and old instruments, its ability to provide incentives and apply condi-tionality should grow. Compared with other actors, the EU can offer added value, with its image as an “honest broker” free from traditional US/Russia rivalries; access to a range of soft and hard-power tools; and the lure of greater integration into Europe.
With regards to Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU offered its participation but only at the post-conflict level. This indicates that Brussels does not plan on intervening about the issues of conflict-solving and negotiations. It is known as the check-book effect: you have at your disposal a check-book and in case your interlocutor is ready, you agree to offer quickly your help by way of considerable financial means in order to con-solidate Peace. But you do this only after making sure that the foundations of Peace have been laid down. At the occasion of the recent talks held by Armenian and Azer-baijani presidents Kocharyan and Alieyev at Bucharest (June 2006), Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis voiced at a news conference in Strasbourg his regret over the protraction of the settlement process, causes mainly by Azerbaijan: “The resolution should be quick but appliance of force is inadmissible. Too many people died during the recent years. I negatively treat any idea of military resolution and emphasize that the war caused great sufferings to both conflicting parties.”
The South-Ossetian crisis was the proof, that the EU can change its stance. The then special representative Heikki Talvitie wanted to play a more direct role in the conflict by opposing Saakashvili to Kokoïti. He organized a meeting about this and during the crisis in summer 2004 he has regularly gone here and there in South Caucasus.
Regarding Abkhazia, it was decided that the Council did not have to intervene di-rectly. But under the aegis of the Commission, Europe wants to take part in helping in the reconstruction. Hence the new program which was announced in summer 2004: it supports the reconstruction and transition to democracy in Western Georgia, notably in Zugdidi, but also in some Abkhazian regions.
Some member States of the EU have adopted for ten years a national policy of inter-vention in this region. France co-presides the Minsk Group. Germans are very im-plied in solving the conflict in Abkhazia. The British appointed Brian Fall as the spe-cial representative firstly for Georgia on October 1st 2002, and then for South-Caucasus. Brian Fall is an experienced diplomat and a former ambassador in Mos-cow.
In 2002, those countries started to realize that a European policy might succeed where national policies had reached their limits. Those debates ended up by the ap-pointment of Heikki Talvitie. But the Special Representative does not have an office in Brussels; he has at his disposal a reduced budget and little technical support. Be-sides, the post of Talvitie was mainly financed by Finland.
The Brussels based International Crisis Group criticised the relative inactivity of the official European institutions. In its recommendations, published in March 2006, the non-profit NGO suggest:
“The arrival of a new Special Representative (EUSR) is an opportune moment for the EU to strengthen its political presence. The EUSR should try to become an observer in the three conflict negotiation forums. In South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where the Commission has already allocated significant funding, efficient and well-targeted assistance can give weight and credibility to the EU’s diplomatic and political efforts.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, rather then wait for an agreement on the principles of resolu-tion mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, the EU should begin contingency planning to assist peace implementation now. Sending military and civilian assessment mis-sions to the region could give new impetus to a negotiation process which seems to be dangerously running out of steam. Whether or not a peace agreement is eventu-ally signed, the EU should be prepared to implement confidence building programs or – in a worst case – to consider a range of options in case of an outbreak of fighting. Otherwise, having remained out of Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent occupied districts for over a decade, either war or peace will find it struggling to catch up in its own neighbourhood. “
The recommendations of the International Crisis Group to the European Union and its Member States sound:
To increase the EU’s visibility and effectiveness as a political actor, by:
1. Open fully-staffed European Commission Delegations in Baku and Yerevan.
2. Strengthen the EUSR’s regional presence by at a minimum appointing a EUSR political analyst in each of the three South Caucasus capitals.
3. Start a public awareness campaign in the region about the EU, its values, institu-tions, programs and conflict resolution capabilities.
To take full advantage of the negotiating process for European Neighbourhood Pol-icy Action Plans
4. Define the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as an Action Plan priority for Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the Plan aimed specifically at ensuring that:
(a) Azerbaijan and Armenia should commit to resolving the conflict through peaceful negotiations without delay, defining the principles of an agreement as renunciation of the use of force to settle disputes; incremental withdrawal of occupied districts; return of displaced persons; opening of transport and trade routes; and determination of the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a referendum;
(b) Armenia should pledge to encourage the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh au-thorities to agree to a peace settlement according to the principles defined above; and
(c) both states should commit to foster reconciliation, confidence building and mutual understanding through governmental and non-governmental chan-nels.
To prepare for an eventual Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement and encourage the parties to compromise
13. Seek agreement for the EUSR to participate in the OSCE Minsk Group as an ob-server.
14. In the case of the Commission, carry out a needs assessment study of Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent occupied territories (including places where IDPs have settled) even before a framework agreement on the principles of a settlement is agreed between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
15. In the case of the Council, request the Secretariat to develop ESDP options in support of peace implementation, send assessment missions in close cooperation with the OSCE and begin contingency planning so as to prepare for:
(a) deployment of peacekeepers around Nagorno-Karabakh; and
(b) deployment of a civilian crisis management advisory team to engage in DDR, security sector reform, mediation, political affairs, human rights and media issues in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.”
At the time of the summit of Black Sea leaders and the second meeting of presidents Kocharian and Aliyev in June 2006, the recent EU’s Special representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby had been interviewed about the EU’s involvement in the South Caucasus. With regards to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, he confirmed that a stronger EU commitment is necessary. The Swedish diplomat explained the increasing interest of the EU in the region by the EU’s enlargement and by the EU’s concern about natural resources in the South Caucasus; therefore the entire South Caucasus had been included into the European Neighbourhood Policy. Semneby said: “Of course, the European Union does this in the anticipation that the region will de-velop together and that the links will be re-established between the countries, and that joint products will be developed that can benefit the further development and the prosperity of all countries in the region.”
Although the EU continues to leave direct conflict settlement management mainly to the OSCE and the Minsk Group, the Union seems now more financially committed than in the past. The Special Representative put it this way:
“When the European Neighbourhood Policy starts to take effect with the new finan-cial perspective of the European Union in 2007, there will be considerable resources available for various activities, not least related to conflict resolution and support of the development and rehabilitation of the conflict areas. Already at this stage, if there is a resolution, if there is an agreement between the parties, there are considerable rapid-reaction funds that the EU can also put at the disposal of the two governments [of Armenia and Azerbaijan] to repair what has been broken by the conflict.”
The EU’s financial commitment may even include the maintenance of international peacekeeping forces for Nagorno Karabakh, which is known to be under discussion in the current Karabakh talks. Should there be a break-through, an international body will be asked to lead it. This is where the EU could step in. Peter Semneby again:
“We will be expected to make a major contribution when a solution is found, and we are looking into the possibilities we have, both in terms of post-conflict rehabilitation and also - if the parties should so desire - in terms of contributing peacekeepers. And possibly even leading a peacekeeping operation. I should mention that this is very hypothetical at this stage. This is only one of several options, but it’s one that is being considered.”
As to the two other Frozen Conflicts, Semneby emphasized at the Bucharest summit , that “these conflicts (…) are a direct issue in our relations with Russia. What I hope and believe is that we will be able to resolve the two conflicts in Georgia together with Russia, because I fundamentally believe that it is in Russia's interests to have stable neighbours along all its borders and neighbours with which it maintains pre-dictable and friendly relations.”
Comparing the case of Nagorno Karabakh with that of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the first seems to be easier solvable. In difference to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Nagorno Karabakh is a precisely defined territory with an overwhelming ethnic ma-jority. In addition, this conflict involves only two sides – the Karabakh-Armenian majority and Azerbaijan – whereas the two other conflicts include three sides or two states and a broke away sub-state entity: Russia, Georgia and South Ossetia or Abkhazia.
In all three cases an internationalisation took place, with the UN, the OSCE and in-creasingly the European Union being involved. All these bodies are interested in the regional political and economic stabilization of the region, albeit for different rea-sons. Which recommendations can be made in regards to a sustainable conflict set-tlement?
- First, check-book diplomacy can heal, to a relevant degree, the material losses and set-backs of the afflicted areas. But if the original reasons of the conflicts are not addressed to, there remains the danger of repetitive conflict situations. The conflicts, we are dealing with, are a) the lack of minority rights according to international standards, b) the historic experience of demographic proc-esses, of deportation and expulsion, which have led to minorization and the fear of being run-over by other ethnic groups, c) the political and administra-tive division of areas, which are predominantly inhabited by one and the same ethnic group. It seems logical, that the political leadership of the sub-state enti-ties must be included into the negotiations and peace process at all stages and levels.
- Secondly, the conflicts have uprooted hundred-thousands of people. These contingents of socially, culturally and economically dispossessed people can, in times of political crisis, easily be misused and misled as a potential of ethnic hate. If the integration of expulsed people or refugees into the receiving soci-ety fails, the danger of repeated ethnic conflicts remains. This problem in-cludes the internationally displaced population from areas, bordering war zones. In Armenia alone, the number of IDPs increased to 200,000 persons un-til 1994. Any conflict resolution has therefore to take into account the safe-guards for populations in border zones.
- Thirdly, the perception of the area as a bone of contest among various regional players is certainly justified. But it had also led to a mentality, which tends to put all the blame for political failures, mismanagement, oppression, or the in-flammation of ethnic hatred and aggressiveness on those players, particularly on Russia. This perception has developed into a serious obstacle to under-stand for the new independent states in the South-Caucasus to understand their own responsibility for their external relations and even more for their re-sponsibility for all parts of their populations. The awareness of such political responsibility for ones own domestic and foreign affairs is therefore a major pre-condition for a sustainable conflict settlement.