The South Caucasus and Its Neighborhood

The region of the South Caucasus is famous for its rich culture, and sadly, for numerous conflicts that sprung up as the Soviet Union was collapsing. Frustrated have been the hopes that after the initial spark of violence in the early 1990s, these conflicts would remain non-violent and “frozen” until sustainable peace was reached. In August 2008, bombs and shells ravaged the region, and this time around, not only Georgia, with South Ossetia, but also Russia openly engaged in violent confrontation. The tensions in the region of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict have also been on the rise. Not long before this publication was finalized, in April 2016, a round of intense clashes claimed the lives of dozens if not hundreds of Azerbaijanis and Armenians. On the other facet of the region, the long-awaited normalization between Turkey and Armenia did not take place either. The drastic deterioration of Russian-Turkish relations in late 2015 also adversely affected the South Caucasus and further demonstrated the fragility of the system of “unions” and “alliances” developed in the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The papers in this inaugural hard-copy issue of the Caucasus Edition – the Imagine Center’s Journal for Conflict Transformation examine how these conflicts shape the perception of the South Caucasus societies of themselves and the neighbors, how they influence political and economic relations, and how they affect the human rights of many groups. All papers presented here are the result of the joint work of social scientists, journalists, and policy analysts from the South Caucasus, Russia, and Turkey.

The first section presents a collection of papers reviewing and analyzing the web of political and  economic relationships in the South Caucasus and its neighborhood.

The first paper in the section by Gamaghelyan, Rumyansev, and Sayan highlights the results of dialogue programs carried out by the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation from 2007 onward. Particular emphasis is put on the analysis of the needs, fears, concerns, and hopes of the Turkish, Armenian, and Azerbaijani societies as understood and articulated by the participants of the dialogue initiatives and the lessons this analysis offers for conflict transformation work.

The paper by Gafarlı, Anapiosyan, Chapichadze, and Öztarsu presents the analytic review of the place of the South Caucasus in the complicated web of geopolitical relations that the countries of the region have with global and regional actors – the United States, the European Union, Turkey, Russia, and Iran.

Economic relations in the region and its neighborhood are the focus of the paper authored by Sayan, Gafarlı, Jijavadze, Muradyan, Öztarsu, and Romashov reviewing the impact of the conflicts on the development or stagnation in various spheres of economy, as well as on the systems of transnational economic projects and relationships. This topic is developed further by Gültekin Punsmann, Anjaparidze, Avetisyan, Chania, Romashov, and Shirinov who examine the isolationist policies of the actors in the South Caucasus vis à vis each other, as well as sanctions implemented by the bigger neighbors – Russia and Turkey.

The first section concludes with the paper by Abasov, Voronkov, Gamaghelyan, Huseynova, and Krikorova assessing the prospects of federalization and transnational integration in the South Caucasus as a mechanism of conflict resolution. The authors discuss the lessons learned from the past experiences of integrative processes, the feasibility and viability of federalizations on the state level or beyond as instruments of conflict resolution, and the prospects for such processes in the context of ongoing conflicts in the South Caucasus.

The second section of the publication is dedicated to the discussion of the rights of various groups in the South Caucasus and Turkey. The term “group” here does not imply rigid boundaries or homogeneity of its members based on ethnicity, gender, or culture. Instead, it is an attempt to analyze the official policies and public discourses that essentialize ethnic and other social groups and boundaries contributing to the emergence and reproduction of conflicts.

The first paper in this section by Abbasov, Delihuseyinoglu, Pipia, Rumyansev, and Sanamyan focuses on internal conflicts within states identifying the dynamics that has influenced the emergence of relations along an “ethnic groups” – “dominant groups” line. The authors try to shift the language of analysis from the reproduction of the hierarchical model of “majority” vs. “minority”. The criticism towards ranking the population of a country in that model exposes the practices of subordination of the citizen statuses based on their ethnicity. The authors analyze how these present-day hierarchical relations were shaped by the events that unfolded at the wake of the 20th century, specifically by the Soviet Nationalities Policy, the post-Soviet ethnonationalisms and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s nation-building endeavor.

This paper is seconded by Duygulu and Karapetyan who look at the prospects of conflict transformation and group rights as instruments of conflict transformation, within the framework of norms defined through international charters and covenants on human rights. The publication features also a paper by Bobghiashvili, Kharatyan, and Surmanidze on a specific case of policies aimed at addressing group rights in the South Caucasus – the secondary education in minority languages in Georgia, the current challenges, and the prospects for policy reform. Georgia has been chosen as the case study since it has made the most robust attempts at implementing minority rights legislations in the South Caucasus.

The forth paper of this section by Shahnazaryan, Movlud, and Badasyan focuses on the question of women’s equality. The authors take the readers to the roots of the “state feminism” of the Soviet Union starting from the 1920s and the path that female leadership, women’s political participation and involvement in the public sphere have taken since then. The authors track the influence of the Soviet legacy on the present-day relations, the contestation of the gender discourse between the feminist movements and the nationalist ideologies that appeal to traditions.

Editorial Team of the issue: Philip Gamaghelyan, Sevil Huseynova, Maria Karapetyan, Sergey Rumyansev

The South Caucasus and Its Neighborhood – From Politics and Economics to Group Rights, Caucasus Edition – July 2016, ISSN 2155-5478

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