Karabakh and Tbilisi: risks and challenges
Georgia’s reaction to the recent developments surrounding Karabakh was inadequate. The security threats that the country is facing is due to escalation of the ongoing Karabakh conflict and require a timely and serious response on the part of both Georgian leadership and the public.
These issues were the focus of a two-hour discussion entitled “Karabakh developments and Georgia, organized by JAMnews jointly with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, in Tbilisi.
The participants in the discussion were:
Elene Khoshtaria, Co-founder of Georgia’s Reforms Association (GRASS), Tbilisi;
Mamuka Areshidze, Head of the Caucasus Center for Strategic Studies, Tbilisi;
Tatul Hakobyan, an expert on Karabakh issues, Yerevan;
Shahin Rzayev, a reporter, Baku.
Gela Vasadze, a political analyst (Tbilisi), who moderated the session.
Russia’s engagement and possible change of the balance of powers in the region
Experts unanimously agree that there is no threat of Georgia’s involvement in the hostilities at this stage. Yet, there is another problem–Russia’s growing influence on Azerbaijan could change the balance of powers and is dangerous for Georgia.
Elene Khoshtaria, Tbilisi:
“At first, there were concerns about Russia’s possible participation in the conflict on the Armenian side. In that case, Georgia would have had to make a decision with regard to Gyumri (a military base). However, so far we could see completely different dynamics. Russian propaganda was not as hysterical and anti-Azerbaijani as expected. Russia started talking to Azerbaijan in an absolutely different tone, suggesting them to join the Eurasian Union and become a member in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in exchange the return of territories to Azerbaijan, adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh.
This posed a political threat–a tendency of Russian domination in Azerbaijan. In addition, it is noteworthy that this happened amidst Turkey’s relatively mild reaction and the passivity on part of the USA and the EU.
Mamuka Areshidze, Tbilisi:
«I did not expect any hostilities in the territory of Georgia, but I expected some subversive acts. Though the active phase of the conflict has “died down, I think there still is the probability of a diversion.
The major danger for Georgia would have been a serious pause in international projects, such as: TRACECA, Silk Road…it would have caused a reduction in investments and would have delivered a serious blow to the country’s economy and destabilized the political situation.
Shahin Rzayev, Baku:
“Russia has certainly become more active with regard to Azerbaijan. What Russia suggests is to return part of the lands to Azerbaijan in exchange for deployment of Russian troops in its territory. The majority of people in Azerbaijan are against such a scenario-we are well-aware what the deployment of the Russian troops may lead to, as was the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For Azerbaijan that would be equalivalent to losing Karabakh once and for all.
However, Azerbaijani authorities are not ready to be categorical with Russia. Moreover, certain changes in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in favor of Russia could be observed. Although Aliyev recently visited Washington, which means that he is not going to agree to the Russian scenario for the time being. There may be a bargain, which is also dangerous.
Georgia as a mediator
Georgia has neither the tools nor resources to become a mediator and influence the conflicting parties. However, it can offer the mediators its territory as a venue for regular discussions. Being a country with the closest links to the European Union in the region, Georgia can make more efforts in order to get the EU engaged in the resolution process. The only question is-will Armenia trust Georgia as a mediator?
«Georgia should stress its significance in the region, closely watch the processes as a mediator and occupy a righteous place in the infosphere».
«In my opinion, from its own security perspective, Georgia’s primary task is to ensure that the European Union is more actively engaged in the resolution process. For example, it would have been good if the Georgian Foreign Minister had travelled to Brussels on the very first day of the escalation of conflict, held the meetings there and explained to the EU officials that their involvement was important at that very moment rather than post factum.
Tatul Hakobyan, Yerevan:
“Nothing gets in the way of organization of meetings in Tbilisi, though Georgia’s role in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict could have been far more positive if Tbilisi had not unilaterally recognized the territorial integrity of Soviet Azerbaijan.
The EU and some other countries also support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, but their stance with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh’s legal status is not so unequivocal.
On the other hand, Georgia is a country where Armenians and Azerbaijanis are living side by side. There are villages in Kvemo Kartli, where they are neighbors. Thus, Georgia has some experience in mediation. It is quite understandable that Azerbaijan is an important country for Georgia, but stability in the Caucasus also depends on Georgian-Armenian relations.
Risks for Georgia, as a country densely populated by ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis
Ethnic Armenians make up 6% of Georgia’s population and the Azeri community is almost the same size. So, what is Tbilisi supposed to do to prevent domestic disturbances?
Ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis residing in Georgia maintained a rather dignified position during those days (of the escalation of conflict), and that is due to a slowly continuing integration process. Considerable investments (and not just financial ones) have been made in that endeavor over the past few years.
However, it does not mean that there is no problem. The security services should be vigilant, operating in a permanent monitoring mode, so as not to miss anything. In fact, there is a threat.
Secondly, communication is of vital importance. The authorities should provide their citizens with information in the language they understand. 15-minute programs on the Public Broadcaster are absolutely not enough. The regions that are densely populated by ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis are fed Russian propaganda, and that is a great problem.