Since independence, ethno-territorial conflicts have inhibited social, economic, and political development in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Carnegie hosted a panel of non-governmental experts to discuss the impact of unresolved conflicts on states and societies in the South Caucasus. Christian Caryl, contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and senior fellow at the London-based Legatum Institute, moderated.

Conflict and Displacement in Georgia

  • Abkhazia: The Georgian government confuses its public by insisting that the conflict is not between Abkhazia and Georgia, but between Georgia and Russia, said Margarita Akhvlediani from Go Group Media in Tbilisi. She said the government has the habit of “declaring a goal and moving in the opposite direction.” Georgia’s policy towards the breakaway region has only reinforced Russia’s influence and stifled opportunities for Abkhaz youth to study abroad, she added.

  • Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s and August 2008 have created more than 250,000 IDPs, noted Archil Gegeshidze from the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi. Since 2010, the Georgian government has exacerbated the precarious situation of these IDPs through forced evictions from temporary shelters. Georgian nationalists have often used IDPs as objects of political manipulation in order to influence policymakers, he added.

  • Other Consequences: After the Rose Revolution of 2003, Georgia’s military build-up consumed an increasingly large share of the state budget, noted Gegeshidze. The conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia have also fueled an internal power struggle in Georgia and have provided government officials with a justification for backsliding on democratic reforms. Regional conflicts also deter foreign investors and prevent the South Caucasus from becoming an important international transit corridor, he concluded.

  • A New Approach: Georgian diplomacy towards Abkhazia has failed because it is focused on conflict settlement rather than conflict transformation, noted Akhvlediani. Echoing President John F. Kennedy’s famous phrase, she proposed a new approach to conflict resolution: “Think not what your opponent can do for you, but what you can do for your opponent.”  

Armenia and Azerbaijan – Bitter Neighbors

  • Nagorny Karabakh: The unresolved conflict over Nagorny Karabakh has “distorted development” and caused Armenia and Azerbaijan to focus on short-term survival rather than “long-term strategic vision,” noted Richard Giragosian from the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center. The Azerbaijani military has obtained offensive weapons and is using “military pressure for diplomatic leverage,” he said. He argued that militarization in both countries could result in “threat misperception” and lead to “war by accident.”

  • Azerbaijan: Although Azerbaijan lost the war with Armenia over Nagorny Karabakh, Ilgar Mammadov from the Baku-based Republicanist Alternative movement asserted that “Azerbaijan is winning the peace process,” while Armenia suffers from “self-isolation.” Giragosian suggested, contrary to the view of most Armenian experts, he believed that Azerbaijan’s membership in the United Nations Security Council is a positive development because it will hold Azerbaijan’s leadership to higher international standards.

  • Unilateral Concessions: In order to advance stalled negotiations, each party to the conflict could take unilateral steps towards its adversary to reduce tension and mistrust. Gegeshidze said that the Georgian government should put less emphasis on “de-occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a strategy and start to engage with the de facto administrations on the ground. Giragosian suggested that Armenia could withdraw snipers from the 1994 ceasefire line, de-militarize one of seven occupied territories in Azerbaijan, and establish a diplomatic “hotline” between Yerevan and Baku to avert a potential crisis. Azerbaijan, Mammadov said, could not stand in the way of the re-opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and appoint an official to negotiate directly with Karabakh Armenians who are absent from the peace process.