Intra-and Inter-Societal Sources of Instability in the Caucasus and EU Opportunities to Respond
We deliver three relevant products for EU policy formulation: We analyse and map emerging conflicts of local, regional and international dimensions and highlight crucial actors and mechanisms. We elaborate on scenarios concerning potential future security developments. We give concise policy recommendations on opportunities for the EU to influence conflict solution and long-term stability in the Caucasus societies and the whole region.
ISSICEU disseminates the findings as follows: policy briefs; expert workshops in relevant EU agencies and for stakeholders in EU countries and the Caucasus; a scenario-workshop at the final stage.
ISSICEU explores intra-societal frictions and their regional impact in the political regimes focussing mainly on dynamics of communal governance; the interplay of religious and state actors and practices of civic participation. We analyse inter-societal sources of (in)stability regarding economic dependencies; political and societal relations between the Caucasus and neighbourhood states.
ISSICEU makes comparative analyses across sub-regions and studies aspects of inter-societal relations. We consider the historical and contemporary ties among the societies. We study the Caucasus in its diversity and cohesiveness. Cases are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Chechnya. In the neighbourhood we focus on Turkey and Iran.
ISSICEU takes theory-informed, interdisciplinary and strongly inductive approaches, able to adequately identify phenomena as they manifest themselves in the region and to give innovative policy recommendations.
UNIVERSITAET ST. GALLEN
9000 St Gallen
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
€ 340 956,55
Dirk Lehmkuhl (Prof.)
Sort by EU Contribution
UNIVERSITE DE FRIBOURG
€ 101 198,45
STIFTUNG WISSENSCHAFT UND POLITIK
€ 308 358,40
TURKIYE EKONOMI POLITIKALARI ARASTIRMA VAKFI
€ 104 029,40
€ 221 015,55
KABARDINO-BALKARIAN STATE UNIVERSITY NAMED AFTER KH M BERBEKOV
€ 193 608,75
STATE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION OF HIGHER PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION RUSSIANSTATE UNIVERSITY FOR THE HUMANITIES
€ 135 708,80
ANKARA POLITIKAR MERKEZI
€ 169 082
Grant agreement ID: 613004
1 January 2014
31 December 2016
€ 2 165 173,85
€ 1 573 957,90
UNIVERSITAET ST. GALLEN
Scenarios of instability in the Caucasus
Grant agreement ID: 613004
1 January 2014
31 December 2016
€ 2 165 173,85
€ 1 573 957,90
UNIVERSITAET ST. GALLEN
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Final Report Summary - ISSICEU (Intra-and Inter-Societal Sources of Instability in the Caucasus and EU Opportunities to Respond)
ISSICEU studied newly emerging and hardly considered sources of stability and instability in the Caucasus, a fragmented and conflict-prone region in the EU neighbourhood. The consortium of 8 universities and think tanks from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Turkey, Germany and Switzerland combined deductive and inductive research inspired by methods of economics, political sciences, the study of religion, anthropology, sociology and geography to pursue innovative research.
The 25 scholars, first, analysed factors, actors, institutions and mechanisms causing or mitigating conflict and, secondly, evaluated how the EU may address these. In focus were frictions at the local level of the Caucasus societies; civic participation practices and discourse; influence of societal players from Turkey and Iran on civic participation; economic dependencies, their origins and implications; and Turkey’s and Iran’s Caucasus policy.
ISSICEU highlights that tensions over resources and power at local level are on the rise due to the recent economic crisis. The societies lack governance mechanisms that efficiently mediate between people and the state. The dominant central rule undermines formal and informal societal bodies which could act as mediator and avoid destabilizing conflict. External actors should strengthen efforts to foster de facto local self-governance and civil society.
Civil society promotion needs to consider that government and societal actors often associate instability not stability with Civil Society Organisations (CSO). To avoid hostile responses CSOs should primarily be supported in the context of sectoral cooperation. Vivid civic participation in form of neighbourhood-help is characteristic in the Caucasus. It may build a basis for developing mechanisms of participation in decision-making and interaction with the state.
North and south of the Caucasus are linked by flows of people, cultural values, trade and capital. These links have stabilizing effect for the region, but are weak and underdeveloped. They should be promoted by widening the focus of assistance projects from the South Caucasus to the entire region. Diaspora groups are crucial neighbourhood actors. Abkhaz, Armenian, Azerbaijani or Georgian diaspora act in support of economic prosperity, but also tend to strengthen radical stances, e.g. on the secessionist conflicts.
The secessionist conflicts in the Caucasus are not frozen. Changing economic parameters in Azerbaijan and Armenia create uncertainty which increases the likeliness of military escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey cannot be directly involved in conflict mediation. But it may enhance regional security by balancing extreme foreign political positions in the framework of the trilateral security alliance with Georgia and Azerbaijan. After the lifting of the sanctions Iran may contribute to stability by economic engagement.
A topical discussion is the South Caucasus countries’ foreign trade orientation towards Russia or the EU. This orientation builds rather on geopolitical considerations than on a sound economic basis. Contradicting political and economic actions may have destabilizing effect. This should be considered in the EU’s trade relations with the Caucasus.
ISSICEU, finally, points out that “stability” is a too ambivalent concept to be employed in policies towards the Caucasus. The EU needs to understand that the goal of ‘stability’ may conflict, rather than align, with democratic and market development.
Project Context and Objectives:
1.1. General Objective and Consortium
ISSICEU studied security and democratisation processes in the Caucasus, a fragmented and conflict prone region in the EU neighbourhood. The project mapped emerging conflicts but also sources of stability in the Caucasus. The geographic focus included the South Caucasus states Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, the North Caucasus Republics of the Russian Federation Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Dagestan, North Ossetia and Chechnya, and the the unrecognised de facto states Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We also studied the role of the neighbouring Iran and Turkey.
The international consortium was composed to include researchers from the Caucasus, the region’s immediate neighbourhood and from the Western academic community in the EU and beyond. With this rationale 8 universities and think tanks from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia (Kabardino-Balkaria and Moscow), Turkey, Germany and Switzerland participated in the consortium. It included associated scholars from Iran and Armenia.
1.2. Research Ambitions and Relevance
ISSICEU researched sources of instability but also stability in the Caucasus with the ambition to contribute to an alternative and more adequate framing of security-related developments in this neighbourhood region of the European Union.
The Caucasus is a region marked by multifaceted diversity. It comprises numerous ethno-linguistic groups with Caucasian, Slavic, Iranian and Turkish roots and more than 100 different languages. Various orthodox, apostolic and other Christian confessions as well as Muslim traditions shape the region. The former Soviet republics established varying political regimes with neo-patrimonial and often authoritarian features. Diverging historical experiences in the Caucasus entities are the fundament for qualitatively different bonds to players in the region and beyond.
In history but also in the immediate past this diversity triggered tensions and conflict. Most prominent is the secessionism in Georgia and Azerbaijan. While secessionist ambitions in Adjara, now an Autonomous Republic in Georgia, have been settled, in the case of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh secessionism resulted in unsettled conflicts and the emergence of de facto statehood. The conflicts, in particular Nagorno-Karabakh, keep being shaken by violent incidents. Also widely discussed are conflicts triggered by Russia’s approach to the region. The international academic and policy-making community is also well aware of the repressions civil society activists face from the authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan. Overall the Caucasus is perceived as a landscape that is fragmented not only in geographic but also in social terms.
The debate on the Caucasus as sketched above operated with a number of blind spots which ISSICEU addressed. Scholars paid little attention to conflicts emerging besides the above mentions main lines. Also, little work was done on social cohesion within and among the Caucasus societies and its potential to contribute to stability. What is more, debates usually treat the North and the South Caucasus separately, creating the impression that there is little link between the two parts of the region. Another shortcoming is that the Caucasus is mainly studied in the framework of geopolitical narratives treating developments in the region as a result of the concert of external rather than internal powers. In response to these blind spots ISSICEU focussed not only on conflict but also on factors of stability, not only on fragmentation but also on cohesion in the individual societies and the entire region, and understood dynamics in the Caucasus as a result of intra-regional dynamics and of interactions with neighbours beyond Russia.
1.3. General Research Objectives
The core objectives of ISSICEU can be summarised in the three clusters “basic research”, “forecast” and “policy oriented output”. Basic research pursued the aims:
• to engage in qualitatively high and original research that helps grasping the Caucasus as a region in its diversity and cohesiveness looking from historical, economic, political, geographical, anthropological and social perspectives;
• to provide an on-spot analysis of emerging ‘hot spots’ of security challenges in the Caucasus. For doing so, ISSICEU maps emerging (non-violent and violent) conflicts of local, regional, national and international dimension and clusters them according to the social, economic, political, military and cultural roots;
• to identify crucial actors and mechanisms of conflicts and their potential reconciliation
The ISSICEU consortium committed itself to the following forecast and policy oriented output objectives:
• to highlight how intra- and inter-societal dynamics potentially change stability and instability with regard to political regimes and civil society, economic developments and influences from the neighbourhood;
• to provide succinct policy recommendations on opportunities for the EU to foster prosperity, conflict solution and long-term stability in the individual Caucasus societies and the whole region;
• to disseminate the findings of the project to EU and national policy makers, international academia and the wider public.
1.4. Specific Research Objectives
Basic research was conducted on political regimes (WP1), civil society (WP2), economic dependencies (WP3), neighbourhood (WP4) with the following objectives.
Political Regimes: Local Governance:
• to study stability of the political regimes established in the Caucasus by:
• mapping frictions in the political regimes of the Caucasus states and de facto states at local level;
• exploring the impact of hybridity, that is the interplay of adopted democratic institutions and persisting domestic ones, on the accommodation of social conflicts at communal level;
• exploring the interplay of the wider society, NGOs and state agencies with respect to its mediating or confrontational function;
• provide a picture of actors and domestic practices that alter, avert or intensify democratisation processes.
• to research patterns of civic participation and their impact on democratic change and opportunities for the EU to efficiently support civil society development by:
• inquiring into attitudes towards and practices of civic participation;
• tracing back the origins of these attitudes and practices;
• analysing the influence of societal organisation (NGOs, religious or ethnic organisations) from the region and beyond on civic participation patterns.
• to identify how economic (inter)dependencies relate to matters of stability and security in the Caucasus and to explore options for the EU as economic actor in the Caucasus by:
• spelling out core economic flows among the sub-regions of the Caucasus, and regional, but also extra-regional powers;
• studying the impact of the core external incomes of the Caucasus entities on the secessionist conflicts;
• exploring how these flows contribute to intra-societal conflicts over the access to resources and power positions;
• pinpointing unintended effects of financial flows from the EU and EU member states.
• to spell out emerging influences from the neighbourhood on the stability of the Caucasus by:
• mapping political and economic relations between Turkey and the Caucasus entities;
• discussing how Turkey´s relations with Russia and Iran influence Turkey´s Caucasus policy;
• exploring the role of societal players from Turkey and Iran in the Caucasus;
• recommending how the EU could coordinate the Caucasus policy with regional players such as Turkey;
• suggesting options for the EU to respond to emerging critical influences from the wider region.
Policy oriented and forecast output was generated in particular in the work on interplay of sources of instability in the Caucasus (WP5) but also as part of the general dissemination activities in WP 1-4.
Interplay of sources of instability in the Caucasus:
• to explore the impact of the sources of (in)stability identified in WP1-4 across the region and to identifying new focal points of EU policies by:
• specifying threats to stability in the individual Caucasus societies;
• discussing the impact of destabilising dynamics in one Caucasus society on other societies;
• discuss future implications for political regimes, civic participation, economic dependencies and the neighbourhood.
• to translate the research findings into policy recommendations on:
• how democratisation programmes of the EU can adequately address local governance issues in the Caucasus and repercussions of external “good governance” promotion;
• how to support the strengthening of the observed patterns of civil society;
• unintended effects of external support for civil society organisation;
• unintended effects of financial flows from the EU and EU member states;
• how the EU could coordinate the Caucasus policy with regional players such as Turkey;
• options for the EU to respond to emerging critical influences from the wider region;
• how to improve the EU´s impact in the Caucasus.
1. Political Regimes: Local Governance
The research on local governance was motivated by the observation that state-society conflicts often emerge over tensions regarding developments at the local level. It is important to map lines of conflict and to grasp the resilience of the political regimes, if we want to understand the destabilizing or stabilizing potential of local dynamics. With this ambition ISSICEU first explored the formal institutions of local governance and their interplay with national government institutions. We, secondly, mapped lines of conflict in this interplay and studied how they contribute to frictions between citizens and state agencies. Finally, the researchers took a look at the capacity of NGOs to act as mediator between state and society.
Case Studies: Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, unrecognised de facto state Nagorno-Karabakh
Common to all Caucasus entities are conflicts between local communities and central governments caused by the neglect of local interests and needs in local development decisions. Formal institutions at local level lack capacities to mediate. Resilience is produced by hybrid institutional settings in which formal state institutions interplay with traditional societal institutions. Situations of economic crisis may, however, erode this system. So far, NGOs have little capacities to act as mediator as various actors in the Caucasus societies associate them rather with instability.
National governments have in the early 2000s introduced local self-governance systems, in form of directly elected municipalities, in the North and in the South Caucasus. These vary across the republics and countries, but largely orient at the model promoted by the council of Europe. However, the implementation of this system has stalled. The North Caucasus was affected by a general turn back towards a central system of rule at the federal level of Russia. Azerbaijan has never been eager to cease central control of local politics. In Armenia but also in Georgia, the flagship of democratic transition in the Caucasus, actors in favour of centralised rule dominated and marginalised de-centralisation efforts. Since the early 2000s all parts of the Caucasus repeatedly worked on reforming the legal basis of local governance towards more local self-governance. This has so far had little effect for the de facto rule at the local level.
The local level is rather governed by patterns of institutional hybridity. The most important sources are formal and informal institutions of the currently established political regimes in most cases with strong authoritarian features, institutions inherited from Soviet times, traditional forms of societal organisations with roots in religion, clan structures and neighbourhood cohesion, and, finally, the recently introduced formal institutions that in consolidated Western democracies enhance people´s participation in local affairs. This hybridity takes different shapes which vary across the republics and countries but also within these entities. Research in the North Caucasus has identified four key models.
In model A state institutions penetrate the local level and dominate local developments, while traditional institutions are weak but still exist. The state with actors and institutions from federal and republic level thus rule not only formally but also de facto. This is the case in Chechnya.
Model B is the opposite case. Traditional institutions dominate and marginalise state institutions. The latter are reduced to formal institutions without significant impact. The pattern can be observed in remote villages in the Caucasus Mountains.
In model C the federal level has formally delegated significant governance powers to formal actors at the local level. However, the delegation has been done inconsistently and the legal provisions are ambiguous. In consequence, the local communities cannot act independently but still strongly depend on the federal or republic level. This constrains the agency of the community and its ability to operate based on the formal laws and traditional practices. Model C applies to the majority of the local communities studied.
Model D can be observed in a few number of municipalities in Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia, but also in Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Here the power of local institutions is strong. The local community is able to make use of the ambiguous formal local self-governance regulations and, thus, gains strength and power to influence the local development by not only relying on traditional but also formal local self-governance institutions.
Model C is what can be mainly found in the South Caucasus. Local self-governance institutions exist, but their interplay with formal and informal institutions that characterise the political regimes in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia alters their function and turns them into institutions that support rather than change the logic of the established post-Soviet regimes. The principle to avoid people’s participation in local governance remains strong. Local self-governance institutions have to act in an ambivalent legal environment, with little competences and insufficient funding for performing their duties. The bodies can, so far, only gain some strengths if they operate in collaboration with central government bodies which means that they implement top-down formulated policies rather than shape decisions.
Moreover, the introduction of these weak local self-governance bodies creates support for central rather than decentral rule in the population. In particular in rural areas they weaken ambitions for participation. Such effect is caused by various factors. On the one hand the failure of local self-governments to perform induces people to prefer central governments. The latter often also fail to perform to the benefit of people, for example by providing sufficient access to public goods. But people know that the central government is able to do so, if there is political will for doing so. On the other hand, especially in Armenia, tend to accept the following trade of: if a community strives to have a say on its developments, the elected self-government needs to support the authority of central players at regional level and implement central policies in their municipality. Finally, citizens who are not integrated into the social and political life in the centre of their countries often lack knowledge about their formal rights for participation in local affairs created by these institutions. In some cases the introduction of the new local self-governments caused confusion about the “right” authorities to appeal to. This increases peoples´ passivity even if local issues get pressing.
This hybridity is a source of conflict, especially if one component is dominant. This is, for example, the case in the North Caucasus when it comes to interventions at local level by the federal government through development programmes. The example revealed a generally rather conflictive relation between the central authorities and established local authorities or practices of rule. The severity of tensions between the central state powers and local actors depends on the degree to which the former are able to actually penetrate the communal level. Another significant factor is how many resources the central state authorities have at their disposal. In situations where the state authorities had sufficient power to efficiently interfere into local processes and had strong investment resources conflicts with local actors tended to be high. In regions with low efficiency of state and high degree of corruption, subsidization has led to the development of "budget economy" on paper and stirs less conflict. The research has shown that the degree of conflict does more depend on power of central authorities to ignore traditional authorities and solutions than on geographical or ethno-cultural characteristics of the target society. This insight challenges a common assumption on the sources of conflict.
As already indicated local developments in the South Caucasus are shaped by a hybridity in which one component is dominant – the central authorities. A significant source of conflict is the common neglect of local needs by the ruling elites which includes insufficient access to public goods such as potable and irrigation water supply, sewage infrastructure, waste management, electricity and gas supply, transport grids but also health and education infrastructure. Formal institutions provide little resilience in the vertical dimension of the political regime. The weak local governance and self-governance institutions are not capable to negotiate citizens’ and governments’ interests in emerging conflicts. Citizens also have little formal access to central government bodies. Thus, the population needs to express their dissatisfaction in rather open conflict with the government, via public protests for example, which often face repressions from central authorities and therefore easily gain destabilising dynamics. Hybridity, however, may increase the resilience. This is for instance the case when hybrid institutions strongly reflect both societal institutions embedded in local traditions but also in state authority. The case samples showed only very few examples for such a situation. Rather the contrary was the case in the North Caucasus. The state intervention in form of development programmes were able to improve the socio-economic situation in the target communities by a better supply of energy and increased social security. They were, however, hardly able to contribute to long-term sustainable development as they did not involve established local governance institutions. The programmes often destructed key traditional local institutions such as institutions for environment management and conflict resolution. The weakness of local institutions is usually compensated by top-down state interventions. However, new financial and market-oriented mechanisms which support a sustainable development are vulnerable to such interventions. In some cases, the state intervention worked unintendedly towards are more “compromise-based” hybridity. Some local communities responded to state interference by introducing or strengthening democratic tools at local level, such as allowing for competition in local elections or increasing the de facto relevance of formal regulations and laws.
Another source of resilience is produced by the reliance on informal mechanisms for gaining access to powerful (state and non-state) local actors and the concentration on societal mechanisms of (neighbourhood or family) self-help allow citizens in peripheral areas in the capital but also in minor towns and villages to improve their access to public goods. A cut of these informal mechanisms, as it happened in the anti-corruption campaign and legal reform in Georgia in the 2000s, may decrease citizens´ ability to improve their situation. To mitigate state-society conflicts this system requires a certain degree of resources in the hands of the population. Thus, it loses power in situations of economic crisis.
Formalised civil society organisations like NGOs are more relevant in the South than in the North Caucasus. But even in the South Caucasus they have limited power to act as mediator between state and society. One of the reasons for this is related to the pattern in which CSOs have emerged in the recent, post-Soviet history. A study on civil society in Azerbaijan and Georgia comes to the following conclusion. The protest movements against the Soviet regime, from which the civil society emerged, were driven by the desire to revive national statehood. The reform movements in the Central East European states, in contrast, concentrated on regime change and democratic consolidation. The national agenda let civil society actors in the post-Soviet space become additional resources in the political struggle for power. Thus, their designation was perceived as contributory factor in seizing or maintenance of the political power not just demanding democratic consolidation for societal reforms and stability. As observed already by Gramsci for Russia, the tendency was towards the dissolution of civil society into the political community. The government sought the loyalty of non-governmental organisations, and the political opposition sought to attract NGO resources to their political plans. In such circumstances the observation of Schmitter holds true that civil society rather acted towards performing as a tool of government structures or a vehicle to induce social unrest, than operated in compliance with the existing legislation. This shaped the understandings of the role of civil society by various actors in the society. It created mistrust among citizens and governments and religious organisations towards civil society organisations.
Among the analysed cases is, however, one case in Azerbaijan, the country where civil society organisations are met with enormous scepticism, where citizens and civil society successfully acted towards shaping government policies. We refer here to the participation of NGOs in initiatives related to the transparency of oil revenues. NGOs and individual citizens have had common goals and values that united them in public awareness activities. The example indicates that civil society in the South Caucasus countries can and should transform into a factor of political stability.
2. Civil Society
Civil society development in the Caucasus lacks behind the expectations of Western and of some domestic actors and analysts. This motivated ISSICEU to get a better understanding of civil society in this region by approaching it from an alternative perspective; one that concentrates not only on NGOs, but also on religious civil society actors and identifies a wider set of patterns of civic participation. The researchers spelled out the civil society landscape formed by the various actors and discussed its power to mitigate conflicts and work towards democratic change. The project further paid interest into influences of external actors from Turkey and Iran on civil society developments.
Case Studies: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, unrecognised de facto state Abkhazia, North Caucasus Republics Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia
NGOs have in the North and South Caucasus still little power to work towards incremental democratic changes. The agendas of national revival which they had adopted in the early 1990s and their struggle for political power discredits NGOs as sources of instability rather than stability in the eyes of the ruling elites, but also of religious CSOs and the population. In the North Caucasus non-formalised traditional civil society actors have more power. An important pattern of civic participation is family and neighbourhood support which roots in attitudes of thick trust. Only in the North Caucasus such patterns of civic participation are directly linked with informal affiliation with religious organisations and attitudes. Indirect and to a lesser degree direct influences from Iran and Turkey matter in the dynamics of the civil society landscape.
With regard to the civil society actors that are commonly in focus, NGOs, the research concludes that as of today these actors are stronger in the South than in the North Caucasus. Characteristic for the latter are traditional self-regulatory community mechanisms. The South Caucasus countries rather have a landscape of CSOs registered as legal entities. These, however, receive rather little trust of the population, governments and other civil society actors like churches. As a consequence, they hardly have the power to work towards incremental democratic change. The varying developments in the South and in the North Caucasus have similar roots as the following paragraph will show.
The prototype of civil society in the Caucasus are the protesters that initiated the breakdown of the Soviet Union. These protests were rather the beginning of a process of national consolidation than of democratic consolidation. The protestors unified for a revival of the national culture, denying Soviet efforts to replace national identity and sovereignty with a homogenous Soviet culture and society. This had at least two long-term consequences. The national narratives allowed members of the Soviet elite to gain positions in the elite of the newly independent nation states. The new elite therefore did not experience a cultural and political transformation comprehensive enough to create indeed a new relationship between state authorities and people. In both the South and the North Caucasus a vivid landscape of NGOs with an agenda of national revival emerged and played a vivid role in politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. Given the collapsed power structures in the post-Soviet space civil society actors emerging from these anti-Soviet and new national movements often sought for political power, in order to implement their national agenda, rather than for collaboration with the government in power. A consequence is that the political elites perceive CSOs as threats to their rule and intruder in their authority over public policy. The ways of dealing with this perception strongly diverge in the individual Caucasus entities.
In the North Caucasus it led to sever actions from the Russian federal state, especially during the last decade. By means of formal legal initiatives and informal mechanisms, state authorities almost ousted the organisations and marginalized them in the political processes. NGOs were co-opted (Shogenov et al. 2014) or served ruling and business elites as instruments to protect particular interests such as the protection of businesses.
In the South Caucasus, in particular in Georgia and Armenia, NGOs have more freedom. But even there the changing governments used to demonstrate different attitudes to civil society organisations. By stick and carrot policies they interfered in the development of the civil society landscape. Azerbaijan with its restrictive approach has taken a significantly different path. Increasing concerns among the ruling elites about NGO activities have resulted in legal restrictions on foreign funding and activated the government work to regulate civic work. An effect of this policy is that legitimate activities and institutional frames of civic activism are unclear, which creates a challenge for all actors of political processes in the Caucasus.
It is noteworthy that not only ruling elites but also other civil society actors and the population also meet NGOs with limited trust. This is caused by the fact that NGOs in the early 1990s pursued an agenda of national revival. The nationalist agendas have strengthened societal cleavages and cultivated national conflicts. In the North Caucasus it was the ethnic mobilisation that attracted great support to NGOs in the 1990s and early 2000s. Therefore many people in the North Caucasus associate NGOs with the period of political instability where the republics were about to be divided into mono-ethnic entities. Similarly negative images have NGOs in the eyes of many in the South Caucasus where nationalist conflicts have turned violent in the 1990s and continue doing so today.
In the South Caucasus the religious civil society actors, mainly the Georgian Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic Churches, also contribute to discrediting the image of NGOs. The Georgian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, also strongly engaged in the “national projects”. The Georgian Orthodox Church acts at times in line with and at times in opposition to the government. Most importantly, it provides a national identity discourse which the overwhelming majority of the religious Georgian population accepts as “the real national narrative”. This discourse is in strong opposition to the discourse of liberal European values promoted by many secular CSOs. The Armenian Apostolic Church and the national governments have, actually, merged their resources in state and nation building processes based on the patterns dictated by the national government. As civil society actor in support of the government, the church increases the line of conflict within the CSO landscape.The rather negative attitude of the churches towards secular CSOs increases mistrust vis-à-vis NGOs in the population, since Georgians and Armenians have a strong identification with the church. This effect is more significant in Georgia than in Armenia. In the North Caucasus religious organisations play a minor role as formal civil society actors. Open and formal association with religious bodies and practices has only limited importance.
The research concludes that NGOs in the Caucasus are still far from assuming a role as vehicle of stability and irrevocable partnership with the state. Its scope of assisting incremental change is limited. This applies especially to the North Caucasus and Azerbaijan, to Armenia but also to Georgia. As long as the conflicting perceptions of CSOs prevail civil society actors will hardly gain the freedom from state officials, trust from the society, incentives for adjusting their agenda towards partnership with the state rather than opposition which are necessary for acting towards incremental rather than radical change.
A more promising picture emerges if we consider non formalised civil society actors in the North Caucasus. These are grass root initiatives such as traditional forms of local conflict resolution or of environment protection. Such civil society actors are present in all North Caucasus entities. Research shows that they have less capacity to resolve societal conflicts in Kabardino-Balkaria than in Karachaeyevo-Cherkessia. Alternative forms of civic organisation, including meetings of the local communities, informally acting community elders, receive significantly more active support than NGOs. These institutions are especially in Karachayevo-Cherkessia an important source of negotiating or accommodating conflict between state and society and efficiently solve the most urgent local public problems. They act in a manner that aims at incremental rather than radical government or regime change.
The impact of religious attitudes and values on civic participations seems to be higher in the North than in the South Caucasus. While, as mentioned above, formal affiliation with religious organisations is rare in the North Caucasus, religion is an important mobilising factor for civic participation. Religious groupings, for example, take over the task of generating physical safety. In some villages, members of local religious groups informally patrolling streets to prevent violations of public security and morality, such as drinking alcohol in public places. The members wear symbolic outfits which are supposed to signal that violation of the rules is inadmissible as in their presence.
Religion also penetrates state and business. There are networks and groups of trust among officials of different levels. Two main reasons of networking and joining to them are observed in both republics: 1) to support informal religious business networks at lower horizontal levels, and 2) to provide security including in physical terms for the network members. Having in mind the high corruption and low general trust in the Republics, such networks seem to be more competitive in business thanks to the high social capital shared their members. Apart from the small ventures religious networks cover such profitable directions as construction business. In such cases the networks are supported and lobbied by the members holding official statuses in the Republican governance structures. Religious attitudes and organisations seem to encourage people to takeover tasks, such as security generation, that are usually considered as tasks of the state. In this regard it increases civic participation. It also reduces conflict between state and business actors and promotes economic development to a certain degree. The fact, however, that the created effect is an in-group effect and creates competition with other groups may destabilise the society in the long run.
In the South Caucasus, religious attitudes and networks do not particularly encourage any form of civic participation. In the case of Azerbaijan governmental control and pressure on Islamic organisations can be assumed to block the channels through which religious social capital could be translated into any visible forms of participation – not just radical but also civil forms. As outlined above, religious organisations in Georgia and Armenia rather negatively affect the reputation of NGOs. Beyond this little linkage between religious values and the key form of civic participation can be traced. The key pattern of civic participation is, what the ISSICEU researchers call “thick trust”. That is trust in the immediate social environment (family and neighbours) which encourages mutual help, including material support and joint actions for family and neighbourhood members. This form of self-organisation steps in for building crucial infrastructure and establishing a social security network which are not provided by the state.
Dynamics in the CSO landscape are also shaped by direct and indirect influences from the neighbours Iran and Turkey. The increasingly authoritarian political regime in Azerbaijan has, as mentioned above, since the early 2000s introduced strong mechanisms of control over religion. The control is justified by the international rise of militant Islam and the potential alliance of radical Islam with political opposition. Such undesired influence is argued to come amongst others from Iran. As of today, Azerbaijan has successfully stopped the financial flows from Iran to this kind of organisations but also to Shia communities in general. Iranian organisations are therefore today not active in Azerbaijan’s civil society. As they have been relevant from the early 1990s to the early 2000s they nevertheless strongly affected the religious field in Azerbaijan in the following way. Preachers and leaders of Iranian influenced Shia groups are more educated compared to average preachers and leaders of other Islamic groups which are integrated into the state controlled system of Islamic communities. The groups with some Iranian influence are therefore more distinct, visible and ideologically more straightforward in their self-understanding. Shia groups in general are popular. They act as quasi civil society actors because they deal with religious and local political needs. Among these groups, those with Iranian influence are most popular and most active.
Influences from Turkey on the Georgian civil society are also discussed in the frame of undesired Muslim influences. This is especially relevant an Adjara, the autonomous republic with a Muslim population. However, their relevance is not necessarily always anchored in the scale of actual activities of these Turkish actors. Its importance rather rests in the way Georgian state or civil society actors frame them on a discursive level and draw on potential threat scenarios. The matter of the Turkish influence became topical when religious NGO activities in Adjara have provoked tensions at the local level. The Georgian Orthodox Church as well as some political parties talked of growing Turkish influence which they have met with harsh criticism Against this background the local Muslim population itself is wary of Muslim influences from Turkey. The opacity of funding sources mostly outside formal CSOs has served as a pre-text for provoking suspicion or even tensions. The matter of Turkish influence becomes topical once in a while, during elections or in protests against establishment or operation of madrasa schools.
Georgian citizens with education in Turkey often also directly make an impact on civil society after their return to Adjara. They engage in NGOs or found new NGOs most of which have involved Islamic education activities. Others construct prayer houses in the rural regions of Adjara. Some Turkey-educated Muslims are critical of the Georgian-wide government-instituted Spiritual Board of Muslims, established in 2011 and regard the Spiritual Board of Muslims as an instrument of the government to exert control over the religious field. These tensions have partly been smoothed by the Turkey educated Mufti of Western Georgia, when he took office in 2015. Several other Turkey-educated young people now conduct their educational activities within the Muftiate.
There are some charity activities of Turkish-backed NGOs. These are, however, rather presented as philanthropy of individual actors than a product of the collective Georgian diaspora in Turkey. It can, in general, be concluded that the Turkish diaspora is scattered and fragmented and exerts its influence hardly in the form of collective and concerted efforts.
3. Economic Dependencies
Economic dependencies within the Caucasus and, more importantly, on actors outside the region are crucial factors in the socio-economic and political developments of the Caucasus. ISSICEU took off to critically study the dimension of foreign trade dependencies and its impact, in particular, on dynamics of the secessionist conflicts. The research has considered economic flows on macro and micro level. Another ambition was to explore economic links between the North and the South in order to evaluate their impact on stability in the region.
Case Studies: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, unrecognised de facto states Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, North Caucasus Republic North Ossetia
Overall, patterns of economic dependencies have changed, but the Caucasus remains strongly dependent on economic flows to and from the former Soviet space. Officially not registered trade ties between Turkey and the de facto states, but also in the Georgia-Turkish border region stabilise the involved Caucasus societies. The Caucasus countries’ foreign trade policy tends to be driven by geopolitical rather than economic considerations, which may cause tensions. With regard to the secessionist conflicts it is noteworthy that changing parameters of outside flows to Azerbaijan (oil rents) and Armenia (aid from Russia) increase the likeliness of escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh. In Abkhazia trade with Turkey appears to strengthen the de facto state. Relations between the North and the South of the Caucasus appear to be in decline which undermines their potential to stabilise the region.
The macro-level analysis of research flows to and from the South Caucasus highlights that they continue to be dependent on other actors in the former Soviet space but also on one another to a surprisingly high degree. With regard to Armenia it is commonly acknowledged that the country is dependent on Russia. However, the political role of the Russia-based diaspora in that account and the importance of Armenia`s dependence on Georgia are often understated. Georgia has appeared to diversify its exports, sources of finance and remittances. But it has often only diversified to other countries which are in-turn dependent on Russia. Azerbaijan seems to be the most independent, but once one takes oil out of the picture, dependence on the region is also pronounced. Overall, our analysis suggests that in the region, bilateral notions of dependency may need to be reconsidered and a more “network dependency” approach adopted if one is to understand the way in which patters of change in one part of the region may create uncertainty and instability in another.
If we consider also flows from Iran and Turkey a even more complex set of dependencies emerges. Several meridional axis are relevant: Turkey – Georgia with particular link to Adjara - Russian Federation, Turkey- de facto state Abkhazia, Iran - Armenia - Georgia – Russian Federation. Mapping economic ties that subvert official state policies revealed that Turkey is Abkhazia’s second largest trade partner, despite the official trade and transportation embargo. In the face of absent government relations, small and medium size enterprises from Turkey with ties to the Abkhazian or Circassian diaspora dominate, with the exception of TkuarchalUgol’, the biggest commercial tax-payer in Abkhazia and under 50% Turkish ownership (one of the economic actors we will look into in the framework of micro-level case study research). The total volume of trade between Abkhazia and Turkey is estimated to be around 400 million USD (as of late 2014). At the same time, Turkey has also emerged as Georgia’s leading trade partner over the past ten years. Field research in the border areas between Turkey and Georgia has also shown that in addition to “invisible”, thus informally transferred remittances, border small trade revenues has to be included into the pool of incomes from Turkey. It strongly relies on informal transnational practices and is therefore also “invisible” in economic statistics. It has, however, significant impact on the socio-economic situation in the border region. Despite the closed border between Armenia and Turkey, similarly to the Abkhaz case, regional actors in Turkey have challenged official restrictions on trade, which is conducted via Georgia (or Iran).
A case study on Georgia explored how the economic flows to countries outside the Caucasus inform the country’s foreign trade policy. The insights gained support a commonly accepted assumption: in the Caucasus regional trade agreements and, with them, trade flows, reflect the geopolitical orientation of the state, not the other way around. In essence, most commentators accept that politics dictates economics. However, a comparative advantage and the opportunities that business people may identify can suggest directions that constrain or act against political aspirations. The sometimes contradictory logics of political and economic action may cause unintended consequences which deserve more attention. Developments in Georgia underpin this conclusion.
The national discourse in Georgia operates with a logic of resource flows which is dated. It builds less on current economic dependencies than on broad concerns about the dangers of a resurgent Russia. Georgia has, in fact, dramatically reduced its dependency on Russia over the last decade or so, as a reaction to Russian aggression in 2008 and as a result of structural changes in the region. Trade to Russia is low and concentrated in wine and mineral water. FDI from Russia has shown little resurgence in the context of warmer relations. Remittances are down because of the regional problems and the feminization of the work force and even the little energy that is still imported, will probably soon be replaced. Nonetheless, the narrative about the danger of potential dependency is understandable given Russian aggression and Russia’s continued desire to undermine Georgia’s westward trajectory.With regard to Georgia’s westward trajectory one can observe that in economic terms the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU is the strongest indicator for the country’s link to the West. This may imply that the Georgian orientation to the West and, in particular, the AA, may be more fragile than it initially appears.
The implications of outside funding for the dynamics of the secessionist conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia are manifold. An important conclusion is that the nexus between outside finding and the perpetuation of the conflicts is, however, often less clearcut and unambiguos than assumed in the international debates. A study of the influence of diaspora groups on Armenia’s approach to Nagorno-Karabakh and to related issues such as the genocide and the relations between Armenia and Turkey underpines the point. Both the US of America and the Russia based diaspora are economically powerful actors in Armenia. This, however, does not imply strong influence in matters of Nagorno-Karabakh. While the literature usually stresses the pivotal role of the Armenian diaspora in Armenian politics and US American politics to the country, ISSICEU research did not found evidence for this assumption. This argument tends, according to the ISSICEU researchers, to be exaggerated. It is caused by a focus on the loudness of the rhetoric and some symbolic successes. If one looks at actual engagement of diaspora groups in Armenia, or the impact of the diaspora on US foreign policy towards the genocide, Armenia-Turkey relations or Nagorno Karabakh, there has been little impact. The Russia based Armenian diaspora, which is rarely considered in the literature, exerts a far greater influence in these issue areas.
A considerable but not clear cut impact on the developments of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have the oil rents in Azerbaijan and financial and material support from Russia to Armenia. The windfall revenue of Azerbaijan and changes of it create a considerable uncertainty about how the country deals with external shocks. Until the very last years Azerbaijan’s resource wealth allowed it to dramatically out-pace Armenian military expenditure. However, Azerbaijan’s economic crisis in 2015 has forced a sharp contraction in public spending, including military spending. The decline in spending is accompanied by changes in the patterns of (perceived and actual) military support between Russia and the other players. This has created some additional uncertainty. The impact of these changes on the likelihood of escalation is not straightforward but may take various shapes.
Generally, there is a strong agreement that increasing numbers of weapons on both sides of the Line of Contact enhances the likelihood of accidental escalation. So far analysts shared the believe that neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia has interest in intentionally starting a war. The changing circumstances may, however, increase the risk of an escalation. First, one central motivation for escalation might be the perception, based on declining oil prices, military expenditures, and Armeni’s weapons purchases, that Azerbaijan could lose its military advantage if it does not act soon. Second, facing a difficult economy and declining popularity, the costs of inaction for the government of Azerbaijan may be a nationalist backlask. Conversely, the benefit of action, even if it does not generate immediate results, may shore up support. Third, given Russian overtures and weapons sales to Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijanis may predict that in the event of conflict, Russia would consider Azerbaijan to be a more strategically important ally than Armenia. The likelihood of escalation seems also to have increased after the violent escalation in the so-called “four day war” in April 2016. The April hostilities may encourage both sides to think that it is possible to revise the Line of Contact, while avoiding larger war.
With regard to Abkhazia beside financial flows from Russia, economic ties with Turkey appear to significantly stabilise the economic situation in the unrecognised de facto state. It is in particular the Turkey-based Abkhaz diaspora that pursues economic activities in Abkhazia as it has the following competitive advantage vis-a-vis other actors from Turkey. Doing business in Abkhazia requires capabilities to cope with the uncertain business climate and the general lack of information about the de facto republic. Both factors are a consequence of the unrecognised status of Abkhazia. Diaspora investors from Turkey tend to rely on informal connections (within the diaspora in Turkey and on their ties to other returnees and the Abkhaz authorities) for market entry and business growth. These provide them with a significant competitive advantage vis-a-vis non diaspora economic actors from Turkey, whose entry into the market has become very difficult after the Russian-Turkish crisis.
The case of TkuarchalUgol’, a coal company run by a Turkish Abkhaz returnee, shows that diaspora relations may even compensate for risks or increases the readiness to face risks created by the legal environment of Georgia proper. The company ships coal from Abkhazia to Turkey despite the fact that delivering the coal risk interceptions by the Georgian coast guard and hefty fines and even prison sentences for the crew. The second company Cantu Insaat, a Turkish company commissioned to rehabilitate the water treatment infrastructure in Gagra, was rumoured to have benefited from ties to former de facto President Alexander Ankvab; after the latter‘s departure, it stopped operations The third case shows how diaspora actors use Abkhazia to establish links to Russia. By that they contribute to the economic dependence of Abkhazia on Russia. One example is a state-of-the-art greenhouse complex for tomatoes located in Pitsunda and owned by a Turkish-Abkhaz returnee who resettled to Abkhazia in the early 1990s. The object has received funding from the investment programme funded by Russia. The company plans to expand production soon, but seems to have most of its business dealings with Russia, securing Russian financing and mostly supplying supermarkets in the Moscow metropolitan area.
Overall the trade link with Turkey positively effects the economic realities in Abkhazia to the benefit of the population. At the same time they reduce the pressure on the Abkhaz de facto government to take a compromise oriented approach in negotiations with Georgia.
Thus foreign trade flows have stabilising but also destabilising effect for the Caucasus. ISSICEU research has highlighted that it is important to consider that deterriorating relations between Caucasus neighbouring actors have repercussions for the economic prosperity in the Caucasus. An example is the Russia-Turkey crisis from November 2015 to June 2016. The crisis has disrupted important trade flows between Turkey and the North Caucasus. In order to decrease the vulnerability from outside actors, North-South trade in the Caucasus should be promoted. Overall the study on the North and South connection in the Caucasus with particular focus on the Russian border region near Lars, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, revealed that economic ties are in place but are in decline.
The observed patterns of exchange provide evidence for the fact that bureaucracy and corruption create challenges for growing trade with Russia. This factor is not new, but has shaped the relations for a longer time. Emphasis is often given to the tourism relations between the two parts of the Caucasus. Our analysis, however, suggests that the dimension of tourism is overestimated. As many as half of the Russian ‘tourists’ from North Caucasus may just be people from the North Caucasus visiting South Caucasus families. Our data also indicate a significant drop of net-migration to Russia because of Russia’s current economic difficulties. Economic relations with the North Caucasus seems to be in decline, though it is unclear why. With reference to the liberal idea of economic connectivity would positively affect the cohesion and thus stability of a region, the findings imply that more attention should be paid to the North-South relations in the Caucasus.
Caucasus research has so far mainly studied Russia as neighbour with impact on stability in the Caucasus. ISSICEU set off to shed light on widely neglected but relevant influences from Turkey and Iran. The research agenda looks at historical, cultural and religious ties between the Turkish and Iranian societies and societies in the North and South Caucasus. Furthermore it focusses on migration flows between Turkey and the South Caucasus, especially Georgia.
Case Studies: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, unrecognised de facto states Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, North Caucasus Republics Dagestan and Chechnya, and the neighbours Turkey and Iran
Diaspora activities, societal discouses, trade flows and state politics let Turkey become a crucial player in the Caucasus. Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora activities in Turkey substantiate the lines of conflict regarding Nagorno-Karabakh and the relations between Turkey and Armenia. In particular the North Caucasus has established itself as a bridge between Russia and Turkey and was strongly hit by the Russia-Turkey crisis 2015/16. The Abkhaz diaspora showed ambitions to mediate between Russia and Turkey. The discourse of “brotherhood” provides an additional nexus between Azerbaijan and Turkey. Economic connectivity between Georgia and Turkey is a stabilising factor for Georgia. Iran can be expected to become a growing economic player in the Caucasus. There are currently little direct links between religious groups from Iran and the Caucasus, but influences from the 1990s still show lasting effect.
The mapping of links between Turkey and the Caucasus highlighted a dense grid of influences which emerge from societal mobility, shared discourses and state politics. A key actor is the Caucasus diaspora who shapes civil society and politics in Turkey in various regards. Some groups have a strong orientation to the “homelands” in the Caucasus, others mainly advocate for their cultural rights in Turkey. Actions of both groupings let tensions in the Caucasus spill-over to Turkey. Developments in the Caucasus, in particular the “hot topics” of the Chechen, Georgian-Abkhaz and Nagorno-Karabakh wars, become an issue in Turkey’s society and politics. ISSICEU has studied the role of diaspora groups on two conflicts, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, in greater detail.
With regard to the secessionist conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh both diaspora groupings from Azerbaijan and Armenia gain centre stage. They have significant impact on Turkey’s state policy concerning the conflict. Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora groups back their homelands’ stances on Nagorno-Karabakh. Doing so, they substantiate rather than dissolve the lines of conflict. They have gained some power to influence Turkey’s approach to the conflict as the two groups became a stakeholder in Turkey’s politics. Moreover, they engage and compete in the current redefinition of national identity in Turkey by revisiting historical narratives. The opposing directions in which these diaspora groups push Turkey’s policy can be described as follows.
The Azerbaijani diaspora strives to prevent the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia of torn from the normalization in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Rapprochement in the Armenia-Turkey relations is considered as a factor of risk in the Azerbaijan-Turkey bilateral relations. A conflicting factor in the Armenia-Turkey relations is the recognition of the 1915 massacres as genocide. Azerbaijani diaspora groups accordingly increasingly mobilised against an international campaign of the Armenian diaspora for the recognition as genocide. In the course of these efforts Azerbaijani diaspora groupings engaged in strengthening cooperation with Turkish diaspora groups in third countries. With regard to the redefinition of national identity the Azerbaijani diaspora sustains an ethnocentric definition and aims at strengthening the ideological notion of Turkishness.
The Armenian diaspora has been developing close connections with Turkey in the context of the societal awakening triggered with the murder of Hrant Dink in 2007. This incident reinvigorated the debate on the genocide in Turkey. It paved the way for societal initiatives that strived to overcome collective amnesia, to revive the memory of centuries of Turkish-Armenian co-existence, and on nourishing the Armenian heritage in Anatolia. The Hrant Dink Foundation has in the last years successfully established bridges and has strengthened connectivity between the Armenia diaspora, Turkey and Armenia. In this process of societal awakening the Armenian community in Turkey became politically more powerful. Interestingly, Istanbul is emerging as a centre of the Armenian cultural identity. The rediscovery of the Armenian identity in Turkey has become intertwined with the Kurdish issue. It is therefore linked with the most challenging dynamic that questions the monolithic concept of national identity based on the notion of Turkishness. In a nutshell, these groups reduce Turkey’s potential to become a player in the conflict resolution.
With regard to Abkhazia Turkey plays a crucial role for the de facto state’s economic prosperity, as research on economic dependencies has revealed. Abkhaz diaspora in Turkey is therefore committed to ensure smooth trade with and political relations to crucial actors in Turkey. An example, which highlights this ambition is the crisis between Russia and Turkey from November 2015 to June 2016. In the period of crisis Abkhaz diaspora showed that they can act as bridge between the Turkish and Russian society.
The Abkhaz society was affected by the crisis in the following regards. Under pressure from Russia, Abkhazia imposed sanctions on Turkey in January 2016. However, their implications for diaspora economic activities and the Abkhaz economy were limited. First of all, the sanctions did not target categories of goods that are most important for Abkhaz-Turkish trade (such as fuel, construction materials, or textiles). Food imports from Turkey, while important for Abkhazia, had already shrunk in 2015 due to the weak Russian Ruble and strong USD. Secondly, Abkhaz laws protected Turkish investors with Abkhaz citizenship by excluding them from the sanctions.
Significant harm could have produced the ban on leasing Turkish fishing vessels. This ban was, however, not applied in practice, as Russia and Crimea were not able to provide ships with enough capacity to replace the Turkish ones. Still, the sanctions did raise transaction costs of doing business. Processing cargo at Turkish customs came, for example, at higher costs.
Russian sanctions, such as the reintroduction of a visa regime with Turkey, do constitute an obstacle to societal exchange. Turkish visitors need to obtain a Russian visa in advance in order to enter Abkhazia. At the height of the crisis, many were subjected to lengthy questionings and background checks at the border. However, holders of Abkhaz passports (ca. 7,000 in total) are able to enter Russia visa-free and have not been affected.
In Turkey, diaspora organizations tread cautiously in order not to sever ties with Russia. Diaspora activists even volunteered to serve as mediators at a trilateral roundtable (Ru-TR-Abkh) in Sukhum/i aimed at defusing tensions. The diaspora welcomes the ongoing normalization of the Russian-Turkish relations although some obstacles, like visa requirements, higher transactions costs, and a heightened sense of insecurity, still remain.
That the Caucasus stands between Russia and Turkey became also visible in the interrupted trade relations between Antalya and various North Caucasus regions during the time of crisis. Turkey has since 1992 been an attractive destination for immigrants from the Caucasus. The relatively open visa regime, ease of employment, abundance of goods and services, having border with the EU, more democratic atmosphere, legal system and relative stability made Turkey attractive. Furthermore being a neighbouring country people from the North and South Caucasus prefer traveling to Turkey for shuttle trade, tourism and entertainment. The Russia-Turkey crisis severely interrupted trade flows between Antalya and Russia. The number of touristic visits from Russia and the Caucasus to the region dropped massively –though being overstated for long anyway, as has been mentioned before. This adversely affected the hotel and tourism business in the region. The stop of flights to the region also negatively affected the high number of kinship ties between the North Caucasus and Antalya. Traditional export goods such as fruits and vegetables were not accepted in Russia anymore. This led to the closure of many small- and medium-sized companies in Turkey, produced difficulties for traders on Russian farmers markets and worked towards a monopolisation of the fruit and vegetable sector in both countries.
The crisis has had some positive effect for the North Caucasus. It further fuelled what the economic crisis in Russian and the increasing nationalist rhetoric have already triggered: Russian tourists increasingly oriented towards the Northwest Caucasus and Abkhazia as main destinations. The tensions have also strengthened the position of Krasnodar in the Northwest Caucasus in the production and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetable instead of fresh product imports from Antalya. In the long run this may transform the economic relations between Antalya and the North Caucasus from competitive one – which we have seen before the crisis – to complementary relations.
Significant societal ties exist also between “Georgia proper” and Turkey through Laz people and Georgian diaspora, but also through short term migration and interaction at the Turkish-Georgian border. These ties strengthen economic connectivity between Georgia and Turkey but have little influence on state politics between the two countries.
Laz is an ethnic group linking Georgia and Turkey since their majority lives in Turkey but they are like Georgians speakers of Kartvel languages. Laz do not perceive themselves as Georgian, but identities are fluid enough to emphasize belonging, closeness, familiarity to Georgians. Linguistic proximity and kinship ties have fostered and eased entry of diaspora Georgians and Laz into business activities in Georgia in the 1990s. Many members of the diaspora own or manage businesses in Georgia. Laz entrepreneurs are well-represented as owners of mid-level enterprises. Interaction at the Turkish-Georgian border show signals of increasing economic inequalities between the two side of the border. These may be interpreted as linked to or even caused by ethnic and cultural differences and provoke larger conflict. Thus, the border region developments deserve some attention from policy makers.
Another cross-border link is the discourse of “brotherhood” between Turkey and Azerbaijan. As a transnationally shared discourse, this brotherhood constitutes a repertoire of political anchorage. The mode in which civil society actors employ and participate in the discourse of brotherhood varies in Turkey and Azerbaijan. However, in both countries the discourse is prominent. Phrases such as Azeri-Turkish friendship (Türk Azeri dostluğu) and Turkish-Azeri brotherhood (Türk-Azeri kardeşliği) prevail in any meeting of a collective nature. An overwhelming amount of brotherhood rhetoric is produced both through a shared hostility towards Armenians in general and in relation to Armenians’ use of the word “genocide” in particular (typically referred to as “so-called genocide [sözde soykırım]”); the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Khojaly/Hocalı Massacre of Azerbaijanis are further key symbolic topics that dominate the discourses of Azerbaijani and Turkish nationalism as well as the brotherhood rhetoric. Both in Turkey and in Azerbaijan the discourse of Turkish-Azerbaijani brotherhood serves state and civil society to construct the image of a new regime in opposition to its predecessor. The past self is constructed as the other not having relied on ideas of Turkishness which is prominent in the current discourse. In Azerbaijan, this “other” is the ideology of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic; in Turkey, it is the ideology of the Kemalist, centralist, secular regime before the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi - Justice and Development Party).
In terms of state politics Turkey acts mainly through the axis Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey. A still weak but potentially influential actor is abbreviated TAG: it is a trilateral security initiative between Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia. TAG currently manifests itself as in joint military exercises and growing cooperation in the military-industrial sector. The latter takes place mostly on a bilateral level. TAG has not turned into an authentic military alliance and already shows that its strength depends on the developments in the region. It is, however, of interest as an actor who does not involve Russian and also does not fit neatly into the pro-Western or pro-Russian binary that has dominated the take on regional initiatives in the post-Soviet space. With its relatively developed defense industry, military expertise and active NATO experience, Turkey plays a leading role in the trilateral format.
The three actors have very different goals and political orientations. The alliance combines a large NATO member with two post-Soviet Caucasus states with unresolved territorial conflicts. Georgia has pursued a pro-Western policy, including aiming for NATO membership, whereas Azerbaijan has tried to implement a “balanced” foreign policy and even joined the non-aligned movement. The described heterogeneous makeup of the alliance may actually contribute to regional security by balancing out the more radical stances. For instance, Azerbaijan and Turkey’s tougher positions on Armenia could be moderated by Georgia, which has a generally good relationship with Yerevan and is home to a large ethnic Armenian minority; Georgia’s critical stance towards Russia could be softened by Turkey; and Azerbaijan’s non-aligned status could serve as a counterweight against having a NATO member and a NATO hopeful in the alliance. In addition, in the case of Abkhazia, Turkey would opt for a softer course of action due to the presence of a large Circassian and Abkhaz diaspora at home advocating for closer engagement with the breakaway republic. However, to fully explore the implications of TAG cooperation for regional security, it is necessary to closely follow domestic political development in each member state.
Iran can be expected to become a more visible player in the Caucasus. After the lifting of the nuclear-related UN, EU, and US sanctions on Iran in 2016, Iran is looking to play a more proactive role in the South Caucasus. This became evident in the numerous high-level meetings between Iranian and Georgian, Azerbaijani and Armenian officials. Iran has a good foundation for expanding its regional influence: it has a track record of strong relations with Armenia and Georgia post-independence, and relations with Azerbaijan, although tense in the past, have been improving after Presidenti Rouhani came to power in 2013. Unlike Iran‘s ideology-driven foreign policy in the Middle East, its approach to the South Caucasus is more pragmatic, prioritizing stability and aiming at avoiding polarization. In the region itself, Iran is viewed as a more neutral power compared to Russia or Turkey.
On the one hand, the lifting of the sanctions creates new opportunities for Iran in the region, increasing its investment potential and attractiveness. On the other hand, the international isolation produced by the sanctions led Iran to take more interest in the Caucasus economically and politically (including as part of looking for ways to evade sanctions). Iran is interested in developing a North-South transport corridor to the Caucasus in order to connect to European markets either through Azerbaijan and Russia or through Armenia to Georgia‘s Black Sea ports and southern Europe.Iran however, is also interested in participating in China‘s One Belt One Road project and needs to ensure that it is strategic about which transportation projects to commit to. In fact, the link between Iran and the Caucasus is even more important for Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves, which are trying to position themselves as important transit countries.
While Iran is home to the world‘s largest population of ethnic Azeris, as well as smaller populations of Georgians and Armenians, the role of these groups in Iran‘s economic relations with the South Caucasus states is limited. In Iran, relations with the South Caucasus are more frequently framed in cultural and historical rather than economic terms.
Religious influences from Shia groups in Iran to Azerbaijan and Dagestan have been strong in the 1990s, but have nearly stalled as of today. They had stronger effect in Azerbaijan, where the impact is still visible, than in Dagestan. Starting in 1996, Azerbaijan adapted its religious policy by increasing state control over religion and restricting Iran’s political influence. The first decade of the 21st century brought an even more repressive policy towards Shia groups in Azerbaijan, against the domestic backdrop of growing opposition forces. Today, there are hardly any flows from Iran to Azerbaijan in terms of finances, missionaries, and officially supported institutions. However, the religious relationship with Iran leads to what might be called “cultural-ideological” flows from Iran to Azerbaijan and is still pertinent to the way Azerbaijani Shia groups understand themselves. These flows potentially affect all Shia groups, although the majority have very limited religious (and even less political) loyalty to Iran. As a consequence, the tension between state-controlled Shia groups and “illegal” groups has increased. The renewed and strengthened Shia identity in Azerbaijan remains an unpredictable and ambivalent political factor.
5. Interplay of Sources of Instability
The societal, economic and political links turn the Caucasus into one region with close relations to its neighbourhood countries. The identified individual factors of stability therefore have wider impact on the region and may trigger spill-over effects. ISSICEU has, first, critically discussed how the concept “stability” can be used to cluster social dynamics in the Caucasus. Secondly, the researchers have pinpointed intra-societal and inter-societal sources of stability and instability to provide an overview of issue areas that should be considered in Caucasus-related research and policies.
Relevant factors are economic dependence on Russia or the CIS region, repression of civil society, lack of participation in local governance, declining oil rents in Azerbaijan, anti-Islam tentions, diaspora influences, labour migration, trans-border activities of religious groups, inter-state security cooperation.
Policy-makers in and outside the Caucasus often speak of stability in the Caucasus as a key aim. The concepts plays for instance a significant role in the revised European Neighbourhood Policy. Stability is also a buzz word in many academic publications on the Caucasus. However, ISSICEU researchers want to emphasize that the concept is too ambigue to qualify as analytical tool or as policy goal. Research and policy formulation needs to take into account that actors in the Caucasus have strongly diverging ideas of stability. Political stability for the ruling elites might be social and economic instability for societal actors. It is also important to distinguish between short and long-term stability. Factors, contributing to long term stability, may well destabilise a situation in the short term. The following elaborations on sources of stability do therefore not draw on a consistent definition of the concept. They look at stability from varying perspectives and do not draw conclusions about how to achieve stability in the Caucasus.
With regard to Armenia dependence on Russia for trade, energy, remittances, and security turns out to be a crucial source of economic and political instability. It makes the country vulnerable to Russian foreign policy decisions. The researchers do not consider the dependence as inevitability. The dependence has increased in recent years, as a result of explicit choices that might have been underpinned by security concerns. In trade, in particular, dependence on Russia is a relatively recent phenomenon. With regard to physical security, however, Russia appears to the only reliable guarantee. As long as this perception dominates, it will outweigh other concerns raised by increasing dependence on Russia. In this regard the goal of “stability” may conflict with democratic and market development.
In Azerbaijan the intolerance of the state vis-à-vis civil society causes risks societal and political instability in the long run. The Azerbaijani state takes an increasingly intolerant position vis-à-vis civil society organisations and, in consequence, diminishes their role. In the short-run this may allow the state to persist without criticism, it will ultimately be a source of instability since dissatisfaction will not have conventional institutional avenues for release.
Weak participation in local governance in Azerbaijan can trigger instability. Economic pressure, increased by the low oil price of the recent months, is an emerging source of tensions between population and state in Azerbaijan. Factors at the local level that fuel the tensions are lack of popular access to government structures, and weak municipal governments. The financial crisis has destabilized Azerbaijani society by undermining the state’s ability to provide consistent or improving living conditions. At the same time, lack of popular access to government structures and a weak municipal government mean that people do not feel that they have any avenue for making their concerns heard or for changing policy. Both of these support the government and provide stability for the current regime in the short-term. But they are likely to be destabilizing in the long-term as they hinder incremental change in Azerbaijan. Two stabilizing factors act counter to these influences. The first is simply societal self-help structures. As mentioned in the first section, across the whole of the Caucasus social groups have high levels of trust in friends and neighbours and this provides them with localized networks and mechanisms for self-help. This helps to mitigate against weak formal governance as it allows certain social groups to support each other and provide needed public goods. The second stabilizing influence is more controversial. The analysis suggests that in the short to medium term, the nationalist rhetoric connected to Nagorno Karabakh may be stabilizing as it helps to legitimize the government. However, in the long-term it may be destabilizing, since it may create demands for escalation if violence breaks out in the region.
Declining oil rents in Azerbaijan may foster tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Looking at oil resources, ISSICEU research largely agreed with the conclusions of the ‘Dutch Disease’ analysis, which suggests that extractive industry revenue can both support authoritarian regimes and distort the economy. This can be stabilizing in the short-term but destabilizing in the long-term. In relation to Nagorno-Karabakh specifically, the researchers conclude that wealth generated by natural resource extraction can create contradictory pressures. On one side it provides the finances that are needed to finance a build-up of military capacity. Conversely, since these resources provide considerable comfort for the nation’s elites and are dependent on the continuation of peace, they may create a strong disincentive for elites to actually start a conflict. This still, however, allows ample space for confusion and miscalculation. Moreover the situation is further complicated by the financial crisis, and the kind that Azerbaijan is currently facing can only contribute to instability.
Azerbaijan’s low diversification of non-oil export threatens stability. Resource dependence may also mask other forms of economic dependency. In this case GeoWel’s analysis suggests that Azerbaijan is more dependent on Russia than it realizes. As oil revenues reduce, it is clear that Azerbaijan needs to diversify its economy and grow its non-oil exports. Fruit and vegetables are one of the few non-oil exports that have a potential for growth that would positively impact a large proportion of the population. However, its current exports are almost entirely sent to Russia. Similarly, while remittances are small portion of GDP, as oil revenues decrease, they will become increasingly important and these too are largely dependent on Russia. This creates a weakness and potential source of instability for Azerbaijan as it may compromise their ability to take an independent or pro-Western course as the economy transitions.
Georgia’s reduced dependence on Russia is a source of stability. The country’s dependence on Russia for energy, an export market, and a source of remittances has over the last decade diminished dramatically. The Russia state has had at various points exploited this dependence to their advantage, including abrupt changes in the access to energy, the denial of market access via import bans, and the deportation of labor migrants.Georgia is no longer dependent on Russia for export markets or energy, and labor migration has experienced considerable ‘feminization’ which has meant more migration to Turkey and Southern Europe and less to Russia. This has helped increase stability.
Continuing dependence on CIS region are still a considerable source of instability in the future.The experience of the last two years has highlighted that while Georgia is not directly dependent on Russia, it does continue to depend on the region. Most notably, exports to former CIS countries in 2015 were 28% of Georgia’s exports overall, which is still a higher proportion than those to the EU at 25%. If Turkey is included in the total of exports to the region, then the number is higher still. This means that phenomena which create negative economic outcomes in the region are likely to impact Georgia. Most tangibly, when the Ruble, the Manat and the Lira dropped in value, so did the Georgian Lari. When the region’s GDP growth stalled, so did Georgia.
Anti-Islam discourse in the Georgian society triggers tensions. The powerful Georgian Orthodox Church does not seem entirely comfortable with the role of Islam in Georgia and has at various points discouraged the restoration of Mosques. They also point out that Georgian Muslims as well as Turkish business people and workers in Adjara are easy targets for anti-Turkish/anti-Islamic feelings that are fairly prominent in Georgian society.
Centralization of power in the North Caucasus Republics of the Russian Federation creates instability as a comparison between the North Caucasus republics has shown. Since 2003 the formal organization of local self-governance developed in very different ways between the North Caucasian republics. Dagestan and Karachay-Cherkessia followed a trajectory oriented towards decentralization of power, while Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria remained more committed to a centralized command structure government with a strong element of informal power relations. This is reflected in major differences in the appointment or selection of the heads of the local administration. In the strongly centralized Chechnya the head of the republic Ramzan Kadyrov individually appoints candidates to the major positions and regulates access to resources. A similar situation exists in Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, and Ingushetia. In Dagestan and Karachay-Cherkessia power is more decentralized. Some local government positions are elected rather than appointed, and elections can involve real competition. The Russian state aggressively pursues its policy at the local level only if there are valuable resources (primarily land) in play. If local municipalities do not have the resources, the state does not seek to control them.
The provision of social services by federal development programmes has stabilising effect in the North Caucasus. The Russian federal government is spending significant resources on ‘development programs’ (mainly, building physical infrastructure). If these are utilized as a resource for providing social services then they can help to ameliorate socio-economic difficulties, reduce social tensions, and increase stability. But these efforts may not be sustainable long-term, and might lead to difficulties if financial issues arise. The development programmes also tend to neglect needs and will of the local population and tends to exclude them from decision-making. The effect is ambivalent. On the one hand this creates conflict and thus instability in the short-run. In some cases, however, it gave the local communities an impetus to organise in more effective civil society structures which in the long run might help increase stability.
Influence of Local Clans on State Institutions in the North Caucasus negatively effects stability. Another factor is the nature of local clans and their attempts to capture resource flows to their regions. Clan members promote their kin, ensuring their appointment in key power positions. This maintains the position of the clan, and helps the clan to control local resources. The efforts by clans to gain resources is generally destabilizing, as it often leads to frictions between different clans.
An inter-societal source of instability is the Armenian diaspora based in Russia and US as it generally is more hard line on international relations than the domestic populations. On their central issues of genocide recognition and Nagorno-Karabakh, while a sizable Armenian US-based diaspora makes strong statements on the issue, they have not been able to affect US foreign policy in any discernible way. The Russian-Armenian diaspora are extremely different. There is little evidence that they even attempt to change Russian policy to the region. Quite the opposite, if anything, they align strongly with Kremlin policy and react badly whenever Yerevan criticizes Russia or Russians. However, as individual businessmen, Russian-Armenians are extremely influential and can be found throughout Armenian politics and business life. In a nutshell, the Russia-based diaspora is potentially more powerful than the US-based one.
Diaspora ambitions to keep status quo of Turkey-Armenia relations fuel tensions. Activities of Armenian diaspora in the US and of Azeri diaspora in Turkey work against rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. The data indicate that there is more than a coincidence of the two groups’ policy. There is some mutual reinforcement. The Azerbaijani government is trying to organize the diaspora in order to secure support and oppress opposition. It also uses the diaspora to block what it perceives as pro-Armenian policies in Turkey. Thus, the Azerbaijani diaspora in Turkey prevents that a Turkish-Armenian normalization happens; with their respective activities they are a force for instability in the South Caucasus.
Turkish-Abkhaz diaspora in Abkhazia stabilises the de facto state which perpetuates the secessionist conflict. As the most important non-Russian actor in Abkhazia, the Turkish-Abkhaz diaspora has contributed to the de-facto state’s stability by providing political and economic support and working towards its de-isolation. The diaspora is the main driving force behind Turkish economic investment in Abkhazia, and returnees who have resettled to Abkhazia function as societal intermediaries between Abkhazia and Turkey.
The diaspora maintains a deferential stance towards Russia, a stance that no doubt protected it during the Russian-Turkish crisis which lasted for seven months (between November 2015 and June 2016). The diaspora even tried to use its soft power to maintain channels of communication between Turkish and Russian stakeholders.
While Turkish-Abkhaz mainly contribute to Abkhazia’s economic stability, some of them are merely interested in reaping quick economic benefits in a closed market, or simply lack experience and capital for implementing their projects. The failure of some business initiatives negatively affects local Abkhaz partners and may decrease the trust in Turkish investors on the part of the local population. Lack of clarity regarding land ownership rights in Abkhazia is also problematic. Since these rights are often not formalized and the property formerly owned by the Georgian population has been unofficially redistributed among war participants, in some cases investors buying or renting land are confronted with counter-claims from local Abkhaz.
In addition, local Abkhaz have been at times critical about the low number of local workers employed by Turkish firms. The latter justify it by arguing that it is often difficult to find adequately trained personnel for the jobs they need. Also, local Abkhaz are generally less interested in doing manual labour. As a result, labour-intensive businesses like greenhouse agriculture have to rely on hiring migrant workers from Central Asia.
Finally, looking beyond Abkhazia, it is clear that the Georgian government does not approve of the diaspora’s activities in Abkhazia (which are also considered a crime under Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories). The Georgian government has had a number of low-key disputes with Turkey over the Turkish-Abkhaz sea trade, especially in the past, to which the Turkish government always answered that diaspora representatives act in their capacity as private citizens and it cannot control all illicit trade.
Remittances from Turkey to Georgia have stabilising impact. Labour migration is immediately associated with remittances and the wider economic impact of remittances. Regular and irregular migration between Turkey and Georgia is a case in point here. As has been the case elsewhere, remittances in Georgia have had a positive impact on poverty alleviation, education and health expenses. Factors such as unemployment in the country from which remittances are sent and global financial crises have caused fluctuations in the amounts of remittances. Turkey’s conditions of labour migration will continue to attract temporary migrants, and geographically Turkey will continue to be the first easily accessible foreign country to the citizens of the Caucasus. This may mean an indirect factor of stability economically and socially since most of the time more contact means better potential for economic and social connections –despite the fact that the refugee crisis in Syria puts Turkey under stress and refugees become competitors for citizens of Cacasus countries for low income jobs .
Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia Security Cooperation: Potential Source of Stability and Instability. The dynamics of the attempts creating a security alliance between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia (TAG) and their impact are ambivalent. Turkey was the main initiator of this trilateral cooperation stipulated in 2012 in the initial treaty in Trabzon signed by the foreign ministers of the three countries. Within the framework of this agreement, several joint military exercises were organised, the agreement has not developed into a more extensive security alliance.
While TAG alliance does not include Russia and was initially perceived by many observers as a tool to undermine Russian influence in the region, Russia has not openly criticized the grouping. From the Russian perspective, the TAG alliance could have a stabilizing effect because the anti-Armenian sentiments of Azerbaijan and Turkey are balanced by Georgia’s good relations with Armenia. Similarly, seen from Russia, the alliance might lead to a less conflictual relationship with Abkhazia as Turkey would opt for a softer course of action on this issue due to the presence of a large Circassian and Abkhaz diaspora at home advocating for closer engagement with the breakaway republic. Georgia’s critical stance towards Russia could be softened by Turkey. Azerbaijan’s non-aligned status could serve as a counterweight against having a NATO member and a NATO hopeful in the alliance.
The TAG may, however, have destabilizing effects in particular with regard to Armenia’s security perceptions. One relevant area of trilateral cooperation is defense industry. This is important for Azerbaijan, which has been aggressively spending on weaponry and has mainly relied on importing arms from Russia (due to US-imposed restrictions on sale of arms to Azerbaijan). However, Turkey is emerging as an increasingly important arms exporter to Azerbaijan as well; there are also plans for sharing know-how, Turkish assistance in bringing Azerbaijani troops up to NATO standards, and possibly implementing joint defense industry projects within Azerbaijan. A military superior Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey which is no longer intent on bowing to Russia’s dominance in the region, may be a serious threat to Armenia. This may be less of a problem in the short- term period, both due to the economic crisis in Azerbaijan and the still underdeveloped state of military cooperation, but it is still a potential risk factor.
Influence of religious groups from Iran is limited but may cause tentions. In consequence of Iran’s influence on Shia groups in Azerbaijan and Dagestan, the religious landscape became more diverse and competitive. Society and religious policy were not prepared to this change that bears a risk of social friction, conflict and instability. Nevertheless, the situation is under control in both countries. Though Iran’s strategy of influencing Shia groups has been very similar in Azerbaijan and Dagestan, all above mentioned aspects are more effective in Azerbaijan than in Dagestan. This is due to the fact that the Shia community in Dagestan is much smaller and less important. Dagestan’s religious policy is not mainly concerned with Shiism. In Dagestan, Shiites face typical minority problems. The influence of the so-called “Caucasus Emirate” is much bigger and threatens Shiites much more. An attack on this minority on January 8, 2016, could be an omen for increasing tensions in Dagestan.
6. Recommendations to the EU: Addressing Stability and Instability in the Caucasus
On the prominent use of the notion “stability” in EU policy documents:
While there is a tendency to objectify stability, ISSICEU findings clearly point at the fact that stability is an ambivalent and highly normative concept that needs to be applied with caution to the Caucasus. The definition of stability depends highly on the interests and preconceived ideas of the person or entity employing and assessing it. It is therefore important questions to ask are “Stability for whom? On what terms? At what price?” Given the existence of multiple dividing lines and unresolved conflicts in the Caucasus, stability in one society may be perceived as an undesirable outcome in another.
Generally said local governance in the Caucasus deserves more attention from domestic but also external actors. In this regard the following can be recommended:
Enhancing peoples´ participation in local governance should be a crucial aim of domestic and foreign policy makers. Participation cannot necessarily only be promoted by the transfer of the local self-governance model which we can find in consolidated Western democracies. Alternative patterns of local self-governance which are established in the communities should be taken into account.It is crucial to improve the image of local self-governments in the eyes of the population. The municipalities need to become visible as viable actors with at least some power. A way to achieve such an improvement would be to involve municipalities as coordinators or facilitators of internationally funded, small-scale projects on local development. External actors should consider including communities in the North Caucasus into international projects that aim to foster local development and local self-governance. This argument is driven by two observations: First of all, local governance faces similar challenges in the remote regions of the North and the South Caucasus. Secondly, there is hardly any outreach to international activities into the North Caucasus.
It is important to launch an open discourse on civil society. This will help to accommodate the antagonism in the understanding of civil society by Western actors and by some state and societal actors in the Caucasus. Western actors regard civil society as a source of stability. Significant actors in the Caucasus associate regime overthrow with civil society and regard it as a factor of instability.
Civil society development is a rather contested field in the Caucasus. To provide more efficient civil society support external actors should consider the following: External actors like the EU should less focus on a specific programme on civil society promotion. Especially in the North Caucasus and in selected regions in the South Caucasus traditional but not formalised practices to solve local issues like conflicts over resources or environmental protection should be supported, probably formalised, rather than destroyed as they have strong reconciliation capacity. Western actors promoting liberal values should invest into intensive dialogue with key religious actors. The dialogue should raise awareness of mutual misperceptions and aim at conciliation in conflicting issues. While the EU’s influence on the Turkish government is very limited, it may still co-operate with Turkish civil society (including, but not limited to, the Turkish-Abkhaz diaspora) on issues related to Georgia and Abkhazia. One way of reinvigorating engagement without recognition could be to facilitate Georgian-Turkish-Abkhazian societal dialogue (with a special but not exclusive focus on young people) which remains much less developed than their economic ties. Some topical issues for discussion could include migration and refugees, interfaith relations, or cross-border environmental issues. While these measures will not resolve the conflict, they may be useful in providing a fresh format for cross-border people-to-people contacts.
The EU should consider the changing religious landscape in Azerbaijan as a potential source of instability. Reducing risk from this side requires some degree of control of the religious field and collaboration between Azerbaijan and Iran.
The EU should support constructive bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Iran. It is important to be aware that currently there is absolutely no risk of a system change towards an “Islamic republic of Azerbaijan”. Good bilateral relations, however, can help the Azerbaijani government to include Shiites in their state controlled religion. Nevertheless, the EU should support the secular character of the Azerbaijani state.While it is important that the EU demands freedom of religion, it should not emphasize its criticism in this aspect too strongly. The chance for achieving less control of religious activities is too little as to risk that relations with Azerbaijan deteriorate over this issue and the EU loses its leverage entirely.
Moreover, with regard to Iran the EU may want to pay attention to the fact that Iran´s key interest in the Caucasus is in ensuring the region‘s stability and maintaining working relationships with each of the three countries there. Iran has shown interest in developing a North-South transport corridor to connect to European markets via the Caucasus – most likely through Azerbaijan and Russia. However, it has not yet committed to any large transportation project in the Caucasus, as it is also pursuing participation in China‘s Silk Road Economic Belt project. Iran´s integration into energy and infrastructure projects, such as its interest in joining the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), has a potential to diversify trade patterns in the South Caucasus. However, the Caucasus is only one of potential transit areas for Iranian energy resources.
With regard to regional economic dependencies the EU should take into account that the dependence of the South Caucasus countries on the CIS region is still high, but not is inevitable. Armenia’s decision against and Georgia’s decision for the Association Agreement and DCFTA are of strongly political character. The EU needs to respond adequately.
Increased economic engagement needs to work to avoid negative impacts on local populations. The EU DCFTA with Georgia, for example, needs to be implemented in such a way that it does not create significant short-term costs for the general population. Such costs will feed into the narrative, that the whole trajectory is not to the advantage of the country – and maybe worse, that it is a Western conspiracy. Though such notions may seem ridiculous to Western academics and politicians they need to be taken seriously.
Deepening economic ties are certainly positive. In its relations to Georgia the EU should aim to develop practical ties to show the economic benefits of DCFTA quickly. It is important to show benefits of the economic ties that people can understand.
The EU and Georgia are still culturally further apart than Russia and Georgia. While material connections may have reduced, cultural leverage may still remain, so it is important that the EU does not push a cultural agenda that would offer a hostage to fortune to anti-Western forces. For example, the Georgian parliament has just suggested that they will pass a law that will put a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The EU needs to be clear that while many EU states take a different position on this issue, it is the right of the Georgian people to decide it.
With regard to Armenia the EU needs to remain engaged on economic issues. It is important to keep the opportunities for trade open, even if the terms of trade are not very fair in the short-term. Forcing Armenia to pick an export partner now, would be very problematic. This is already suggested by the new ENP overview.
The dissemination activities of ISSICEU can be distinguished in four strands. To reach out to the academic community the project published academic papers and presented ISSICEU research in academic conferences. With the ambition to communicate the findings also to policy advisors the consortium published also policy briefs. Both target groups were addressed in a number of public panels which ISSICEU organised or contributed to.
In the lifetime of ISSICEU the research consortium has published 7 articles in the peer reviewed journals. Six of them have been accepted as a special issue in the journal Eurasian Geography and Economy and 1 paper was published in Small Wars and Insurgencies.
Beyond peer reviewed journals ISSICEU has published high quality and well-known periodicals that do not qualify as peer reviewed. One of them is the open access online publication Caucasus Analytical Digest (CAD) [http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/publications/cad/cad-all-issues.html]. The CAD has with 3200 subscribers significant outreach to scholars, policy practitioners and civil society organisations in the EU, Switzerland, USA and the Caucasus. Eight brief analyses (2-4 pages) were published in three CAD issues. Another journal in which one paper was placed is Alpine Review, a scientific journal that does not provide open access.
In addition a number of articles were published in Russian language journals such as Gosudarstvo, Religia, Tserkov (State, Religion, Church) [http://www.religion.ranepa.ru/?q=en/node/1147] or Scientific Thought of the Caucasus or Proceedings of the Kabardino-Balkarsk State University (Izvestiya Kabardino-Balkarskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta).
Another two articles appeared in a special Caucasus issue of the German language publication OSTEUROPA (Eastern Europe) [https://www.zeitschrift-osteuropa.de/hefte/2015/7-10/]. Publications have further been made in the analytical series Studien of CP1 (SWP) [https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/not-frozen-conflicts-in-the-post-soviet-area/]. It is an open access format.
List of Publications in Academic Periodicals – NOT PEER REVIEWED
Jödicke, Ansgar: Editorial: Religion and Politics in the South Caucasus. Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2015/72
Matosyan, Tigran: „Church as Civil Society? Recent Issues of Religion and Politics in Armenia“.Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2015/72
Rcheulishvili, Ketevan: “A New Public Role of Religion? Recent Issues of Religion and Politics in Georgia”. Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2015/72
Hoffmann, Katharina; Melkonyan, Arman: “Local Government in Armenia: Reforms with an Uncertain Outcome”. Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2015/74.
Demirdirek, Hülya; Gafarli, Orhan: How Non-Governmental Are Civil Societal Relations Between Turkey and Azerbaijan? Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2016/86
Zabanova, Yana: Turkey's Abkhaz Diaspora as an Intermediary Between Turkish and Abkhaz Societies. Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2016/86
Weiss, Andrea: Turkish Georgians: The Forgotten Diaspora, Religion and Societal Ties. Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2016/86
Gunya, Alexey: Land reforms in post-socialist mountain regions and their impact on land use management - a case study from the Caucasus. Accepted for publication in Alpine Review 2017
Agadjanian, Alexander: Ethnos, Nation and Religion: Recent Scholarship and Societal Processes in the South Caucasus. State, Religion and Church in Russia and Abroad. Vol. 34, No. 2, 2016
F. Smolnik, A. Weiss, Y. Zabanova: “Prekäre Balance. Die Türkei, Georgien und der De-facto-Staat Abkhazien” (Precarious Balance. Turkey, Georgia and the De-facto State Abkhazia). OSTEUROPA, 7-10/2015
Katharina Hoffmann: “Gesellschaft und Staat. Die lokale Ebene in Armenien und Aserbaidschan” (Society and State. The local level in Armenia and Azerbaijan ). OSTEUROPA, 7-10/2015
Gunya, Alexey; Tenov, Timur; Shogenov, Murat, Chechenov, Aslan: “Stability and instability in the North Caucasus: methodological approach to the study of external and internal factors.”, pp. 111-114. Proceedings of the Kabardino-Balkarsk State University,Volume 4, No. 2, 2014.
Halbach, Uwe; Smolnik, Franziska: The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in Light of the Crisis over Ukraine. In: Sabine Fischer (ed.) Not Frozen! The Unresolved Conflicts over Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Light of the Crisis over Ukraine, pp: 61-80. SWP Research Paper
2016/RP 09 (open access)
Halbach, Uwe: Religion und Nation, Kirche und Staat im Südkaukasus [Religion and Nation, Church and State in the South Caucasus]. SWP-Studien 2016/S 18. (open access)
Finally, ISSICEU researchers published three chapters in edited books published amongst others in the well-known publishing houses Nomos, a German one, and Scholar Cambridge.
At 25 occasions researchers have presented their research done in the framework of ISSICEU. On this way knowledge about the project in general and selected research results were disseminated into international audiences gathered in Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland and Poland. Just to mention one of the conferences: ISSICEU researchers have presented their work at the final CASCADE conference in October 2016.
Throughout the project lifetime ISSICEU has produced 12 policy briefs. The policy briefs have been published in the series established at the two think tanks of the consortium, CP3 (SWP) and CP9 (APM) and in the policy brief format of the European Commission. In addition, CP1 (SG) has designed an ISSICEU policy brief series for the policy papers written by CPs from a university context.
The policy briefs address topical intra-societal issues such as civil society developments in Azerbaijan or tensions in local governance in the North and the South Caucasus. The majority of the papers, however, cover inter-societal aspects, including the relations between Turkey and Russia, Iran’s role in the Caucasus, external influences on developments in Abkhazia or the political economy of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The policy briefs have been distributed in the policy advisers’ community on the following ways. They are published on the websites of CP3 (SWP) [https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/swp-comments-en/] of CP9 (APM) [http://www.apm.org.tr/Home.aspx] and on the ISSICEU project website [http://www.issiceu.eu/publications.html]. All policy briefs are openly accessible. In addition they were directly distributed to a list of interested analysts, policy advisors and members of government administration.
ISSICEU policy briefs
Weiss, Andrea; Zabanova, Yana: Iran’s economic role in the South Caucasus (working title), SWP Comments (forthcoming)
Weiss, Andrea; Zabanova, Yana: Georgia and Abkhazia Caught between Turkey and Russia. SWP Comments 2016/C54
Yusifli, Elvin: The Challenges of Grant and NGO Laws in Azerbaijan’s Civil Society: Prospects for a Viable Future, ISSICEU Policy Brief, December 2016
Kanbolat, Hasan ; Kök, Seval: Effect of Turkey-Russia Relations on the Stability and Instability of Caucasus: the Example of Antalya. APM Policy Brief, December 2016
Hoffmann, Katharina: Challenges to Local Governance in the South Caucasus. ISSICEU Policy Brief, December 2016
Gültekin- Punsmann, Burcu: Can We Envisage A Collaborative EU-Turkey Approach Supportive of Regionalism in the South Caucasus Today. ISSICEU Policy Brief, October 2016
Welton, George; Barrowman, Bret: The Political Economy of Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. ISSICEU Policy Brief, July 2016
Kanbolat, Hasan: Redefinition of relations between Abkhazia and Abkhaz Diasporas. APM Report, July 2016
Kanbolat, Hasan: North Caucasian Diaspora in Turkey. APM Report, June 2016
Kanbolat, Hasan: Seven Months of Tension: Reflections of Turkish-Russian Tension in the Caucasus and Solution Seeking. APM Policy Brief, June 2016
Asadov, Farda: Scaling up civil participation as a factor of stability in the South Caucasus: Opportunities in Azerbaijan alongside experience from Georgia. ISSICEU Policy Brief, April 2016.
Gunya, Alexey: Building the Institutional Capacity of Local Communities in the Northern Caucasus: Opportunities to Improve "Good" Communal Governance. ISSICEU Policy Brief, April 2016
Gültekin- Punsmann, Burcu: EU-Azerbaijani Relations: Thinking of a culture of human rights in a partnership relation. APM Policy Brief, January 2016
Halbach, Uwe: The Circassian Question: Russian Colonial History in the Caucasus and a Case of “Long-distance Nationalism”. SWP Comments 2014/50
ISSICEU has organised 14 public panels in form of 2-5 hours panel discussions. With these public panels the consortium managed to reach out to policy practitioners, staff of relevant EU agencies, representatives of governments and non-governmental organisations, business people, but also young and senior scholars. The panels discussed prominent ISSICEU research topics such as local governance, religion, civic participation, secessionist conflicts and external influences to the Caucasus. More problematic than reaching policy advisors and government officials in the Caucasus and the states represented in the ISSICEU consortium was to reach EU representatives in Brussels. Here CASCADE and ISSICEU joined their efforts and organised two panels, representing both CASCADE and ISSICEU research. The responsiveness of the targeted audience in Brussels was, however, relatively low. The event was rather attended by policy advisers, analysts and representatives of the Caucasus Embassies in Brussels. In this light ISSICEU agreed with the project officer in Brussels not to organise an additional expert workshop. ISSICEU reoriented its dissemination strategy towards producing more policy briefs instead
The coordinator has initiated the shooting of a video presenting research ambitions, preliminary results and the research consortium. The shooting took place in April 2016 in Tbilisi, Georgia, and in June 2016 in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The video was published in autumn 2016. It is available on youtube [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlQGuB12pxM]. The video is linked to the project website [www.issiceu.eu] and to the website of the Centre for Governance and Culture in Europe at the University of St. Gallen [http://www.gce.unisg.ch/de/issiceu].
To achieve a broader outreach the consortium has circulated the links to interested contacts in the academic and policy advisor community.
Work and output of ISSICEU has the potential to influence academic research on the Caucasus, policy debates on the Caucasus in several ways.
Some impact is already tangible. Through ISSICEU a strong network between scholars from the Caucasus and its (wider) neighbourhood has been established. This network has allowed and will allow a trustful exchange of information and perceptions about the Caucasus between insiders and outsiders to the region. Doing so, the network contributes to an adequate understanding of the developments in the Caucasus. The network also keeps scholars in the Caucasus informed about Caucasus related questions and debates that matter to the Caucasus neighbours. The ISSICEU network also brought young and senior researchers with interdisciplinary background together and encouraged close collaboration in the project and beyond. The researchers will continue their collaboration in at least three publications projects which root in ISSICEU but will be realised after the projects’ end.
A second impact is that ISSICEU has helped quite a few young researchers and students to pursue empirical research in their field of interest. This was of particular benefit for young researchers from the Caucasus who mostly lack resources for sound empirical research. Moreover, the close collaboration between researchers trained in the Anglo-American academic tradition and scholars trained in the Russian academic tradition increased the mutual understanding of approaches to research and publications in the two traditions. Joint publication projects and ISSICEU internal reviews of draft publications supported the efforts of scholars from the Caucasus to get published in international academic journals. This gives researchers from the Caucasus a stronger voice in the West.
Third, ISSICEU has enriched university classes in the following regards. Most impressively, CP7 (KBSU) has used the ISSICEU quantitative survey for training students of the school of conflict studies in survey design, interview methods and related issues. KBSU has integrated the data collection in their classes and got the data collected by the students. The students were, of course, closely supervised by senior researchers experienced in the conduction of surveys. For such kind of practical training KBSU usually lacks the financial resources.
In addition CP7 (KBSU) used the research conducted within ISSICEU as foundation for a textbook on security and development. The empirical studies conducted within ISSICEU were taken as an example for how to approach the topic in empirical research and which methods to apply. The textbook also reflects key findings of the ISSICEU research. The book will be used for a masters’ class at KBSU. Being written in Russian it will be distributed to other universities in the post-Soviet space. An English translation is considered. But also other CPs, including CP1 (SG), CP2 (FrU) and CP5 (KUB), used visits of ISSICEU colleagues to provide insider perspectives in various classes.
Fourth, beyond this already tangible impact ISSICEU expects to influence the academia by the projects’ research agenda which is an alternative to the classical Caucasus research. ISSICEU publications will bring new foci into a debate that commonly concentrates on external players, mainly Russia, and their geopolitics, on authoritarian political regimes, and the dynamics in the secessionist conflicts.
ISSICEU sheds light on two less considered players in the Caucasus neighbourhood, Turkey and Iran. The project results highlight that the two actors influence developments in the Caucasus both through their Caucasus policy, through their interaction with other powers in the region, in particular Russia, but also through societal links. The findings encourage future research with an IR perspective to pay considerable attention to the impact of diaspora groupings on domestic political and economic developments in the Caucasus countries, but also on the secessionist conflicts in the South Caucasus.
Iran is often also presented as a source of religious influence exerted by Shia groups in the Caucasus. The findings of ISSICEU stress that as of today Iranian Shia groups have little direct influence anymore. The discourse of the threat from Iran is often rather instrumentalised to justify restrictive politics of religion which should be critically reflected.
With regard to foreign trade relations ISSICEU calls for re-framing the debate on economic dependencies. These are less dictated by economic facts than often assumed. They rather reflect geopolitical decisions of the governments which might have economic repercussions. This holds true for both one-sided trade orientation towards Russia and towards the EU.
ISSICEU further suggests scholars to take a closer look at the local level when studying political regimes. Dynamics at the local level increasingly emerge into open conflict with the governments. The institutional integration of the local level puts the resilience of the political regimes into question. The project results also encourage research to study the phenomenon “hybrid political regimes” not only at national but also at local level to improve the understanding of the dynamics in hybrid regimes.
Research on civil society in the Caucasus is asked to consider more strongly the discourse on civil society that prevails in the Caucasus societies and substantially diverges from Western discourses on this topic. ISSICEU also pinpointed to domestic patterns of civic participations which are often overlooked. With regard to this topic ISSICEU provides a strong tool for future research. The data of the representative quantitative survey on the Caucasus are available for scholarly studies beyond ISSICEU.
Finally, ISSICEU findings highlight that it is worthwhile to study the Caucasus as one region. On the one hand, social phenomena tend to be of similar shape in the South and in the North. On the other hand, economic but also political developments in one part of the Caucasus easily alter dynamics in other parts of the region.
These selected key messages of ISSICEU are and will be disseminated through papers in peer reviewed and other academic journals and published as book contributions. Some of these perspectives have informed the research agenda of the EU-funded H2020 project EU-STRAT (www.eu-strat.eu) and will be studied in greater depth within this project.
The fifth area where ISSICEU hopes to have some impact is the more policy oriented debate on how external actors, mainly the EU, should approach the Caucasus. In addition the policy oriented output also provides recommendations for domestic policy makers in the Caucasus, Russia and Turkey.
The project findings give some information on how to improve the promotion of more participatory local governance. It spells out unintended effects which should be avoided. ISSICEU also points out how to reduce conflicts between governments in the Caucasus and Western external actors in the field of civil society development. Another field is foreign trade relations with the Caucasus. Here it is crucial to consider the conflicting logics of political and economic action and to maintain trade links even if a country, such as Armenia, declares to turn to Russia-dominated trade regimes. The project provides details on why to pay attention to Caucasus diaspora groups in Turkey and Russia. It also suggests external actors to seek collaboration with Iran and Turkey in selected aspects of the Caucasus policy.
While the ISSICEU consortium believes to have results worth sharing with policy makers, it depends strongly on the readiness of policy makers and advisors to consider the information produced in an academic environment. In any case, ISSICEU has increased knowledge about the Caucasus and has equipped the consortium participants to flexibly communicate the knowledge to different target groups in the case of interest. A strong impact is expected in particular, in situations of decreasing stability in the Caucasus.
List of Websites:
Project Coordinator University of St. Gallen
Prof. Dr. Dirk Lehmkuhl
Grant agreement ID: 613004
1 January 2014
31 December 2016
€ 2 165 173,85
€ 1 573 957,90
UNIVERSITAET ST. GALLEN
Deliverables not available
Publications not available
Grant agreement ID: 613004
1 January 2014
31 December 2016
€ 2 165 173,85
€ 1 573 957,90
UNIVERSITAET ST. GALLEN
Grant agreement ID: 613004
1 January 2014
31 December 2016
€ 2 165 173,85
€ 1 573 957,90
UNIVERSITAET ST. GALLEN