Caucasus leaving the Cold War

By Johan Galtung
Writing from Tbilisi, Georgia

With Georgia (4.5 million) a client of the USA (314 million), fighting its war in Afghanistan; Armenia (3.3 million) leaning towards Russia (143 million); and Azerbaijan (9.2 million) in a bitter conflict over the Armenian enclave Karabagh on much of its territory (less so over the Azeri enclave Nakhichevan on Armenian soil), the stage is set. Add the Russian cultural enclaves in Georgia–Abkhazia and South Ossetia–recognized by few, but some, as states, and visits to Caucasus were a time machine trip back to the Cold War.

But that is not all where Georgia is concerned. There is also the Muslim Adjara enclave bordering on Turkey, and Azeris, Armenians and others, living in the very multinational Georgia, some with strong territorial attachments. People of at least 28 nations live among and around each other in the Caucasus. But modernity demanded clear state borders, also in what became in 1922 the Soviet Union. The state system did not fit the nation system, but states there must be, all over, subjecting dozens of minorities to dominant nations that create illusions by imprinting the three states with their names.

Same as in Europe. Some are close to mono-national (the Nordics, Germany, Austria, Italy). But most are multi-national and carry the names of the dominant nation. Except for Switzerland and Belgium–today multi-cultural federations (Andorra?). Names may stand in the way.

But that is not all where Caucasus is concerned. The region is surrounded by Big Powers. Russia to the North with Soviet dominance; Turkey (75 million) to the West with massive killing of Armenians; Iran (79 million) to the South in a conflict with Azerbaijan over “Greater Azerbaijan” (“greater” is actually used by all of the above). And then the USA, all over, spying from above, its “greater” being the whole world, seeking bases and allies for a possible war with China, now coming up against the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

And yet all of it is today being challenged by new forces [i].

To them the old thinking-talking-acting based on hegemony between states and unitary states within–compensating for what they lose of autonomy to a Big Power by denying it to others within–is out. What is in–the details by no means being clear–is equity among states in the global state system, and autonomy inside states for nations.

Thus, Georgia has a very impressive movement of veterans from the bitter wars with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, also generating thousands of IDP, internally displaced persons. They use peoples’ diplomacy as a supplement to governmental diplomacy; sometimes also opposed to it. Knowledgeable, they identify the autonomous status of Aland from the 1920s as a model, combining territorial links to Finland, cultural to Sweden and a clear warning to Big Powers to stay out. New thinking.

This is also found in the young generation, less rigid, trained as conflict facilitators in the numerous conflicts, like the veterans using dialogue as an approach to create new openings. There is even a peace village close to the three states’ meeting point with Georgians and, Armenians and Azeris living together, pointing to a Caucasian identity so brilliantly kept alive by the Caucasus House in Tbilisi.

And in and among women, compassionate, with strong solidarity among mothers. But the word patria is found in patriotism (loyalty to the state) and patriarchy (rule by men), waning but still powerful. Thus, to Bouthoul the French polemologist, war was a way older men got rid of younger rivals and to Fornari, the Italian psychologist, war was a mandate to kill as an outlet for the traumas acquired in states.

Fourth: the Georgian state searches beyond “reintegration” (of occupied territory) and “euroatlantic integration” (US-NATO against SCO). The Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs has meetings and dialogues across fault-liens, and the Ministry of Conflict Resolution promotes a peace process rather than a stand fixed in advance.

What does this remind us of? Certainly of the Nordic countries with Denmark dominating Norway and Iceland, Sweden Finland and then Norway, with Denmark-Norway fighting Sweden with the peoples on both sides of the borders refusing to participate since they were victims of both armies–a very important peace zone from the 17th century that played some role when Norway peacefully seceded from the union with Sweden in 1905. Territories changed hands, and yet with the open borders of the Nordic Union or Community this became less important.

Nordics are also in the claws of Big Powers: in the Second World War Finland was at war with the Soviet Union, lost territory, was occupied; Denmark-Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany; Iceland was a battlefield for the Big. But this led to the Cold War Nordic Balance with Finland specializing in the Soviet Union; Sweden-Denmark Germany in different ways; Norway-Iceland in Anglo-America. Georgia could be the Russia specialist, Armenia on Turkey and Azerbaijan on Iran; all three also on the positive aspects, that is where peace is located.

And all of them seeking both a Caucasian identity working on joint history textbooks (not easy), joint enterprises for joint import-export, a joint airline, joint patrolling of inner and outer borders, also with Russians, Turks and Iranians. And politically, creating a Caucasian Parliament with both states and nations represented for articulating and solving problems, and for softening borders. All three may also reinvent themselves as federations with several Alands within, or as confederations should parties insist on independence.

And Caucasus reminds us of how the European Community-Union bridges borders between enemies, also stretching out to nations. The eastward expanding European Union may one day coincide with the Council of Europe where the three states are members and provide that border-softening umbrella. The three states could become associate members or full members in a European Union where wars are unthinkable.


[i]. For the TRANSCEND perspectives on Caucasus from 1997 see chapter 39 in 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, TRANSCEND University Press-TUP, 2008.

With deep gratitude to Irakli Kakabadze for excellent cooperation with much perseverance during all these years from 1996 when we met at George Mason University in Fairfax VA, USA.

Originally published at Transcend Media Service here.

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