NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATION AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IN THE TRANSCAUCASUS: INCONSISTENCY AND DOMESTIC RESPONSE

Megumi NISHIMURA


Megumi Nishimura, Assistant Professor, Department of International Politics and Economics, Nishogakusha University (Japan)


Introduction: Issues and Cases

Through the analyses of the cases in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, the article attempts to show two aspects of the international communitys approach to national self-determination. First, it shows that the international community still lacks a consistent norm on how to cope with the contending norms of territorial integrity of the existing states and national self-determination. Although several studies have pointed out the inconsistency of the international community, little has been mentioned about the post-cold war Transcaucasus examples.

Second, while many studies note that there is at present little consensus among international actors about the appropriate approaches to national self-determination,1 few analyze what consequences in domestic scenes of conflict parties the approaches of the international community have left. For this reason, this paper examines the influences of the international communitys approaches to self-determination upon the domestic politics of both host states and secessionists.

Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, and Azerbaijan: Politics of Intolerance

Domestic Politics and the Minsk Plans: 1995-1998

It appeared to be very ironic that despite the quasi-victory in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, support for Ter-Petrossian began to erode after the cease-fire because of internal power struggles, corruption, and economic failures. In December 1994, Ter-Petrossian temporarily suspended the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutiun (ARFD) and arrested its leaders, due to alleged attempts of assassination, terrorism, and drug deals. In the parliamentary elections of July 1995 criticized by the international community, Ter-Petrossians Republic Bloc came to control the parliamentary majority.2

The legitimacy of Ter-Petrossian was further contested in the presidential election on 22 September, 1996. After the Central Election Commission had announced that Ter-Petrossian won by 51.75 percent of the vote, a mob stormed into the parliamentary building where the Central Election Commission had been located in order to see the correct results. Ter-Petrossian declared a state of emergency, and restored order only after using armed forces.

In the international scene Azerbaijan seemed to increasingly become the center of strategic interests of the major powers in the Transcaucasus, largely due to the Caspian oil reserves. In September 1994, the Azerbaijan government and the major western oil companies signed the Contract of the Century. In October 1995, the Azerbaijan government and the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) also agreed to transport early oil through dual pipelines: the one through Novorossiisk in Russia, and the other through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port Ceyhan.

One example of the heightened Western interest in Azerbaijan was shown at the Lisbon Summit of 1996. Here the major western members attempted to include the so-called Lisbon Principles on Nagorno-Karabakh. The principles included the declaration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, high-level autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh, and a security guarantee to the Armenian population. Ter-Petrossian vetoed these principles, criticizing that they predetermined the Nagorno-Karabakh status, which was to be determined later at the Minsk Conference. Still, it was agreed that the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE announced these principles as his personal statement.3

In early 1997, the OSCE changed the structure of the Minsk co-chairmanship, and the U.S., France, and Russia became co-chairs. In May 1997, the new Minsk co-chairs offered a series of proposals whose major points were as follows. The first phase of the proposals demanded the withdrawal of the Nagorno-Karabakh army from the occupied territories in Azerbaijan, the return of refugees, the deployment of international peacekeeping forces, and an end to Azerbaijans blockade on Armenia. Then the conflict parties would begin to negotiate on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, Shusha, and the Lachin Corridor. These negotiations should follow a structured timetable, and the decision on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh would be subject to future negotiation.4

In autumn 1997, Ter-Petrossian openly organized domestic debates on the Minsk proposals through the government-controlled media. First, he argued that the war hindered the economic developments of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict became an obstacle for Armenia to normalize relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, thus depriving Armenia of the opportunity to develop economic relations with them. In order to attract more investment from the West, it was necessary to establish a lasting peace. Second, the international community would not tolerate a continuation of the status quo, because it threatened Western oil interests, regional cooperation, and security. Finally, fully capitalizing on the revenues that the oil in the Caspian Sea might bring to, the Azerbaijan government would strengthen its army. As a result, the status quo could endanger the position of the Armenian side.5

However, the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities adamantly opposed the phased approach. It argued that the withdrawal of Nagorno-Karabakh army from the occupied territories would benefit Azerbaijan without a security guarantee to Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be negotiated from the position of strength. The leading members of the Ter-Petrossian government, including Prime Minister and former President of Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharian, Minister of Defense Vazgen Sarkissian, and Minister of National Security and Internal Affairs Serzh Sarkissian took the side of Nagorno-Karabakh. Kocharian claimed that Armenia would be able to achieve economic developments and normalize relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan without resolving Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Also oil would enrich the Azerbaijan governments clans and family, but due to the corruption it would not strengthen the state structure and the army.6

At the meeting of the Armenian National Security Council on 7-8 January, 1998, the governments disagreements were apparent, and the debate carried over the public arena. While Ter-Petrossians own Armenian National Movement (ANM) and Social Democratic Party of Armenia supported him, other major parties, such as the Republican Party, ARFD, and National Democratic Union (NDU), as well as the powerful veterans NGO, Erkrapa, criticized Ter-Petrossian as a defeatist. After a series of assassination attempts on high-level officials, support for Ter-Petrossian was melting away. On 2 February, 1998, 40 parliamentary members left ANM, and joined Erkrapa. The next day he was forced to resign when he lost their support, and in the election of March 1998 Robert Kocharian was elected as new president.7 Ter-Petrossian and his supporters were defeated in the most critical domestic debate.

Considering these domestic changes in Armenia, the Russian government believed that every process of the peace negotiation should be renewed. The U.S. government also recognized that oil factor alone could not be the decisive force in the negotiation process. In November 1998, the Minsk co-chairs offered another proposal, the so-called common-state approach in which Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh would create a common state. The proposal seemed to consider an international precedent, which was offered to Transdniester. Although avoiding a politically-discredited term autonomy, no one was sure about its precise meaning. It was also a package deal where the major issues would be negotiated at the same time.8

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Armenian leaders looked favorably on this new proposal. The major political parties, including ARFD, NDU, and the Republican Party, which had already integrated Erkrapa, expressed their general support for this proposal, because it contained the major issues which the Armenian side had long advocated.9 Not only leaders in Armenia proper but also hard-liners in Nagorno-Karabakh showed their support. For instance, in his speech at Erevan State University on 21 December, 1998, former Defense Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh Samvel Babaian indicated that he would not oppose the new Minsk proposal, although he clearly opposed the ceding of the Lachin Corridor and Kelbajar to Azerbaijan.10 The Nagorno-Karabakh authorities publicly expressed general support for a common state approach, while clarifying its reservations on the details of the security guarantee, its future authority for foreign policy, and their political status.11

Yet this time it was the domestic politics of Azerbaijan that became a critical obstacle to the Minsk process. In the summer of 1998, Azerbaijan opposition parties intensified their demands for liberalizing the governments suppression. On 12 September the opposition parties organized a demonstration in which reportedly 70-200 people participated. The demonstrators clashed with police resulting in a number of injuries.12

The presidential election of October 1998 was also harshly contested by both the opposition parties and the international community. The domestic turmoil in Azerbaijan led Alievs government to take a more cautious stance on the Minsk common state proposal. Soon after the press leaked the Minsk proposal, the Movement for Democracy voiced its criticism. Even the leaders of the ruling Unity Bloc expressed their caution. In November 1998, the Azerbaijan leadership expressed serious reservations in the tense internal political situation just after the disputed presidential election. It was believed that anything that could be contrived as a concession on the part of Azerbaijan would instigate popular discontent. With opinion against the Minsk proposal the Aliev government publicly said it would not accept it.13

National Aspirations and Economic Realities: after 1999

Although domestic politics forced the national leaders of both countries to negotiate from a position of strength, even dignified approaches did not change the economic realities of the country. There were a number of statistics that showed the misery of the mass population in both countries. In Armenia, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 50 percent in 1992. Statistics showed the trend of rebound in 1994, yet in 1997 GDP increased only by 3.3 percent, while the inflation rate jumped by 21 percent. Although the IMF was satisfied with the governments tight fiscal policies, these same policies led to lower wages among the mass population. For instance, the UNDP report indicated 41 percent of Armenian families earned less than 31 U.S. dollars per capita in 1998. Perhaps not surprisingly, an end result of this poverty was a huge out-migration. According to an unofficial source, since the late 1980s, more than 400,000 Armenians went out of Armenia to other countries, mainly Russia. It was a remarkable number for a country of only 3.5 million.

In such an impoverished society, Nagorno-Karabakh no longer was a priority for people who had to struggle in their daily lives. According to opinion polls surveying approximately 550 Armenian leaders, including academics, journalists, and party leaders, in May 1990 and October 1992, the respondents ranked the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as the third national priority. Yet in 1998 the respondents ranked economic issues as the first priority, while virtually nobody chose the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a national priority.14

In Azerbaijan the mass public suffered from as much economic difficulty as the Armenian population, if not worse. The UNDPs Human Development Index ranked Azerbaijan as 103th, which was lower than Armenian ranking as 87th. However, more serious developments in Azerbaijan were the problem of the Caspian oil reserves. Already in 1998, the financial crises in South-East Asia led to the downfall of oil prices up to 10 dollars per barrel. Although the prices showed upward trends in 1999, the questionable prospects on the quantity and quality of the oil reserves as well as the high cost for drilling began to seriously dampen the enthusiasm. Discontent and desperation began to spread among the de-politicized impoverished former middle classes, which had been the backbone of Alievs supporters.15

Meanwhile, after the failures of two proposals, the Minsk co-chairs agreed that the two presidents should at first hammer out the points of concession. At the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) 50th anniversary in Washington D.C. in April 1999, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met Azerbaijan President Aliev. Later Kocharian and Aliev agreed on direct talks on negotiations for Nagorno-Karabakh. Since then, the two presidents have repeatedly met in neutral sites, such as Moscow, Geneva, and Georgia. At these meetings a number of concessions had been discussed. Among them was the territorial exchange of more than occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The western community was fairly optimistic about the developments of talks until the end of October. On 27 October, 1999, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot visited Erevan, and discussed the issues with Armenian leaders. However in one hour after this meeting, unknown gunmen broke into the Armenian parliament and assassinated Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkissian, Chairman of the parliament Karen Demirchian, and other parliamentarians.16

After the October assassination, the Armenian government was in a state of dismay. Reportedly disagreements between Kocharian and Erkrapa regarding the investigation of the October attack as well as a power struggle between Kocharian and a newly appointed Prime Minister Aram Sarkissian continued. However, in the early spring of 2000 Kocharian increasingly appeared to consolidate his power.

A similar process of discrediting Kocharians enemies was going on in the domestic politics of Nagorno-Karabakh. In June 1999, President of Nagorno-Karabakh Arkady Ghoukassian replaced Prime Minister Zhirayr Poghosian, an alleged close associate of former Defense Minister Babaian, with Anoushvan Danielian, due to differences in economic policies. On 22 March, 2000, unknown gunmen attacked President Ghoukassian, seriously injuring him. Within a few days Babaian and his close associates were arrested for the alleged assassination attempt. In the parliamentary election of June 2000, where hard-liners were effectively excluded, supporters for the current authorities controlled the majority.17 During this process, Kocharian has shown his strong support for the Ghoukassian regime. Consequently, the current authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh and its parliament are in favor of a negotiated settlement through the Minsk Group. When the processes of discrediting hard-liners in Nagorno-Karabakh had ended in early April, Kocharian told the Minsk co-chairs that he had overcome the domestic obstacles. Since then, talks between Armenian and Azerbaijan presidents were renewed.

Meanwhile, major international organizations, including UNDP, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the EU, and other INGOs have actively engaged in post-conflict rehabilitation and humanitarian activities in both Azerbaijan and Armenia proper. Yet one should take note that international organizations activities certainly had limits. First, the domestic politics of the U.S. resulted in a very skewed feature of the humanitarian assistance for Azerbaijan and Armenia. The famous Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act of 1992 prohibited assistance to the government of Azerbaijan until the [U.S.] President determines, and so report to the Congress that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockade and other offensive uses of forces against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Although the funds to local Azeri NGOs have not been prohibited, the Section 907 caused resentment among the Azeri officials and the local population.18

Second, the international community has strictly observed the norm of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and avoided any activity in Nagorno-Karabakh. None of the international organizations, including the UNHCR, worked in Nagorno-Karabakh. Exception were NGOs which received funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as INGOs which had a lot of their own funds, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières.19 For this reason, these relatively affluent grants did not contribute to the development of any civil element independent of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities.

Finally, reflecting these politically-sensitive issues, few organizations have engaged in confidence-building between the grassroots of Armenia and Azerbaijan. For instance, the Eurasia Foundation launched a South Caucasus Cooperation Project through the USAID grants, which aimed at cooperation among various professional organizations in Transcaucasus. The projects tried to develop better communication among the professionals by coordinating currently different national standards.20 Yet this organization also did not engage in confidence-building activities, which included Karabakh Armenians and Azeri citizens. Even though local NGOs recognized the necessity of contacts among them, it is very difficult to launch independent due to an overwhelming reliance on the international funds for their projects.

Perhaps the only local NGO, which worked for confidence-building activities independent of international community, was the Fund Against Violation of Law. Since 1990 it has been working for the exchanges of prisoners of war. Due to its long history of experiences and close relations with Azeri NGOs, such as the Human Rights Center led by Eldar Zeylanov, the Fund has gradually gained moral support of both conflict parties, including the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities and Azerbaijan. As of June 2000, the Fund contributed to exchanges of more than 1,000 prisoners of war. Although a crucial aspect of confidence-building, exchanges of prisoners of war is an area where very little international attention has been paid. The Fund also advocated convening a conference where the representatives of the governments, the international community, and local NGOs could discuss and exchange information on missing persons in war. However, a representative of the Fund who appealed to representatives of transnational organizations observed that nobody was interested in her idea.21

Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Politics of Double-Standard Diplomacy

National Leaders Between the West and Russia: 1995-1999

The negotiation in the UN on the Abkhaz conflict began in late 1993, when Russia put pressure on the conflict parties to start talks in Geneva. In November 1993, the conflict parties signed a memorandum of understanding on the non-use of force, the return of Georgian refugees, and the creation of multilateral commission for conflict resolution. Meanwhile the UN Security Council adopted a series of resolutions. The first resolution, which defined the mandates of military observers, was overtaken by events on the ground. In May 1994, another Security Councils resolution expanded the number of observers to 136, and instructed them to monitor the implementation of cease-fire, as well as the cooperation with CIS peacekeeping forces. In June 1994, Russia deployed five battalions of peacekeeping forces, yet despite the UN resolution, there was little cooperation between the UN Observers Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the CIS peacekeeping forces.22

The Geneva negotiations became stalemated almost from the beginning. The talks resulted in an agreement of February 1994 on the return of Georgian refugees sponsored by Russia and UNHCR. Also on 4 April, 1994 the conflict parties have reached another agreement on the returns of refugees, which established a quadripartite commission for the return of refugees. Yet, the Abkhaz side apparently did not want to allow a large number of refugees to return. The discussion in the quadripartite commission on the return of refugees did not yield any substantial results, and after summer 1995 its work was halted. In May 1998 another military skirmish broke out in the Gali Region. This confrontation led to the displacement of another 30,000 Georgians, many of whom had returned to Gali Region after the cease-fire. Although the conflict parties agreed on non-resumption of hostilities, none of the agreements, including the return of refugees, have been substantially implemented.

The critical issue on the political status of Abkhazia has been negotiated through the leadership of Russia with a nominal link with the Geneva process. In 1995, when Minister of Foreign Affairs Evgenii Primakov was appointed, the Russian government began to actively pursue conflict resolution in the former Soviet Union, including Abkhazia and Transdniester.

In spring 1995, the Georgian government was under pressure from the international community, especially Russia, to clearly define its position on Abkhaz constitutional status. In May Georgia signed a memorandum with Russia establishing an asymmetrical federation of Georgia based on the Russian Federation model. The memorandum received the strong support in the UN. According to this model, the Georgian state was composed of units with varying degrees of autonomy. Thus Abkhaz and Ajaria, another disputed region in Georgia, were granted prerogatives as well as veto power regarding some national issues. The Georgian side then offered a proposal based upon the discussions in Geneva.23

While the details of the negotiation were secret, the Georgian negotiators as well as other secondary sources revealed that Abkhaz negotiator Anri Djergenia showed willingness to compromise on several points. However, soon after this, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba and the parliament rejected the proposal.24 The sudden change of attitudes on the Abkhaz side related to changes on the Georgian side. Around this time terrorist detachments named White Legion, led by a former Gamsakhurdia follower Zurab Samushia, and Forest Brothers, led by a former Mkhedrioni member Dato Shengelia, which had targeted CIS peacekeepers, began to destabilize the Gali Region. Apparently the Abkhaz side assumed that, while publicly committing to the negotiation process, the Georgian side actually derailed them.25 While the Georgian government publicly denied accusations by the CIS peacekeeping forces and UNOMIG that the Georgian secret service had rendered support, finance, or training to terrorists, there has been no formal investigation into the alleged complicity of Georgian officials.26 It was quite difficult for any outside observer to assess the alleged connections. However, one can at least say that the lack of control of the Georgian central government over these military detachments acted to derail the negotiations in 1995.

While negotiations in 1995 broke down due to the informal military detachments in Gali Region, the failed negotiation in 1997 clearly demonstrated the contradiction and inconsistency regarding the normative approach to the territorial integrity of Georgia between the West and Russia. Again in 1997 Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Primakov actively engaged in fostering direct talks between Shevardnadze and Abkhaz President Ardzinba, and tried to persuade them to accept a Russian version of the agreement.27 The thrust of the Russian proposal was as follows. First, Abkhazia was to be returned as part of Georgia according to the principle of a state of common borders, which included a confederation elements based upon equal relations of both sides regarding foreign policy, national security issues, and customs policy. Second, the Russian military would continue to be stationed both in Georgia proper and in Abkhazia.28 According to the Abkhaz side, Ardzinba told Primakov that he would sign the Russian proposal. The agreement was to be signed at the meeting between Shevardnadze and Ardzinba on 18 July of that year. Yet, this time, the Georgian leaders failed to show up at the meeting.29

The Georgian side had changed its policy under pressure from the so-called Friends of Georgia, which included the U.S., England, France, and Germany. They believed that the degree of high-level autonomy for Abkhazia was not acceptable, and persuaded Shevardnadze that Russian forces could be removed from Georgia.30 In fact, in October 1998, Russian frontier troops departed from Georgia. At the Istanbul Summit of 1999, Russia agreed to withdraw two of the four military bases in Georgia. It was widely reported that in exchange for the withdrawal of military bases, the West agreed not to pressure Russia regarding the Chechen conflict.31 In the final statement of the Istanbul Summit, member states confirmed the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and mildly referred to the necessity of further efforts at conflict resolution in Chechnia. Since then, various negotiation attempts have been conducted, and even meetings between Shevardnadze and Ardzinba were planned. Yet these meetings have repeatedly been postponed due to protests on the Abkhaz side regarding the activities of White Legion and Forrest Brothers.32 Moreover, the Abkhaz side declared independence in November 1999, and has tried to consolidate its statehood.

State and Quasi-State in the Societies: Hostages of Radical Opinions

It is also interesting to understand how the international communitys approaches to the conflicts have influenced the domestic politics. Perhaps the most radical force in Georgia was the Abkhaz government-in-exile, composed of the pre-war Georgian deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. While the international community has never recognized the government-in-exile, the central Georgian government recognized the government-in-exile as the legitimate representative of Abkhazia and incorporated it into the state structure. The government-in-exile vocally advocated the international recognition of genocide during the civil war, as well as the recovery of the lost territories through military means.33 Although because of the Abkhaz opposition, the government-in-exile did not join the Geneva negotiations, the emotional nature of the conflict and the presence of 250,000 internally-displaced persons (IDP) hindered the central government from excluding the government-in-exile from the state politics.

The Georgian parliament, on the other hand, showed more divergent opinions regarding the Abkhaz issue. While some deputies impatiently advocated military solutions or even the Kosovo-style solution in the case of further stalemates,34 the parliamentary leadership had more cautious opinions of Abkhazias problems. For instance, as of 2000, there were 20 deputies in the Georgian parliament who had been elected from the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia in 1992. The leader among them, Vakhtang Kobaia, Vice Speaker of the Georgian Parliament and Chairman of the Special Committee on Abkhazia, told that it was unrealistic to recover lost territories by military means.35 One opposition leader, Kubaz Sanikidze, Vice Chairman of the Special Committee on Abkhazia and Vice-Chairman of Traditionalists, went so far as to state that the Georgian side needed to recognize the fault policies, which it had committed during the civil war.36 Although various parliamentary resolutions did not legally bind the administration, the parliament was certainly an arena for which the administration had to sell the peace plan. One can conclude that just as the Abkhaz government-in-exile prevented the Georgian government from compromising, the parliament forced the central government to commit to the Geneva process.

While occasionally causing a very emotional reaction, the Abkhaz issue has no longer attracted on a daily basis the attention of the populace, who has been impoverished in the process of economic transition. According to an opinion poll in late 1999 conducted by an independent company, 39.1 percent of the respondents cited improvement in economic conditions as a national priority, while only 8.2 percent of them raised the Abkhaz issue.37

Another potential source of political destabilization in Georgian civil society was the large number of Georgian IDPs from Abkhazia. Yet they also showed the same apathetic tendency as the other Georgians. According to one refugees survey, only 2.4 percent of the respondents wished to return to their homeland by any means, while the majority wanted to return there on the guarantee of the international community. As many Western aid workers have said, the majority of the refugees did not organize politically and survived daily by relying upon humanitarian assistance.38

As in the most of the conflict zones, the de facto authorities in Abkhazia have tightly controlled the local population, and virtually no civil society existed. Recently many western observers recognized a fairly independent political movement Initiative Group in Sukhumi. The group was composed of politicians who had unsuccessfully attempted to run an alternative candidate at the presidential election of Abkhazia in November 1999.39

Several international organizations have worked in Abkhazia. However, the influence of their activities has been as limited as in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although both the UNOMIG office and the human rights officers of the OSCE were stationed in Sukhumi, and engaged in the human rights activities, their activities have not been proceeded, due to the lack of cooperation from authority and friction between the OSCEs officers and the commanders of the local UN office. Furthermore, while the OSCE offered several small-scaled projects on human rights and media freedom in Sukhumi, the projects were not expanded enough to produce substantial results, due to the lack of funds as well as the decision of the OSCEs headquarter that the OSCE would not become a grant organization.

In Sukhumi there were several independent local NGOs engaged in community development or confidence-building activities through the funds of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Volunteer Fund, and the Great Britain-based INGO Oxfam. Some international funds were allocated for confidence-building activities between Abkhaz and Georgian societies.40 For instance, the Georgian NGO the Center for International Security on Conflict and Negotiation organized a series of seminars in the Northern Caucasus where Georgian governments officials, opposition parties leaders, the representatives of the Abkhaz government-in-exile, and Abkhaz NGO activists participated. The organizers of these seminars recalled that the Abkhaz participants recognized the necessity of compromise with the Georgian side.41 However, the problem here was that no matter how much the Abkhaz intellectuals might reach a reasonable conclusion, it did not seem to influence the policies of Abkhaz authorities or society. Rather one Abkhaz NGO activist recalled that contacts with Georgians led to troubles not only with local authorities but also with his own community.42

Moreover, other major international organizations, such as the UNDP or the EU, did not work for development projects in Abkhazia because they assumed that post-conflict reconstruction should be done in tandem with developments of political negotiations. Other INGOs who had high international reputations on humanitarian assistance or human rights issues, such as the Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Refugee Council, either did not work in Abkhazia or engage in the small-scaled activities. For this reason, the activities of these international organizations have not yet led to a recognition by the local population of the value of cooperating with the international community.

Perhaps the only source of the Abkhaz side, which would be able to influence the politics of negotiations, was the divisions among the ruling clans. According to one western observer, there were divisions between the Ochamchira clan led by the Chairman of the Abkhaz Parliament Sokrat Jinjoliya, and the Gudauta clan led by Ardzinba. Jinjoliya showed a more negative opinion on the return of the Georgian refugees to Gali Region. He even opposed the notion of a state of common borders, which the Ardzinbas regime had once shown a willingness to compromise.43 Rather than democratizing Abkhaz society, this division among the ruling clans seemed to further hinder the Ardzinbas regime to compromise with Georgian negotiators.

As such, both the Georgian government and Abkhaz authorities now seemed to be trapped in the radical claims which they had once instigated, and could not find a way of compromise. Although there are very weak elements of civil societies in both Georgia and Abkhazia, they have virtually no impact on a specific stage of negotiations. One Georgian informant observed that not only disappointed with the international community, which has never recognized the Abkhaz aspiration of self-determination, but also deeply resentful of their own leaders who sold them an unachievable dream of national independence, Abkhaz intellectuals have been weary of the North Caucasus situation which would decide their fates.44

Conclusions: National Self-Determination and the International Community

This article seeks to reveal two aspects of national self-determination. While it examined only a limited number of cases, the detailed analyses revealed the striking differences of major powers approaches to secessionists claims. First, while the western community has been deeply committed to territorial integrity of Georgia regarding the Abkhaz conflict, Russia seemed to observe this principle only on the declaratory level. However, in the Nagorno-Karabakh case, the international community has shifted its positions regarding the degrees of autonomy to be allowed to secessionists. Evidence demonstrated that especially the U.S. policies regarding Nagorno-Karabakh have been influenced by both the strategic considerations for the Caspian oil reserves and the ethnic lobbies of Armenian Diaspora in the U.S. Congress.

These international policies toward national self-determination in the Transcaucasus have caused mixed responses of the domestic actors. In the Abkhaz case, the competing approaches of Russia and the West have derailed the negotiations in 1997. Shevardnadze had once accepted the Russian plan which offered the highest autonomy to Abkhazia, yet later he has changed his mind under the pressure of the western countries. Consequently the recurrent failures of negotiations led the oppositions to tighten their policies on the settlement principles.

In the Nagorno-Karabakh case where the international society has hesitated to offer economic investments to the conflict parties, any regime in both Armenia and Azerbaijan had difficulty in keeping radical claims, due to the lack of investments. Thus both Kocharian and Aliev, who had at first advocated the more nationalistic approaches to the principles of conflict resolution, later took the more realistic views. Although the details had not been made public, apparently Kocharians policy changes seemed to influence the moderation of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities.

At the same time, the emphasis of territorial integrity of the existing states has hindered the developments of both the confidence-building activities among the conflict parties and independent civil societies, which would potentially moderate national aspirations for self-determination among citizens. Due to the lack of civil elements in the conflict zones, the governments in power seemed to be trapped in radical claims, which they had once instigated. Perhaps the time is ripe for the international community to further civil societies in the conflict zones.


The research was supported by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture, the Japan Foundation, and the International Visitors Program of the United States Information Agency. Most interviews were conducted in the background basis. I would like to express my appreciations to those who share their views with the author.

1 See: Alexis Heraclides, The Self-Determination of Minorities in International Politics, Frank Cass, London, 1991; Kamal S. Shehadi, Ethnic Self-Determination and the Break-up of States, Adelphi Paper 283, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, 1993; Galina Starovoitova, Sovereignty After Empire: Self-Determination Movements in the Former Soviet Union, Peacework, No.19, 1997, The United States Institute of Peace, Washington D.C. Available from [http//:www.usip.org/pubs/pworks/pwks19/intro19.htm]. Accessed on 31 August, 2000.

2 See: Helsinki Commission. Report on Armenias Presidential Election of 22 September, 1996. Washington D.C.

3 Authors interview with Alexander Arzmanian, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, 19 June, 2000, Erevan.

4 See: Helsinki Commission. Report on Armenias Presidential Election, 16 and 30 March, 1998. Washington D.C.; Patricia Carley, Nagorno-Karabakh: Searching for a Solution, Peacework, No. 25, 1998. Available from [http://www.usip.org/pubs/pworks/psks25/chap1-25.html]. Accessed on 11 September, 2000.

5 See: Helsinki Commission. Report on Armenias Presidential Election, 16 and 30 March, 1998. Washington D.C.

6 Ibid.

7 Authors interview with Tigran Torsian, Vice Speaker of the Armenian Parliament and member of the Republican Party, 23 June, 2000, Erevan.

8 Patricia Carley, op. cit.

9 Authors interviews with Torsian, Simon Bagdasarian, Director of International Affairs of National Democratic Union, 29 June, 2000, Erevan, and Suren Sureniants, Deputy Mayor of City of Erevan and Member of Erkrapa, 28 June, 2000, Erevan.

10 RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 23 December, 1998.

11 Authors interview with Karen Mirzoian, Nagorno-Karabakh permanent representative in the Republic of Armenia, 23 June, 2000, Erevan.

12 RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 15 September, 1998.

13 RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 8 December, 1998.

14 Authors interview with Aharon Adibekian, Director of Sociometr, an independent opinion poll company, 15 June, 2000, Erevan. Original survey was conducted in the Armenian language, and the results were given to the author by Adibekian.

15 Thomas Goltz, Back in Baku: Watching Boon Go Bust, Washington Quarterly, No. 22 (3), 1999 (Summer).

16 Noyan Tapan, 10 November, 1999.

17 Noyan Tapan 31 March, 2000.

18 S. Neil MacFarlaine, Larry Minear, and Stephen D. Shield, Armed Conflict in Caucasus: A Case Study in Humanitarian Action and Peacekeeping. Occasional Paper # 21, RI: Brown University, 1996.

19 Soon after the cease-fire, the EUs ECHO also offered a small-scale emergency humanitarian assistance.

20 Authors interview with Gaiana Mabakian, Grant Manager of the Eurasia Foundation, 11 July, 2000, Erevan.

21 Authors interview with Larisa Araverdian, Executive Director of the Fund Against Violation of Law, 19 July, 2000.

22 Dov. Lynch, The Conflict in Abkhazia: Dilemmas in Russian Peacekeeping Policy, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 1998, p. 30.

Aves, Jonathan. 1997. Georgia: From Chaos to Stability. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs. P. 31

23 Authors interview with Vazha Lordkipanidze, former State Minister of Georgia, 18 May, 2000.

24 Authors interviews with Lordkipanidze and another high-level presidential staff of Georgia, 20 April, 2000, Tbilisi.

25 Authors interview with David Petrossian, Political Analyst of Noyan Tapan, who reported the Abkhaz and Nagorno-Karabakh, 8 June, 2000, Erevan.

26 Another source reported that Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Abkhaz government-in-exile Tamaz Nadareishvili acted as a middle man between these military detachments and the Georgian government (RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 4 June, 2000).

27 Dov. Lynch, op. cit., p. 11.

28 Authors interviews with Sergey Shamba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, 11 April, 2000, Sukhumi and with Petrossian.

29 Authors interview with Shamba. The Georgian negotiator told the author that Ardzinba came to Tbilisi in summer 1997, but this did not mean the progress of negotiation. Authors interview with Lordkipanidze.

30 Authors interview with Petrossian.

31 RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 25 November, 1999.

32 RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 12 August, 1998.

33 Supreme Council of Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia 1999. Authors interview with Londer Tsaava, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia (Abkhaz government-in-exile), 20 April, 2000, Tbilisi.

34 Authors interview with Nino Burdjanadze, Chairwoman of Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Georgian Parliament, 26 April, 2000, Tbilisi.

35 Authors interview with Vakhtang Kobaia, 20 April, 2000, Tbilisi.

36 Authors interview with Kubaz Sanikidze, 26 April, 2000, Tbilisi.

37 Georgian Opinion Research Business International 1999. RIDER Survey, Tbilisi.

38 Authors anonymous interviews with several Western aid workers, 16 and 20 April, 2000, Tbilisi.

39 Author's interview with Zakareishvili.

40 Approximately 40 local NGOs were registered at the Abkhaz Ministry of Justice. List of Local NGOs, Abkhaz Public Document # 2, Library of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), Tbilisi.

41 Authors interview with Georgii Khutsishvili, Director of the Center for International Security on Conflict and Negotiation, 21 April, 2000, Tibilisi.

42 Authors anonymous interview with an Abkhaz local NGO activist, 11 April, 2000, Sukhumi.

43 Authors interview with Sokrat Jinjoliya, 11 April, 2000, Sukhumi.

44 Author's interview with Zakareishvili, 13 April, 2000.


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