Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#7 - JRL 7033
From: jonesme@rferl.org [mailto:jonesme@rferl.org]
Sent: Friday, January 24, 2003
Subject: BRIEFING REPORT: Looming Instability in the Transcaucasus?

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036
tel: (202) 457-6900 * fax: (202) 457-6992
CONTACT: Martins Zvaners (202) 457-6948
Melody Jones (202) 457-6949

Looming Instability in the Transcaucasus?

(Washington, DC--January 17, 2003) Western policy-makers should pay more
attention to domestic sources of
potential instability in the Transcaucasus -- rampant corruption, massive
unemployment, dysfunctional democracies, a widening divide between rich
and poor, and the imminent political leadership transitions facing Georgia
and Azerbaijan -- and less on commercial issues and the U.S.-Russian focus
on security. That was the message of analyst Richard Giragosian, who spoke
at a recent RFE/RL briefing in Washington.

Giragosian said that in all three of the countries of the
Transcaucasus -- Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia -- power is concentrated
in the hands of small, clan-based elites, which are fueled and rewarded by
corruption. Strong executives rule each of the governments, with weak
parliaments and dependent judiciaries. The upper layer of wealthy elites
is set apart from an overwhelming majority of people who are poor,
powerless and resentful. Civil society is not deeply rooted in the region,
and the media is dominated by state-run broadcasters and press outlets and
a few harassed, financially vulnerable opposition or independent media.

Armenian politics are dominated by corruption, cronyism and a
siege mentality that Giragosian characterized in general as "good
government gone bad." The 1999 parliamentary killings and the December
2002 murder of a senior state media official are "aberrations from the
otherwise steady course of Armenian democracy." Although he displays a
seeming "arrogance of power," President Robert Kocharian is almost
guaranteed reelection next month and, according to Giragosian, is in a
good position to settle the long-standing conflict over Nagorno-Karabagh.
The key to solving the conflict, in Giragosian's view, is to forge a
settlement that offers Azerbaijan a "face-saving accommodation."

"Dynastic succession" is the key problem facing Azerbaijan, in
Giragosian's opinion, along with the growth of aggressive nationalism and
overdependence on the oil sector. President Heidar Aliev, 80, has
"anointed" his ill-prepared son Ilham to succeed him. Once "cunning"
President Aliev passes from the scene, Azerbaijan may even face civil war
-- from elements in the marginalized political opposition or ethnic
separatists among the Lezghin and Talysh peoples.

Giragosian said that Georgia may be seen as a "failing state,"
with federation offering a possible solution to the country's chronic
ethnic minority crises in Southern Ossetia, Abkhazia, Adjaria, and most
recently, involving the Armenian minority in the southern Georgian region
of Javakhetia. Rampant corruption -- which accounts for almost half the
economy -- along with a looming succession crisis once 75-year-old
President Eduard Shevardnadze leaves office in 2005, led Giragosian to
express serious concerns about the future stability of Georgia.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a private, international
communications service to Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe, Russia,
the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East funded by the US Congress
through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Back to the Top    Next Article