The Caucasian Talk Circle

YEREVAN – The Caucasus is among the world’s most divided and incoherent regions. Its three republics – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – failed to learn from similarly linked groups of countries, such as the Benelux countries and the Baltic states, which, despite their historical grievances and political differences, united to achieve their common goals of stability, prosperity, and democracy. Is it too late for the Caucasus to change course?

To be sure, when the Russian Empire disintegrated after World War I, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia formed a confederation to face the threats posed by Turkish encroachment from the west, and Soviet incursions from the north. But, after a few months, each went its own way as an independent state. Two years later, all were absorbed into the Soviet Union.

In 1991, when all three became independent again, similar proposals of confederation and union were floated. Nothing of the sort was realized. What divides these countries today is not religion, ethnicity, culture, history, or traditions; it is the differing visions, prospects, ambitions, convictions, and aspirations that they espouse and pursue.

To the extent that political and economic institutions determine the nature of a region’s international role, the Caucasus is more comparable to the counties bordering North Africa than the Baltics or Old Europe. Its political systems are unstable; its economies are more oligarchical than liberal; territorial disputes are resolved by force; and its foreign-policy vectors point in different directions.