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Conflict in Karabakh: Georgia’s careful balancing act

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, January 22
The conflict surrounding the Mountainous Karabakh area represents yet another prolonged and painful issue in the South Caucasus. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, this conflict emerged between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh. Both parties claimed these territories as their own. The confrontation soon took on a military character and after a short period, a war took place between the two neighboring countries. Armenia enjoyed support from the Russia military base located in Armenia and as the result, Armenia occupied Karabakh and several adjacent regions of Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. Since then the conflict has been frozen. From the very beginning of the conflict Georgia found itself in a very awkward position. Both countries are neighbors to Georgia and Georgia has a substantial population of both ethnic Armenians and Azeris. This has forced Tbilisi to conduct a fragile balancing act while maintaining good relations with both sides.

During the military conflict in the 90s, Georgia’s leadership under Shevardnadze made the wise decision to categorically announce to Azeri and Armenian ethnic citizens in Georgia not to interfere in the conflict and not to continue the confrontation inside Georgia. Tbilisi successfully managed to exercise this approach and Georgian citizens of both ethnicities have been able to peacefully cohabitate in Georgia.

However, this issue has been a headache for Georgia ever since. Both of Georgia’s neighbours are very sensitive with regard to the Georgian position. Azerbaijan in particular wants Georgia to stress that Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan and that Armenia is illegally occupying Azeri territory. Armenia on the other hand wants Georgia to cope with Karabakh’s so-called independence from Azeri rule. Both countries have a special relationship with Georgia. Azerbaijan and Georgia are strategic partners; they are intensively cooperating in important energy projects, in particular transporting Caspian oil and gas to the world market via Georgia. With Armenia, Georgia has very deep historic cultural and religious ties. Recently this topic was touched on by Georgian authorities. Georgia’s Catholicos Patriarch Illia II, foreign minister Maia Panjikidze and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, recently expressed their opinion over the issue. Of course Georgia is in a very delicate situation, as it also has its own territorial problems as illustrated by Russia’s continued occupation of Georgia’s break-away regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region (S. Ossetia). Georgia tries not to openly broadcast its direct position and is careful not to take sides. Mostly, Georgia stresses that the conflict should be solved in a peaceful way. As such, Georgian leaders continue to maintain a balanced position on the matter lest they upset one side or the other.

Political analysts and politicians comment about Georgia’s position on the issue and attempt to involve Georgia onto their side regarding the conflict. So, Georgia should be very cautious, balanced, and use common sense. It should put its own interest above all others and try to take advantage of the situation.

Many events are held in Georgia that provide an excellent arena for the Azeri and Armenian nation to meet each other. Georgian educational institutions (GIPA for example) provide facilities for Armenians and Azeris to study here. Georgia also promotes personal contacts between the two countries as well. Even world officials who travel to the South Caucasus use Tbilisi as neutral territory to base their business or operations.