The World Today, Vol. 49, No. 5 (May, 1993), pp. 89-92
Published by: Royal Institute of International Affairs
The Transcaucasus is an intricate patchwork of ethnic and religious groups, only partially confined within borders that have been arbitrarily drawn and redrawn over the past 70 years and are currently the scene of more actual and potential inter-ethnic conflicts than any other area of the former Soviet Union. Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh; South Ossetia is struggling to secede from Georgia and join the Russian Federation; while Abkhazia wants to negotiate a federal agreement with Georgia. The fact that the regional powers most keenly interested in neutralising these disputes (Turkey, Iran and Russia) have their own, sometimes conflicting strategic and policy aims in the region, continues to obstruct mediation efforts.
Despite the ethnic and religious components, the Transcaucasus conflicts were originally political in nature. In each case, the cause has been perceived discrimination, human-rights violations and/ or economic neglect experienced by a minority ethnic group living on territory controlled by an ethnic majority (e.g., the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh; the Abkhaz in Georgia). The minority responded to this perceived discrimination in one of two ways: either by demanding to replace administrative subordination to the majority ethnic group with administrative subordination to another ethnic group with a clearly distinct territorial unit, or by demanding that the ethnic majority grant it territorial autonomy or even sovereignty. Such demands were invariably perceived by the ethnic majority as an attempt by the minority to 'steal' part of its territory. Political conflicts thus evolved into struggles for control over territory. The subsequent development of these conflicts was influenced by a number of factors.
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