The South Caucasus

Divided by conflicts, caught between West and Russia

Democracy and human rights
What Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are united in is that three of them have declared commitment to the democratic way of development.

Sadly, none of the countries can boast that it really has them in place, though some of them have come closer to it than others. The ingrained principle of checks-and-balances in governance and strong respect for human rights
are missing.

Main reasons are lack of tolerance and lack of readiness to compromise.
Consequences are dire.

Lack of tolerance and readiness to compromise can be well seen in the attitudes in the societies towards people who differ from the majority – ethnically, religiously, or sexual orientation and gender identity-wise.

For instance, in the recent PEW research, Armenia and Georgia were ranked lowest, as more than 90 percent of the respondents in the two countries answered NO when asked if they would enjoy having a family member of a different ethnicity or religion.

Lack of tolerance and readiness to compromise badly affects politics - opposition is considered an enemy everywhere. Violent confrontations with opposition supported by at least 100,000 protesters happened in Tbilisi just a month ago.
  • Three out of every ten residents in Armenia live in poverty. About two of them survive on about 50 dollars a month.
  • In Georgia, 20 percent of the population live below the absolute poverty line. The level of absolute poverty means the living conditions are intolerable.
  • In Azerbaijan, it’s not always easy to get the proper figures, however statistics are about the same.
But statistics don’t tell the whole story. Many others still feel financially insecure – because they are living just a bit above the poverty line, highly vulnerable to risks from various shocks such as a job loss, crop failure, illness or natural disaster.
Russia or the West divide
Georgia dreams of becoming a member of the EU and NATO one day.

Armenia has eagerly accepted the West-led reforms, and many people in Azerbaijan look up to the West as to the role-model.

However, for centuries, Russia was a pre-eminent actor in the region.

It still is, using ethnic, religious, diplomatic relations and playing the energy card to further strengthen its positions.
  • The effect of the regional economic crisis pushed hundreds of thousands to migrate from the Caucasus to main Russian cities.
  • Russian tourists, Russian imports, money remittances from the locals who work in Russia – all these are an important, and growing, part of the local economies.
  • Armenia extended Russia’s rights to use the military base on its territory until 2044.
  • With the new military bases established in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia acquired three important strategic platforms from which it can extend its control of the Black Sea while keeping in check activities in Georgia.
These dependences present real leverages for Moscow in the South Caucasus region.

And as the confrontation between Russia and the West seems set to further expand Moscow will, most likely, continue beefing up its influence in the region.
Lack of real moves towards the conflict transformation
The current divides deprive the region of the normal conditions for development and interaction that would ultimately be beneficial to all.

The countries, being a region, are inseparably connected by a number of crucial issues. The list includes transport, energy routes, climate crisis, trade, labor migration, investment, tourism, agriculture, security issues, and many more.

All these demanding spheres require shared awareness, decision-making and action.
But people can only reach peace when the sides are willing to make peace, which means they should be ready to compromise.

Instead, for almost 30 years the hostile rhetoric from all sides, defamation and the threat of force have dominated the field.

Role of media in leading the region out of or in the traps

The governments are the visible and immediate decision-makers. But their mightiness and power might be a bit exaggerated. If, for some reason, the majority in the local societies changed their minds – then the local government would have to either change their mind too or leave. The recent example is Armenia and its Velvet Revolution.

Populations rarely talk to their governments. But media does – to both of them. Only media have the tools to bring information and opinions directly to homes.
If this information is fact-checked, manysided, unbiased – then it’s the most powerful way to keep both politicians and voters accountable.

And if not? If the information is one-sided or it’s just fake news?

Three bloody wars were waged in the South Caucasus almost at the same time in early 1990s. Armenia-Azerbaijani clashes over Karabakh, and two wars in Georgia - over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Then, a period of state building and consolidation in the countries had come. Since then, media has faced several new challenges that further limited the potential for development of professional independent journalism.

Those challenges were:

  • lean resources,
  • undeveloped distribution networks,
  • self-censorship
  • and harassment from local governments.
  • Media in the entire region have had to exist in a dramatically deteriorating political climates.


Azerbaijani media complaints

They use “Artsakh” instead of “Nagorno Karabakh”, Lachin region is often named Qashatagh in Armenian media; Kelbajar region is often called Qarvachar. Modification of Azerbaijani toponyms by Armenian media is extremely negatively perceived in Azerbaijan.

Armenian media complaints

They use “Khankendi” instead of “Stepanakert” and it is seen by the Armenian audience rather through the prism of denying people their natural right to choose a name for the place of their very residence. This refusal is equated to a threat of exile.

Humiliating names for each other

Azerbaijani media complaints

'Armenian barbarities; band; bandit groups, Armenian terrorists" are commonly used. “Armenia has invaded the lands of Azerbaijan, however this poor country cannot oppose the image and the increasing economic power of Azerbaijan”

Armenian media complaints

“Russians called them Caucasian Tatars, and then they were renamed in Azerbaijanis and now Azers”

Who is victim

Azerbaijani media complaints

“Armenia unilaterally violates international norms/demands of international organizations. Armenia practices expansionist policy and since 1992 Armenian secret services committed about 40 terrorist attacks and that Armenia fails to comply with the resolution of the UN Security Council”

Armenian media complaints

In 2008 during 9 months about 2600 cases of armistice violations of cease-fire were recorded, it exceeds the figures of last years. Previous monitoring attempts failed because of the Azerbaijan party which did not provide security of observers”

No compromise

Azerbaijani media complaints
“One cannot be friends with a country that has drunk the blood of Turks, with an aggressor country until territories remain occupied. This step can be qualified as an insult to the Turkish nation”

Armenian media complaints

“Blood was shed and no one returns anything after all possible wars in the whole world. If it is necessary, every journalist must take a gun. Because the dependence of Karabakh is a sacred duty of every Armenian’
In 1992, the Georgian-Ossetian war was stopped by peace agreement. And on August 14, 1992, a new war broke out in another part of Georgia - on the resort beaches of Abkhazia, a small territory located on the Black Sea coast of the newly independent Republic of Georgia.

The Abkhaz fought for expanded autonomy and ultimately full independence from Georgia. The Georgian government sought to maintain control over its territory. Intensive battles raged on land, air and sea. Several thousand were killed and many more wounded on both sides; hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes.

Political stalemate followed, for almost 16 years in a situation of “no peace, no war”.

Political stalemate followed, for almost 16 years in a situation of “no peace, no war”.

Tensions came to head in 2008, when villages where under fire day to day and sides blamed each other for the assault. On 8 August 2008, president of Georgia Saakashvili ordered a concerted air and ground assault attack on South Ossetia.

Declaring its citizens to be under attack, as most South Ossetians have Russian passports, Moscow sent in troops and launched air attacks on the Georgian forces. Within days Russian forces had swept the Georgians out of South Ossetia, and then proceeded to occupy parts of Georgia, causing panic in Tbilisi.

Following Western protests, Russia pulled its forces back towards South Ossetia under a cease-fire agreement, but days later proceeded formally to recognise both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Journalists think that the one-sided reporting is just innocent overstatement – but it is not. It influences the people in a terrible way.

It seems that the biggest restriction for developing professional independent media in both countries has become PATRIOTISM.

In all three countries, in both governmental and oppositional media, discourse on the processes has come to express mostly understandings of ‘national interests’. Any possible concessions remain one of the most tabooed subjects in local media.

Media blames other side for the horrible actions, and never mentions that there has been a train coming from the opposite direction, with very similar facts and accusations.

As a result, societies are deprived of objective information on the history, as well as content and direction of the negotiations to resolve the conflict, which in turn precludes any meaningful public participation in the peace process.

Seven Rules Of Nationalism

1. If an area was ours for 500 years and yours for 50, it should belong to us – you are merely an occupier.

2. If an area was yours for 500 years and ours for 50, it should belong to us – borders must not be changed.

3. If an area belonged to us 500 years ago but never since then, it should belong to us – it is the Cradle of our Nation.

4. If a majority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must enjoy the right to self-determination.

5. If a minority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must be protected against your oppression.

6. All of the above rules apply to us but not to you.

7. Our dream of greatness is Historical Necessity, yours is Fascism.
Which way forward? Opinions from residents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia
Arguments for the West


The European Union and the USA are reliable partners. These powers fulfill their agreements. They should not be expected to betray us.

Russia has weakened itself with the war on Ukraine, it will not be able to compete with other countries. The United States is becoming the main player in the region. And Russia will seek its interests at the expense of other states, including Armenia.

The US and the EU are giving a lot of money to Armenia and aiding successful reforms in various areas.

Russia is an authoritarian regime. The West is democratic. Armenia is closer to democratic values.


The country has good relations with some of the world's power centers either directly or through its ally, Turkey.

Turkey, which has the second largest NATO army, is currently the main ally of Azerbaijan.

The shareholders of the main pipelines delivering Azerbaijani oil and gas to world markets are exclusively Western.

With the aggravation of relations between Russia and the West, Azerbaijan may deepen economic ties with the West. A multiple increase in gas exports to Europe is planned.

The Azerbaijani army has switched to the NATO format and a pro-Western path for the development of the army has been declared. Azerbaijan is buying the latest weapons, mainly from Turkey, Israel and France.

Azerbaijan has switched to the Bologna system of education and Western standards are gradually being introduced. Higher education in the West has become commonplace for the country's youth. Even the state pays for the continuation of studies in Europe.

In settling the conflict with Armenia, Baku prefers to work with Western mediators, currently with the European Union and the United States.


Integration with the European Union will reduce the likelihood of potential military aggression from Russia.

The EU market will be open to Georgian goods, they will improve their quality and be closer to European standards. Farmers will have a guarantee of earnings and motivation to grow crops.

European investment will increase, monopolies will be limited, and the real fight against corruption will begin.

The quality of life is much higher in the West. Everyone is trying to go for treatment or study in the EU or the USA. The people there are well paid. Then they have a decent old age - people are healthy, have high pensions, travel and live a full life.

Human rights will be protected in the same way as in Europe. The law will protect all minorities. And the courts will be free and impartial.

Democratic elections and democratic change of government will become the norm.

When we are in the European Union, we will become more interesting and attractive for Abkhazians and Ossetians. Everyone will look for new forms of conflict resolution.

The cities will have good buses, a well-functioning subway, so people will stop driving their own cars, and traffic jams and emissions will decrease.

Tourists will come not only from the post-Soviet area or Asia, but also from EU countries and bring their culture.
Arguments in favor of Russia


Russia is the main force in the region, and without Moscow it is impossible to make big, important decisions here.

Armenia has been building its foreign policy for thirty years within the Russian framework, and you can’t just up and leave these structures.

Armenia's neighbor is Turkey and in the absence of Russia, an existential threat will always come from that quarter.

Russia is Armenia's main economic partner. More than 25% of the export of Armenian goods goes there. Russia is the main investor in the Armenian economy, which also depends on remittances from Russia.


Azerbaijan is a member of the CIS, and in February 2022 it signed an alliance agreement with Russia and has friendly relations with other countries of the Russian bloc, although it is not a member.

Economic relations with Russia are still strong ⁠— the main food imports come from there and from other CIS countries.

There are millions of Azeris in Russia. There are many families where at least one member lives and works in Russia and sends part of their earnings to Azerbaijan. In the regions of the country, there is a strong dependence on transfers from Russia.

Despite transition to the NATO rails of development, Azerbaijan still buys weapons from Russia as well. Almost the entire military aviation of Azerbaijan consists of Russian-made fighters and helicopters.

Russian schools are popular, there’s a lot of children studying there. There are several branches of Russian universities operating in the country, while Azerbaijani universities provide instruction in Russian.

Azerbaijan takes into account the presence of the Russian peacekeeping contingent on its territory in Karabakh and for this reason does not refuse Moscow's intermediary services.


Russia is our neighbor and nothing can change that. The country must take into account its interests, otherwise it will end up in a situation worse than Ukraine. If Georgia is together with Russia, there will definitely be no war, because all conflicts on our territory are controlled by Russia itself.

Russia is a monotheistic country. In terms of mentality and traditions, Georgians are closer to Russians than to any European country. For example, these two countries have the same attitude towards same-sex marriage.

The key to settling the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia lies in Moscow. If we approach it diplomatically, the Kremlin will one day return these territories to Georgia.

Nowhere else will Georgian wine and Georgian products be sold the way they are in Russia. Georgia is a brand in Russia.

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