SEYFİ TAŞHAN: Dear friends,
Our focus today is subjects and case studies on insoluble international disputes. If we turn into the past, we’ll find that the creation of nation states after the Peace Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, we have the subjects of international relations because states were being set up firstly and then elsewhere and these international relations began with new states and national character.
So what has the new states brought together?
First of all, let’s not forget that all these new states were formed in the major part, in Europe. They are influenced with the creation of these states and also what you may call problem solving for these new states, brought together with national sovereignty concept. With the national sovereignty concept the competition among new states and territorial problems increased. Look at the European map in the 19th and 20th Centuries. We see a lot of disputes arising out of this nation state creation. Wars found the solution for a certain period, because with these wars solutions could be found to problems between Empires. There was little else avenue to solving them. Yes of course, there was exchange of land, giving land and even using royal marriages to arrange for greater part, for solving problems among them. But now that European concept of sovereignty established after creation of Western nation states and those nation states particularly became under control in famous Vienna Conference in 19th Century. Then we have 2 major problems. One is the rise of Germany, a very powerful state in Europe. Austria-Hungarian Empire was brought to an end with the First World War, the division of Ottoman Empire has been arranged by the victors of First World War. They divided the boundaries of new states among themselves, victors sharing territory, particularly Middle East was taken from Ottoman Empire. French and British were instrumental the borderlines being arranged by them, especially the Sykes-Picot agreement. So we have all these new areas and new problems. Now we have moved from there to First World War. Then major parties tried to have an international organization that would solve problems, that was League of Nations, it would had a miserable performance and could not to do anything and could not prevent the Second World War. Only one Empire survived, that is the Russian Empire, which miraculously changed its character to a Bolshevik Empire, Soviet Socialist, even though the nations within had problems with each other. And if we move to Africa, after Second World War there were colonial borders which became state borders under UN and Pan African Treaty. They promised not to change borders, but of course they are changed. But there are tribal zones on the one side of the border, same tribe exists on the other side of the border. This created and still creates lots of problems in Africa. If we look at disputes in general, I am just moving little behind nation states disputes; during important period we have particularly with Enlightenment or before let’s see during middle Ages we had major religious difference. The Ottoman Empire calmed it down, where Christians and Muslims could live together in Europe. With the oncoming period, we have Great Wars between Enlightenment Protestants and Catholics. This continued a long time. As I said at the end of Thirty Years War only Westphalia Treaty could be made but even on national scale the fight between Protestants and Catholics continued and now nations had to find eventually an agreement with Catholic System and Pope and they had officially signed what you may call “concordats”. These concordats defined where religion would act and where states would act. These concordats, last one were signed by France in 1905 and this brought in separation of state and religion. In Protestant areas probably this was not necessary but particularly in Catholic areas this was absolutely necessary. If we look at Muslim map there was one major country that was the Ottoman Empire. In the Ottoman Empire, somehow it was possible to live together with Christians, Muslims, Jews and all different types. With the division of the Ottoman Empire the nation states where under 2 basic impacts. One was internal regime; particularly in some of the countries of North Africa and Middle East they preferred socialism and nationalism. Of course that was one of the most important of socialism and with the breakdown of Soviet Union then came the issue of socialism to be replaced by what? Socialism was attractive but there was another factor in the Middle East that was the creation of the state of Israel as promised by Britain with Balfour Declaration in 1917. Now what type of disputes we have? We have territorial disputes between nations. We have disputes on ethnicity problems that can be both internal in a state or you may share it between different states across the borders with another state or several other states. Then you have the problem of regimes. From the point of view of regime, we used to have from Europe and other countries that we have the regime questions? Dictatorship and democracy and certain countries we have hybrid democracy and in certain others we have Islamic regimes. The basic problem is: Can Islam and democracy survive together? This is the problem of today. With the new Arab Spring, we call it spring but I don’t know if it is. I think it is religious uprising in the Arab world which shows itself in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and partly in Libya as well and we have these problems still continuing in Algeria and others, somehow resolved in Morocco and we still have big fights in Yemen which has calmed down a little bit and the disputes going on in Gulf States. Iraq is not settled at all. This problem democracy, ethnicity, religion what I might call contradicting each other on many places. We are lucky that this problem has been solved in Turkey as with Great Ataturk. We have adopted European type of regime and so on, but people are thinking, was it good for us or should we change the regime or that more Islamic visibility or shall we move ourselves from Europe to Middle East or what a global power or can we become a global power or shall we stay a regional power? These are all subjects of debate in addition to ethnic problem in our country. So, now we are coming to dispute. How can the disputes be settled? During the period of power concept in Europe, resolution of disputes were in the hands of major powers which were then France, Britain, Germany and Italy. We were accepted to the Concert of Europe in 1856 but that meant nothing, particularly because our system was not European system at that time. So conflicts would be settled by these major power depending who was close to it. Let’s look at Greek Turkish relations, problems were resolved by Great Powers usually to the benefit of Greece. On the other hand, some of their own problems between themselves could resist the solution and they continued during several wars. For example Franco-German dispute for Alsace Loraine which continued to friction point. There are intra state problems such as the one in Belgium, the one in Northern Ireland and some of those that let into division of nations like Czechs and Slovaks and then we have division of Yugoslavia so there are imperial division and these problems are not yet settled and theoretically with the creation of Kosovo as a state and several countries having recognized its independence including Turkey. Many people think Kosovo solution is done with, but still there is a dispute between Serbia and Kosovo that is not yet finished. There is also dispute between Croatia, Serbia and Muslim Republic of Bosnia. So these problems still persist even though they are silent at the moment. Can they be solved? How can they be solved? Solution in Bosnia Herzegovina, yes if you ask the people there this does not solve the problem. Everyone said “No”, it is not yet solved. That is again major power in position of solution there are other problems that currently exist. Look at Palestine issue. The Palestine problem at the moment is the cause of major calamities in the Arab World and that continued to be solved and resolution of this dispute depends on finding a solution between Palestine and Israel. Israel does not have a border. Now occupied border but they don’t accept as they have borders because Israel state is dominated by Zionism. Zionism and promised land go together and they cannot give up promised land which far extends beyond Palestine. If you ask Israeli professor “What is your ultimate boundaries?” The answer you’ll get will not be positive answer. Negotiations are blocked because of continuing settlement building in Palestine territory and that’s going on. They continue building when they continue negotiating. The Palestine- Jerusalem area is being surrounded by more and more settlements. This question is one of the insoluble questions at the moment because US stands behind Israel and Europe is shy for several reasons including what you may call great trauma during Second World War, genocide and if Europeans there and Arabs do not have enough power and not means they have try to fight with Israel, they have been beaten so they are unable to do anything so there is the problem living and nothing can be solved. There are other problems in many part of the world in Africa, Asia and in Latin America. Everywhere there are problems. Those are of difficult characters to resolve. Now today in this pakee discussion of our neighborhood, we will take 3 case studies. One of them will be very close to our heart, that is Cyprus, the others are inter Caucasus, one of them Azerbaijan-Armenia problem and the other one today still alive insoluble question, the question of Georgia and Russia so we will try to analyze these during the conference and take your question afterward. First I would like to invite Ambassador Reşat Arım to give his views on Cyprus dispute and Aegean.
Cyprus and the Aegean
REŞAT ARIM: These 2 problems are Cyprus and the Aegean. Of course they are inter-connected they concern two countries, 2 neighbors. When the Cyprus dispute came to the fore, Turkey and Greece it was in a period where Cold War did not really start in 1950s, when 2 countries in a most friendly atmosphere. So the officials of 2 countries got together, they discussed the matter and after having the problem at the United Nations Security Council, at the United Nations General Assembly etc.. They understood that they could not be resolved by strong measures and they decided to come to an agreement and they made solid agreement. They decided Cyprus to be an independent state so they prepared the Treaty of Establishment. They thought that Cyprus should be defended by the contingents of 2 countries and there was Treaty of Alliance. They established headquarters and in those headquarters there would be 950 Greek troops and 650 Turkish. They also prepared Treaty of Guarantee which has foreseen the independence, territorial integrity and security of Republic of Cyprus. The independent state would be safeguarded by the Guarantor of powers: Turkey, Greece and UK are guaranteeing Powers. They also prepared a Constitution in 1959; they have prepared drafts in 1960. The treaties were formally put on the table and signed by the interested parties. Constitution was made for this independent state. There would be a Greek Cypriot President and Vice President would be Turkish Cypriot. In the government there would be 7 Greek Cypriot Ministers and 3 Turkish Cypriot Minister. There would be House of Representatives in which 35 members would be from Greek Cypriots community and 15 Turkish Cypriots community. These agreements, these solemn treaties entered by 2 parties and Britain. They were upset in 1963 only 3 years after, treaties were signed. Because there was No Alignment movement, wind blowing across the continent and especially in colonized world. Then we know the story. The matter was taken into Security Council There would be mediation effort and inter communal talks would be held between 2 communities so this is the Cyprus case shows us that 2 countries they have and have not to find the solution to the dispute but then somehow the arrangement come to nothing.
The Aegean Sea is a semi-enclosed sea and as far as international law is concerned in semi enclosed seas, there should be formula found by 2 parties sitting across the sea. Turkey and Greece would find formula. Up till now they could not find it. Of course the basic thing was territorial waters. Territorial waters of course affect continental shelf and other sea related problems. When we look at the territorial sea and territorial waters problem we find that Turkish territorial waters were extended to 3 miles for a long time following the signing of Treaty of Lausanne between 2 countries. However in 1936, the 2 countries extended the limits of territorial waters to 6 miles. As we know there are more than 3000 Greek islands in the Aegean. Many of them quite close to Turkish coast so this 6 mile limit make maritime passage diffiever from the Aegean to Mediterranean. Of course there have been many developments in the law of the sea. There was Law of Sea Conferences in 1982, the Law of the Sea Convention was adopted and Law of the Sea Convention talks about 12 miles limit. The Greek Parliament ratified Convention, also said that the Greek government could have the authority to extend territorial waters to 12 miles. Turkish government responded and said that this would not be acceptable for Turkish Party and that Turkish government would be given all powers including military ones if need to protect the vital interest. In such an eventuality of course Turkish Parliament did not speak of casus belli, literally to say. “If Greek territorial waters would be extended to 12 miles, there would be act of war.” The Turkish Parliament acted in a very friendly way but the texts adopted signify there would be a very tense situation if 12 miles limit would be accepted by Greece. So much for territorial waters. Greece did not extend territorial waters to 12 miles but this possibility still hangs in the balance. The serious problem connected with Aegean Sea is the continental shelf which has created more anxiety in the 2 countries. First Greece permitted for exploration of oil in the continental shelf of islands. The position of 2 countries is the following the Turkish position is that continental shelf in the Aegean Sea is the prolongation of the Anatolian peninsula. It goes into Aegean Sea quite a long way. The position of Greece is that all the islands have continental shelves. Of course all 3000 islands, many of them very close to the Turkish coast if they have continental shelves then there would be Turkish ship sailing always on the continental shelf of Greece. The real crisis came because of continental shelf situation. Turkey has embarked on seismic research on the continental shelf of Aegean Sea. You will remember that there was the ship Seismic 1 and there was a sharp exchange of notes between 2 countries Greece took the matter to the International Court of Justice but could not get any result there. Greece also complains at the Security Council, UN Security Council debated the issue and finally said that 2 countries should negotiate a position to find a formula to this dispute and no formula is found.
The real negotiations between the 2 parties were in 1976 at Bern in Switzerland the negotiators came together and they almost frozen the conflict. They said that neither party would take action that would prejudice the negotiations. That’s to say no party would take action independently.
Cyprus problem as we see at the beginning started very nicely would 2 countries come together and signed treaties and in one of the documents they have accepted apart from the treaties, they said that Cyprus could only become a member of a union in which both Turkey and Greece are members. But for many reasons the European Union countries by passed this provision of agreement by 2 parties and they have accepted Greek Cypriots as member. So this has prevented any solution in Cyprus dispute. As far as Aegean is concerned the 2 parties are still far away from finding formula that could be acceptable 2 sides. This is the situation insoluble disputes.
SEYFİ TAŞHAN: Yes, now Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute.
Azerbaijan – Armenia
ÖMER LÜTEM: Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute is an old one. When Russians invaded South Caucasus in the 19th Century they found there a Christian minority. They thought that they can use this minority for the future because they had plans against the Ottoman Empire. But the question is that this minority was a real minority; it never constituted a majority in any of the places. So, they tried to constitute a majority where there is a town called Revan, a Persian town which later became an Azerbaijani town, 20 km away, from that town is the seat of the big Armenian Patriarchate Etchmiaddzin. So, they chose that place and they began to oust, sometimes gently, sometimes by force the Azerbaijanis from that part so they could build sovereignty with the Armenian majority. It didn’t happen in a short period of time, rather a long period of time. It took about 40 years or, something like that. And this place near Revan they called it Erivan, they formed an Armenian province. Naturally this creates problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan. More or less the same thing happened in Karabag, 200 km away from the borders not in Karabagh, in the mountainous part of it. It has some value, strategic value. They did the same thing. They ousted Azerbaijanis and put in their place Armenians. In Erivan and Karabagh there still was some number of Azerbaijanis. The ratio was 7 to 3 but it creates a big problem naturally when you lose your home and you are obliged to exile yourself in another country. You know that people ousted from Karabagh and Erivan, some of them are still in Turkey but all these happened 150 years ago. The big problem is that Great Armenia which gained some importance after the Berlin Treaty. Armenians tried to create bigger Armenia which existed in their opinion nearly 20 centuries ago. It is something like that. Just a dream. But under this framework they asked naturally from the Ottoman Empire, the biggest part of the lands in the East and from Azerbaijan they asked Nahcivan, etc. Naturally Greater Armenia was never realized, a part of it was given by the Treaty of Sevres to Armenia but as you know the Treaty of Sevres was never ratified and therefore was never implemented. Following the First World War, Armenia was being incorporated into the Soviet Union and Karabagh was incorporated as an autonomous region into Azerbaijan. Karabagh is completely surrounded by Azerbaijani lands. Armenia never accepted this. They tried to object to Moscow but they have not been successful at all. This problem lasted nearly 70 years during the Soviet Union. After the desolation of the Soviet Union, naturally this question emerged suddenly because Armenians of Karabagh were prepared for this and in February 1988, 3 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Assembly of Karabagh decided that they should join Armenia as a country but USSR Central Committee of the Communist Party rejected it. After some time, 2 years later, another referendum was organized by the Armenians of Karabagh. This time they decided that the country will be independent. Few days later Azerbaijan had its own referendum. Now the situation was like this from the legal point of view. They said that “as the referendum for the independence of Karabagh was before the referendum of independence of Azerbaijan, we have nothing to do with Azerbaijan.” Yes, there is absolutely not much sense because the law at that time or the law of the Soviet Union, if not the law of Azerbaijan, there is no law regulating a region which has some autonomy. Fights began between Karabag Armenians and Azerbaijani forces but Armenians beat the Azerbaijani forces. You all remember the Hocalı Massacre, the Azerbaijanis in Karabagh and the region there were forced to leave the country because if not they could be killed. There are more or less 1 million Azerbaijani refugees all coming from 7 provinces which surrounds Karabagh. Naturally at the end Armenia was victorious at the end of this war which lasted about 3 years- from 1991 to1994, Russia as the only country that has military forces on the spot, didn’t pursue a stable policy. At the beginning there have been more tendencies to defend a little bit more maybe the Azerbaijanis but in the second part of it they were rather pro-Armenian. This was probably because at that time in Moscow there was no stable government, either. But now they can play an important role. That is extremely important. Today some of the EU countries also play an important role. As for Turkey it is a little bit different. Turkey recognized Armenia when they declared independence. Turkish government had in mind that it was time to open a new page in relations with Armenia. They said that we have so much trouble, problems in the past so let’s have a fresh start but it was not possible. With this idea as a native Turkish the government of 1991-92 tried to play a mediator role between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was not a very successful one. To show to Armenia good will, they gave Armenia electricity and facilitataed delivery of Eu promised wheat assistance because the economic situation of Armenia was very bad. During all that time Armenia continued to occupy Azerbaijani territories. Turkey on the other hand tried to secure ceasefire and evacuation of Azerbaijani territories Turkey played a major role for the adoption of Security Council resolution asking that the ceasefire to be established and the occupied lands evacuated. This resolution emphasizes territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. All these at a time Armenian forces were occupying Azerbaijani lands, on the side of Karabagh and hoping that they can stop this. Turkey closed its land borders with Armenia, this was in June 1993 and airspace at the same time. They opened the airspace 2 years later but land border is still closed. The main reason for Azerbaijani defeat is firstly interior turmoil and they never agreed among each other and they applied always different policies. During all that time, Armenians had just one president and Azerbaijanis 3 Presidents and their behaviors and policies were quite different. First president Muttalibov was pro- Russian and pro-Soviet one but it didn’t help him to have some success at all. The second Elçibey, rather pro Turkish, let’s say pan-Turkic but it didn’t help him much. Turks like him very much but they were not able to help him. Third one is Haydar Aliyev, Soviet made man, has become member of Politburo and the only Azerbaijani to come to very high places. He was ousted by Gorbachev, who was his rival and so on. He applied different policies. First he made Azerbaijan a member of Commonwealth of Independent States. He was thinking that there were several members to help him and then he gave to the British Petrolium Company, the rights for exploration in its rich oil fields. As far as Karabagh, Armenians always wanted Karabagh to be an independent state. Naturally rating becomes a factor when one becomes an independent state. If you are independent you are free to organize a referendum in order to annex the country to Armenia. It is so simple. As to the Azerbaijan, they always defended that Karabagh should be an autonomous region within Azerbaijan but having very large rights. Yes there is a ceasefire, naturally this is since May of 1994 and immediately followed by the formation of a mediation group within the OSCE which is mixed group composed of 10 countries including Turkey. This is called the Minsk Group. But as tenth countries were not able to function as an effective group, is carried by important big countries, USA, France and Russia are continuing the negotiations both side. It is about 18 years now. Nothing has come forte yet.
SEYFİ TAŞHAN: That is another insoluble dispute.
ÖMER LÜTEM: Yes exactly. They are at the beginning of where they started, they didn’t go one pace further I will not go into details of the proposals during the 18 years but I will tell you the last proposals which have been declared many times. When I said last proposal, you think that they are new proposals. There is nothing now but I will tell you briefly. Armenia should return 7 Azeri rayon surrounding Karabagh to Azerbaijani control. Rayon is the “ilçe” or “kaza” in Turkish, something like that. This return will not be done at once but in stages. Armenia didn’t accept this. Armenia may be willing to give 5 of the rayons try to keep one or two provinces for themselves. Karabagh will be linked to Armenia with a land corridor the famous Laçin corridor. Azerbaijani refugees will return to former places of residence. Two stage settlement for the Karabagh region itself. First stage as an interim status. In this stage Karabagh will continue to govern itself. Its security will be guaranteed and then second stage will take place. It is the determination of the final legal status of Karabagh. This will be done as I quote “through legally binding expression of will” but first the meaning of this: It is a kind of referendum. Azerbaijanis don’t like the utilization of the word referendum, so they found this “legally binding expression” and then international security guarantees, including peacekeeping force, etc. This proposal draws mainly, the objection of Azerbaijan for a very simple reason. In an unknown date this “legally binding expression of will” shall occur. Which is a referendum and you know the result of referendum. Today there is practically no Azerbaijani in Karabagh. If the former presidents of Azeri region return even at that moment, they are not more than 30%. So Karabagh referandum result we know from today and this is the main obstacle to find a solution. Russian President Medvedev during the last 18 month period had several meetings with Presidents Aliyev and Sarkisyan. No results. I will tell you another thing, Turkish position. As you know, 2 protocols were signed between Armenia and Turkey. For ratification our PM said that first the occupied territory by Armenia in Karabagh and other region should be terminated and they should be evacuated. So most probably someone told him that “Mr. PM the evacuation of all these lands will require many years.” So little changed at that time. New formulation is that Turkey will ratify the protocol if there will be major positive developments in the Karabagh question. What are major positive developments? From our Minister of Foreign Affairs we learn that they said to the Armenia just 1 or 2 of 7 regions. It will be enough for us to ratify the protocol but Armenians didn’t accept this. So we are done. Yes Karabagh is an indeed and insoluble dispute. This dispute is the major obstacle to South Caucasus stability and cooperation. If you don’t solve this question, don’t expect that there will be stability and cooperation in the Caucasus. There is another consequence for Turkey, too. For Turkey it became the main elements. In Turkey-Armenia conflict it became one of the elements after 2 years. The main element of Turkey-Armenian dispute is the allegation of Armenian genocide and the recognition of Turkey- Armenian borders. To these two main problems, now we have a third. Thank you.
SEYFİ TAŞHAN: Last part is about the dispute between Georgia-Russia.
Russia – Georgia
OKTAY AKSOY : The disputes you have listened about are between more or less comparable size countries. But now I want to talk about one between a big power and a considerably smaller party – between Georgia and the Russian Federation.
In such cases where the disparity between the parties to a conflict is huge, one can take either of the two courses. One, taken by the Finns and even by the Japanese confronting the Soviets (or Russians to be clear). And the other taken by the Georgians. The first does not satisfy you but you can survive the circumstances and even try to take advantage of the situation. The other keeps you frustrated.
Two courses to take in disputes with incomparable sized parties
Case of the Finns
In fact, the dispute can be comparable with the territorial dispute the Finns had after their independence from the Russian Empire. The Soviets attacked Finland at the start of the Second World War. The Finns fought a long, courageous war but inevitably lost. They had to abandon Karelia evacuating all the Finns there and also leaving the strategically important port of Murmansk on the Barents Sea in the North, strategically important because it is navigable throughout the year, not frozen. During all the years they fought the Soviet troops no substantial assistance from neighbors or beyond was received except from the Germans also fighting the Soviets. But, as the result, they were treated after the Second World War as an ally of Nazi Germany, only country in Europe to pay war indemnities, accept restrictions on their military and industry. The Finns realizing that they could be left on their own facing a powerful enemy chose to follow a policy accepting their frailty and took advantage of neighboring the Soviet Union.
Case of the Japanese
Another similar case could be the Japanese loss of the Kuril Islands to the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The Japanese have not abandoned their claims over the islands, any time they have high level official meetings, they make a point of their position, this does not disrupt their relations as both want to take advantage of the other. I am sure that Japan is prepared to pay a big sum for those islands. But Russians don’t even think about bargaining for them. It is a war booty for the victorious Russians over the Japanese, not only for the crimes and atrocities committed during the Second World War but also for their victory over the Russian navy earlier in history. They have to be humiliated. These are the facts of life!! The Russians are known to be proudly exhibiting the art works confiscated from the Germans, including the remains from Troy!!
Case in the Caucasus
In the Caucasus where different ethnicities have intermingled throughout centuries, somehow the people try not to forget, carry their grudge over years and try to take revenge and do not mind the immediate losses they may encounter.
In the case of Russian-Georgian disputes, one party cannot abandon its past greatness; it carries the burden of history. The other, smaller party, thinks that it can receive the support of allies in distance. The result is frustration.
Georgia has historically either blocked or facilitated passage to the Russian plains and to Sothern Caucasus. It is consisted of many tribes, the remnants of which can be traced even in today’s grievances. Tribal union was achieved in the 13th century. They had adopted Christianity as early as 4th century. Persia had occasional control of the region and by late 7 th century one witness’s Arab conquest with the aim of spreading Islam. The Seljuk conquest was in the 11th century. But Georgia has basically remained as a Christian enclave surrounded by Turco-Iranian-Arabic Muslims, resulting in an additional fragmentation of the peoples of the region on sectarian grounds. In 1555 the Ottomans and Safavid Persians partitioned the region.
Than came the Russians. They annexed it to their Empire in 1801 after a long and difficult war with the tribes of the Caucasus. And the expansion of the Russian Empire in the 19th century to the Caucasus has made the Caucasus a part of the Great Game aiming at dominance of the peoples of Central Asia rivaling the British Empire. During this period many Circassia’s, Chechen, Abkhaz and others have been relocated first to the Balkans, than to other parts of the Ottoman Empire with the advance of Russians not only in the East but also in the Balkans. The sufferings of these people were enormous. By the way, nobody questions this relocation but that of the Armenians is made an issue and exploited as expulsion from their traditional lands.
After the First World War a short lived Democratic Republic of Georgia was established from 1918 until 1922. Then it became a part of the Transcaucasia Socialist Federative Republic consisting of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia from 1922 to 1936 and then from 1936 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 it was one of the Soviet Socialist Republics, privileged because of Stalin’s Georgian origins.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union
The collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991 brought back the possibility of its gaining independence. But unrest in the region had already started earlier as the Communist Party candidates had lost in the elections in 1989. After independence, Russian support of the autonomous status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has been the main reason for the tensions between the still powerful Russia and the small Georgia.
Georgian President Saakashvili having come to power after the Rose revolution had bet that Georgia could become a NATO member and thus ensure its independence. He tried his bid in August 2008 with an attempt to take back Southern Ossetia. The Russians immediately responded as protectors of both Abkhazia and Ossetia. The war has prompted EU to endorse a more visible security role and upgrade its policies towards the Eastern neighborhood with the launch of Eastern Partnership. However, Georgia has realized its limitations and that depending solely on the US was not sufficient to maintain its territorial integrity and independence. I must call your attention to the size of the populations of these two contested territories. It is evident that there are more people of Abkhaz or Osset descent in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey follows developments there not only as a neighboring country.
Problems in Abkhazia
Abkhazia had an autonomous status during the Soviet period; it was the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Georgian SSR. So it was, in a way, easier to claim independence. The conflict in Abkhazia occurred even before the Soviet collapse in 1991 where the Abkhaz formed only 17 percent of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic while the Georgians accounted for 45 percent, Armenians 14 percent and Russians 12 percent. Now there are around 240 thousand people in Abkhazia. Ethnic clashes in the capital city Sukhumi left a dozen dead. After the collapse of the Soviet Union nationalistic fervor of the Georgians increased the tension. The Georgians attacked and occupied Sukhumi in 1993, the Abkhaz counter attacked and virtually all Georgians living in Abkhazia were evicted. An unstable ceasefire has been held ever since. With the earlier skirmishes the UN sent an Observer’s Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) where Turkey was also a member to verify compliance with the ceasefire agreed. However, this mission came to an end on June 2009 due to lack of consensus among UN Security Council members on expansion of its mandate. So was the OSCE observer’s mission ending in 2005 When the Georgian Government asked EU to take over the Mission, EU chose to send a small team of 3 border support advisers not to antagonize Russia.
Problems in Southern Ossetia
Ethnic Ossetia’s formed a majority, over two thirds of the population of the autonomous region, 67 thousand out of a population of only 98 thousand. They wanted to join their ethnic brethren in the North Caucasus in the Autonomous Republic of Northern Ossetia, part of the Russian Federation. Ever since there is this constant tension and with the Georgian attempt to take over the small territory a war wit Russia started on 8 August 2008.
To bring to an end this short lived war efforts by the then President of France who was also the term President of EU , as well as by the Prime Minister of Turkey were helpful to reduce the tension and to realize the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Georgia. All the same, Russia recognized both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, in response to recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Western powers. In addition to Russia some others recognized their independence : Venezuela , Nicaragua, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, as well as 3 others whose independence are disputable: South Ossetia, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabagh.
Meanwhile, NATO even at its declaration issued after its last summit in Chicago on May 20th, 2012 pays lip service to the territorial integrity of Georgia: Article 30 states: “We reiterate our continued support to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its Internationally recognized borders….We welcome Georgia’s commitment not to use force and call on Russia to reciprocate….”
The problem of having a dispute with a big power is that an ally or friends beyond in a distance have limitations to send assistance. A dispute in which one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council is involved is even more than difficult to resolve. In the case of Georgia the distance of some countries which may have helped was a factor. Moreover, very few countries could risk their relations with Russia to assist Georgia. Another point which was also important was the restrictions imposed by the Montreux Treaty to allow passage to the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits. Therefore, it is a fact that this may remain as an insoluble dispute for many years to come.