Caucasus and Central Asia
The Caucasus and Central Asia:
Strategic Implications (*)
Georgia,Azerbaijan,Armenia and Central Asian Republics are discussed in relation to Turkey,Iran and Russia.
It is now clear that the breakdown of the bipolar system of security, resulting from the demise of the Soviet Union has created numerous regional disputes, conflicts and wars which may result also in the involvement of outside actors increasing the volume and intensity of the conflicts. The inability of the existing international conflict resolution systems and security organizations which were created under the conditions of the Cold War became quite clear with the mounting of the regional political problems. These institutions which were mainly set up to grant privileges to the main victors of the Second World War in security matters, could not cope with the current new types of conflicts; thus, helping to increase the audacity of revisionist medium or small powers in extending their territories or in driving away undesired ethnical elements.
An analysis of the factors contributing to the current conflagration of regional disputes in the former Soviet Union would show that the distinctions between ethnicity and nationhood have begun to disappear and the stability of multi-ethnic states have become perilous. This situation exacerbates the inefficiency and failure of the economic and politi-cal system of the central authorities. Furthermore, the situation has become even more complicated with the transboundary activities of the ethnic groups struggling for union with their brethren. (1)
An additional destabilizing factor is the competition of regional and international powers to gain access to the resources of emerging new states and to gain political influence in those areas. Such a competition may lead to the 19th century style of power politics and fait accomplis that might aggravate regional security problems even further
The disappearance of the central Soviet power and the inefficacy of the international security systems have encouraged regional revisionist powers to engage in the use of force for territorial aggrandisement and in the creation of new ethnically based states at the cost of their neighbors.
The availability of abundant quantities of a wide range of arms and military equipment which could be acquired from a variety of sources with considerable ease have enabled all parties to conflicts to obtain them free of charge or at amazingly low prices. The arms and military equipment could be obtained from the following sources: from governments, military personnel of the former Soviet armies, and from military industrial establishments which have not yet converted themselves into consumer industries. Although it is stated that all tactical nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union are now in the hands of the Russian Federation, it is doubtful if these weapons could be properly accounted for, considering the diminished command and control in the CIS military. In any event, it is clear that in most of the former Soviet Republics and other countries in the region there are tactical missiles complicating the possible war scenarios. (2) Added to these is the black market trade for weapon grade nuclear materials.
The economic and political upheaval in most of the former Soviet Republics and mostly ill-conceived transformation attempts of the existing system, lead to disintegration of social norms and to ethnic separatist movements which resulted in the use of force and terrorism.
The role of all or some of the factors mentioned above are clearly discernable in the current situation in the Caucasus and Central Asia. in spite of the current tendency to view most of the former Southern Soviet Republics uniformly, the differences in their size, location, internal structures and threat perceptions require separate studies of the conditions and problems of these countries. Furthermore, the external regional actors and their influences on the interaction, security and stability policies of the region must be reviewed individually.
The principal actors in the Caucasus region are Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey. The medley of ethnic groups in all these countries, especially those in Caucasia, each of whom presses for recognition as a separate entity has become the most significant destabilizing factor. Undeclared wars were fought between the Georgians and the Abkhaz, and between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Karabagh. The Russian Federation is involved because of the participation of several of autonomous regions and republics in the Northern Caucasus region which defy Moscow and are providing support to the forces opposing Georgia. Turkey and Iran are also interested in the security of the region for different purposes. A clearer analysis of the security and strategic problems of the region might be provided if the issues are studied case by case and country by country. Before taking up the current problems in the area, the overall perspectives of the neighboring countries may provide a general view of the conflicting nature of interests:
For the relations between Turkey and the Central Asian states, the Caucasus region constitutes a passageway and it plays the role of a bridge.
If we consider the current political and economic problems in which the Russian Federation is temporarily suffering from, the military power, and the strong economic and cultural influence this country will earn in the future necessitate that the Caucasus should be transformed into a “belt of peace” and play the role of a buffer zone between Russia and Turkey.
Therefore, promoting peace and stability in the Caucasus region will serve Turkey’s interests best. This can only be secured if the current upheaval in Georgia is terminated, and a solution is found to the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Economic potential of the region and the availability of oil and other natural resources make the region also a good possible partner for Turkey.
The historic enmity of the Armenians towards Turkey and their struggle with the Turkish speaking Azerbaijan brings strong limitations to the development of Turkey’s relations with that country. Turkey would be ready to provide Armenia with assistance and sea access, if some of these limitations are removed. In reaction to the Armenian attitude. Turkey provides economic and technical assistance to Azerbaijan and humanitarian assistance to Georgia. The open frontier with Georgia allows substantial border trade as well. (3)
The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Caucasus region has brought about a challenge and at the same time an opportunity for Iran in the Caucasus region. The challenge is that a successful economy and a secular democratic development in Azerbaijan might provoke secessionist tendencies and activities among the 15 to 20 million Azeris living in Iran. The nationalist Government in Azerbaijan did not assure Iran in this respect when the President Elchibey spoke about a Southern Azerbaijan. The Shiite Fundamentalist nature of the regime in Iran has contributed to a certain level of harmony between Persian and Azeri elements of the Iranian population, unlike the previous Shah regime under which the Azeris felt persecuted by the Persian totalitarian rule. There is no doubt that a secular system of government in Iran, given the economic weakness of the country, will strengthen the separatist tendencies among the minority groups.
Therefore, Iran has assumed a more neutral role towards the countries in the region and has tried to develop good relations both with Azerbaijan and Armenia. While on the one hand Iran is helping to break Azeri embargo on Armenia by opening by Caspian ports for the shipment of Russian oil to Armenia and expanding trade with that country; on the other hand, trade is flourishing between Iran and Azerbaijan. The formation of the pro-Iranian Islamic Party of Azerbaijan in October 1992 was announced with delight in Iran. While their membership is still small, the fundamentalist parties are gaining popularity in the country by criticizing the government for its failure in the war with Armenia.(4) Whatever are the feelings of Iran towards Azerbaijan, their policy seems to be facing a dilemma in the Caucasus where Teheran is competing with Turkey, a secular state, for influence. The Republic of Azerbaijan, although Moslem and Shiite, has become more nationalist than Moslem under the Russian and Soviet rule. The attitude towards religion is therefore highly secular, and most of the elite trained as Komsomols (Communist youth organizations) in their youth are practically atheists, and they, like many other elites of the Soviet Republics, view the Iranian fundamentalist regime with disdain. Therefore, the chances of success
of the new Islamic parties in Azerbaijan appear to be minimal. On the other hand a policy of hostility towards Azerbaijan might cause indignation among the Azeri people of Iran. Open support for Armenia which is at war with Azerbaijan would provide the same result. Poor conditions of Iranian economy and lack of industrial power limits greatly Iran’s potential to provide economic and technical assistance to the region. This inability and policy constraints have led Iran to pursue a neutral policy and to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan, even though the mediation attempts have failed to bring about the desired peace.
Russian domination of the Caucasus was accomplished in the
19 th century. For its conquest of Caucasia, Russia fought with Iran and Turkey,not to mention the heroic resistance of many local tribes in the Caucasus.
The region was very attractive for Russia for its oil resources in Azebaijan and agricultural products of Georgia. After the defeat of Russia in the First World War the Caucasian states established independent republics and even formed a Transcaucasian Federal Republic. By 1921 the Bolsheviks gained complete control of Caucasia and established a Soviet Transcaucasian Republic covering the entire area. In 1936, however, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia were established as Soviet republics. The purges in these countries eliminated most of the intelligentsia and suppressed all the nationalist feelings. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Georgia and Azerbaijan chose to remain outside the CIS and Armenia for obvious reasons became a member of the newly-formed Commonwealth of Independent States. During the Cold War days, the Caucasus area was cutoff from the outside world. All commercial and other transactions had to go through Moscow. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian Federation, Moscow’s policy towards the Caucasus region is, to say the least, ambivalent. While the Republics of Georgia and Armenia are independent in their external relations and internal affairs, Russian troops are still in these countries. They are supposed to leave Georgia in 1995, but there is no sign that they will do so. It seems that Russia intends to maintain some leverage over both Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is a feeling in Moscow that increasing Turkish influence in Azerbaijan and Georgia must be blunted, prefer-ably through diplomatic and economic actions.(6) There is talk about an Iranian, Armenian, Russian axis to balance growing Turkish linkages with Georgia and Azerbaijan. Up to now, however, Russian interests in Caucasia has not yet been delineated. The recent Russian Military Doctrine, the attempts to modify the CFE and Russian push to include Georgia and Azerbaijan in the CIS and force these countries to accept the defense of their borders by CIS (Russian) troops may be considered as indicative of long term Russian ambitions which are most aggressively asserted by the new leader of the right wing party Mr. Zhirinovsky.
In Northern Caucasia which is within the Russian Federation such countries as Karachay Cherkessia, Kabardin-Balkar and Chechen Ingushetia are pushing for independence, and are taking up arms. Russia has also become entangled in the war in Georgia. What is clear however is that the orientation of the present elite trained under the Communist rule still look in the direction of Moscow. The economies of all the Caucasus countries are interlinked with the Russian economy, even though there is a determination in all these countries to diversify their trade. Russia needs, therefore, to redefine its policy in the Caucasus region. The renewal of integrative policies have failed both under the Czarist and Communist systems. The best policy to reduce frictions and promote peace and stability in the region would be to cooperate with Turkey and the regional countries in a manner that would serve the interests of all. One framework already initiated and created by Turkey for this purpose is the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone which includes all the Caucasian countries. However, recent trends in Moscow seem to be in the direction of renewing Russian monopolistic droit de regard in the region.
The most obvious dimension of the Georgian politics is the civil conflicts, both between the Georgians and the country’s minorities, and among the Georgians themselves. Georgia’s total population of 7 million is composed of 69% Georgians, 9% Armenians, 7% percent Russians, and 5% Azeri. There are also smaller minorities: about 3% Ossets who live mostly in the area of Tskhinvali and about 2% Abkhaz who live in the Northwest. The Georgians are themselves quite varied both linguistically and religiously. Georgian Moslems are called Adzhars. Russia occupied Georgia in the second half of the 19th century and in 1921 it was reoccupied by the Bolshevik armies. Like its predecessor the imperial Russia, the Soviet Union fallowed a policy of exacerbating ethnical differences among the Georgian groups and for this purpose a number of political jurisdictions were created on the basis of ethno-territorial distinctions. These included: Adzhar Autonomous Republic, the Southern Ossetian Oblast, and the Abkhaz Autonomous Republic. While such divisions provided a sense of political and ethnic distinctiveness among the minority elites, it also turned them into machines of patronage among ethnic lines and discouraged nation building. Minority areas depended on Moscow for their security and protection against the majority Georgians. The creation of a nationalist Georgian Republic in 1990 brought about two violent reactions particularly in the North. While the Oblast government in Tskhinvali declared itself as the Southern Ossetian Re-public, the Abkhaz resolved to create an independent Republic. The internal troubles in Georgia are similar to those in Yugoslavia. In the course of the conflict with the Central Government, Ossetians tried to defend Tskhinvali with the help of the Northern Ossetians from the Russian Federation and of former Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs troops stationed in the city, against Georgian National Guard and that local militia. The war produced tens of thousands of Georgian and Ossetians refugees. In the spring of 1992 an agreement, was reached
between Boris Yeltsin and the Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on the deployment of a joint Georgian, Northern Ossetian and Russian Peacekeeping force in the Tskhinvali region to hold the line between the rival Georgian and Osset militias. However, the established cease-fire does not signify a political solution and the fighting may erupt again at any time.
Another serious problem was the revolt of Abkhazia. The Abkhaz government declared its independence in July 1992. The Georgian troops entered Abkhazia and occupied the town of Gali and moved to capital Sukhumi. The Confederation of Peoples of the Caucuses went to the assistance of the Abkhazians and a bitter struggle ensued. At the price of entering into CIS and accepting the stationing of Russian troops in his country Mr. Sheverdnaze seems to have assured some kind of calm on the Abhaz front after a serious defeat; but it is still very difficult to see how a long term settlement can be attained and how a nation state will be created and maintained. Out of the ensuing chaos the challenge is too big and the country’s economic plight does not allow the luxury to the Government of Tbilisi both to fight and to improve the economy of the country. The plight of the Georgian people is best observed from Turkey where humanitarian aid has been provided on continuous basis as well as economic assistance. (7)
Georgia has four neighbors namely, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Each of these countries has an interest in the affairs of Georgia. The most important foreign actor in the affairs of Georgia is, without doubt, the Russian Federation. In the first place conservative elements in Russia reacted with anger to the refusal of Georgia to become a member of the CIS in the Common-wealth of Independent States, they believed that with the secession of Georgia they had lost the “key to the Caucasus”. This situation is worsened by the loosening of Moscow’s control over the autonomous Republics in the Northern Caucasus. These countries,(8) with implicit support from Russia, provided active assistance to the Abkhazians in terms of arms and equipment as well as volunteers. In October 1992, the decision of Georgia to take over Soviet arms and equipment inside Georgia, created a warlike situation between Georgia and Russia. The Abkhaz government appears to have received substantial quantities of tanks, aircraft and other equipment. Volunteers have crossed the border unhindered from the Russian Federation to fight with the Abkhazians. Up to the present, it has not been possible to bring about a resolution to the problem in Northern Georgia, nor to the relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation. The presence of the Russian troops in Georgia is also a destabilizing factor.Nevertheless, Russians have utilized successfully the Abhaz-Georgian conflict to persuade Georgia to join CIS and accept Russian troops on a permanent basis. (9)
As far as Turkey is concerned Georgia is Turkey’s main transit route to the Caucasus, the Russian Federation and the Central Asian Republics. Internal ethnic conflicts including those between the Armenians and the Azeris in Georgia, lack of law and order and the existence of armed Mafia groups make this route extremely perilous. A second route is through Iran which is also not an easy passage. The situation in Georgia also makes the passage difficult for the supply of Russian goods to Armenia. The Turkish policy basically serves the purpose of providing humanitarian assistance to Georgia and bringing Georgia into cooperation schemes such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone. The existing socioeconomic pell-mell however renders this effort rather fruitless. Regarding the Abkhaz-Georgia dispute, Turkey had preferred to remain neutral in the conflict. The reasons for this neutrality stem from the presence in Turkey of large numbers of people of Abkhaz and Georgian extraction as well as from Turkey’s policy of reluctance to become involved in internecine disputes of her neighbors. When Georgia invaded the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi last year, the Turkish Government expressed its concern for the Abkhazians but refrained from strongly criticizing Georgia; in fact, it reiterated that territorial integrity of the states should be respected. (10)
The word Azerbaijan means in Arabic the land of fire probably alluding to burning natural gas or oil found abundantly in that coun-try. (11) The people speak Turkish and they have adopted Shia blend of Islam during the Persian domination of their land. Azeri culture has therefore been influenced by both Turkey and Iran. In recent years however the contacts of Azerbaijan with Turkey have increased and diversified and the leaders openly expressed their intentions to emulate Turkey’s secularism and socioeconomic system. The population of Azerbaijan is over 7 million and Azeris constitute more than 80% of it. According to the 1989 census there are about 400,000 Russians (large numbers of them have left since then and about the same number of Armenian did the same). Lezghi’s living in the North near the Dagestan border number 200,000. After the 1989 elections about 300,000 Azeris living in Armenia fled from Armenians and a similar number of Armenians fled from the Baku region in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has one autonomous republic “Nakhchevan” and the Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabagh. Nakhchevan was originally created between Russia and Turkey under the Treaty of Moscow of March 16, 1921. Under this treaty Nakhchevan would become autonomous republic linked to Azerbaijan and would not be annexed to any third country. Turkey interprets this provision of the Moscow Treaty and the similar provisions of Kars Treaty signed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russian Fed-eration, as a guarantee on the frontiers and the status of Nakhchevan. (12)
Armenia lays astride the direct land route between Azerbaijan and Nakhchevan, thus effectively cutting off the land communication between the two regions. Iran provides an indirect land communication link between Azerbaijan and Nakhchevan. Initially Azerbaijan signed the treaty forming the CIS in December 1991, but the Parliament rejected membership in October 1992. The previous Azerbaijan leadership believed that the Russian Federation was actively supporting Armenia in its war with Azerbaijan and this was one of the reasons why it does not wish to become a member of CIS. However, in the hope of getting Russian support to end the war the current leadership agreed to return to CIS; but so far the leadership is refusing to have Russian troops to be stationed in Azerbaijan. In addition to the Nagorno-Karabagh dispute between it and Armenia, Azerbaijan is facing a tribal/ethnic revolt by the North Lezghis, a Moslem tribe, who are conducting a campaign to set up an independent state with their brethren in neighboring Dagestan. This, campaign, however, is not yet a serious threat to Azerbaijan’s security and territorial integrity.
Like any other former Soviet Republic, Azerbaijan suffers from lack of trained managers, capital and trained workers to transform the country’s economy to the needs of modern era. Like most of the other Turkic Republics, Azerbaijan has immense resources of oil and gas, and agriculture has great prospects. British, Norwegian, American and Turkish companies are intending to build a pipeline to bring Azerbaijan oil to the Mediterranean. The export of 25 million tons of oil a year will no doubt turn Azerbaijan into a prosperous state. However, the Russian intervention and the conditions of war prevent further progress on this project.
Azerbaijan‘s relations with her neighbors:
Azerbaijan was one of the net contributors to the Soviet budget even though it was one of the lowest income republics. Azerbaijan’s oil and other items were exported to other parts of the Union at very low prices. The Azeris, with few exceptions, did not occupy leading roles in the Government and the military of the Soviet Union. It is for this reason that the Azeris lack trained officers to lead their army, even though there are enough weapons to wage their war with Armenia. For trade, Russia continues to be Azerbaijan’s biggest partner, and Azerbaijan supplies most of the equipment needed for the Russian oil industry. In January 1990 Azeri refugees from Armenian attacked Armenians living in Baku and forced most of them to flee the city. The Soviet army sent tanks and troops to occupy Baku and hundreds of Azeris were killed in this action. The Russians installed the Communist leader Ayaz Muttalibov as president. After the first Armenian attacks on Azeri villages in Nagorno-Karabagh, Muttalibov was accused of following a pro-Armenian policy and had to resign. In June 1992 the Popular Front leader Abulfez Elchibey was elected president. This development led to the renunciation of the Oblast status of Nagorno-Karabagh and cooled relations with Russia. However, Elchibey’s failure as a leader to stop the war and prevent Armenian advance into Azerbaijan proper led to a coup d’etat which eventually brought veteran politician Kheidar Aliev to power and accomodation with Russia.
As part of Turkey’s overall policy towards the newly independent Turkic Republics in the former Soviet Union, Ankara’s relations with Azerbaijan, after achieving rapid development particularly during Elchibey’s presidency, now is suffering from a partial set back. . Thousands of Azeri students are studying in the Turkish Universities and other training establishments. The business relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan are developing and increasing. Azerbaijan has decided to revert to the use of Latin alphabet from Cryllic alphabet. Turkish TV is followed by the Azeri public. Joint enterprises are growing. After the down-fall of Mr. Elchibey who was thought to be a pro-Turkish nationalist, there was some ill feeling towards Turkey in Azerbaijan. In recent months, however, Turkey and Azerbaijan are continuing to develop their relations on the basis of objective rather than emotional criteria.
As earlier explained, the trade volume between Iran and Azerbaijan is rapidly developing. Yet, there are contradictions between these two states. Iranian state system and politics do not coincide with Azeri expectations in the North. Iran gradually is becoming an active economic partner with Azerbaijan. It also extends support to some Islamic parties and institutions. On the other hand, Iran had a lesser role as a political power on Azerbaijan. Presently, Iran’s political relations are going through a similar phase as Turkey’s.
The first Armenian Republic was established in May 1918 with its capital at Yerevan, one month after the establishment of the short lived Transcaucasian Republic. In January 1920 Western powers recognized the Dashnak government. Dashnak controlled Armenian armies tried to seize parts of Eastern Turkey. They were defeated by the Turkish army and the present border was established by the Treaty of Gumri in December 2, 1920. The Russians tried to get from Turkey some territory during the negotiations which led to the Moscow Treaty of 1921, but their aim did not materialize as they wished. In 1945, the Russians tried once again to force Turkey to secede Kars and Ardahan in Eastern Turkey to Armenia. This attempt also failed. With the beginning of an East-West detente, the Armenian nationalists aroused the Diaspora and beginning by 1973 the Armenian terrorist organizations have assassinated more than 40 Turkish diplomats in different parts of the world. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Armenia, after a referendum held on September 21,1991, decided to become an independent republic. The Armenian Nationalist Movement provided the first President of Armenia, Mr. Levon Ter-Petrossyan, from the Armenian Diaspora in Syria, who since then left the position and went out of the country. The policies of the Foreign Minister Mr. Hovanissian.(he has since been replaced) antagonized all the neighbors of Armenia but he failed to obtain the amount of political and economic backing he expected from the United States, even though all Armenians living abroad were made citizens of the Armenian Republic. Meanwhile Armenia’s conflict with Azerbaijan escalated into an all-out war.
Karabagh was made an autonomous district of Azerbaijan in 1921. The logic of this action was that since the Russian Empire dominated the Caucuses region, Karabagh was administratively linked with the richer agricultural plains to the east. In the 1920s, given the poverty of Armenia, the oil rich Azerbaijan was considered to be a better partner for Karabagh. The population of the district was about one third Azeris and two thirds Armenians. Activists began to agitate in the 1960s to incorporate Karabagh into Armenia. These demands were turned down repeatedly both by Azerbaijan and the Soviet Government. On February 13,1988, the Karabagh Armenians began to demonstrate for union with Armenia. These were followed by riots against Azeris both in the Karabagh and Armenia, and Azeri reactions took place in Sumgait. Karabagh was placed under direct Moscow rule between July 1988 and November 1989. However, this did not stop the fighting. In fact national feelings ran high both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azeris were all driven away from Karabagh and Armenia by force. A corridor was established between Karabagh and Armenia. On and off fighting has been continuing since then, the Armenians have the upper hand in the fighting and they have occupied not only all of Karabagh but also substantial Azeri territory, a quarter of Azerbaijan itself, including Kelbejer and Fuzuli. This approach gives credence to the arguments that the present leadership in Armenia is emulating Serbia and they are seeking to establish a greater Armenia in the face of the paralysis of the international system. The Russian attribute in the present Azeri-Armenian conflict is rather interesting. Russian efforts are aimed at emerging as the protective force in the Caucasus. It thrives to be accepted by Georgia and Azerbaijan as the objective arbiter in all intercommunal disputes. This is a double edged purpose where Russia wants the same acceptability by the West. So far within the structure of CSCE Russia has not been granted the powers it wanted, nor NATO accepted the changes Russia wanted to introduce to CFE limits in the Caucasus regions.
Kurds and Armenia:
The Armenians seem to have decided to, play also the Kurdish card against Turkey and Azerbaijan. There are about 200,000 Kurds in the former Soviet Union some of whom lived in the region of Lachin between Karabagh and Armenia. In the past there was no problem of co-existence between the Azeris and the Kurds who lived together and intermarried. Lachin now serves as a corridor between Karabagh and Armenia. The deputy president of the “Kurdish Liberation Movement” of the Kurds living in the Soviet Union said that they wanted to set up a Kurdish state in Lachin to be federated or confederated with Nagorno-Karabagh.(13) The Turkish press reports that the PKK (a Kurdish Terrorist Organization) has been allowed to setup an office in Yerevan and terrorist training camps in Armenia. The leader of PKK is trying to raise Armenian support in the face of setbacks his organization suffered in Turkey. (14) There are frequent reports that the PKK has been allowed to setup training camps in Armenian territory and many Armenians are to be found among PKK ranks.
All of Caucasia’s neighbors are trying to stop the fighting in Caucasia. Iran has made several attempts, which have failed. Turkey has done its best by including both Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone, and by organizing direct contacts between the leaders of the warring parties. Consequently, Turkey, together with Russia and the United States, has made a last ditch effort to persuade the parties to cease fire and to resume talks within an agreed framework.
Basically for two principal reasons the international institutions are not keenly interested in the fighting and the massacres that are continuing in the Caucuses, particularly those taking place in Karabagh and Azerbaijan. The last hard winter and the earthquake that Armenia suffered a few years ago, have created a sympathy for the Armenians, not to mention the role of the Diaspora in France and the United States. Nevertheless, the recent Armenian attacks on Azerbaijan territory proper have caused a certain amount of diplomatic reaction. The Security Council has passed a resolution on the recent Armenian attacks, denouncing the attacks.
Until these recent attacks, Turkey had opened its frontiers and air-space for the transport of food and humanitarian assistance to Armenia, and Ankara had even loaned her own wheat to Armenia during that harsh winter. The recent unprovoked aggression against Azerbaijan has led to the closing of air and land routes between Armenian and Turkey. It is difficult to see what will be the implications for the peace and security in the Caucuses if Armenia does not evacuate the occupied Azeri territory and continues on further operations.
The Central Asian region covers a vast area, twice the size of Eu-rope. Russians called it Middle Asia until recently, Kazakhs prefer to term their own area as Inner Asia. The common terminology of Central Asia would stretch from Southern Siberia to the Indo-Pakistan Peninsula in the North and South; Caspian Sea and Iran in the West, and China in the East (though some writers include Xinkiang in Central Asia because of the majority of the people are Uygurs).
In comparison with Caucasia, Central Asia is politically more stable, with the exception of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Most of Cen-tral Asian population is composed of Turkophone nations and their languages have varying degrees of similarities with the current Turkish used in Turkey. In their early years the tribal living and city-states marked the social and political systems. After the defeat of Russia in the First World War, they created a Turkestan to cover most of Central Asia and some parts of the Turkish speaking people in what is now the current Russian Federation. The Bolsheviks destroyed this state even though local armed resistance continued for a long time. The present borders do not correspond to any criterion for modern state. One could call the present ethnic composition of the new nations a medley. In Kazakhistan there are about twenty ethnical groups, in Kyrgyzstan there are 5 main groups that make about 90% of the population, in Uzbekistan there are about twelve ethnic groups. Turkmenistan’s population is mainly Turkmens (69%), Russians (12%) and Uzbeks (10%).
The presence of the Turkish speaking majorities and minorities in each country, has led to a nationalist movement for the recreation of a Turkestan in Central Asia. This movement has also supporters in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Yet their strength is not great because in Turkey, the foreign policy preference is towards integration with Europe. In most of the new Turkic republics full independence has not yet been achieved and democratic forces are not yet vociferous.
Considering the ethnic structures of the Central Asian Republics, it is clear that the majority languages are based on Turkish, even though each republic gives the language its own name because of small differences in their dialects. Turkey has taken the initiative to bring about a regional cooperation among the Turkish speaking nations and it has begun to organize seminars, satellite television programs to create a close cultural network and to promote cooperation in different cultural fields.
The Cyrillic alphabet of the Russian language was imposed on the Turkic Republics in the Soviet Union. Now, all the Turkic Republics have expressed their interest in adopting a modified Latin alphabet (34 characters). In a conference held in Ankara in February 1993, all the Turkic Republics decided to begin the implementation of the decision to change from Cyrillic to Latin. Only Kazakhistan remains in the “intention” phase. One major difficulty is to obtain new typing and printing facilities suitable for Latin characters. Uzbekhistan has decided to move to Latin alphabet by 1995.
Generally, all the Central Asian nations follow the religion of Is-lam. The influence of Islam in these countries on social and political life is much different than it is in Iran and in the Arab world.
In the first place Islam has never become a way of life and political system in the city states and tribal life style of Central Asia. Islam has been valued as a religion. During the Communist era religion was suppressed and official teaching was atheism. It was only in the 1980s that religion was freed and the number of mosques rapidly increased. One of the basic questions asked today is whether Islamic fundamentalism will take hold of Central Asia and become a major political force.
In the history of the Turkic peoples, Islam as a monotheist reli-gion replaced Shamanism and Buddhism. The fact that the language of the Qoran is Arabic and not Turkish, the direct understanding of the holy text is a restricted privilege of the men of religion who have learned Arabic. In the Sunni Sect to which most of the Turks and Tajiks in Central Asia belong, and adhere, there is no religious hierarchy as in the case of the Shiite sect. The domination of the political system by the Mollas is not a normal phenomenon. The Ottoman Sultans assumed the Caliphate only when they conquered the Arab lands. Turks of Turkey abandoned the Caliphate and chose a secular political system when they disassociated themselves from the Arabs at the end of the First World War. If we take history as a parameter, Islamic fundamentalism is not likely to take root and dominate the political system in Central Asia. After all, so long as a religion does not become an instrument for the political system or replace it, its visibility in a country does not take the form of fundamentalism. In any democratic country where individual rights are respected, religion automatically becomes a concern for the individual and his community, and religious tolerance takes the form of secularism.
With the probable exception of Tajikistan which is still under the influence of the Communist Party leadership and which has been ef-fected by the events in Afghanistan, all other Central Asian countries aspire to become modern states and regain their Turkish and Islamic heritages simultaneously. Their methods are different and their con-straints are enormous, changing from one republic to the other. If they succeed in transforming themselves into modern democracies with free market economies and integrating themselves in the global system, the chances of fundamentalist parties gaining power will diminish, since such parties become political alternatives in the measure of popular despair with the economy and failure of the socio-political system.
While creating the new republics, Moscow had seen to it that as many different ethnical groups as possible were included within each republic, in keeping with the traditional imperial dictum of divide et impera. For example according to the 1989 census, Kazakhs live in the following countries: 6,592.000 in Kazakhistan, 800,000 in Uzbekistan, 635,000 in the Russian Federation, 37,000 in Kyrgyzstan, 12,000 in the Ukraine and lesser numbers in Tajikistan, Georgia and other countries. Part of the Kyrgyz people live in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There are about 20 million Uzbeks in the former Soviet Union. 1.4 million live in Tajikistan, about 700,000 in Kyrgyzstan, and 300,000 in Turkmenistan. In all of the republics there are still strong Russian minorities: In Kazakhistan 34 %, in Kyrgyzstan 21%, in Uzbekhistan 8%, in Turkmenistan 9%. Since the early tribal days, various Turkic ethnic groups have fought with each other as much as they lived together and formed major empires. Having lived under the Russian colonial rule has brought these nations to bury their past frictions and to attempt to form a single Turkestan when Czarist Russia collapsed at the end of the First World War. Under the Communist rule Moscow made every effort to encourage ethnical identities and dialects. Now the presence of so many Russians and ambiguity of the political situation and the future intentions of Russians in the Russian Federation, are considered by the Nationalist Governments in the Turkic republics as a stimulus for cooperation among themselves. In the long run viability and development of these states will be questionable if they cannot establish a frame for cooperation among themselves and with their neighbors.
Leaving the ideology of creating a great Turkestan to the ideolo-gists, the current leadership in the Turkic republics are endeavoring to establish an effective cooperation among themselves while trying to lessen their dependence on Moscow. Central Asian leaders have been meeting since June 1990 at different capitals to establish closer cooperation among themselves. They have already decided to establish four committees of experts on energy, oil, cotton and grain. They have decided to set up an Aral Sea Fund to protect the environmental hazard being caused by the drying up of this internal sea. They have also decided to establish a “common information region. “(15)
The Central Asian Republics have different approaches to democracy and to their relations with Moscow. These differences constitute the most important constraint in the development of an effective regional system of cooperation. Kazakhistan, with the largest Russian population, is obliged to follow a very balanced policy of “nationalism”, to placate the Russians. The Kazak leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s approach to regional cooperation is encouraging but his limits are clearly visible in his reticence with regard to cultural and foreign policy issues. The fact that in the Azerbaijan-Armenian dispute he has decided to remain neutral along side Moscow, may be indicative of his policy. In most of the Central Asian republics economy and administration are dominated by either Moscow trained local people or by Russians themselves. Now, the Central Asian Republics are rapidly training people for administrative and technical jobs by sending large numbers of students abroad. In Turkey alone there are about eight thousand students from the new Turkish republics and another ten thousand are expected this year.
The former Communist Party, now called the Socialist Party dominates the political scene. Although tolerance is shown for the creation of other parties, political system is still a far cry from democracy. Islam Kerimov in Uzbekhistan, Saparmurad Niyazov in Turkmenistan , and Rakhman Nabiyev in Tajikistan as former Communist leaders, have a mentality that would not encourage democracy but cherish ethnic values and nationalism, while maintaining their “countries” links with Moscow within the framework of CIS. Kyrgyzstan, under the leadership of populist Asker Akayev has a more independent approach. He has already introduced his own currency “som” to save his country from the runaway inflation of the Russian ruble, as Azerbaijan had earlier introduced her own currency “manat” for the same purpose. Although it may take a little more time, the other Central Asian countries may follow suit in establishing their own currencies. Turkmenistan which has a budget surplus may be third in line.
In all the Central Asian republics, with a certain exception of Kyrgyzstan, the approach to democracy among the ruling elite is luke-warm. When pressed on this issue, their argument is that first they should secure their independence from Moscow before they face the disrupting effects of democracy. There may be some justification in their arguments. Since all the Central Asians republics are members of the CIS they rely on Russia to provide for their security and control of their frontiers due to their lack of experience in real combat situation. Under the Soviet Control, the conscript soldiers primarily from all the Central Asian republics were placed as ordinary soldiers and mostly as noncombatants. Therefore the Central Asians States lack personnel with command and control experience that is necessary to create and operate national armed forces. Thus, notwithstanding their desires presently, the Central Asians republics are not in a position to set up their own armed forces. Therefore, their independence is at best extremely fragile and its continuation depends largely on Moscow’s goodwill.
In the maintenance of the security and future development of the Central Asian political systems, as well as their economy, the external factors will play an important role. The countries which have immediate interests in this region are: Russia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and China.
Russian attitude towards Central Asia is a mixture of feelings of guilt because these countries were “… the Soviet third world, backward and exploited, lagging behind the industrial center in economic and social development”(16), and the Russian imperial myth. Russia will continue to participate in the exploitation of the region’s natural resources. Depending on the strength of Russian nationalism within the Russian Federation, the tendency to use the Russian minorities in the Central Asian Republics as extensions of Russian power and influence will increase proportionately. If Moscow follows such a policy at any time in the near future -as the approach of Mr. Yeltsin and statements by the opposition leader Zhririnovski indicate-, and decides to meddle in the domestic affairs of these countries in an overt or covert manner, these will create tense situations and clashes. The current economic dependence of Central Asian countries on Russia maybe expected to lessen in time. The lessening of the dependency will be proportional to the integration of these countries into the world economic system. They will depend less on Russian market as their natural resources find their values in the international markets.
The principal objective of Turkish foreign policy towards the Turkic republics in Central Asia should be conceived as helping these countries to become pluralist, secular democracies, respectful of rule of law, progressing towards market economy, to adopt Turkey as a model on the basis of mutual advantage. Turkey within this framework should cooperate with each of these states in the fields of culture and economy, and extend such cooperation gradually to the areas of education, security and other fields. While pursuing these policy goals, Turkey should be careful to assure that her links with the Turkic Republics do not have pan-turkist implications. While developing healthy cooperations with these states, and developing its relations with these Central Asian Countries, Turkey is always careful about not adapting an anti-Russian attitude or stance. Turkey tries not give “big brother” image to the countries of the region. The policies followed by Turkey have already produced significant results in the fields of culture, economy, and international affairs. In the latter field, Turkey has assisted the Central Asian republics to become members of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, CSCE, Advisory Council of NATO, and of the Economic Cooperation Council. Turkey’s effforts have produced best results in the field of economy. The number of private and public Turkish investments in these new republics have reached a figure of 542 within the past two years. The total value of these investments is about US $ 6.5 billion. About 5000 Turkish businessmen are working in these republics. The Turkish Government has provided about 1.6 billion dollars of economic assitance. Turkey has sent technical and administrative advisors to most of these new republics and bilateral contacts are increasing.
Iran’s policy towards Central Asia has also economic and cultural contents. There are large numbers of Turkmens in Iran who constitute a link between Iran and Turkmenistan. Persian Culture is part of the Central Asian cultural heritage. There is much international speculation on whether Iran will be seeking to export religious fundamentalism to Central Asia. We have already explained the difficulties in propagating fundamentalist ideologies among the people of Turkish origin. The success of the economies, coupled with democratic transformation of these countries will make fundamentalism a remote possibility. Due to Iran’s economic difficulties and preferences, Tehran has little capital and industrial capacity to enter into meaningful trade relations with the Central Asian countries. However, Iran is an important transit route for oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia, and useful common economic projects may be realized within the framework of ECO.
Pakistan feels that the leadership in all the Central Asian republics is extremely suspicious of Pakistan because of its Afghan policy. The second factor regarding Pakistan’s policy is considered to be fundamentalism. A very crucial debate that has already been opened up in the Pakistani press as to whether Islamic fundamentalism and the religious parties in Pakistan were to dominate policy towards Central Asia. Meanwhile, Pakistan hopes that when the new Central Asian Republics begin to develop their own military forces, Pakistan will be able to develop military ties with these countries. Pakistan also hopes that through cooperation with Iran, Turkey and even India she would obtain a good position in Central Asia. (18) For India the creation of new Central Asian Republics is seen as an opening of new opportunities regarding cooperation in the fields of trade, commerce, science and technology. Like Turkey, India does not seem to be concerned about the possible threat of Islamic fundamentalism emanating as a result of Pakistan’s and Iran’s institutional fundamentalist policies. India has established diplomatic relations with all the Central Asian countries and mutual visits are taking place. (19) China also has established diplomatic ties with all of the Central Asian Republics. Economic relations are rapidly developing especially with Kyrgyzstan which is linked to China by train. Border trade between the two countries is flourishing. The independence and growth of the Central Asian republics causes some anxiety for China whose Uygur and other Turkic minorities in the Xinkiang region feel oppressed and exploited.
Against the bleak and sanguineous backround of the Caucasus region resulting from historical hatreds and international intrigues, Central Asia presents a more dynamic picture of change towards the modern world, in spite of the area’s extreme poverty and backwardness. The present leadership, while shy of democracy, is both expansive in their dealings with the external world and peaceful in their intentions. The leader of Kazakhistan, for example, is not only interested in developing relations among the Central Asian countries and CIS, but is endeavoring to provide leadership for the whole of Asia by promoting a Conference for Security and Cooperation among Asian states. The natural resources of the Central Asian countries , if properly exploited, are adequate to provide prosperity for the countries of the region. (17) Their needs are both capital infusion, and training of their new cadres.
There are ample sources of threat to their security and stability: ethnic differences, fundamentalist pressures, revivalism of Russian nationalism and ecology. To overcome these dangers they need good leadership, which they seem to possess at this moment, outside help, which is not sufficient, and a calm international environment. In the case of Caucasus, however, there is need for foreign powers to stop meddling and to distinguish between the aggressors and the victims.
1 Maggs, William Ward, “Armenia and Azerbaijan: Look-
ing toward the Middle East, Current History, January 1993, pp 6-11
2 There are serious allegations on the part of Azerbaijan
that Russian soldiers are taking part in the war over Nagorno-Karabagh. In fact five Russian soldiers were sentenced to death in Baku in May 1993.
edition of Survival, IISS Quarterly, spring 1993 on “Ethnic Conflict and International Security”, and, Winer Myron, “Peoples and States in a New Ethnic Order” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 13, No.2,1992, pp. 317-333.
(*) Published in the fpi Quarterly “Foreign Policy”, Vol. 18, Nos.3-4