Sometimes on GIN Revista, we get stories that are not only novel-like episodes that will be remembered in the future (no matter how horrible they might be) but also that involve so many different variables and curious circumstances that simply sprout into mind the idea: “The Cold War is over, but Int’l Relations are still interesting”. Or is it…?
The Hungarian equivalent of Jack the Ripper hit once more the front pages not only in the mostly calm Magyran Republic, otherwise known as Hungary but also in the rest of the world. The funny thing is, if any in this bloody and merciless affair, that no Hungarian was involved. As if the recreation of a stereotyped metaphor on the Azerbaijani-Armenian relationship took place, a hideous crime took place in the beautiful and awe-inspiring capital city of Budapest.
The spooky story gets even better for the most cynical spectators, as this took place amidst a North Atlantic Treaty Organization Partnership for Peace event in 2004. Talking about a successful course. The only peace to be seen in this affair is the rest in which the Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan sleeps, after he was axed and decapitated (apparently, “half-decapitated” is the correct and more precise term) by his fellow Azerbaijani counterpart, Ramil Safarov. Arrested by Hungarian authorities, he was tried and condemned to a minimum of 25 years in jail, to be carried out in the crime-inflicted country. Things were quite bad as they were at that moment, especially between Armenia and Azerbaijan where the word “hatred” could express their present relations (if they officially had any, that is).
Their citizens cannot visit their neighbour. They cannot even watch Eurovision without provoking each other. It was reported that Azerbaijani broadcaster blurred the number to vote for the Armenian candidate (who came from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, already discussed in GIN Revista (Spanish); for more information, please visit http://ginrevista.com/2012/07/23/pequeno-pero-maton/). Armenia refused to take part in the event when Azerbaijan was the hosting country in 2012. According to Armenia, security issues were the principal motive.
Major Azerbaijani struggle and negotiations with Magyarian authorities ended up in a worst case scenario: Mr. Safarov is extradited to Azerbaijan, on the condition that he would continue his sentence in his home country. When he landed, he was pardoned. Immediately, relations between Hungary and Armenia terminated, as a result of his exculpation in his home country. He was received, according to the Guardian, as a “hero” and with his arrival came many surprises, gifts and compensations to the now ex-convict, including an apartment, “back pay” and was promoted to major, according to the New York Times. Furious mobs pelted the Hungarian embassy with eggs and burned flags in the capital Yerevan. Another series of nasty events took place as a result. Among which the Armenian president in a fit mentioned the word “war” in some declarations he made due to this outrageous circumstance. The Danish Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was deeply concerned by the damaged “trust” and by the possible future retaliations. Talking about a diplomatic melodrama.
But leaving the much-distracting and much-delusionary ado behind, let us focus on more important issues: Why is NATO so concerned in a region where the closest NATOMemberState is Turkey and what are the possible interests in the region?
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the three autonomous regions of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Armenia successfully obtained independence. Other republics, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, failed to do so. In the latter’s case, it created a real hot-spot of instability and violence throughout the whole region (as was studied in the aforementioned study). Moscow’s influence decreased enormously. Russian economic influence is not what it used to be, although it must be said that it has continued to invest in energy, mining and military-related activities in the region. In the military sphere, the Russian Federation had to dismantle its main bases, even though some still remain (102nd military base in Armenia and a radar station in Azerbaijan).
The case in Georgia is slightly different. Since the 2008, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are under the supervision of Russian military due to the Russian-led invasion. Many people of the time, including this reporter, believed it to be a reaction to the massive Western recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February of the same year and because of the increasing relations between Russia and the two rogue states (only recognised by literally a handful of countries, one of them being Nauru, according to The Independent; for those who are curious, I recommend them to read the article undermentioned). However, it has to be said that some irregularities were committed by Georgian forces, which led Russia to act in response and which helped to justify the offensive (much to the regret of the international community).
On the other hand, there seems to be a rather progressive and increasing relation with NATO countries. Just recently, this organization released on its webpage a report on the successful relations with these three countries. Today, Georgia aspires to be a MemberState and all three Caucasian countries have taken part in supporting NATO-led operations in Kosovo or Afghanistan (they are all within the Individual Partnership Action Plan). This has been also a very strategic point in order to supply and transport troops to Afghan territory. Let us remember that being a NATO member or ally gives you part of the Copenhagen criteria necessary to be an EU Member State (especially in terms of making sure that these countries respect the rule of law and above all, human rights). There are quintessentially the “new neighbours”.
As many of you may have guessed, this region has a very important geostrategic relevance. Between Europe and the Middle East, some see it has an “Eldorado”. It is hardly surprising then that companies such as British Petroleum in Azerbaijan or other American companies (and military personnel) in Armenia have set camp. The countenance of a possible “Russian Power Resurrection”, diversification of oil supply (a pipeline connects Azerbaijan’s capital Baku with the Black Sea) and military presence next to the Middle East are just some of the reasons that explain their presence.
Another factor that reassures their long-term company in the region is the social instability. Between 1988 and 2006, the Caucasus has suffered enormous migratory movements. Some involved escaping war-ridden territories such as Nagorno-Karabakj (mostly Azerbaijanis), Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Other migrants move for economical reasons. This explains the massive Armenian diaspora to Russia, Eastern Europe and the United States. It is said that the Caucasian region has lost approximately 20% of its population. Possibly the most damaging problem in this is the catastrophic brain drain that it has provoked. According to the latest edition of The Economist’s World Facts, 11,000 asylum applications to industrialised countries were received in 2009 from Georgians (10th in the world in this category). In terms of population growth rates, Azerbaijan has always had in its districts higher rates (even more than 9%) than its neighbouring countries due to a less advanced demographic transition period and because it is a country with more than 90% Muslims (countries with Muslim traditions are generally prone to have bigger fertility rates than other European countries with advanced demographic transition periods). This reporter would like the reader to acknowledge that Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have a population of approximately 4, 3 and 9 million people, respectively.
The political instability and the lack for a political solution to some of the conflicts mentioned before are both clearly entwined. The Georgian “Rose Revolution” in 2003 led to a series of public demonstrations throughout the whole region for many years to come. In Georgia, it led to the ousting of Edward Shevardnadze (an ex-Soviet minister of Foreign Affairs). In Armenia and Azerbaijan, the local authorities managed to control the situation, mostly because of the solidity of institutional structure (even if Azerbaijan is 25th in the “least free press freedom” index in The Economist; Belarus 23rd). In L’état du monde 2012, it is discussed in the article relative to Azerbaijan that OSCE declared elections to include many cases of fraud and that it hardly meant any kind of democratic progress. Both in Armenia and Azerbaijan, there were threats of a “Mubarakization”. In 2011, the National Armenian Congress (the main opposition party) paid its respects to the 10 deceased and 250 injured people that took part in earlier demonstrations. In Azerbaijan, reports were received on the lack of freedom of press that came as a result of protests. Even though much needed anti-corruption mechanisms were put into place. In other words, these countries every now and again have claims of police brutality or human rights violations, despite their many improvements over the past few years.
The gap between the rich and the poor, though not statistically scandalous in Azerbaijan and Armenia (Gini coefficient of 0.308 and 0.337 respectively) is getting bigger (Georgia is placed 56th with 0.408). It gets worst when the instability in the region discourages foreign investment (other than energy, of course) and any type of peaceful enterprise.
As a result of this research, one can only hope the best for a region, like many other ones in the world, that has had to deal with bloody wars and suffers today still of systemic hatred between neighbours. Further coordinated and coherent diplomatic talks are needed, of course. Nevertheless, what is most needed here is a proper and calm political and economic situation to promote growth, where people can develop themselves freely and can learn to respect one another and most of all, so they can be able to love their neighbour (actually, not dislike would be good enough). If not, other people are bound to profit from their misery.
British Broadcasting Corporation
The New York Times
Le Monde Diplomatique, El Atlas-Ediciones Cybermonde)
Russia’s Military Capabilities, by Margaret Klein (SWP Research Paper). http://www.swp-berlin.org/fileadmin/contents/products/research_papers/2009_RP12_kle_ks.pdf
(Page 20, table 6)
The Economist’s World Facts App 2012
El Estado del Mundo 2012 (L’état du monde 2012-Editions La Découverte)-Akal editions
CIA World Factbook 2012
How goverments work-Dorling Kindersley