Security, Democracy and Development

In the Southern Caucasus and the Black Sea Region

by Ghia Nodia (Volume editor) Christoph H. Stefes (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 384 Pages


Since the early 1990s, the southern Caucasus and its larger neighbourhood, the Black Sea region, have experienced deep and sometimes painful transformations, including bloody conflicts. They have also become an arena of geopolitical and geoeconomic competition between great powers. This has attracted growing attention from social scientists. In this volume, authors from universities in Europe, the United States and the southern Caucasus focus on several of the most topical problems of the region, particularly how nascent states and societies grapple with the results of unresolved ethno-territorial conflicts and how they try to construct new civil societies from the cultural mosaic that they inherited from their Soviet past. How do elements of democracy and autocracy combine in the political regimes of the new states? Can the West have an effect on their internal development and, if so, how? How do the rich mineral resources of the Caspian region influence the development of the region’s economies and define the geopolitical standing of these countries?

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Elections, Revolutions and Policies
  • Cleavage Theory and the Electoral Geographies of Georgia
  • Structural Causes of “Colour Revolutions”: Postelectoral Mobilization and Outcomes in the South Caucasus
  • Typical Tin-Pots: Wealth without Welfare in Azerbaijan
  • Part II: External Actors: Do They Help to Democratize?
  • Guarding or Retarding? US Democracy-Assistance Programmes in Post-Rose Revolution Georgia
  • Spreading Democratic Governance? NGOs in the Eastern Partnership: The Case of Georgia
  • Part III: (Re)Constructing Identities in a Changing World
  • Citizenship or Ethnicity? National Identity and Insecurity in Southern Caucasia
  • Georgian Migrants in Turkey: Reconstruction of Gender and Family Dynamics
  • Part IV: Living with Protracted Conflicts
  • Return or Integration? Politicizing Displacement in Georgia
  • War Economies and Protracted Conflicts: The Cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
  • Crossing the Border – An Intergenerational Study of Belonging and Temporary Return among IDPs from Abkhazia
  • Foreign Policy Particularities of the De Facto States in the Black Sea Region
  • Part V: The Politics and Economics of Energy
  • Azerbaijan’s Role in the Euroasiatic Energy Chessboard: Geopolitical and Strategic Perspectives
  • Sybilla Wege
  • The Black Sea Region as a Strategic Energy Corridor: International Dynamics of Cooperation and Competition
  • Regional Cooperation and National Preferences in the Black Sea Region: A Zero-Sum Game Perpetuated by Energy Insecurity?
  • States over Markets? Development of a Turkish Gas Hub and its Effects on Regional Energy and Security
  • The New Gas Era: Shaping Energy Policy in the South Caucasus Region
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series Index

Ghia Nodia and Christoph H. Stefes


This is a book about a very difficult though diverse and fascinating region, the Southern Caucasus. This part of the world is also viewed as part of the larger Black Sea area. Why would we consider it a “difficult” region? Do not all countries or regions, including those that are usually considered relatively successful and orderly, face critical problems? For instance, do not the European Union’s multiple crises of recent years make Europe a “difficult region”?

Undoubtedly. Yet the Southern Caucasus, which emerged as a region in its own right in the early 1990’s from the debris of the Soviet Union, stands out for the variety and intensity of conflicts (including violent conflicts), instability, and economic hardship. The rest of the world therefore often sees the South Caucasus as a source of disorder and problems that sometimes require urgent intervention (as, for instance, in August 2008, when a war broke out between Georgia and Russia). It is a region that always needs attention, support and preventive action so that problems do not get out of hand and spill over into neighbouring countries and regions. There are, of course, other, more positive reasons to be interested in the South Caucasus. One can easily be attracted by its diverse cultures, ancient history, spectacular landscapes, rich cuisine, heart-warming hospitality, and even sometimes economic opportunity. Nevertheless, for people outside of and unfamiliar with the region, conflict and disorder are usually the first things that come to mind when they hear the word “Caucasus”.

For inquisitive minds, which social scientists are supposed to have, there is also good news: the Caucasus may be a difficult region, but it is never a boring one. Its extremely deep and painful social, political and economic transformations require careful analyses and understanding, both in order to relieve the pain and increase chances of success for those countries and peoples but also for increasing our general knowledge about deep transformations, how they fail and succeed, how conflicts flare up and are (sometimes) resolved. This is what this is book is about. ← 9 | 10 →

Young social scientists from both within and outside the region are the contributors. One of the multiple problems of the Southern Caucasus (should it be considered among the key ones?) was that it was isolated from the intellectual mainstream of the contemporary world. The myths of salvation inherent in dogmatic Soviet Marxism were replaced with romantic mythology of national awakenings intertwined with an extremely simplistic understanding of popular sovereignty and free-market mechanisms. Only relatively recently have young scholars from countries in the Caucasus started to conceptualize complex processes of development in their own countries through the prism of contemporary theories and methodologies – however imperfect the latter may be. On the other hand, an increasing number of researchers in leading universities around the globe have become interested in the region. Transformative processes that take place there become a source of intellectual inspiration for their research projects. The result is that local and foreign scholars engage in a much wider and richer scholarly conversation. Its results may be fruitful and interesting for those people who do not necessarily specialize in those countries but may draw lessons from work on these countries for comparative research. This book presents a glimpse of the state of that conversation, and of what the global social science community can learn from developments in the Caucasus.

This collection includes the best papers from a conference “Security, Democracy and Development in the Southern Caucasus and the Black Sea Region”, financed and organized by the Academic Swiss Caucasus Net (ASCN) in October 2012 in Istanbul. ASCN is funded by Gebert Rüf Stiftung and has been working for several years to increase the quality of social research on the Southern Caucasus and provide new forums for a lively and professional debate on genuinely fascinating topics related to developments in these countries. The present publication has been made possible thanks to the generous support of Gebert Rüf Stiftung and its ASCN programme.


The table of contents of this book is in itself a source of information about the region. By choosing topics for their research, the community of scholars prioritizes events and developments. That judgment, like any other, may be contested, and there is always an element of contingency here. Still, what does this table of content tell us about the issues that the Southern Caucasus faces? ← 10 | 11 →

In a nutshell, there were several basic and deeply interconnected problems that the new states of the Caucasus (and they are new even though many of them boast of very ancient history) faced in the early 1990’s, when the seemingly stable Soviet order abruptly collapsed. These nations had to define what they are, which meant determining on what basis their polities had to be kept together, along which lines their spatial borders had to be drawn, and where they belonged in the contemporary international political order. Having at least notionally rejected the Communist system, they had to build new formal or informal institutions of governance. And, having left the unified and rigidly regulated world of Soviet economics, they had to figure out how they were going to sustain themselves in an increasingly competitive world economy.

Arguably, none of those problems can be considered “solved”: borders, political regimes, international alliances are still contested. However, enough time has passed for us to discern major trends of development: who the major actors are and what their interests, visions and strategies are; what structural problems, advantages and disadvantages they have to deal with; what are the lasting outcomes of supposedly “temporary” solutions; how the region fits in the changing world of international relations.

Territorial conflicts are the most conspicuous expressions of the unfinished state of the national projects in the South Caucasus. Whatever theories of state formation or international relations each of us may prefer, we – at least those who live outside of the boundaries of the European Union – still find ourselves in a Westphalian world of nation states. Certainty about state boundaries is the most basic starting point for formulating and solving problems of political, social or economic development and those borders remain the most potent factors of social construction. Yet this is exactly the issue that has remained unresolved in the Southern Caucasus.

The simplest question – “what are the countries that constitute the Southern Caucasus?” – defies clear answers. A politically correct answer that most of international community is willing to accept reads: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia (to stay out of trouble, alphabetical order is used). We also encounter so-called “unrecognized” or “de facto” states of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. They have been around since the early 1990’s with the more-or-less stable institutional frameworks that states are supposed to have. Nevertheless, it would also be rather misleading to say that those are genuine states that only lack international recognition in order to be considered “normal”. Certainly, they are genuinely ← 11 | 12 → independent, and increasingly sealed, from those states of which they are supposed to be integral parts by international law: Azerbaijan in case of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Georgia for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Yet their independence from what can be called their patron states (Armenia for Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia for Abkhazia and South Ossetia) is rather questionable, and it is quite difficult to imagine their existence beyond that patronage.

Whatever happens with and within the unrecognized states, there is a divergence between the mental maps of their own countries that citizens carry in their heads and the real though not internationally legitimate boundaries that regulate movements of people and goods in effect. These boundaries have emerged based on supposedly temporary ceasefire agreements after wars (signed in 1992 in the case of South Ossetia, 1994 in the cases of Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and then 2008 again for South Ossetia and Abkhazia), but they have become the most stable feature of the political geography of the region. This divergence – and recognition of this divergence as something temporary and abnormal – has become a stable feature of political, social and mental lives of these countries.

It may be a symptomatic feature of this volume that none of the articles presented deal with the core reasons of these conflicts, or prospects for their solution. Important as those issues are, a certain fatigue surrounds them: a lot has been said and written on this already, and there is certain fatalistic recognition that there is no improvement in sight. Quite the opposite, in each of the cases risks of deterioration appear to be greater. So, it appears more promising to research what the lasting and apparently insurmountable divergences between legal and effective boundaries do to the institutions and lives of people.

One of the most important of permanently temporary solutions for the South Caucasus conflicts is the fate of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees: people who lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of ethnic cleansings that constitute part and parcel of postcommunist ethno-territorial conflicts. The experience of forceful expulsion (that occurred between 1989 and 1994 for the most, or as recently as in 2008 for some) is tragic enough; but in addition, these people have become hostage to those quasi-temporary solutions. Because solutions are temporary, the IDPs and refugees are supposed to return – and this is something many of them really aspire to – but this prevents them from putting their tragic ← 12 | 13 → experiences behind them and integrating into those communities in which they were forced to start their new lives.

There are two articles in this volume that deal with this issue, both focused on the Georgian case. Kabachnik, Mitchneck and Regulska, using the Foucaultian concept of “governmentality”, deal with the implications of the status of “internally displaced persons”. For a long time, the Georgian government emphasized the temporary character of this displacement: it assumed that full and successful integration of IDPs in the places of their new settlement could be interpreted as an indication that they were not going to return to the areas from which they had been expelled. This expressed itself in limiting electoral rights of IDPs in local elections, keeping them in temporary dwellings, and so forth. The policy changed quite significantly after the 2008 war, when the Georgian government took steps towards “normalizing” the status of IDPs in that they were granted full ownership rights on their lodgings just like other citizens – but the authors also discuss the shortcomings of these new policies. Minna Lundgren zooms in the movements of people across the ABL (administrative boundary line) between Abkhazia and Georgia proper. People on the both sides of it belong to the same (Georgian) ethnic community, and habitual crossings between the Gali district (an almost fully Georgian-populated region within Abkhazia) and Zugdidi on the Georgian side become part of their way of life. However, while this boundary is not an internationally recognized border (and these people do not consider it legitimate either), it certainly feels and works like one.

The existence of effective borders that nevertheless do not enjoy legitimate status has identifiable economic consequences: they hamper economic cooperation and development of the border regions but they can also be considered an economic opportunity, especially for those entrepreneurs who are ready to use illicit methods and benefit from the grey zones created by unrecognized borders and polities. The latter may constitute an interest group that wants conflicts to remain unresolved: but does the existence of such groups actually explain why their solutions have not been achieved yet? People interested in this issue may find it useful to read the chapter by Giulia Prelz Oltramonti in this volume.

The existence of “unrecognized states” is a source of one more paradox. Lack of recognition means not being accepted as part of international community; can such political units have any foreign policies still? If yes, what would that look like? Clearly, the unrecognized states strive to have ← 13 | 14 → some kind of foreign policies. Hanna Shelest studies this issue based on cases from the region, adding the Transnistrian region of Moldova to her analysis.


While undefined – or improperly defined – borders may be the most painful and dramatic problem that the new states of the Caucasus face, the new borders (recognized and unrecognized) have also had the greatest impact on the process of reconstruction of identities within these societies. But while state borders are usually drawn and redrawn at specific turning points in history and then stay fairly stable, the process of identity reconstruction is continuous and never final.

For the benefit of specific research projects, the Soviet legacy may be imagined to constitute some kind of a starting point in this multifaceted process of identity reconstruction – even though nations and societies have much deeper pasts and richer collective memories that transcend seven decades of the Soviet rule. Paradoxically enough, an ethnic rather than a civic understanding of national identity is a notable legacy of Soviet rule (Brubaker, 1996). This can be called a paradox because propagating “proletarian internationalism” and predicting the vanishing of national identities was part of Soviet ideology (Slezkine, 1994). The government tried to instil loyalty to the Soviet state – something that Western scholars might have called a version of civic nationalism. Many Western analysts believed that at least in solving the “national question”, the Soviet rule was fairly successful. What happened, however, was that as soon as the rigid control by the communist leadership loosened, Soviet ideology was replaced by nationalism of the most ethnic and exclusivist, and thus destructive, variety (Suny, 1993). It was the prevalence of this type of nationalism that was directly responsible for the ethno-territorial conflicts mentioned above.

Does that domination of ethnic nationalism change? Do states try to base their policies on less exclusivist visions of the nation? Does new openness created by the greater opportunities to travel, or a push to migrations created by economic hardships, cause people to redefine their identities? Would greater contact with a postnational entity like the European Union through instruments like the European Neighbourhood Policy and European Partnership, also alter the ways in which people in the Southern Caucasus perceive themselves? Arguably, if more inclusive civic identities develop among peoples of these countries, this may not help solving existing territorial conflicts (though it can transform people’s attitudes to them), ← 14 | 15 → but it will prevent new ones, thus making this region more secure and increase chances of building more stable and effective democratic institutions. In this volume, Kevork Oskanian carefully analyses the policies of the Georgian government under Mikheil Saakashvili to redefine Georgian identity, making it more civic in nature.

While ethno-national belonging may be the most consequential in the Caucasus, there are other identities that are transformed in the changing political and societal landscape of the Southern Caucasus. This includes attitudes to gender. The Soviet regime espoused gender equality and, indeed, did a lot in terms of enabling women to get education and jobs: using these formal criteria, the Soviet Union was actually more progressive than many Western democracies. However – and this may be another paradox of communist modernization – the communist legacy left behind relatively conservative attitudes to gender roles in the Caucasus, which include the assumption that the man is the primary breadwinner and head of family. Conversely, economic realities of the postcommunist economy, which is notable for high levels of poverty and unemployment, may have contributed to undermining traditional distribution of gender roles. In particular, labour migration has become main survival strategy for many families, and many of them have started to depend on women who go abroad in search of jobs. In her contribution to this volume, Maroussia Ferry analyses the changing role of Georgian women. Surprisingly, as Ferry points out, while Georgian women often assume the role of the breadwinner and even travel abroad for extensive periods, norms and values change only slowly. In a way, her contribution therefore attests to the power of culture over structure.


Having rejected Soviet communism, the new states of the Southern Caucasus had to develop new political systems. In all of them, nationalist elites declared their commitment to democratic institutions and, at least initially, one could believe in the sincerity of that choice. However, in none of Southern Caucasus states did this democratic opening lead to an eventual consolidation of democracy. With the possible exception of Azerbaijan, the political regimes that were created cannot be called autocracies, as they are usually described in the scientific literature. It would be misleading to define them as countries in “democratic transition” either, because their political systems have displayed quite stable characteristics over a couple of decades and, while things are changing, one cannot be sure at all that ← 15 | 16 → regimes are becoming more democratic rather than otherwise (Carothers, 2002). This uncertainty is not specific to the Caucasus countries, and the classification of such political regimes has become a problem for comparative political studies. Quite a number of concepts emerged in the literature such as “grey zone”, “hybrid regimes”, “competitive authoritarianism” and “defective democracy” (Carothers, 2002; Diamond, 2002; Levitsky and Way, 2002; Merkel, 2004; Bogaards, 2009). The word “hybrid” may be the most popular and convincing part of those definitions: in such countries, some features of democracy and some features of autocracy are mixed up, but each mixture varies from country to country.

Georgia is usually considered the closest to democracy but its political life is also the most unstable and unpredictable in the region (one may find a research question here: does more democracy correlate with more instability in the Caucasus?). It went through four regime changes since 1990, some relatively orderly (1990 and 2012), some violent (1991–92), and some revolutionary but nonviolent (2003). Each of them promised a new beginning for the Georgian state and democracy but each ended up in recreating what we can call a dominant power system (Carothers, 2002): a single political party or coalition usually consolidated around strong charismatic leaders that control all major levers of political power, but this power is openly and genuinely contested by the divided but militant opposition, fairly free and critical media, a small but vibrant civil society sector and so forth. The system is stable while the government is relatively popular but, once credibility is lost, governments find it difficult to survive for long. At the time of writing it is too early to tell conclusively whether the latest change of power that occurred through fairly orderly elections for the first time in October 2012 will lead to the same outcome.

Azerbaijan occupies the opposite extreme: most analysts categorize it as an autocratic rather than a “hybrid” regime. Since 1993, after a brief interlude with the anticommunist National Front in power, it has been ruled by a single Aliev dynasty: father Heydar, a seasoned Soviet apparatchik, and his son Ilham, who in 2003 succeeded his father and in October 2013 started his third term in the office of presidency. Officially, Azerbaijan also claims to be a democracy, therefore it has some opposition, some independent media and some NGOs, but their freedom and chances to actually influence the situation are rather slim, so the regime has never been seriously challenged. One widely discussed explanation of this autocratic stability may be found in the oil riches of the country (Karl, 1997): in the ← 16 | 17 → 2000s, when Azerbaijani oil started to flow to its consumers in the global economy (we will return to this topic in the moment) Azerbaijan enjoyed one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. While the revenues are unfairly distributed, something does trickle down; the ruling elite has enough resources to pay for the security apparatus and ensure that all potential contestants are either co-opted or repressed.

Armenia’s political regime is closer to Georgia in being somewhat competitive but not really democratic. It is also an obvious specimen of a “dominant power system” and has been ruled by the same elite since the early 1990’s, although personalities at the top did change. Actors outside the ruling elite have some freedom to challenge the regime but are unable to defeat it. The fact that Armenia is the only country in the Southern Caucasus that has emerged victorious in the ethno-territorial wars of the early 1990s might partially explain this stability. Hence, it is no coincidence that it has been ruled by the same elite whose legitimacy is ultimately based on that victory, although there are different clans within it that compete for influence. The only contested change within the state power happened in the parliamentary coup of 1998, when President LevonTer-Petrosian, an erstwhile leader of the Karabakh movement, lost support due to his intention to compromise on the territorial issue with Azerbaijan and wisely chose to resign. The subsequent leaders of Armenia actually came from Nagorno-Karabakh, and in the last years even the most influential opposition party is linked to the Karabakh elite.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
Southern Caucasus Black Sea Georgia Azerbaijan Democracy Security National Identity
Bern, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 384 pp., 20 ill.

Biographical notes

Ghia Nodia (Volume editor) Christoph H. Stefes (Volume editor)

Ghia Nodia is Professor of Political Science and Director of the International School of Caucasus Studies at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. He is also the founder of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD), which he has led since 1992. He has published extensively on regional security, state building and democratization in the Caucasus, and on theories of nationalism and democratic transition in the post-Cold War context. Christoph H. Stefes is Associate Professor for Comparative European and Post-Soviet Studies at the University of Colorado Denver. He is a visiting scholar at the Social Science Research Center Berlin where he investigates the conditions of stability of autocratic regimes. He specializes in the successor states of the Soviet Union in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. His research focuses on governance and the detrimental consequences of corruption in this region.


Title: Security, Democracy and Development