The Burning East, Simmering Karabakh and the “United Caucasus:” An interview with Gayane Novikova

February 23, 2011

The correspondent of Informational Agency REGNUM discussed the destabilized situation in the Middle East, developments in the South Caucasus and, in particular, in Armenia, with Gayane Novikova, director of the Center for Strategic Analysis Spectrum


REGNUM: Currently the events in the Arab world are the focus of our attention. Recent discussions in Armenia have at times been alarming and concerns have been expressed that similar events could occur also in the South Caucasus. What is your view regarding the probability that a similar scenario could take place in the states of this region?

Let me point out several factors before answering your question. First, the protest movement in the Arab world is initiated by representatives of a new generation: young and well-educated professionals who have been placed into a sort of deadlock situation by the world economic crises. In contrast to the demonstrations that demanded crisis-proof economic changes in the summer and fall of 2010 in Europe, there are not only demands in the Arab world for immediate changes in almost all spheres of the life, (“here” and “now”!), but above all a demand for transformative political change. The majority of leaders in the Arab states are corrupt-and-old men, whose “best era” was in the 1970s. Hence, a clear conflict across generations is evident (and it was inevitable). Second, the economic crisis increased cultural, religious, and value confrontations along the “West – East” axis and provoked an intensification of the long-standing identity crisis in the Arab world. Insignificant events became catalysts for social revolts. Third, the absence of a charismatic leader in each of the revolutionary movements can lead to high levels of bloodshed and even military dictatorship.   The role played by Islamist organizations will definitely increase.

In the South Caucasus the situation is qualitatively different. Political activity in these societies will increase slightly and echo the events in the Arab world; it will peak – thanks to its “seasonal” character – in spring and autumn. In Armenia, now on the eve of the third anniversary of the March 1st, 2008, events and owing to an unstable economic situation, activity will be more widespread than in Georgia or Azerbaijan.

In Georgia the opposition is looking for support from both the West and Russia, – which means that it is unable to take united and consistent action. In Azerbaijan (partly under the impact of developments in the Arab world and partly because of harsh measures taken by the authorities) some pro-Islamic groups may try to organize meetings and demonstrations. There is no conflict of generations in any of three states; the representatives of the post-Soviet generation are in power. An identity crisis is absent as well, as the Western model of governance, democracy and values are mainly acceptable to all South Caucasus societies. There is also an absence of charismatic leaders, either in power, or in the opposition. Finally, the situation in the South Caucasus from the viewpoint of “advanced,”  “promoted” or “guided-controlled” democracy is quite acceptable for the major external actors.

In sum, expectations for revolution in the South Caucasus are exaggerated. The opposition, for different reasons in each of the states in the region, is unable to create a critical mass of protesting people and to lead them – in spite of declining economies and growing social tension throughout the region.

REGNUM: Does your evaluation consider also the potential of the non-parliamentary opposition in Armenia? Is it possible to conclude that the figure of Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first president of Armenia, henceforth is not a uniting figure for the oppositional forces in the Armenian National Congress, and for that part of the Armenian society that opposes the authorities?

Yes, it is correct in regard to the Armenian non-parliamentary opposition also. Levon Ter-Petrosyan consolidated around himself Armenian society’s some protest potential in the autumn of 2007 and the spring of 2008; however, over the last three years his political capital has not increased. In Armenia it is difficult to keep social and political interest on a high level through the manipulation of words only. I do not see any clear strategy in the behavior of the opposition. Their criticisms list very obvious mistakes and miscalculations of the authorities. The non-parliamentary opposition, including its strongest part – the Armenian National Congress – has been unable so far to offer a constructive vision for future developments.

REGNUM: How serious from your point of view are disagreements between the ruling coalition partners (“The Prosperous Armenia” and the Republican Party of Armenia)? Do you thing that the return of Robert Kocharyan, the former president, into the mainstream politics is possible?

The disagreements between the ruling coalition partners cannot be serious. Otherwise, in the current internal political situation it will have negative, if not catastrophic consequences for both.  If Robert Kocharyan is to return to politics a conducive social atmosphere must be created, or, in other words, a certain social demand for his leadership must have crystallized. This demand is not on the horizon.

REGNUM: In Armenia there are discussions on the idea of a two-chambered Parliament. Some politicians have argued that this idea is rooted in a willingness to involve the representatives of the Diaspora in the decision-making processes concerning the major national-wide issues. If the idea of a two-chambered Parliament would be implemented, would the Senate, composed of the representatives of the Diaspora, then acquire an independent position vis-à-vis the executive power?

The two-chambered Parliament would make sense if it is designed to secure the representation of minorities, and/or some particular interests, federations, etc. If a Senate will be established to secure the representation of the Diaspora in decision-making processes as concerns all-Armenian issues, then this significant change in the structure of the highest legislative authority will bring to the forefront many legal and practical questions. I am afraid that the effectiveness of the Parliament will diminish further. The heterogeneous Diaspora cannot be allowed to create a qualitative and, moreover quantitative dominance in the Parliament. Thereby, the problem of reducing executive power’s control over the Parliament will remains unresolved.

REGNUM: According to some Western diplomats, although the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is not “frozen,” it falls into the “can-not-be-settled” category. Do you share such a vision?

I agree that this conflict is not “frozen.” Moreover, it is more “hot” than smoldering.   I completely disagree that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict belongs to the “can-not-be-settled” category. Statements about the impossibility of finding a way to resolve this conflict especially, those articulated by representatives of the Western states, are very dangerous. They create a priori a fertile soil that will provoke one of the parties to the conflict – namely Azerbaijan – to move in the direction toward a military resolution of the conflict. Azerbaijani public opinion is already prepared for revenge. Not a single speech over the last two-three years by the Azerbaijani President has omitted aggressive statements addressed to Armenia, the Armenians, or a blaming of the OSCE Minsk Group for in-effectiveness and inactivity. More and more often there are calls for a resumption of military actions in the area of the conflict.

Many examples in the recent years can be viewed as evidence against the “can-not-be-settled” category. The Kosovo independence is a good illustration of the way in which heightened external interest can develop and lead to the resolution of a conflict. On the other hand, almost full indifference of the external interests toward the situation in South Sudan did not prevent holding a referendum there and a vote for the independence of the South. Moreover, the Sudanese authorities had enough courage to accept the referendum’s results, even though the country’s main natural sources are concentrated in the south.


REGNUM: What could be the prospects for resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict? Do you agree that the already low interest of the international community toward this issue continues to decrease?

Let me note that against the background of recent developments in the Arab world international interest has decreased not only in regard to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, but also the ‘Georgian’ conflicts. In addition, the low level of interest regarding the resolution of Nagorno Karabakh conflict was indirectly caused by the linkage of the conflict with the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement: the initiators of the latter hoped that reduced tension in one direction would automatically provide positive dynamics in another direction. However, de facto the stalemated Nagorno Karabakh settlement has caused an impasse in regard to normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relationship.

I am not optimistic in regard to the prospects for resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict in the visible future. The recent report of the International Crisis Group suggests six steps to prevent a resumption of war in the region. However, this paper demands more of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh than of Azerbaijan, which has behaved more aggressive. The imbalance in the report is obvious, and it does not contribute either to a reduction of tension in the region or to a harmonization of the positions and approaches taken by the parties to the conflict.

The dynamics of internal developments in Armenia and Azerbaijan also are not contributeing to the establishment of trust in both societies – a trust that constitutes in one of the main preconditions for the settlement of the conflict. The only step that might change the deadlocked situation would be the inclusion of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic into the direct negotiations. The entire range of problems related to the referendum has to be discussed and resolved in a manner that takes into account the opinion of the population of Nagorno Karabakh. Let me once again refer to the referendum in South Sudan as an example of a nation’s willingness and as an example of how the leadership of the “metropolitan state” accepts an outcome.


REGNUM: Recently during the meeting with the Turkish minister of foreign affairs A. Davudoglu, the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili announced an idea of the “united Caucasus.” Is this idea viable, if one takes into account the Russian-Georgian relationship, as well as the Karabakh factor and the locked Armenian-Turkish border?

From the very day of the dissolution of the USSR, the idea of a united Caucasus is one of the favorite projects of Turkish politicians. From time to time the same idea has been initiated from the Georgian side. There is nothing new in the Saakashvili proposal, and there is no real basis for its implementation. The internal potential for conflict in the region is still huge. I would add to the problem you have noted the tension in Armenian-Georgian relations, which increases not only in the traditionally difficult spheres of the bilateral relations, such as situation in Javagkh/ Samtske-Javakheti, or the preservation of the Armenian cultural and spiritual heritage in Georgian territory, but also in the area of economic interests and priorities.

However, I would like to invite attention to a further issue: a very dangerous tendency exists to link the North Caucasus and the South Caucasus. In September of 2010, in his speech at the UN General Assembly, President Saakashvili stated, that the North and South Caucasus would “join the European family of the free nations, following the Georgian path.”

Within the context of the very “united Caucasus” Georgia went on to drop visa requirements for Russian citizens –residents of the Northern Caucasus. On February 3, 2011, the First Informational Channel (satellite Kanal PIK), located in Georgian territory, began to broadcast in Russian.  A three-hour question-and-answer session with the Georgian president accompanied its initial launchening. He noted on this occasion, remarkably, that “the people of the North Caucasus were chafing under Moscow’s rule” and “The North Caucasus has become a ghetto.” On the one hand, these statements have provoked a new round of tension in Russian-Georgian relations; on the other hand, because they make easier the activity of terrorist organizations in the entire region, they have created a seriously dangerous situation for the security of the South Caucasus, including Armenia.

The Russian version of the interview was published on February 23, 2011, at