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Caucasus: Security Issues Divide, Unite Caucasus

By David Nissman

Prague, 21 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives of the three Transcaucasian countries say that their countries are united in their search for national independence and security, but remain deeply divided in how to achieve these goals.

That is the main conclusion of the recently released proceedings of a seminar on "Russia and the Newly Independent States" organized last summer by the Turkish Ministry's Center for Strategic Research in Ankara.

The meeting attracted scholars and political figures from many of the newly independent states, as well as Turkey, France, Great Britain and the United States.

The session devoted to Russian relations with the Transcaucasus featured speeches by Azerbaijan's deputy foreign minister, Araz Azimov, Nikolay Hovanissian, a professor of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, and Tamaz Gamkrelidze, president of the Georgian Center for East-West studies.

In his address, Araz Azimov said that the two-year-old cease-fire which has left 20 percent of his country's territory under Armenian control has damaged Baku's domestic and international security.

Arguing that the cease-fire has prolonged rather than limited this problem, Azimov said that he saw no prospect for a settlement any time soon, even though he argued that both Armenia and Azerbaijan had a common interest in cooperation.

On another front, the Azerbaijani deputy foreign minister said that one of the factors contributing to the resolution of regional problems was that Russia now has military bases in both Georgia and Armenia, but not yet in Azerbaijan.

Azimov suggested that Moscow would likely continue to try to force Baku to allow Russia to station troops in Azerbaijan through the exploitation of the Lezghin irredentist movement.

He concluded by saying that he hoped that Russia would end its policy of seeking to expand its influence in the Caucuses by destabilizing the countries there.

Armenia's Professor Hovanissian adopted a different perspective. He argued that Russia had to fill the power vacuum in the region rather than allow Iran and Turkey to move in.

Further, he suggested that Russia and the countries of the region had a common interest in seeing the Caucuses as "a bridge rather than a barrier."

And he said that Russia's strategic aim in the region was to ensure that the three states of the Transcaucasus would be Moscow's allies rather than enemies so that Russia would have their support against any secessionist moves in the North Caucuses.

Addressing his own country's "organic" links to Russia, Hovanissian said Yerevan had no choice but to form an alliance with Russia after Turkey threatened in 1993 to intervene on behalf of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict.

But Hovanissian cautioned against any suggestion that these military ties between the two countries would lead to the establishment of Russian dominance in the Caucasus.

The Armenian professor said that it is not in Russia's interests to try to achieve that because any effort to do so would "open the door to an endless struggle of bloodshed and disaster" for everyone involved, "including Russia."

Georgia's Gamkrelidze focused on the efforts of President Eduard Shevardnadze to expand ties among the three countries of the region.

So far, Gamkrelidze said, the decision to build a pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia has strengthened the relations between those two countries. But Georgia's relations with Armenia have not developed as far as Tbilisi had hoped.