Armenia + 2 more

InterAction Member Activity Report: The South Caucasus

News and Press Release
Originally published
Background Summary
The three countries of the South Caucasus - Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia - were union republics of the Soviet Union before gaining their independence in 1991. Since that time they have all dealt with political and ethnic turmoil, economic collapse, and war. The crowning achievements of these countries over the course of a difficult transition period have been the preservation of independence and the establishment of peace, however tenuous.

Georgia has endured an especially tumultuous first decade of independence. President Eduard Shevardnadze came to power in 1992 at the invitation of the coup leaders who had recently ousted the extreme nationalist and first elected president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Shevardnadze was immediately faced with the task of resolving two ethnically charged secessionist conflicts in his country. The Abkhaz and the Ossets are ethnic minorities within Georgia who for many years had agitated against the perceived georgification policie s of the central government. The two groups are concentrated mostly in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively, regions of Georgia that had inherited semi-autonomous status from the Soviet administrative structure. Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence from Georgia shortly after the election of Gamsakhurdia in 1991. Georgia went to war with both breakaway regions in unsuccessful attempts to reassert its authority. A cease- fire was agreed upon in 1992 for the South Ossetian conflict and Russian intervention forced a cease- fire in 1993 in the Abkhaz conflict. To this day, a political solution to either conflict has not been achieved and both regions enjoy de facto independence from Georgia. The presence of Russian peacekeepers has upheld the cease- fires, though sporadic violence still exists between the Georgians and the Abkhaz. Moreover, 264,000 people, most of whom are Georgians who fled Abkhazia, remain displaced within Georgia.

Another immediate challenge to the Shevardnadze regime was the civil war in 1993 that was sparked by the resurgence of Gamsakhurdia's supporters known as the Zviadists. Shevardnadze was once again forced to appeal to Russia for intervention. In exchange for ending the civil war, Russia demanded several concessions, including the establishment of four Russian military bases in Georgia. Although the leader of the Zviadists died during the conflict, the movement still exists free of government control in western Georgia.

Other regions of Georgia also operate for the most part outside of the control of the central government. Adjaria in the southwest has a largely Muslim population and, relative to the rest of the country, has a strong economy thanks to good trade ties with Turkey and a busy Black Sea port. Javakheti borders Armenia in the south and has a 90% Armenian population. Both regions owe much of their independence from Tbilisi to the presence of Russian military bases on their territories. Neither has expressed serious interest in seceding from Georgia.

The Pankisi Gorge in northwest Georgia is home to the Kists, an ethnic group closely related to the Chechens. Since 1999 it has been the destination of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence in Chechnya. Over the past three years the regio n has grown increasingly lawless and Russian authorities insist that it has been a haven to drug and arms traffickers, as well as international terrorist camps. Although Georgia denies the existence of terrorists in the gorge, it has nevertheless admitted to having very little control over the territory. Russia, convinced that Chechen rebels are using the gorge as a base for excursions into Chechnya, has reportedly bombed the Pankisi on numerous occasions and has threatened to take preemptive military action if Georgia fails to establish control. Today Georgia harbors up to 8,000 Chechen refugees, the majority of whom reside in the Pankisi Gorge.

The shaky political situation in Georgia is compounded by a struggling economy. In Azerbaijan, the increasingly authoritarian rule of president Heidar Aliyev has brought stability, albeit at the price of democracy. This stability extends even to the Nakhichevan province, an Azerbaijani exclave within Armenia. Azerbaijan also has the region's greatest economic potential due to its massive reserves of Caspian oil and gas. Armenia is both economically depressed and politically unstable. Moreover, a prolonged drought, particularly severe in the country's southern region, has resulted in a growing humanitarian crisis.

The largest conflict in the South Caucasus over the past decade has been the fight over Nagorno- Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh is a predominantly Armenian populated region in Azerbaijan that attempted to incorporate itself into Armenia shortly before Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991. When Azerbaijan tried to prevent the secession by force, Armenia became embroiled in the affair. In 1994, after the loss of about 25,000 lives, a cease- fire was negotiated that ended most of the fighting. Today no political solution has been established and Nagorno-Karabakh enjoys de facto independence.

One of the most significant legacies of the war has been the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Azerbaijan reports 572,000 people internally displaced from the conflict, most of whom live in dilapidated settlements around the country's urban centers. Armenia has over 264,000 people who have been living in refugee- like conditions since the end of the war. In addition, Azerbaijan is home to about 7,000 refugees from Chechnya while Armenia still has 100,000 displaced people from an earthquake in 1988.

Refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the South Caucasus have been unable to return to their homes because of the inability of their governments to formulate political solutions to their various conflicts. In addition, the widespread use of landmines in all three conflicts creates a significant obstacle for many hoping to eventually return. Continued economic decline and growing unemployment have resulted in the steady deterioration of living conditions for these people.

Report Summary

This report offers international agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media and the public an overview of the humanitarian and development assistance being provided to the people of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia by InterAction member agencies.

Twenty-seven member organizations reported their current or planned relief and development operations in the South Caucasus. The programs address a broad range of sectors, including: Agriculture and food production; business development; disaster and emergency relief; education and training; food security; gender issues; health; human rights, peace and conflict resolution; infrastructure rehabilitation; refugee and IDP assistance; and water and sanitation.

These activities take place throughout the South Caucasus, including those regions with limited or no control from the central governments of the three republics. This includes Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Pankisi Gorge, Adjaria and Javakheti in Georgia, and in Nagorno-Karabakh, the autonomous region within Azerbaijan that has de facto independence from the Azerbaijani government.

The agencies in this report have presented various objectives for their programs in the South Caucasus. Many deal with addressing the immediate needs of the refugee/IDP population through the distribution of food and non- food supplies, provision of health care services, etc. Some agencies focus on particularly vulnerable populations, such as women and children. Other common themes among program objectives include education, agriculture, infrastructure rehabilitation and small business development.

Many of the agencies in this report work with the support of, or in coordination with, local and international partners.

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