violence and armed conflicts in the caucasus: an introductory comment

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    Violence and Armed Conflicts in theCaucasus: An Introductory CommentGeorge W. Breslauer aa University of California at BerkeleyPublished online: 15 May 2013.

    To cite this article: George W. Breslauer (2011) Violence and Armed Conflicts in the Caucasus: AnIntroductory Comment, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 52:5, 593-595

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    Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2011, 52, No. 5, pp. 593595. 2011 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Violence and Armed Conflicts in the Caucasus: An Introductory Comment

    George W. Breslauer1

    The Caucasus has been a source of conflict with Russia for centuries. The area was incor-porated into the Russian Empire in the 19th century, but imperial authority remained nominal or nonexistent for the rebellious largely Muslim inhabitants, who, according to the noted historian Nicholas Riasanovsky (1984), staged a series of holy wars to drive out the Russians. Relative calm, or absence of overt warfare commenced in the early 1920s, following the areas official incorporation into the newly founded Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the southern Caucasus, comprising Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, became the site of independent states, while the northern Caucasus, consisting of administrative units that had not been granted full repub-lic status within the Soviet UnionChechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, most notablyremained formally within the large newly independent state called the Russian Federation (better known as Russia).

    Within the newly independent countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, territorial disputes abounded, leading to interstate and intrastate wars over the status of such territories as Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. And within the Russian Federation itself, civil war or violence also abounded, first involving Chechnya, then extending to Dagestan, and metastasizing to Ingushetia and beyond. More recently, in 2008, a brief war between Russia and one of the independent states, namely Georgia, reshuffled the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, turning them into secessionist provinces of Georgia that had become for-mal protectorates of the Russian Federation that nullified Georgian state authority.

    The international communitymultilateral organizations, NGOs, and stateshas influ-enced developments to varied degrees and in different ways, such as intermediation, humani-tarian assistance, multilateral and bilateral diplomacy, and state-to-state threats, among others. But the community has shown itself to be less than a determinant of outcomes when trying to influence the broad course of events in what Russian leaders consider to be their geostra-tegic backyard. Russia itself has used a varied mix of tools to influence outcomes in the Caucasus, from military and political intervention through economic assistance to mediation and diplomacy.

    The human toll incurred by these two decades of violence has been enormous. It has taken many forms. Many thousands of people have died. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced.2 Perhaps millions continue to live in conditions of high anxiety about their material

    1Professor of Political Science and Provost, University of California at Berkeley.2North of the Great Caucasus range, in Russia, the demographic effects of the violence have been muted by high

    rates of natural population increase in the areas of conflict. Despite the large number of casualties from the violence, between the 1989 (USSR) and 2002 (Russian) censuses only Chechnya of all the oblast-level units in Russias thenSouthern Federal District (SFD) lost population in absolute terms. Rather, as outlined by Vendina et al. (2007), the principal demographic outcomes of the Caucasus violence in ethnic republics during this period were: (1) decline of the ethnic Russian population due to outmigration; (2) a massive refugee population (largely non-Russians) scattered throughout the SFD; and (3) continued natural increase of titular nationalities in ethnic republics and consequent




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    and physical security. True, some issues have long since calmed downthe dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh remains stalemated to the advantage of Armenia, for examplebut could flare up again if political circumstances change. And the breadth of current-day violence and displacement justify continuous study of prospects for relief from the daily miseries of exis-tence within a de facto war zone.

    Based on diverse methodologies, the three contributions to this symposium document changing aspects of these problems in recent years. OLoughlin, Holland, and Witmer (2011) focus on the spread of violence within the Russian Federations North Caucasus provinces during 20072011. They demonstrate convincingly that, despite a generally reduced incidence of violence, the insurgency has been largely displaced during these years from Chechnya into the neighboring Russian republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. And notably, within these republics, the insurgency has been concentrated, not in mountainous or forested terrain, but rather in urban centers and main highways. Russias strategy of military pacification of urban Chechnya, coupling force with economic investments, could prove hard-pressed to impose its will as thoroughly on this dispersed field of violence.

    Toal and Frichova Grono (2011) focus not on the spatial distribution of violent behavior, but rather on the distribution of attitudesin this case, attitudes in 2010 of ethnic Abkhazians residing in Abkhazia and of Georgians who once resided in Abkhazia but now live within Georgia proper in displaced persons camps. In the latter case, the authors are interested in the evolution of views during two decades of protracted displacement. How many people have accommodated themselves to indefinite displacementwhat Dale (2001) has referred to as a status of permanently temporary populations? For those who are not resigned to their fate, is there room for negotiation of the meaning of a right of return that could break through the incompatible positions adopted by rival governments?

    Kolossov and OLoughlin (2011) also examine surveys conducted during 2010, but focus on comparing current residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moreover, their focus is on the nexus between attitudes and behaviorsspecifically, the intentions of residents of these de facto states to emigrate. The authors findings suggest that most people inclined to emi-grate have already done so. To this writer, the level of dislocation, then, may have reached some sort of equilibrium that might only be disturbed by new shocks within the region.

    In sum, the three papers document that distribution of human misery varies within the region. This in turn has varied implications for individual decisions to fight, take flight, take cover, or accommodate themselves to dislocation.


    Dale, Catherine Marie, The Displaced Body and the Body Politic: The Formation of a Bounded, Per-manently Temporary Population of Internally Displaced Persons Following Internal Conflict in Post-Soviet Georgia. PhD dissertation, Department of Political Science, University of California at Berkeley, 2001.

    increase in their shares in the overall population. In the Transcaucasian republics south of the main Caucasus range, the demographic effects are more readily apparent. Both Armenia and Georgia lost population between the last Soviet census in 1989 and their first post-Soviet census enumerations (in 2001 and 2002, respectively). Armenias intercen-sal decline of ca. 200,000 people reflects the flight of ethnic Azeris in the wake of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and outmigration more generally over the entire period, reflecting p


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