Parties to Karabakh conflict could learn from Northern Ireland peace process

Thu 09 Aug 2012 23:54 GMT | 03:54 Local Time

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News.Az interviews Dr.Gerard Toal, Professor of Government and Int'l Affairs, Director of the Government and Int'l Affairs program, Virginia Tech.

How did the August 2008 events in Georgia influence the situation in the South Caucasus?

Yes, I believe it changed the situation in three ways. First, it deepened and radicalized the divide between Georgia and its breakaway territories, which its government now insists on calling "occupied territories" (evidence of this very point). Hundreds died and thousands are living in displacement, very negative outcomes. Second, it lead to the 'unipolar recognition' of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as states, materializing the Kosovo precedent in the region. Their new status has removed them further from interest in reconciliation with Georgia. Third, it created another point of tension within the US-Russian relationship that requires careful management, one that has hurt the reputation and image of both.

Nonetheless, Georgia and Russia will always remain neighbors and sooner or later they will have to restore ties. How can Tbilisi and Moscow normalize relations? 

Given the well known personal animosity between Saakashvili and Putin, I don't think this is possible with the current government leaderships. Beyond that, Georgia is firmly committed to a Euro-Atlantic path so reconciliation will be difficult if Russia remains at odds with Euro-Atlantic institutions and values.

Does it mean that the relations between them may improve only if new forces come to power in Georgia

I don't think there is going to be new leadership in Georgia but let's see. If the 'Georgian Dream' coalition lead by Bidzina Ivanishvili do gain power then there will be an opportunity to change the tone if not the substance of the relationship. 

I see. And might the international community follow the example of Russia which recognized North Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent from Georgia? 

May the South Ossetia and Abkhazia be recognized by (Western) international community?

No, I see little prospect of this happening. Ironically, if (and I think its a big 'if') Georgia makes progress towards NATO membership (acquiring a MAP), then it is likely to cement the territorial rupture it has with Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both of which, as is well know, now have longterm Russian bases). I think there are unrecognized cheerleaders of Georgia's membership of NATO in Tskhinval(i) and Sukhum(i).

Might there be the repetition of 08.08.08 events in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict? 

The situation in Karabakh is worrisome for lots of reasons. As you know, the Irish government has lead the OSCE for this last year. In Northern Ireland we have an example of a territory deeply contested by two sides. With the peace process sovereignty over that territory has shifted towards a model that involves some sharing. Both the Irish and British governments have declared that the future of that entity will be determined by the people who live there. The situation in Karabakh has many differences from Northern Ireland (it is much worse in lots of ways) but there are, nevertheless, some features that both sides could learn from the Northern Ireland peace process.




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