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Speaker: Conflict in Caucasus can stir confusion
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Forsyth County News


In a region struggling with borders, different backgrounds and authoritarian control, it can be difficult for Americans to understand what people in the Caucasus region endure.

That’s what Flo Giltman concluded following a Tuesday night lecture about the mountainous region, which contains Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and a portion of southern Russia.

The lecture at the Sharon Forks Library was the seventh in the “Great Decisions” series, a national program put on locally by North Georgia College & State University.

Jonathan Miner, associate professor of political science, presented an overall look at the region, which is home to a wide variety of religious and ethnic groups.

That diversity is one factor keeping the nations in conflict, Miner said.

The countries want to retain the land they own, he said, but certain minority groups identify more strongly with neighboring nations.

The authoritarian rule in the countries “sets the stage for conflicts within the region,” Miner said.

“Democracies don’t go to war with other democracies because they have other concerns,” he said. “Countries that are non-democratic are more interested in the power structure, in the dividing up of the assets ... therefore, they tend to have very poor relations with their neighbors.”

Miner explained that the root of the border problems lies in the rule of late Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin.

Stalin carved out the republic borders in a way that divided different ethnic groups to separate potential allies.

“He set things up so that they would be in competition with each other and wouldn’t contest Soviet rule,” Miner said.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1992, these borders stayed intact and defined the current nations.

Miner focused on three land conflicts within the region, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabagh and Chechnya.

In the case of the first two, larger international powers have taken sides with a stake in the outcome.

Russia and Turkey have fueled the fight between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the Nagorno-Karabagh region, which lies in Azerbaijan though the people identify more with Armenia.

The larger nations each want more power for their allies.

Georgia, which has close relations with the U.S., retains South Ossetia and Abkhazia in its borders, though the regions identify with Russia.

The U.S. and European Union side with Georgia, while Russia supports the desire of the region within to secede.

“These lines have been drawn in international politics,” Miner said.

In the case of Chechnya, the region sits within Russia, but wishes to separate.

Since Russia has portrayed the issue as domestic, Miner said, no international groups have been able to exercise influence on the struggle.

Miner offered three suggestions for improving the situation, including using Russia’s desire to join the World Trade Organization and Turkey’s interest in the European Union.

The modern fight for democracy in the Arab world could also provoke needed change in the Caucasus region, he said.

“The conflicts within the Caucasus are not very different than what’s going on in Libya, Syria, Bahrain,” Miner said.

“They’re all countries that are not democratic, that have many different ethnic groups, religious groups that are not treated equally, and what they want is equality.”

Following the lecture, attendees discussed many topics, including America’s role in the Caucasus region, the possibility of a democratic revolution and a look at the length of time the modern American democracy took to develop.

Giltman said she couldn’t even find the Caucasus on a map until a few years ago, but her recent studies on the subject have led to sympathy for the people of countries much different than her own.

“Some of these people are raised in governments that are not their own, basically. The governments get changed overnight and they don’t know who they are,” she said. “It’s really quite incredible, but it is very pessimistic what’s happening in the world.”
Giltman and her husband, Larry, both rated the lecture as excellent.

Larry Giltman said he appreciated the complex subject being broken down to something comprehensible.

The couple were two of about 50 at the lecture, which was the seventh of eight.

The final talk, “Global Governance,” will is set for 6:30 p.m. April 5 at the Sharon Forks Library, 2820 Old Atlanta Road.