GEORGIA IN TRANSITION: IMPLICATIONS FOR ARMENIA AND JAVAKHK

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Armenian News Network / Groong January 22, 2004 By Khatchik DerGhoukassian and Richard Giragosian

For more than six months, the South Caucasus has been locked in a significant period of political transition. Each of the region's three states, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, has faced a daunting set of internal obstacles and challenges during this transitional period, compounded by a varying degree of incomplete or weakened statehood, systemic corruption and a pronounced trend of authoritarian rule. Each state also faces greater insecurity and vulnerability stemming from the dramatic shift in regional geopolitics in the wake of the new post-September 11 strategic landscape, and remains hostage to the course of the new U.S.-Russian strategic partnership. In the first stage of this regional transition, Armenian President Robert Kocharian was reelected in a two-round election in February and March 2003, followed by the election of a new parliament in May 2003. The transition in Azerbaijan, the second stage of this regional transition, featured a more troubling transfer of power from father to son, further tainted by dubious elections and widespread pre- and post-election violence. By far, the third stage in this transition process was the most interesting, and least expected, as the long-time Georgian leader, President Eduard Shevardnadze, was unceremoniously forced to resign in late November 2003 in the wake of tainted parliamentary elections. With the recent election in Georgia, popular opposition National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili was elected as the country's new president, garnering more than 96 percent of the vote. But Saakashvili's election victory may turn out to be as much punishment as reward for his successful ouster of President Shevardnadze. The euphoria generated by the so-called Rose Revolution at least partly eclipsed the magnitude of the problems bequeathed to the new leadership by its predecessors. Although the immediate aftermath of the transition has not been marred by the violence that some observers feared (a fear generally grounded in Georgia's early period of chaotic independence), the Georgian transition is by no means complete, particularly as new parliamentary elections are fast approaching. Moreover, a disturbing number of factors may herald a return to the instability and violence of the early 1990s unless the new Georgian leadership can move quickly to maintain its still potent popular support. The new Georgian leadership now has a window of opportunity to take advantage of public support for real reform. But this window will close fast, and public expectations have been raised to perhaps unrealistic levels by the sweeping promises contained in Saakashvili's ambitious election platform. And, if the events of the past few months hold true, Georgia's citizens may no longer be content with the role of spectator and, in the event of discontent, may very well turn quickly on their erstwhile heroes. Shevardnadze was, after all, welcomed home to Georgia in March 1992 as the one true savior capable of restoring stability and security to the country in the aftermath of the excesses of the Gamsakhurdia regime. In addition to inheriting a mantle of such "great expectations," the new leadership has also inherited the very same problems that served so well as public indictments of the Shevardnadze government. These fundamental challenges, ranging from systemic crime and corruption to the loss of territorial control over several key areas of the country, threaten the authority and legitimacy of the Georgian state no matter who is in charge. And Georgia's new president has comparatively little experience to draw on in tackling those challenges. Georgia's "Rose Revolution" Georgia's "Rose Revolution" received a wide degree of international coverage and attention, with a focus on some perceived similarities with East and Central European transition and post-transition processes during which popular uprising toppled authoritarian regimes and corrupt governments without bloodshed. The "Velvet Revolution" in former Czechoslovakia and the fall of Milosevic in Yugoslavia are the two most common cases of comparison. The fairly close ties between Saakashvili and some opposition activists in Yugoslavia further reinforced this perception. With personal charisma, Saakashvili is young and U.S. educated, feeding the image of a new Georgian leader engaged in a total break with the past, despite several facts to the contrary. Overall, in contrast to the period of the 1990s, with the excesses of ultra-nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Saakashvili-Burjanadze-Zhvania trio's success in forcing the resignation of a long time regional strongman without violence was impressive. Aside from the challenges of corruption, social injustice, organized crime, and state weakness, the nationalities question remains an underestimated issue, bound to reemerge. This is particularly important, as the "Rose Revolution" was comprised of a mobilized elite that was largely limited to Georgians, and involved few if any of the country's significant minorities. This exclusivity is a fundamental limitation, as neither the Abkhazians nor the Ajarians considered themselves part of the "Rose Revolution." In fact, the Ajarians initially opposed the anti-Shevardnadze campaign and sought to maximize the political influence wielded by Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze, and the Armenians of Javakhk and the Azerbaijanis of Marneuli each adopted a cautious wait-and-see position. And as Saakashvili has yet to formulate an answer to the country's essential problem of the nationalities, the "Rose Revolution" threatens to remain an exclusively Georgian affair. Another underlying element is the Georgian role within the U.S.-Russian strategic partnership. This aspect was most obviously, and most crudely, seen in the conspiracy theories promulgated in much of the Russian press, accusing the U.S. of manipulating developments in Georgia to "punish" Shevardnadze for his increasing concessions to Russia. The dubious objectivity of these articles notwithstanding, Georgia has emerged, and potentially will remain, as a new arena for a greater U.S.-Russian competition. For obvious reasons, Saakashvili is seriously limited in managing this delicate balance and the Russians still hold vested geopolitical interests in Georgia, while the American economic and security investment has clear limitations. Fortunately for the vulnerable Georgians, despite this geopolitical competition, Washington and Moscow are more prone to accommodations and cooperation, especially within the confines of the global war on terrorism. But although this means an engagement beyond the Cold War period, now marked by a lessening of the traditional clientelistic dimensions that defined relations between small countries and big powers for so long, it also means that the U.S. commitment to Georgia is limited by the greater stakes of relations with Russia. The repercussions of Georgia's transition are, therefore, profound, with the country having emerged as the new key to regional security and stability. The outlook for Georgian statehood, although still rather bleak, is now a major factor in the strategic interests of all regional actors. But by far, the major regional power engaged in Georgia is Russia. Analyzing the complex nature of the Russian role in Georgia also reveals the severity of the challenges and threats faced by the Georgian state. The new Georgian leadership will also face the same challenges, and will even be more threatened given the combination of their inexperience and raised public expectations. The Russian Role in Georgia For Russia, the Georgian situation offers both promise and peril. The direct intervention in the early stages of the political conflict by the Russian foreign minister has been widely cited as helping to avoid bloodshed. And by helping to force the resignation of President Shevardnadze, the Russians have clearly bolstered their already impressive influence over events in the vulnerable Georgian state. But the Russian power and influence in Georgia is matched by a similar pattern of reassertion throughout the region. In the months to come, however, it seems likely that the traditional friction between Georgian and Russian interests will resurface, although it may be too late to overcome the powerful leverage that Moscow now holds over Tbilisi. This Russian leverage rests on three legs: the political, the military and, most recently, the economic. The political leverage stems form the rather hidden Russian influence over significant segments of the Georgian political elite, both within Georgia and through some former political figures enjoying refuge in Russia. But the political leverage is the weakest of the three and is only truly effective when exercised in conjunction with the military or economic leverage held by Russia. The second pillar of the Russian leverage over Georgia is the military. By continuing to maintain two of its four military bases in the country (located at Batumi and Akhalkalaki) in direct violation of an agreement signed at the 1999 Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Russian military presence remains a fundamental threat to Georgian sovereignty. More significantly, the two remaining bases are in the most geopolitically sensitive regions: Ajaria and Samtskhe-Javakheti (Javakhk). To be more precise, there is an additional military presence, albeit much reduced in scope, in Abkhazia as well. The Russian military peacekeepers, empowered to conduct peacekeeping operations between Abkhazia and Georgia proper under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), are using the former Russian military base in that region as a logistical center for operations, and thereby retaining a military presence in yet another geopolitically important region. And even more threatening to Georgia, the Russian military also provides training and even employment to the local population in each of these regions. For example, the Abkhazians, the Ossetians, and even some Ajarians, are provided with a degree of military training and employment at the Russian bases, and the Russian base at Akhalkalaki in Javakhk is the region's largest employer and most important source of income (and security). Understandably, therefore, while the Georgians and the central government in Tbilisi perceive the Russian presence as threat to the country's sovereignty, other nationalities consider the Russian presence quite differently. To the more insecure minorities, who have an economic interest in maintaining the bases and fear the reemergence of Georgian nationalism that would threaten their own rights of autonomous existence and national identity, the Russian military presence provides an essential guarantee for security and stability. Although evident for some time, the most recently expanded element of Russian leverage is economic. In August 2003, the Russian Unified Energy Systems (UES) firm acquired a 75 percent stake in Georgia's Telasi energy-distribution company that provides the power to the Georgian capital. During the same period, the Russian state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom forged agreements with both Armenia and Georgia designating Gazprom as the predominant natural gas supplier for both countries. For Armenia, a five-year agreement was signed in June 2003 and for Georgia, a 25-year agreement was signed in July 2003. In line with the fact that the Russian manipulation of energy supplies to Georgia has served as its most effective leverage for years and has included several episodes of disruption, delay and, at times even destruction, of critically needed natural gas and electricity from Russia, these moves represent only a greater Russian hold over the Georgian (and Armenian) economy. Understanding the Reality of the Georgian Transition The impressively peaceful transition of leadership in Georgia offered an air of optimism starkly out of place in the normally tumultuous politics of the South Caucasus. Initially rooted in the seriously flawed elections for a new parliament in November 2003, the opposition's challenging of the results and its success in mobilizing the country's mounting dissatisfaction with the Georgian government was able to force the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. This success, bolstered by the opposition's prudent course of peaceful and legal confrontation, came as a surprise to many, even to the opposition leaders themselves. In a rare demonstration of at least outward unity, the then parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze and Mikhail Saakashvili, the main opposition challenger to President Shevardnadze, were able to galvanize the mounting public outrage and direct it into a personalized political assault against the president. Although Burjanadze and Saakashvili emerged as the public faces of the movement against the Shevardnadze government, there was a much broader effort involved. A coalition of disparate forces, well beyond their two opposition parties, actually provided the real momentum for change. This breadth and depth in the movement opposing the government also marked the graduation of the country's civil society from a potential to a powerful agent for change. Another important actor, ands perhaps the most understated, is Zurab Zhvania, now serving as Saakashvili's Minister of State (the Georgian equivalent to Prime Minister). The victory of Georgian civil society in overcoming the state, resulting in the demise of a decade of Shevardnadze rule, is the real reason for the exuberance and optimism that quickly replaced the apathy and frustration that has long hindered Georgian politics. But the explanation of such a smooth and peaceful transition lies much deeper than any public victory of civil society, however. The fundamental reason for such an easy transition was actually the vacuum that has existed in the country for some time. The steady collapse of the Georgian state, with a significant loss of authority and an obvious failure to provide the most basic services to its people, provided a relatively unopposed path to power. This loss of state power has been so profound and so extensive that it also resulted in a serious drain of legitimacy. The failure of the army and the security forces to support the president at the height of the crisis further demonstrated the extent of this collapse. And it was this loss of legitimacy that accelerated the resignation of the president and paved the way for a new leadership. But these very same factors that aided in the swift transition pose the most serious obstacles for the new leaders. The sheer magnitude of the collapse of the state in recent years, as seen by the recently revealed bankruptcy of the state budget, presents the next Georgian leadership with a set of very limited options. The empty state coffers, both literally and figuratively, combined with the danger of raised public expectations, demonstrate the difficulty of assuming the economic and political legacy of Shevardnadze's governance. Why the Georgian Case is Unique Despite some initial comments noting the possible implications for Armenia, the Georgian model of transition that has emerged over the past few weeks is unique and holds no real lessons for the Armenian situation. The change in the Georgian government stems from a complicated combination of factors, very few of which are seen in either of Georgia's neighbors. The most significant difference with the Armenian situation is the fact that Georgia's civil society was able to emerge victorious from its confrontation with the Georgian state apparatus by virtue of the fact that the state apparatus was near collapse. Unlike Armenia, the Georgian state has been steadily eroded from within by a discredited political elite, a bankrupt state economy and corruption, and by a failure to exert control over many key parts of the country. Thus, the peaceful change in Georgia's government was due to the weakness of the state more than the strength of its civil society. This also suggests that there is an even greater danger for instability in the next several months, especially as the people hold higher expectations (perhaps too high) and the new leaders face the same economic and political problems of the Shevardnadze regime. And as the central power and authority of the Georgian state has been disintegrating for some time, power has been devolving steadily to the regions, a trend starkly different than the Armenian situation. The Armenian state remains firmly entrenched, with a monopoly over the elements of force and power and a degree of legitimacy not seen in Georgia (or in Azerbaijan). And despite the potential of the Armenian civil society, there is no easy or open avenue to confront the government, despite the illusion of the opposition's demands for impeachment and sporadic demonstrations in the streets. The second key difference between Georgia and Armenia is one of geopolitics. Unlike Armenia, which is strongly, in many ways too strongly, within the Russian orbit of economic and military power, the Georgian crisis was more of a conflict between the West and the East, with the crisis initially threatening to emerge as an obstacle in U.S.-Russian relations. And against a backdrop of a continued Russian military presence in the country, there was a potentially volatile convergence of competing interests between Moscow and Washington, with a clash between the U.S. pursuit of stability and the Russian preference for vulnerability in Georgia. But as events unfolded, Russia emerged as the real winner in the power politics of the crisis. Inheriting the Challenges of a "Failed State" The new Georgian leadership has inherited the very same problems that allowed them to rise to power on a wave of discontent and despair. In general terms, it seems assured that this new Georgian leadership will continue to pursue the traditional foreign policy of the Shevardnadze Georgia. There will be a continuation of policies largely driven by the overriding imperative to strengthen statehood in the wake of a severe decline in state power and control. This will be matched by a deepening of Georgia's pronounced pro-Western strategic orientation, a direction rooted in the recognition of a mounting external threat from an assertive Russia and from an internal collapse of authority and a loss of territory and sovereignty. The current transitional leadership has already been threatened by one concrete manifestation of this loss of state authority. Specifically, this pressure comes from the Ajarian leader, Aslan Abashidze. Personifying the erosion of state power, Abashidze has built a clan-based fiefdom in his southern Georgian region, withholding any contribution to the central budget and exercising an increasingly potent ability to project power on the national level. Further bolstered by the presence of a Russian military base and control over a key Black Sea port, Abashidze is increasingly able to leverage his regional power into a decisive role in determining the outcome of the next stage on Georgian's transition. In recent days, this power was demonstrated by a closure of his region's borders, a public threat to boycott the coming elections, and demonstrating his "independent power" through a series of high level meetings with senior Russian officials. By assuming the role of "kingmaker," Abashidze seeks to position himself in a pivotal role to either stabilize or undermine the next government. The power and influence of the Ajarian leader is also matched by the roles of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This steady devolution of power from the central Georgian state to the regions has also been compounded by the external role of Russia, which has granted citizenship to much of these breakaway regions' populations, and by the internal pressure emanating from the southern regions with their Armenian and Azerbaijani populations, each demanding a degree of greater autonomy. It is, therefore, becoming increasingly likely that recent events have only exacerbated the weakening of Tbilisi to the benefit of the regions. This battle between the weakened central state and the emboldened regions also threatens to revert to the "warlordism" and violence of a decade ago. And although the geopolitical importance of Georgia remains constant, derived from the country's role as a "transit state" stemming from the proposed Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and as a frontline state in the global "war on terrorism," the internal fragility of this collapsing state may be far too profound for any practical benefit from such strategic value. Thus, the next stage in Georgia's difficult transition lies outside of the capital, but holds the key for the future of the country as a whole. The Armenian Need for a Stable Georgia For more than a dozen years, Georgia has remained an important strategic neighbor for Armenia. This strategic relationship was largely driven by an economic imperative, as Armenia was forced to depend on Georgia as the sole external link with Russia. Necessitated by the severe restraints imposed on Armenia by the dual blockade of the landlocked country by Azerbaijan from the east, and Turkey from the west, made the outlet to the north, the route through Georgia a vital necessity. The Azerbaijani and Turkish blockade of Armenia's railway and transport links, their disruption of the regional energy network and the breakdown of communications links have all contributed to a serious Armenian dependence on Georgia for its link to its largest trading partner, Russia. Such a vulnerable dependence has also been exacerbated by the continued closure of the Russia-Armenia railway link through Abkhazia. The Armenian imperative for a stable Georgia defines much of Yerevan's cautious self-restraint over the rights of the Armenians in Javakhk. Differentiating between the Nagorno Karabagh and Javakhk cases, successive Armenian governments have encouraged their nationals in Georgia to frame their demands within the context of the Georgian political process and through the exercise of their rights as citizens. Unfortunately, neither the Gamsakhurdia nor the Shevardnadze administrations reciprocated these efforts and failed to address the needs of the Javakhk Armenians. The economic development of Javakhk has been systematically negelected, thereby exacerbating tension. Moreover, Tbilisi continued pursuing a covert yet clearly discriminatory policy in Javakhk aiming at pressuring the local Armenian population to migrate, a xenophobic drive far too short-sighted, with long-term repercussion to only harm Georgia. Already, the Kocharian government is under pressure internally to speak louder and more forcefully for the rights of the Armenians in Javakhk. The Armenians of Georgia At the time of the last official Soviet census of 1989, the Armenians of Georgia constituted some 8 percent of the total Georgian population, or nearly 438,000. There has been a serious decline in the Armenian population in Georgia in more recent years, however, as the Georgian national census of 2002 has revealed. Based on the census data, there are about 250,000 Armenians currently living in Georgia, representing under 6 percent of the total population. This excludes the 70,000 Armenians living in Abkhazia, however (see below). And although there are some uncertainties over the accuracy of the 2002 Georgian census and despite the fact that the total numbers fail to count the annual exodus of local Armenians from Georgia to Armenia or Russia for seasonal work, the downward trend in Georgia's Armenian population has been fairly well established. For much of the 20th century, the core of the Armenian community of Georgia was centered in the capital Tbilisi. But from the 1980s through today, there has been a constant outflow and decline of the Tbilisi Armenian community, leaving the majority Armenian population in the southern Georgian district of Javakhk as the remaining bastion of Armenian identity and presence in Georgia. There is also a significant Armenian community in Abkhazia. Although not accounted for in the Georgian national census of 2002 (which also omitted South Ossetia), there are presently about 70,000 Armenians living in Abkhazia, second only to the 90,000 native Abkhazians. The Armenian population of Abkhazia is thought to have declined by some 10,000 over the past dozen years but still retain significant villages and towns in six of the seven districts of Abkhazia, excluding the Gali district. The Armenians of Javakhk The historically Armenian region of Javakhk primarily consists of the districts of Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, with the Armenian population constituting 95 percent of the population. In 1994, in an effort to dilute this Armenian majority, Javakhk was incorporated by the central Georgian government into a much larger administrative unit, the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, with an area of nearly 6413 square kilometers, or about 9.3 percent of Georgia proper, and with a total population of almost 235,000 (as of 2000). This Samtskhe-Javakheti region comprises six districts (Adigeni, Aspindza, Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi, and Ninotsminda), with Akhaltsikhe as the regional center, and seven major towns, 66 smaller administrative units and over 250 villages. Within this greater region, with historical Armenian Javakhk as its core, the Armenian population's majority has been steadily reduced to about 61-62 percent of the population. The Samtskhe-Javakheti region (hereafter Javakhk) lies about twenty kilometers east-southeast of Ajaria, shares a roughly 80-90 kilometer border with Turkey to its west and southwest, and has approximately 45-50 kilometers of common border with Armenia, which lies to its south, and is just west of the ethnic Azerbaijani-populated region of Marneuli. Economic Neglect and Underdevelopment in Javakhk Relations between Javakhk and the central Georgian government have been strained for several decades, mainly stemming from a conscious policy of economic neglect by the Georgian authorities. For decades, Javakhk was the most underdeveloped region of the country and since independence, a series of irresponsible and shortsighted economic policies, mismanagement and neglect have contributed to a serious socioeconomic crisis in the region. This neglect is most evident in the pronounced state of disrepair of the regional infrastructure, but can also be seen in the poor state of the labor market as the region has suffered over a decade of net job loss and labor migration. The most pressing problems in Javakhk are economic. Although the challenges and problems facing Georgia during its difficult transition period of market reforms is shared by all regions of Georgia, they are not shared equally. As Javakhk was notably the most underdeveloped region in the country for many years, the mounting social costs of Georgia's transitional economics are disproportionally higher for Javakhk. It has one of the highest unemployment rates of the country, the lowest level of state investment, and its infrastructure is the oldest and most damaged in Georgia. Local industry is virtually nonexistent in Javakhk, aside from the service industry affiliated with the local Russian base. For Javakhk residents not fortunate enough to have work associated with the local Russian military base, conditions force much of the male population to seasonally migrate to Russia in search of work, only returning to their families in winter. The most vulnerable of the population, the elderly, are forced to rely on such family support in the absence of reliable pension benefits or even basic health care and social services. The communications infrastructure is in such a state of disrepair that outside communications links with Armenia is easier to establish than with Tbilisi. Road and highways continue to be in severe need of investment and reconstruction. The normal two-hour trip from Ninotsminda to Tbilisi, for example, takes six to seven hours due to the poor conditions of the main road. These overwhelming needs, therefore, tend to exacerbate the overall economic decline in the rest of the country and the relative poverty of Javakhk, consistently below the national level, only heightens Javakhk's vulnerability and insecurity. Roads and highways continue to be in severe need of investment and reconstruction, as the only improvement in transport in the past ten years has been on the Armenian side of the border. In fact, almost all of Javakhk's roads and external trade routes are southward toward Armenia, further strengthening the ties between Javakhk and Armenia. This isolation from the rest of Georgia is another key element of the region's economic difficulties with the Georgian government. These overwhelming needs, therefore, only tend to exacerbate the effects of the overall economic decline in the rest of the country and the deepening poverty of Javakhk, consistently below the national level, only heightens Javakhk's vulnerability and isolation. Armenia's Role in Javakhk The economic constraints on Armenian policy toward Georgia have greatly influenced Armenian policy on Javakhk, generally limiting it to a secondary role. When circumstances have provided an opportunity, however, Armenia has been able to offset these constraints, as seen by the export of Armenian electricity to Georgia. The Armenian government has also played an important role in assisting the Armenian population of Javakhk, with particularly notable examples in the field of education. For example, the Armenian government allocates approximately 100 million dram (about $180,000) annually for textbooks and supplies to Javakhk schools. Another important component of this Armenian aid program is the award of specialized scholarships for Javakhk students in Armenian state universities. Administered by the Armenian ministry of education, this scholarship program waives all admissions requirements and testing, including the financial enrollment fees, for university students from Javakhk, in return for the pledge to return to Javakhk upon graduation. There are currently 600 Javakhk students enrolled in Armenian state universities participating in the Javakhk scholarship program. The Armenian ministry of education also sets aside half of the seventy university slots held for students from the Diaspora for students specifically from Javakhk. Additionally, the education ministry has also established a new teacher-training program for Javakhk teachers in an attempt to improve the overall quality of education in Javakhk. Additional support has come in recent years form the Armenian diaspora and from their organizations, such as the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) that fulfills a special role in providing social services and some public health programs. Much of this aid targets the most vulnerable of the population. These is especially important, as nearly all medical facilities in Javakhk lack electricity and heating and have been forced to require that patients bring their own medicine and supply their own heating fuel for their hospitalization. National identity in Javakhk today is strongly Armenian, and plainly evident in most aspects of everyday life. Although three languages, Armenian, Georgian and Russian, are seen in the street signs throughout the region, the Georgian presence virtually ends there. Armenian television, not Georgian, is watched in Javakhk due to both easier reception and popular preference. The Russian ruble, the Armenian dram, and to a lesser extent, the American dollar, are the only forms of currency to be found in Javakhk. Faced with a transaction involving the Georgian lari, most Javakhk businessmen are not even sure of the official exchange rate. All schools in Javakhk today are dominated by Armenian-language instruction, with the only exception being a few Russian classes. The relative isolation of Javakhk combined with the unofficial cultural autonomy of the region, has reinforced this strong Armenian identity despite being under Georgian rule. Autonomy for Javakhk is Essential The trend of devolution of power from the central state to the increasingly assertive autonomous regions and republics underway in Georgia is determining the future of Georgian statehood. It has become apparent that Georgia is on a course toward reconstituting its statehood and transforming itself into a confederation. For Javakhk, the most attractive path toward security and greater potential for economic development is autonomy within a new Georgia. And as the new Georgian leadership tackles the difficult question of its empowered or separatist regions, an autonomous Javakhk may offer the one realistic model for a new Georgia, offering an important incentive for the regions to return to the Georgian state that has been sorely missing to date. There is also a set of potential economic benefits to be realized through an autonomous Javakhk. The most realistic of these benefits include the possible share of proceeds from the lease agreement for the Russian military base in Javakhk currently being negotiated between Tbilisi and Moscow. A second benefit lies in the possibility of sharing in the profit from the utilization of Javakhk territory for a possible oil pipeline or for the proposed Tbilisi-Kars railway. There are some precedents for an autonomous region negotiating a share of transit fees in this way, as the Ajarians are paid for the use of their Black Sea port Poti or as the Chechen government has received tariff payments for the pipeline from Baku through Chechnya to the Russian port facilities on the Black Sea. Even more encouraging would be the possibility of utilizing such revenue in a special "Javakhk Development Fund," to be administered by the regional government of an autonomous Javakhk, and designed to promote self-sufficiency and greater transparency in the region. By following this course of Georgia's devolution toward confederation, an autonomous Javakhk, at this time, represents the most prudent and most promising avenue for securing a stable Georgia. Such a Javakhk model may also encourage and entice the Ajarians, and even induce the Abkhazians and South Ossetians to consider a new Georgian confederation. The Georgian Transition and Regional Change With the Georgian transition process confirmed by the election of Saakashvili, questions over the broader future of the South Caucasus region are inevitable. The high level of voter participation in the election (almost 83%) and the generally impressive conduct of the vote reflect a high level of civil society mobilization. The questions now center on whether this same society can remain mobilized through the process of the reconstruction of the state, and whether Saakashvili will be willing, or able to rely upon civil society for needed state renovation, or will he be forced to negotiate with the formidable informal/formal power structures. The challenge has an internal and an international dimension: to what extent Saakashvili will be ready to rebuild the state with popular participation, inevitably means creating institutions to allow that participation express the different interests within the Georgian society, including autonomy for non-Georgian nationalities. In other words, we need to see what is his vision of a democratic Georgia. In terms of an international dimension and in spite of their silent competition, Russia and the United States finally did cooperate to smooth the transition by helping Saakashvili and his allies in negotiating the resignation of Shevardnadze. One should hope that this cooperation continues, yet not with the illusion that it would forsake the conditioning of their respective interests at any moment. The fact is that the unresolved question of the nationalities in Georgia is a fertile ground to be exploited to destabilize the country, unless these nationalities are able to be granted a revised role as part of a new Georgian state, with a liberal democratic regime bringing together citizens with different ethnic/national identities yet with equal rights and obligations. The Need for Regional Reintegration A Georgia where nationalities enjoy autonomy and are free of fears from discrimination, or worse, could well open the way to the urgent rapprochement between the three states of the Southern Caucasus and may even offer a model of regional (re)integration, buttressed with a vision for cooperation among these three struggling states. To date, there has been a scarcity of statesmanship, with an over-reliance on bilateral relations and no leader bold enough to take the initiative in exploring the politics of integration, not even through small experimental steps. Without such an innovative vision for the Georgian state and the region, Saakashvili may well fall into the trap of the syndrome of the strongman, which so far has been the rule in the Caucasus. In 1998, Armenia seemed ready for the first step toward replacing the rule of the strongman, as it would not be accurate to qualify Kocharian as a strongman, although there is now little doubt that political reform in Armenia stopped short because of the prevalence of several strongmen. In Azerbaijan, with the confirmation of the Aliyev dynasty, strongman rule seems firmly entrenched and is reinforced by the role of oil in fueling cronyism and clan-based rule. The same would have been true for Georgia had the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline progressed more rapidly than the popular discontent that ended the Shevardnadze era. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is well underway, and its implications for economic and political reform are only months away from being revealed. Without having yet to find a secure place within the Georgian state, the non-Georgian nationalities have long been vulnerable to the policies of the Shevardnadze period: his foreign moves; his confrontation with Russia; his impatience to see NATO expand into the region; and his adherence to the Baku-Ceyhan project with the special paternalistic role granted to Turkish interests, both political and military. For the Armenians of Javakhk, these factors exacerbated an inherent insecurity and fear, and only compounded a daunting set of threats, both real and exaggerated, to their very existence. The Abkhazians and the Ossetians were notably more secure given their closer relationship with Russia (and their acquisition of Russian citizenship). Although it would be unfair to expect the new Georgian leadership to ignore the economic importance and necessity of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, one hopes that the realization of the geopolitical and economic value that the project infers on Georgia does not impede the rebuilding and recasting of the Georgian state. If this process of state restructuring along the lines of the already marked trend of power devolving to the region can proceed under the Saakashvili government, then the non-Georgian nationalities, and especially the Armenians of Javakhk, will be offered strategic incentives to ensure their support for, and through an autonomous place within, a new stable and secure Georgian state

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Khatchik DerGhoukassian is a Ph.D. Candidate in International Relations at the University of Miami. He is the former editor of the newspaper ARMENIA in Buenos Aires and writes as a political analyst in the Armenian and Argentine press. Richard Giragosian is a Washington-based analyst specializing in international affairs and military security, with a focus on the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Russia.