Veteran journalist discusses relations in South Caucasus
Posted October 18, 2012 at 11:03 pm in News
Thomas de Waal shared his knowledge of the turbulent South Caucasus region in a discussion held at Leavey Library Auditorium on Thursday.
De Waal touched on his experience living and working in countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, but the majority of his talk focused on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Karabakh region, which started in the early 1990s.
De Waal worked as a journalist and writer in the Caucasus and Black Sea regions for news outlets such as BBC World Service in London and BBC Radio. He is currently a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment and has written extensively on the South Caucasus.
As a backdrop to the discussion, de Waal characterized the relationship between the countries of the Caucasus and powerful nations like the United States and Russia as one of mistrust between the small Caucasian nations and larger nations that eventually get pulled into conflict.
‚ÄúPetty interests triumph any sense of regional identity,‚ÄĚ de Waal said. ‚Äú[The Caucasian nations] have a local dispute and you feel threatened, then you call upon your great power patron [Russia or the United States] to protect you, and your neighbor calls on his great power patron to protect him, and a small squabble escalates into a large conflict.‚ÄĚ
He warned against the broadly accepted view of powerful nations controlling the nations of the Caucasus, and instead suggested the Caucasian nations play the major powers off each other.
‚ÄúThe central part of my writing is to push back against the idea of the Caucasus as a chessboard for the United States and Russia to play on, and suggest the opposite,‚ÄĚ de Waal said. ‚ÄúThese are people that have 500 years of experience playing major powers off each other. The Caucasian nations are exerts at drawing the great powers into their own conflicts.‚ÄĚ
With this backdrop, he went on to discuss the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict over the Karabakh region. He highlighted fear and mistrust as the principal initial causes of the conflict. The Russian policy of strict control did not allow history to be discussed ‚ÄĒ as a result, the individual societies created their own conflicting narratives about Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Karabakh region.
‚ÄúThis is a conflict that has no moral bias toward one side or the other,‚ÄĚ de Waal said. ‚ÄúBoth sides were afraid of each other, so you had a conflict born more out of fear than greed or grievance.‚ÄĚ
But looking forward, however, de Waal expressed optimism regarding the involvement of a neutral party such as the United States, Russia or the European Union, the conflict could be solved.
‚ÄúThere needs to be less assistance and more coercion from a powerful arbiter,‚ÄĚ he said.