The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the Domestic Politics of the South Caucuses

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The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the Domestic Politics of the South Caucuses



Not only has 2013 emerged with the 

Syrian crisis making waves as far off 

as Moscow, Washington and Beijing, 

but conversely it has also heralded 

the election of presidents by three of 

the states in the South Caucuses. 

Armenia which is considered to be 

a mono-ethnic society witnessed a 

repeat victory by Serge Sargsyan on 

the 18th February 2013. The event 

however has been followed by an 

intense and critical inter-Armenian 

debate as regards the necessity of 

a future change in the leadership. 

We observed an interesting mixture 

of comments and appeals aimed at 

forming a new foreign policy agenda, 

finding young leaders from the new 

generation and fresh ideas in relation 

to the Karabakh conflict settlement


However, if Armenia does not con-

sider a role for its ethnic minorities in 

domestic politics, this is not the case 

with Azerbaijan and Georgia. On the 

eve of Presidential elections in Geor-

gia, the head of the Russian Federa-

tion’s Daghestan region, Ramazan 

Abdulatipov openly supported Ilham 


 Richard Giragosyan: Vskori EC pred-

lozhit Armenii noviy document sotrudnich-

estva iz 7 punktov/ Marianna Mkrtchyan 

ArmInfo/ Yerkramas. 05 oktyabrya 2013, 

[online]. Available at:  




Aliyev as a candidate by requesting 

all the Daghestanis residing in Azer-

baijan to give Aliyev their votes. 

The involvement of the head of a 

Russian region in Azerbaijan’s do-

mestic affairs seems to be a positive 

one. On the one hand, Abdulati-

pov has stressed the importance of 

friendly relations and cooperation 

between the neighboring territories 

of Azerbaijan and Daghestan. He is 

especially interested in maintaining 

a calm border along with stability in 

Daghestan’s inter-ethnic relations. 

Abdulatipov is a politician with many 

years of experience behind him and 

is sincere in striving to move Rus-

sian-Azerbaijanian relations forward. 

On the other hand, we see a political 

gesture in Abdulatipov’s statement. 

There is both pressure as well as 

an invitation for Baku to consider-

ably improve living standards and 

political participation amongst the 

Daghestanis in Azerbaijan. Rus-

lan Ghireyev, director of the North 

Caucasus Islamic Studies Center 

notes that the issue of indigenous 

peoples and that of ethnicity remains 

the main problem in contemporary 

Azerbaijan and one which requires 

a resolution. According to Ghireyev, 

the Daghestan factor is a significant 

issue in Azerbaijan’s domestic af-

fairs where the Avars, Lezghines, 

Tsakhurs, Rutuls amongst others will 

have to carve out their own ethnic-

The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the Domestic Politics of 

the South Caucuses

by Alexander Kornilov

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The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the Domestic Politics of the South Caucuses



political position


. In the context of Abdulatipov’s state-

ment, it means taking far-reaching decisions on Baku in 

relation to the Daghestani people within the country. Is 

this not a proposal towards some kind of federalization in 

Azerbaijan?  Also, whatever Abdulatipov said concerning 

relations between the neighboring territories, he remains 

an influential member of the Russian political elite and 

continues to play a direct role in President Putin’s hier-

archy of power. This means that Abdulatipov feels that 

he has strong backing from Moscow when he talks of the 

development in Daghestan-Azerbaijan relations. 

The Armenian diaspora in Georgia has mixed thoughts 

and feelings on the question of whom to vote for in the 

coming Presidential elections. Experts and commenta-

tors, primarily the Armenian ones, still weigh the pros 

and cons as well as the benefits and disadvantages. 

Three Presidential candidates opened their offices in 

the Javakhk, Georgian region which is predominantly 

populated by the Armenians. Giorgi Margvelashvili of 

the Georgian Dream, Nino Burjanadze of the Democratic 

Movement and David Bakradze of the United National 

Movement have considered


holding regular meetings 

with the Armenian voters. Deputy Feodor Torosyan of 

the Akhalkalaki district assembly shared his estimates 

with reporters and said that David Bakradze had gained a 

considerable support amongst the Armenians. According 

to Torosyan, Bakradze listened to the residents of Ja-

vakhk and promised to do as much as he could. However, 

Torosyan pointed out that the election campaign was con-

centrated in large cities like Tbilisi and Kutaisi



Jonnie Melikyan, a political scientist, founder and head 

of Center for Political and Legal Studies,

 who is con-

sidered to be an expert on Georgia is confident that the 

Armenians will vote differently in the coming elections. 

There are some divisions within the Armenian com-

munity, and Melikyan has stressed that the Armenians 

of Adjara are inclined to support the United National 

Movement due to reforms enunciated by the Saakashvili 

Administration. There is the discovery of a different 

picture in Javakhk. One section of the Armenians has 

Ruslan Ghereyev: Abdulatipov podcherknul znacheniye 

daghestanskogo factora na viborakh v Azerbaijane/ IA Reg-

num. 04.10.2013 [online]. Available at:




3 “O problemah ghruzinskih armyan poka chto vyskazalsya 

tol’ko David Bakradze, no yego ne izberut”/ Yerkramas. 04 

octyabrya 2013. [online]. Available at: 




not been disappointed by the decisions of the new Geor-

gian government and has remained a loyal supporter of 

the Georgian Dream. The other section of the Javakheti 

Armenians has maintained economic relations and to 

some extent its dependence on Russia and will vote for 

Nino Burjanadze


. While discussing all the pre-election 

expectations and prognosis, we can also take into account 

a new trend in Georgian politics which promises a tran-

sition from an extreme form of presidential power to a 

more moderate Parliamentary democratic regime. 

The Georgian Parliament has discussed a new draft of 

the Law for the Defense of the State’s Language. The 

Council of the Armenian civic institutions in Javakhk 

and Kvemo Kartli have written a letter to the Georgian 

government expressing their despair. The Armenians 

perceive a real threat to their language from the law be-

ing passed by the Parliament. The experts affiliated to 

the Armenian community have urged the Georgian min-

isters and the Parliament to pass a law that recognizes 

the Armenian as a regional language


. In the mind of Ar-

menians, Georgia as a member of the Council of Europe 

must agree with the European Charter for Regional or 

Minority languages (1992) which was adopted in Stras-

bourg. In doing so, the country will become more demo-

cratic and safer in the face of ethnic conflicts.     

The next minority issue which stands out is the one in-

volving Moslem groups residing in Georgia. Moslems 

although constituting more than 10% of the country’s 

population, nevertheless, face a situation of ethnic exclu-

sion as well as other forms of discrimination including a 

nominal presence in domestic politics. This is what some 

participants of the School of imams at my local Nizhniy 

Novgorod State University have told me about. As is 

well known, the Georgian Orthodox Church remains to 

be the most influential force of the Georgian society


. It 

Ekspert: Armayanskaya obshchina Groozii na presidentskih vy-

borah progolosuyet za kandidata “Groozinskoy mechty”/ Arminfo/ 

Yerkramas. 08 oktyabrya 2013 [online]. Available at:




Prinyatiye zakona o zaschite gosudarstvennogo yazyka v Ghruzii 

sozdast serioznyie trudnosti dlya armyan Javahka. Commentariy 

expert/ Yerkramas. 08 oktyabrya 2013. [online]. 

Available at :



Aleksander Rusetskiy: Putinskaya politika po soidaniyu SSSR-2 

– geopoliticheskiy sadomazochizm. Interview directora Kauca-

zscogo insituta regional’noy bezopasnosti Aleksandra Rusetskogo 

informagentstvu ArmInfo. David Stepanyan ArmInfo/ Yerkramas. 

The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the Domestic Politics of the South Caucuses



has an impact on the political decisions taken in Tbilisi. 

Moreover, the Church represents the majority of the 

country’s population, reflecting the ideas and spiritual 

values which this majority continues to share despite the 

intentional attempts of some European organizations to 

promote so-called post-Christian principles in Georgia. 

The Church, in other words, can be claimed to be one of 

the guarantors of Georgian sovereignty, territorial integ-

rity and independence. In relation to territorial integrity, 

let us remember that while Russia as a state recognized 

the independence of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia, the 

Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Cyril and his Synod 

refused to do so in relation to the Orthodox communities 

of these two territories. We assume that the Tbilisi lead-

ership’s intention to preserve a Georgian identity based 

on Christian Orthodox values has paradoxically served as 

a leverage to stop the development of Moslem communi-

ties. For example, before he became President, Mikhail 

Saakashvili served as Chairman of the Parliamentary 

committee which promised to ratify the 1992 European 

Charter relating to minorities rights and regional lan-

guages. However, after his election to the Presidential 

post, Saakashvili did not keep his promises, a situation 

which has yet to be explained. In relation to the paradox-

es, we say that the political elite in Georgia has exploited 

all the means available to it in order to defend the state’s 

sovereignty and independence. However, by drawing 

upon the Christian Orthodox aspect, the elite has refused 

to take the rights of Moslems and Armenians into serious 


Whoever becomes the next President of Georgia, he or 

she will strive to cooperate with ethnic and religious mi-

norities as a European integration process imposes a set 

of requirements which must be met. Moreover, the fur-

ther Georgia will move towards Europe, the more it will 

become liberal and inclusive towards its minorities and 

their rights. As a result, its traditional values and way of 

life will change and transform it from a strong Christian 

based Georgian identity to more European one. This sce-

nario would be a risky development for Georgia, both as 

a nation-state and a Christian based society.   

Russia is not an exclusion to the rule. With the Caucasus 

regions rich in culture, Russia has historically overcome 

barriers of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. Mil-

lions of migrants have come to and have resided in the 

04 October 2013 [online]. Available at:  




country. Different cultures, traditions and customs of the 

Caucasus countryside have been brought onto Russian 

soil. Despite this, Russia still lacks a well-formulated and 

thought out ethnic policy. It was only in 2012 when then 

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made the first attempt 

to formulate a clear understanding of national identity  

for the Russian citizens. The second successful step has 

been made in the 2013 Valdai Discussion Club meeting – 

which I have addressed in detail in my previous BILGE-

SAM analysis – by President Putin,  

The political power of the Russian Federation has started 

to move forward in order to solve inter-ethnic issues. 

Events have shown however, that there remains a big gap 

between having good intentions and decision making by 

the Kremlin in respect to the appropriate actions con-

ducted by  the police and the administration of justice for 

Russian citizens. The protests which ignited on the 12



October in Moscow’s Biryulovo are reflective of deep so-

cial and inter-ethnic tensions. The lack of vision and ef-

fective action by Biryulevo district, a weak management 

of immigration policy and corruption have brought anger 

onto the streets by local residents as well as wild distur-

bances organized with the help of radical groups in the 

Russian capital.  According to the Russian news agency, 


he protests in Biryulyovo were apparently triggered by 

the fatal stabbing of Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, who police 

said was walking home with his girlfriend when he was 

killed. Police have said the murderer was “not a Russian 

citizen” and released CCTV footage of a suspect. In re-

cent years Russia has seen a series of violent protests in 

reaction to crimes allegedly committed by people from 

ethnic minorities. Such protests, often aimed at people 

from the Caucasus region, are motivated by what the 

protestors perceive as the authorities’ inability, or unwill-

ingness, to hold the perpetrators to account



The role of ethnic and religious minorities has long be-

come a sustained factor in the domestic and foreign poli-

cies of the states in the South Caucasus and beyond. The 

trend of transforming the minorities into an instrument 

of policy has posed a threat to the territorial integrity of 

these contemporary states. That is why power sharing, 

a constructive political opposition as well as respect for 

minority rights remains extremely important for main-

taining stability and security.  

380 Held Overnight After Anti-Migrant Riot in Moscow Suburb. 

14/10/2013/ RIANOVOSI [online]. Available at:



The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the Domestic Politics of the South Caucuses




Established in 2008, the Wise Men Center for Strate-

gic Studies (BILGESAM) is one of the leading think 

tanks in Turkey. As a non-profit, non-partisan orga-

nization BILGESAM operates under the guidance of 

a group of well-respected academics from different 

disciplines, retired military generals and diplomats; 

and aims to contribute regional and global peace 

and prosperity. Closely following the domestic and 

international developments, BILGESAM conducts 

research on Turkey’s domestic problems, foreign 

policy and security strategies, and the developments 

in the neighbouring regions to provide the Turkish 

decision-makers with practical policy recommenda-

tions and policy options. 

About Author

Alexander Kornilov is Professor of international 

relations and head of regional studies department at 

Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod. 

He has published numerous articles on international 

relations and foreign policies of Middle Eastern and 

Transcaucasian countries. 

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