#NKPeace: The Armenia-Azerbaijan Karabakh Escalation Viewed From Georgia

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Thinking Citizen Platform meeting, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik James Krikorian 2016

Following the recent escalation on the Line of Contact (LoC) separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in and around the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, BBC Azeri recently published my piece on the view from Georgia. In particular, it focuses on opinions expressed at a meeting of the Thinking Citizens platform, an Azerbaijani and Georgian-Azeri initiative.

I also wrote a much longer piece for openDemocracy, also republished by the World Policy Institute.

Last week’s clashes on the Line of Contact (LoC) separating Armenian and Azerbaijani troops in and around Nagorno Karabakh stirred up nationalism and animosity not only in Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also in neighbouring Georgia. The worst clashes in nearly 22 years, alarm bells were ringing in the capital Tbilisi — not least because of Georgia’s significant Armenian and Azeri minorities.

According to Georgia’s 2002 census, 284,761 ethnic Azeris and 248,929 ethnic Armenians live in Georgia, making up roughly 6.5% and 5.7% of the country’s overall population respectively. South of Tbilisi, in Kvemo Kartli, there are at least three villages co-inhabited by members of the two minority groups. Most of the road traffic from Armenia into Georgia passes through this region, which is home to the largest concentration of ethnic Azeris in the country.

Meanwhile, the conflict in Karabakh is far from frozen. In the two decades since the 1994 ceasefire between Georgia’s southern neighbours, as many as 3,000 people are believed to have died in skirmishes on the LoC as well as the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Propaganda and misinformation continue to play an important role in pitting the populations of both countries — and their diasporas — against each other, something that was set to escalate as the new round of fighting broke out.

[…]

Azerbaijani civil society activist Emin Aslan, one of the main coordinators for the Thinking Citizen platform, said the outcome of the meeting was positive. “These types of platforms are essential to this process,” Aslan says, “and there should be more of them because if people keep their emotions inside, one day they will explode and there will be some very negative results. Then everyone will simply ask, what happened? Why did it happen?”

As one student from Azerbaijan studying in Tbilisi remarked: “I think both the ethnic communities of Georgia should not allow this terrible conflict to spread. Otherwise, the situation is not only dangerous for Georgia, but also for the entire region.”

The BBC Azeri piece is here, while the openDemocracy piece is here.

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Thinking Citizen Platform meeting, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik James Krikorian 2016

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