Friends and Enemies in the South Caucasus

On 1 April, 2014 the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET) published a blog which described a future Transcaucasian Confederation agreement signed by the three South Caucasian states. Despite the fact that the blog was an April Fool’s Day joke, it provoked significant interest and reader response. Many political scientists who study alliances (such as Gärtner, Reiter and Rothstein) claim that a common foreign policy view is the primary motivation for countries (especially for small countries) to form alliances. Often, this view may be expressed in having a common enemy or having a common friend. If we look at the recent history of the South Caucasus, a union was formed in 1918 as the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (Transcaucasian Federation), which according to Geukjian (2012), dissolved after several weeks due to a lack of consensus on fighting a common enemy. Additionally, the idea of making a union in the Caucasus was has been expressed by different former leaders in the South Caucasus: Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Eduard Shevardnadze and Heydar Aliev, and Mikheil Saakashvili. Yet, no viable steps were taken in this direction.

The purpose of this blog is to examine whether there is a common enemy or friend by which any type of union, confederation or political alliance in the South Caucasus could be formed, or if it is merely a topic of humor. Of course, theoretically there could be other political, social or economic motivations for creating a union. However, this blog looks at data from the 2013 Caucasus Barometer (CB) on who citizens of the three South Caucasian countries think is their countries’ biggest friend and enemy.

The results below show that attitudes are noticeably different between the three countries. The majority of Armenians consider Russia to be their country’s main friend (83%), while the majority of Azerbaijanis say Turkey is Azerbaijan’s main friend (91%). Georgians views are yet again different as they most commonly name the United States (31%).

Note: In this graph the option “no one” was grouped to “other.” The “other” option also includes Ukraine, Armenia, Iran, Georgia, Poland, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Europe, Italy, China, Belarus, Baltic countries, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Nagorno-Karabakh, Northern Cyprus, Spain, Great Britain, Greece, Latvia, Abkhazia and Pakistan.

As for enemies, Georgians perceived Russia, Azerbaijanis named Armenia, and Armenians considered Azerbaijan as the main enemy of their countries. Both figures show that the opinions of Georgians are not as well defined as in Azerbaijan and Armenia; nearly a third of Georgians said they “don’t know” or “refuse to answer”. Thus, these are quite diverse preferences for countries in this small region.

Note: In this graph, option “no one” was grouped to “other”. The “other” option also includes USA, Iran, Georgia, Everyone, Israel, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Abkhazia, China, South Ossetia, Ourselves and Germany.

Differences in opinions regarding the European Union, in particular, are not as stark as in the cases of the perceived main friend or enemy. CB results shown below indicate that support for the EU is stronger in Georgia, but that there are stable attitudes towards the EU, although much lower, in Armenia and Azerbaijan. This could reveal a potential common foreign policy in the future.

Note: In this graph “support” is a combination of the responses “rather support” and “fully support”, and “don’t support” is a combination of the responses “rather not support” and “don’t support at all”. Question text: “To what extent would you support country’s membership in the EU?”

This blog has discussed the possibility of creating an alliance based on a commonly-perceived enemy or friend in the South Caucasus and come to the conclusion that it is not realistic in the near future. To explore similar issues, we recommend using our ODA tool here or reading this blog post detailing how the three countries perceive doing business with and getting married to one another.

By Edisher Baghaturia


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