The Caucasus and Europe

NT Highlights #17 (519)
3 May, 2004

The Caucasus and Europe

By Haroutiun Khachatrian

Last week we saw the three leaders of the South Caucasus countries together.
As always, this happened out of the region, this time in Warsaw. The
conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan prevents organization of such
meetings inside the region, the most natural place for this. The fact that
the leaders met in Poland, and just a couple of days before this countries
adhered the EU, has a symbolic meaning as well. The three countries have
declared their commitment to European values and eventually, tend to
integrate into Europe. The reality still looks fairly far from such a
perspective, reasons differing for each of the countries. Whereas Armenia
and Azerbaijan are being criticized for failing to meet the European
standards of democracy and human rights protection, Georgia’s main problem
is lack of an effective statehood per se. Many hope that contacts with
European structures will help the counties to overcome the above mentioned
problems (of course, many other problems as well, but these ones are the
fundamental difficulties). How realistic these hopes are?

A key factor is how sincere the three leaders are in declaring their
pro-European orientation? One can only be sure that the Georgian President
is indeed committed to those values. As for the other two, they probably
would not mind developing democracy and human rights further, but with the
precondition that these principles would not endanger their personal powers.

The analysts expect that all the three countries will soon become part of
the so-called Wider Europe, i.e., given some privileges in their contacts
with the EU. However, the EU would not be happy to cooperate with the
leaders (I mean those of Armenia and Azerbaijan) who are not very accurate
in fulfilling their commitments concerning the basic human rights. But the
irony is that the European structures (both the Council of Europe and the EU
itself) may have no adequate leverages to improve the situation in these two
countries. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have enough cap acities to cooperate
with EU in the economy matters (both have good performance in recent years),
without improving the human rights records.

Despite all calls and checks by the bodies like PACE, Kocharian will deny
that the men who crashed the video cameras at the rallies enjoyed the
support of the authorities, or that armored vehicles were used to block the
roads in provinces on the days of expected opposition rallies. So, the
progress in democracy does not look to be likely in the near future, both in
Armenia and in Azerbaijan.