Was there any resemblance between the South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, South Caucasus inherited three armed conflicts, all with a separatist background. These are the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts in Georgia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan prior the Second Karabakh War. Indeed, since they were challenging the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Georgia, these conflicts were also accepted as the main factors threatening the region’s security.[1]

As stated before, all three conflicts broke out on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union due to the separatist demands of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians in Azerbaijan and Ossetians and Abkhaz in Georgia. In all three cases, the conflicts transformed into an armed phase, which in turn led to the beginning of the wars between the disputants and followed by the involvement of external factors.[2]

Compared to the Abkhaz and Ossetians, Armenians had already been granted a sovereign state – the Republic of Armenia. However, their demand focused on the separation of territory in the neighboring state, Azerbaijan, and integrating those territories using its compact ethnic group settled in those territories. The direct involvement of Armenia as a principal party in the conflict, particularly in the armed and peace-building stages, made the conflict a territorial and interstate conflict. However, the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be defined as ethnic and intrastate because they broke out due to disagreement between the central government and an ethnic autonomous region.[3]

In all three cases, the war ended initially with a conditional victory by the separatists, who were supported by external groups such as Russia and Armenia, and with the signing not of a peace treaty but rather of a ceasefire agreement.[4] After the ceasefire agreements, the role played by third parties as mediators in the conflicts increased. Indeed, in the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetian conflicts, the OSCE and the Abkhazian conflict, the UN, became the primary mediators in the peace talks.[5]

In Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in accordance with the requirements of the ceasefire agreements, peacekeeping forces were involved in the regulation process. However, in the first phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this was ruled out due to the parties disagreeing on the origin of the peacekeepers.[6] It was only after the Second Karabakh War that Russian peacekeeping forces entered the region.

Another significant resemblance between the conflicts is the role that Russia played in all of them since it was involved officially as a third party but unofficially was an external factor with its interest in how the conflicts would be resolved. In fact, during the wars in all three cases, Russia participated directly and actively and played a crucial role in the conditional victory of the separatists.[7] After the wars, Russia was one of the initiators of the peace talks between the parties to the conflict. However, all Russian attempts to solve the conflict failed.[8]

It might be assumed that Russia failed to make a sufficient effort to settle the conflicts since it was interested in maintaining the status quo that prevailed after the wars and aimed to preserve ‘no peace, no war’ conditions in the disputed regions. The Russo-Georgian war in 2008 proved, in fact, this perception. When Georgia marched into South Ossetia in order to restore its territorial integrity, Russia reacted by sending its army to prevent Georgia from doing this. By this act, Russia did not stop Georgia but also temporarily occupied its territories. In the aftermath of the war, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.[9]

After the recognition by Russia, some other countries, such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Vanuatu, and Tuvalu, reacted similarly and recognized the independence of these “states.”[10] This is another differentiating factor between Nagorno-Karabakh and the conflicts in Abkhazia and Ossetia. While a few countries have recognized the separatist republics of Georgia, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic had not been recognized even by Armenia.

[1] Boonstra, Jos and Melvin, Neil, “Challenging the South Caucasus Security Deficit,” Fride’s Working Paper, No. 108, pp. 3-4.

[2] Matveeva, Anna, “The South Caucasus: Nationalism, Con ict and Minorities,” Report of Minority Rights Group International, April 2002, pp. 11-14.

[3] Crocker, Hampson, and Aall, “Introduction: Mapping the Nettle Field”, p. 13.

[4] Bartuzi, Wojciech, Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, Katarzyna and Strachota, Krzysztof, “Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh: unfrozen conflicts between Russia and the West,” Center for Eastern Studies- Special Report, July 9, 2008, pp. 5-7.

[5] Fuller, Elizabeth, “Mediators for Transcaucasia’s Conflicts,” The World Today, Vol. 49, No. 5, 1993, pp. 89-92.

[6] Nikoghosyan, Hovhannes, “Some Thoughts on Peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Caucasus Edition: Journal of Conflict Transformation, July 1, 2010.

[7] Bartuzi, Wojciech, Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, Katarzyna and Strachota, Krzysztof, “Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh: unfrozen conflicts between Russia and the West,” Center for Eastern Studies- Special Report, July 9, 2008, p. 7.

[8] Künzl, Jan, “There Has Never Been an Unbiased Russian Mediation in South Caucasian Conflicts,” Interview with Dr. Martin Malek, Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2009, pp. 117-119.

[9] Mahmudlu, Jeyhun and Ahmadov, Agil, “Impact of “Five Days War” On South Caucasian States,” Journal of Qafqaz University: History, Law and Political Sciences, No. 29, 2010, pp. 46-47.

[10] “Russia recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia to save people’s lives,” Pravda, August 26, 2008; https://www.pravdareport.com/russia/106214-russia_ossetia_abkhazia/. Accessed on December 5, 2022. See also: “Russia to continue helping South Ossetia, Abkhazia – Putin,” RT, august 26, 2003; https://www.rt.com/russia/putin-ossetia-abkhazia-independence-005/. Accessed on December 5, 2022.