Ronald Grigor Suny

On Abkhazia

The greatest irony of the history of Caucasia is that this extraordinarily beautiful land, shared by dozens of different peoples with different languages, has been the scene of both great interethnic violence and multinational coexistence.

Georgians and Abkhazians lived together for centuries, even as they maintained their differences, as did Armenians and Azerbaijanis. To some Caucasia was the inspiration of how difference did not have to lead to conflict; for others it was the symbol of social turbulence and violence.  But built into the mixing of people were the realities of political power: the imperial overlordship of the Ottomans, the Persians, and the Russians; and the restraints imposed on some Caucasian peoples by others. The hierarchies of power, enforced by soldiers and police, eventually led to resistance and struggles for independence and self-rule. Sadly, these struggles eventually created the fragmented Caucasia with which we live today. Battle lines have become contested borders; former friends and neighbors have become dedicated adversaries.  

Is there a way out? Will there be a future in which the unique peoples of Caucasia will live in peace and prosperity with one another? One can draw many lessons from history, but certainly one should be that mutual respect and equality, rather than dominance, intolerance, and exclusivity, are requirements for restoring coexistence and peace in the region. What prevents this from coming to fruition? If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the greatest obstacles to a peaceful future are the ruling elites of the various countries of Caucasia, the entrenched politicians, military officers, and oligarchs who benefit from the status quo, from the current corrupt economic operations and manipulation of elections. Democracy is the method to move from oligarchy and corruption to real self-goverance. Yet, it is hard to be optimistic at the moment, as both local authorities and Great Powers seem to favor keeping things as they are. The current regimes, authoritarian as they are, nevertheless have spaces and places where some political activity can take place. Ordinary people have to organize; they must occupy the spaces emptied of idealism; young people who want a better life should take the lead.  Old hatreds have to fade away, and in their place a new vision of Caucasia as the paragon of multinational diversity, equality, and tolerance must begin to take the place of the current dystopia of conflict and division.
 
Ronald Grigor Suny
Director of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies and the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History at the University of Michigan. USA

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