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Autonomy as a Source of Conflict: Caucasian Conflicts in Theoretical Perspective Author(s): Svante E. Cornell Reviewed work(s): Source: World Politics, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Jan., 2002), pp. 245-276 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25054184 . Accessed: 16/03/2013 06:09
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AUTONOMY

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT
Conflicts in

Caucasian Theoretical

Perspective

By SVANTE E. CORNELL*

the 1950s, ethnopolitical conflict has grown as a source of


arena. It culminated in the international after the cold war SINCE with the eruption of conflict in the former Soviet Union and Yu goslavia. states The A number of conflicts also broke out between ethnically de concern

fined social groups inAfrica and south Asia,


of Eastern Europe reigning itive past was

in the postcommunist

the spread of ethnic conflict to less developed regions. This


creased media portantly, mushroomed.2 Ethnic

as well as in and Eurasia, Western Europe.1 was a ethnic that conflict of the assumption vestige prim in view of revised and eventually abandoned, particularly

led to in

im coverage and public awareness of ethnic issues; more on ethnic academic research conflict and its resolution in multiethnic or autonomy) areas where state is a fea

mobilization

states has often

among led to demands

minority populations for self-rule (territorial in defined the creation geographical of a separate

for outright secession.3 Especially are minorities setded, compacdy situations terns, making
* The

sible goal and territorial control becomes a chief issue of conflict. In


in which control such demands live in overlapping settlement groups pat are less feasible and are made more infrequendy, over or influence in the central government the most ethnic

author would like to thank Anna Jonsson, Regine Spector, Erik Melander, Magnus ?berg, and S. Frederick Starr for their valuable comments and suggestions. Research for this article was made a for the Humanities and Social Science. possible by grant from the Swedish Research Council 1 on theWane," Ted Robert Gurr, "Ethnic Warfare Foreign Affairs 79 (May-June 2000), 53. 2 on nationalism and ethnic conflict include Benedict Anderson, Significant works Imagined Com munities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of 2d ed. (London: Verso, 1991); Ernest Gell Nationalism, and Nationalism D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of ner, Nations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988); Anthony Nations Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); Donald Horowitz, of California Press, 1985); Ted R. Gurr, Why Men Rebel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970); at Risk in the New Century (Washington, D.C.: USIP Press, 2000). Gurr, Peoples versus States:Minorities 3 or secession?but for In other instances, however, ethnic demands are not for "exit"?autonomy in the government of the central state, particularly when settlement patterns overlap. greater participation

WorldPolitics 54 (January2002), 245-76

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246 contentious

WORLD POLITICS
issue.4 Indeed, Fearon ethnic theorists violence have and Laitin find "regional concentration

of minority group (a) powerful and robust factor.. .farmore likely to see
large-scale than urban that Many in dealing with ethnic conflict. Ted Gurr, for example, omy are effective to be an ef has argued that "negotiated has proved regional autonomy wars of secession inWestern fective antidote for ethnopolitical and found or widely dispersed minorities."5 auton solutions involving regional

Third World
creating an

States."6Likewise, Kjell-Ake Nordquist has observed that


autonomy?"a mechanism self-governing in an internal intra-state region?as is both conflict a con

a theo armed flict-solving a in retical for the such and, very often, practical parties option of ethnoterri conflicts."7 Regional autonomy implies the introduction a occurs either when to linked It control toriality?territorial ethnicity. a an ethnic group or when as a homeland is created for region explicidy a of the population of an au group constitutes minority large majority tonomous state structure and it as its own. perceives are nevertheless almost universally reluctant to Central governments for autonomy for several reasons. First and fore to a territorial most, autonomy group minority they fear that granting secession of the re the first step toward the eventual would be merely as to one autonomy gion. Second, granting region may be perceived or discrimination autonomy against other inhabitants groups.8 Third, accede to demands increases
4

the risk of intervention

by

foreign

state affiliated

with

the

is possible, and when it does that ethnic conflict in such situations It must be noted, however, settlement patterns. occur, it is likely to be significantly more severe than in cases of less intermingled states would tend not to be over a part of the state's territory and its affiliation in intermingled Conflict but over the control of the state apparatus, that is, the entire territory of the state. The emergence of vi olent conflict in such situations would be significantly more likely to lead to large-scale ethnic cleans more difficult to draw, the conflict is likely a ing and/or genocide: geographic partition line being much to take place not on a warfront between two organized military formations but in civilian-inhabited areas over amuch the knowledge that a clean territorial break is im larger tract of territory. Moreover, or eliminate members or very difficult encourages the urge to of the other group and displace possible even the that it is necessary. A political solution would also imply that one would continue perception to live intermingled with members of the other group. This is in turn interpreted as a security threat to the own group and again increases the urge to expel or eliminate the other group, actions that are even own group s as defensive and This situation is referred well-being. indispensable for the conceptualized to as the "security dilemma". See, for example, Barry Posen, "The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Con flict," Survival 35, no. 1 (1993). 5 Ethnic Vi James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, "Weak States, Rough Terrain, and Large-Scale Political Science Associ of the American olence since 1945" (Paper presented at the annual meetings 16, emphasis in original. ation, Atlanta, September 2-5,1999), 6 Conflict and the Changing World Ted Robert Gurr, "Peoples against States: Ethnopolitical Sys Studies Quarterly 38 (Fall 1994), 366. tem," International 7 as a An Overview," inMarkku Mechanism: Conflict-Solving "Autonomy Kjell-Ake Nordquist, and Implications (The Hague: Kluwer, 1998), 59. Suksi, ta., Autonomy: Applications 8 in particular in states trying to build a in certain instances the central government, Interestingly, civic national identity, argues that granting autonomy to a minority population would be tantamount as second-class for example, sticks to its to defining that population citizens. The Turkish government,

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AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT

247

an In spite of such reservations, however, specific minority population.9 over number of ethnopolitical conflicts increasing territory have been settled by compromises such as the provi involving regional autonomy,

sion of autonomy to the Basques of Spain in 1980, theMiskitos of Nicaragua in 1990, the Nagas in India in 1972, and the Afars in
as a solution undoubt in 1977. The of autonomy Ethiopia popularity one of the few conceivable stems from its solu edly being compromise over the administrative tions in conflicts control of a specific territory. a Indeed, as will be discussed further, autonomy represents compromise on the issue of state itself. sovereignty Advocates of ethnofederalism fective conflict-resolving federalization of states multiethnic ethnic will lines ethnic conflict. along help prevent as In some of the literature, ethnofederalism has been characterized a terms what David Meyer for ethnic tensions.10 "cure-all prescription" There reason to argue that the institution considerable of is, however, co not to interethnic and territorial autonomy may be conducive peace seces but rather may foster ethnic mobilization, increased operation even armed conflict. Whereas and the merits of federalism sionism, since then have can doubt that ethnofederal solutions generated ethnic conflict. Several researchers have noted?usu structures may no be counterproductive under into made has been inquiry argue that autonomy mechanisms and that further solutions are ef

were widely lauded in the literature from the 1960s to 1990, develop
ments prevent effectively in federal ally passing?how certain circumstances.11 Yet

systematic to and why federal structures, designed forces, mitigate centrifugal a rudi instead may end up strengthening article outlines them. This con that may explain why ethnofederal theoretical framework mentary cause territorial rather than structs, specifically autonomy, may prevent how conflict. After the specific
existing

the logical case against territorial autonomy, presenting case of the South Caucasus the post-1991 and in particular

refusal for special rights to citizens of Kurdish origin, on the grounds that they are already enjoying all as first-class citizens of the Turkish republic; any special rights would imply their segre rights to second-class status. and by extension their diminishment gation from the rest of the population 9 See Ruth Lapidoth, Autonomy: Flexible Solutions toEthnic Conflict (Washington, D.C.: USIP Press, 1996), 203. By the same token it can be argued that the refusal to grant autonomy could be an even to intervene. stronger incentive for a state affiliated with the minority 10 of Territorial Control Create In David J.Meyer, "A Place of Our Own: Does the Ethnicization in Comparative Mobilization? Cases from the Caucasus centives for Elites to Conduct Ethno-Political at the Fifth Annual Convention for the Study of Na of the Association Perspective" (Paper presented tionalities, New York, April 2000). See, for example, Daniel J. Elazar, Federalism and the Way to Peace (fn. 9). 1994); also Lapidoth Queens University, (Kingston: 11 and Theories of Secession: Getting More from See, for example, Henry Hale, "Ethnofederalism for the Study of Nation of the Association the Soviet Cases" (Paper presented at the annual meeting alities, New York, April 1999); Robert Dorff, "Federalism in Eastern Europe: Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?" Publius: The Journal ofFederalism 24 (Spring 1994).

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248

WORLD

POLITICS

developments
contains tonomous velopments Georgia's tral level context, five

in the Republic of Georgia will be analyzed. Georgia


compactly settled

au were three of which minorities, an to at it presents compare de opportunity independence; status. minorities with different Moreover, among given

at the cen in political development size, the similarities on an and international and its effect minorities, analogous the five cases are comparable. small

Theoretical
A number of authors have

Aspects
attributed

on Autonomy

the collapse of three communist and the Soviet Union?to Czechoslovakia, federations?Yugoslavia, of the cen character.12 In each case, the weakening their ethnofederal tral state structure and its eventual dissolution were intimately Slovenian confederal related and lines

to the centrifugal policies pursued by powerful national elites in the


ethnically Croatian was defined demands In Yugoslavia, component republics. for a national restructuring along

cen in the former Soviet Union, the starting point of its demise; it in the Baltic republics, Russia the and tendencies Caucasus, trifugal on to its dissolution. literature self contributed However, significandy level and and ethnopolitical of analysis?that the Soviet Union conflict were has not federal of autonomous at this problem Yu Indeed, regions. states whose component explored

federalism a lower goslavia

were on and had only the nonterri technically equal footing republics center them. The federal center was le federal above nonethnic torial,

gitimized by the civic, ideological identity of the state. (Although it has


been was dominated by ethnic Russians argued that the Soviet Union extent assertion this has been of ethnic the and Yugoslavia Serbs, by was a Khrush Nikita After Stalin all, Georgian, credibly challenged. case a autonomous a of Tito and Marshal chev Croat.) The Ukrainian,

is different. As one or several specific minority regions have regions rest the them the country, from of been granted autonomy, segregating rests on an ethnic of the central government the legitimacy increasingly and territorial the majority Autonomy cial institutions ethnic areas, practically meaning in the country. group in a political refers to the power of so and legal context own to affairs by enacting legal rules." In "regulate their basis?the nonautomonous

12 and theNational See, for example, Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Question Reframed: Nationhood in theNew Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Philip G. Roeder, "Soviet Feder World Politics 43 (January 1991). For a recent treatment of the subject, alism and Ethnic Mobilization," States: The Breakup of see Carol Skalnik Leff, "Democratization inMultinational and Disintegration the Communist Federations," World Politics 51 (January 1999).

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AUTONOMY international

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT

249

is taken to mean that "parts of the state s law, autonomy en are authorized to govern themselves in certain matters by territory a state laws and statutes, but without of their constituting acting an ethnic group own."13 This refers to territorial autonomy, which gives self-rule?political ern its internal over a certain territory?in authority a to extent. Cultural affairs determined order to gov autonomy, by ethnic commu of particular to the in relation and duties

is a scheme whereby members contrast, are endowed nities with rights specific

is also used in certain countries for religious commu This government. nities?in Israel for Muslims and Christians and in India for Muslims. Members of particular groups may also be given special rights to pre serve their culture and the institution of native language, often through not is schools for minorities. Cultural autonomy territorially language

or group based be either individually based; it may still, nevertheless, or Both of and either voluntary forms autonomy must be compulsory.14 in of the the country and as such form particular grounded legal system a states system of In a broader sense, auton part ofthat government.15 can as to a re of be "the internal defined omy granting self-government a or group of persons, from thus recognizing gion partial independence the influence termined of the national or central "by the degree of actual autonomous in its entity joyed by the political is Territorial autonomy usually considered process."16 government," as well as formal which can be de en independence decision-making with synonymous to of references

as stated in the UN Charter?free "self-government" or automatic conflict with sovereignty avoiding independence?thereby not does the territorial of Cultural states.17 carry the autonomy integrity in territorial consequences autonomy: territory implicit far-reaching are not linked, there is no creation institu of statelike and ethnicity use the this article will otherwise tions. Therefore, unless specified, term autonomy to refer to territorial autonomy.

Autonomy
and The

Regimes

in the Literature:

Advantages
known. Given

Disadvantages

are of autonomy relatively well regimes advantages in the world, the multitude advocates of ethnic groups

of autonomy

13 in Suksi (fn. 7), 7. "On the Legal Understanding of Autonomy," Heintze, Hans-Joachim 14 for Mi in the Struggle over Autonomy Regimes Henry J. Steiner, "Ideals and Counter-Ideals norities," Notre Dame Law Review 66 (1991), 1542. 15 Ibid., 1542. 16Heintze(fn.l3),7. 17 UN Information 6 (New York, Documents of the UN Conference on International Organization, 1945), 296, cited inHeintze (fn. 13), 9. Organization, vol.

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250
argue order

WORLD POLITICS
that group rights need to be recognized to avoid the of hundreds proliferation structure of the international reduction below the state level in states. The threatened

of additional

by affairs by the or of substate entities such as ethnic, national, importance increasing as as well entities such as regional and groups, religious by suprastate is international the organizations. Autonomy basically only possible the relative to balance the conflicting interests of the group territorial compromise in the concept and the state; moreover, the flexibility inherent of au as it may be tailored to each enhances the situation, tonomy, particular to reduce ethnic tensions. work both therefore, may ability Autonomy, to prevent and to resolve ethnic conflict. Autonomy regimes, however, by protecting diversity, necessarily rely on the and their institutionalization that differences enrich assumption to Steiner: the world more it. According than they endanger "Auton survival in of ethnic minorities defend cultural omy regimes rights that has accompanied [the trend toward homogenization counteracting the Western international Indeed, system seems to be development]."18 toward a system of norms that protects difference moving by pressuring states into But such norms autonomy creating regimes for minorities. raise obvious ment creation and serious issues: "The ideal so in the human cannot of preserving difference readily be bent of autonomy such regimes Whereas regimes."19 move rights to support the are based on

traditional

system is already of the role of states in international

of equal protection, schemes autonomy imply forms of insti norm violate tutionalized that the of equal protection very separateness on in that they discriminate of reli among groups "explicitiy grounds ... or national home drive the race, [and thereby] gion, language, origin lesson that socioeconomic life and career turn on ethnic bonds." Fur thermore, claim autonomy regimes not only preserve but also lock into place re any

the norm

historical differences between groups; it is difficult to disagree with the


of segregated that "a state composed autonomy regimes would more a museum semble of social and cultural than antiquities Other and thus contrast, rights authors ideal."20

human

tial treatment

have argued that autonomy, the differen by involving of a certain group, may result in protests by other groups lead to conflict rather than preventing it.21A unitary state, by through integration?but with mechanisms for the full re

18 Steiner (fn. 14), 1550. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid., 1552. 21 See Douglas Sanders, "Collective

Rights," Human

Rights Quarterly

13 (August

1991).

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AUTONOMY

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT

251

spect of individual human rights as opposed to collective rights?pro vides equal opportunities and identical rules for all citizens of the state,
irrespective counteracts or state of color, ethnicity, unitary religion. The thereby arise from the polarization around such issues that would or federalism. solutions such as autonomy may in fact isolate Autonomy or economic its members the minority and prevent from political par

it makes in the larger sphere of the state. Accordingly, dia ticipation alienates within the between groups component society difficult, logue groups from one another, and leads to segregation.22 Lycks analysis of in Denmark illustrates one of the negative the Faroe Islands' autonomy it led the state to feel less for the of autonomy?that responsible is sentiment of the region.23 The general of the literature development its possible nevertheless of autonomy that the advantages supersede effects if the autonomy is designed, only occur, however, with created, and maintained necessary safeguards providing mechan future conflicts and for the regulation of possible isms to ensure not auto status. is of the autonomy's alterations eventual Autonomy a to the contrary, it is a solution that brings matically recipe for success; a number of and risks. dangers drawbacks. This can

Autonomy
Autonomous ism. The autonomous tween

and Sovereignty
regions, relationship are conducive to secession by their very nature, of a state and an between the central government the horizontal be resembles neither relationship a state and between relationship along politically they be organized a central government lines. When

sovereign

region states nor the vertical

its citizenry, of whether regardless or ethnic, ideological religious, to a of a the devolution grants autonomy given region, it acknowledges re own to the ofthat certain portion of its sovereignty representatives concedes that it no longer the central government gions population; over the lies the essence of has unlimited territory?herein jurisdiction same time, however, the central At the government autonomy. empha to itself in that the sizes the subordination of the autonomous region existence in its own territorial latter in no way compromises can two be units described between the the tegrity. Hence, relationship can be conceived an autonomous as of as a state within region diagonal; a state, even if neither party it. acknowledges officially of the
integration of eth

22 See M. Brems, Die Politische Integration Etnischer Minderheiten (The political nic minorities) (Frankfurt amMain: Lang, 1995), 142. 23 from the Faeroese Situation L. Lyck, "Lessons to be Learned on Autonomy Journal of International Law 64 (Fall 1995), 481-87.

since 1992," Nordic

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252
Autonomous

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POLITICS

are in the manner constructed of regions typically as well as state states?with and executive, bodies, legislative, judicial like symbols In fact, autonomies such as flags and coats-of-arms. may a never most state at share the primary attributes of but by definition autonomous often region, while a part of a sov the state; sovereign claiming sovereignty, to is certain of the confined deter autonomy ereignty always partial, as culture and economy. Yet, the institution mined such of an spheres tribute?complete An sovereignty. is by definition state itself is no implies that the longer to share its it the au has sovereign; sovereignty with completely agreed on an tonomous extreme basis. One region?albeit unequal example, as "a state within is defined the Republic of Bashkortostan, sovereign seem a contradiction in Federation." The definition the Russian may autonomous region nonetheless the variety of tailored solutions over claims navigating contending sovereignty.24 That there is no blueprint for the conduct of relations terms, autonomous fulness and the central contributes but it exemplifies available between for an

government region or preven as a mechanism of conflict resolution of autonomy to the tion?it is flexible of a specific and adaptable specific grievances of Within the and states, re minority. sovereign "society" independent are based on certain lations between all members generally accepted such as the equality of states, noninterference, and the invi of The of of human borders. olability increasing universality principles are of of but not and democratic government growing examples rights, state-citizen rules governing relations. The relation yet fully accepted principles, a central government and its autonomous ship between elements of both of these relationships. region(s) shares

to the use

Autonomy
The cause

and Secessionism
of autonomous

to secessionism be regions is conducive a titular of and the separate identity promoting institutionalizing to act, and estab and willingness group increases that group's cohesion to act.25 institutions increases the lishing political capacity ofthat group institution
24 View from Ildus G. Ilishev, "Russian Federalism: Political, Legal and Ethnolingual Aspects?A as an ap the Republic of Bashkortostan," Nationalities Reproduced Papers 26 (Fall 1998), 724-759. on the Mutual to the article is the of Powers between the State Organs of pendix Treaty Derogation in Stanovlenie Dogov the Russian Federation and the State Organs of the Republic of Bashkortostan, iRossiyskoy Federatsii, 1990-1996 gg., Sbornik Dokumentov ornykh Otnosheniy Respubliku Bashkortostan (Ufa, 1997). 25 to act, and capacity to act have been identified as the major categories Group cohesion, willingness of factors leading to conflict in the literature on ethnopolitical conflict. See, for example, Gurr (fn. 2, 2000).

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AUTONOMY

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT areas: borders, and external group support.

253 identity,

affects each of the following Autonomy mass media, state institutions, leadership, BORDERS An integral characteristic of of autonomous the union.

regions The

is that they have of borders

rec

ognized and clearly delimited borders?which


peared on most maps

in the Soviet case ap


is

importance

emphasized by Benedict Anderson in his classic work Imagined Com in his recent work SiamMapped. munities and Thongchai Winichakul
Winichakul re as "amap refers to Southeast Asia anticipated spatial a map was a model not vice versa. In other words, rather than for, ality, a real in a model to represent... it had become it purported of, what on the earth's surface. A map was to concretize strument projections to back up their claims_"26 of what he terms the "map rivers, mountains, and neigh

now necessary for the new administration to the Anderson points special importance as-logo," a map on which place names,

bors all disappear and only the borders of the territory in question
to the world." is hence "pure sign, no longer compass remain; the map can then be used for in this format the map As he demonstrates, and textbook official "transfer to posters, seals, letterheads, magazine covers ... the visible, pen logo-map everywhere instantly recognizable, a emblem etrated deep into the popular imagination, forming powerful same process oc nationalisms for the anticolonial being born."27 The to enti its curred in the former Soviet Union with component respect

ties. The maps?with


republics, in existence autonomous

the borders and shapes of the individual

and autonomous regions?were long republics, inhabi the 1980s and had been so for as long as most by and bor tants could remember. As in Anderson's these maps example, since the internal borders of the Soviet ders antedated spatial realities For au and practical little historical carried Union importance. or or tonomous the minorities, however, region's shape, map, republic a most of borders had significant given for being importance, symbolic

its inhabitants. With


came an

the breakup of the Soviet Union,

this symbol be

an tool in the hands important important rallying point and a more the task of delim On of political entrepreneurs. practical note, an new was state already completed, iting the borders of the imagined over the situation of nonautonomous minorities. obvious advantage
26Thongchai Winichakul, Hawaii Press, 1994). 27Anderson(fn.2),175. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body ofSiam (Honolulu: University of

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254
GROUP IDENTITY Several

WORLD POLITICS

enti the importance of autonomous recognized ties in sustaining, and and cohe group promoting, enhancing identity sion. Gurr, for example, notes that "the capacity for collective action is researchers have relatively high

re that control an autonomous [in the case of] groups of eth for the promotion gional government."28 The primary instrument to nic identity is the education system. According Dmitry Gorenburg: Instilling a strong sense of ethnic community in individuals requires them to be exposed early and frequently to information about their ethnic identity. In the context of Soviet nationalities policy, this exposure came primarily through the
education for most ministrative cated identity taught to of of native education system. By establishing systems separate language own the their ethnic that had ethno-territorial ad groups minority an institution the Soviet in effect dedi created units, government a common reinforced and history and separate identity in the classroom, ancestors, among where were the titular students students as . .. the were having

instilling was further culture

the

of their

who

portrayed

a direct genetic link with the members of the modern ethnic group.29 STATE INSTITUTIONS Autonomous crucial factors tonomous regions in typically possess ethnic statelike institutions Unlike that can be

nonau promoting autonomous in minorities minorities, regions typically have as act and that of governments parliaments legitimate representatives their ethnic constituencies and constitute legitimate decision-making mobilization. bodies. from Parliaments the central can pass government, status hence has institu autonomous A minority with independence. state authorities in tions for challenging general and its specific policies con in and actions lacking such institutions, particular. A minority by more find mounting such a challenge difficult. trast, would Popular contexts be in certain and demonstrations movements, may petitions, even to influence state effective ways such policy; however, organizing are structures easier if autonomous of dismay al considerably sense of exist. the of the actions Beyond increasing ready legitimacy structures are crucial in any at taken by the minority, decision-making demands from the level of quiet dissatis tempt to raise ethnopolitical a faction to that of direct action. As Meyer "institutes notes, autonomy a of authority, stratification administrative into subordinating personnel shows
28 Gurr (fn. 2,2000). 29 for the Masses: "Nationalism Dmitry Gorenburg, Popular Ethnic Republics," Europe-Asia Studies 53 (January 2001), 74.

laws, refuse language and issue declarations

to accept legislation of sovereignty and

Support

for Nationalism

in Russia's

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AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT


defined dures hierarchy"; and positive moreover, sanctions it "establishes for the execution standard operating of its bureaucratic

255
proce

roles, and negative sanctions for poor performance, however that is defined In other words, Structure the exis by the Autonomous leadership."30 tence of a nationalist structure autonomous in the often leadership a more nation to follow suit and entire the compels bureaucracy adopt alist profile. LEADERSHIP fact that autonomous also means regions have governments to any process of have leaders?essential mobilization. The they a an autonomous of of the leadership region, having position relatively on to in a manner which institutionalized base stand, is therefore strong cannot be. of a regular popular national movement that the leadership to As Meyer of its execu suggests, autonomy gives "a stamp legitimacy The very that tives proved and to the rule of the titular of various a single institution also formalizes ethnic group," and "facilitates nationalists im cohesion mobilizing by can unite."31 Institu they ensure that a rules for succession, helping a in leadership. The exis could withstand change structures, especially in regions where the titular ethno-politically around which

providing tionalization "national tence

struggle" of autonomous

ethnic group is the demographic majority, also increases the likelihood


to further their own am of politicians ethnic mobilization promoting is the source of power for bitions. of autonomy Since the institution a vested interest in increasing leading regional elites, the leadership has corre elite power is positively their region's level of self-government; a vested elite has the level of autonomy. the lated with Consequently, interest in maintaining high nationalist from sentiment below tion, thereby ensuring level of autonomy. MASS MEDIA Governmental mass authorities in autonomous regions also often control the Ac stations, and newspapers. can influence of the the attitudes pressure the popula among to sustain or enhance the

cordingly,

television, media?including not these authorities only in the

radio

term the education system, but often long through news coverage and de the population through directly events in of speed piction speaking, propaganda?and media?plainly up the process of ethnic mobilization. population can influence
30Meyer(fn.lO),2. 31 Ibid.

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256 EXTERNAL SUPPORT The

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POLITICS

international political

(and perhaps legal) standing of an au

tonomous because, tutions more

to that of a nonautonomous is superior minority minority as autonomous minorities insti mentioned, possess previously and the granting of autonomy entails the recognition by the

of its sovereignty. Therefore, external support is an to be autonomous since there for likely minority forthcoming is an institution in place to which funds and other types of support can be channeled. As

state of the devolution

there are a multitude of factors by which enumerated, autonomy to create could hinder interethnic and Even peace. attempts harmony of if the this correct, proven though practical implications proposition, are not is an un large, they would necessarily imply that autonomy to construct workable be avoided at all cost. In particular, it i&necessary to draw those in which the important armed distinction conflict between postconflict has not occurred. Where it may situations there and is armed to take facto itwill situa haz no how

conflict, especially territorial claims control

if it is over

a into group has de minority to assume of a portion of territory, it is often unrealistic surrender claims to any of its authority over that territory. In such territorial and potentially tions, autonomy, though imperfect or be the available feasible Where ardous, may only compromise. armed clashes have occurred between defined groups, ethnically territory through the institution of autonomy. Where there

territory, account. Where

be unavoidable

ever, it is both desirable and practicable to avoid the ethnicization of


is still a

possibility of supporting cross-cutting identities and discouraging the linking of territory to ethnicity, this should be done, and ethnofederal
solutions should be avoided.

Autonomy
Before

and Rival Explanations


it is the given even be

to a moving deeper analysis of the regional developments, to several critics' potential address necessary challenges?that in the former Soviet context of is misplaced, autonomy analysis that true autonomy did not exist; a credible argument could

made that for most practical purposes, the Soviet Union differed little
state. However, from a unitary this would miss the point?one of the to which mechanisms with relation conflict autonomy operates through structure and is in the realms of institutional in cer symbols. Moreover, tain realms such as education the creation of and, equally important, national cadres and elites, federal structure was functional throughout

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AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT


the Soviet era even though real political autonomy was absent.

257
As

Carol Skalnik Leff has arguedwith reference to the union republic level
institutional arrange in practice the role they were earlier accorded on paper: "It is in that context that the bargaining environment for ethnonational differs from that of uni clearly disputes course of states: in federal multinational the tary opening, political ments took on structures in the former Yugoslavia the time during and USSR, of transition ethnofederal

isting political order and offer distinctive opportunities to key actors in


the transition."32 union This under republics the case of autonomous Another statement, although written a nonterritorial federal center, in the context is equally valid of for

provide

republic-level

political

bases

for challenges

to the ex

regions. be the assertion that that can be preempted would objection in the first the minorities that were autonomy initially granted place were those minorities with greater grievances and in a higher degree of is normally their central government. After all, autonomy to in ethnic that have such demands; response groups expressed granted more are to secessionism renewed demands experience likely arguably such claims in the past. However, than minorities that have not voiced conflict with the more than

viet Union
ethnic

in the 1920s and 1930s were not established as a result of


The very structure of the Soviet state was built on eth

thirty

autonomous

regions

that were

created

in the So

demands.

a and assigned nic federalism; minority evaluated, groups were mapped, to the decision the whims of certain often status, highest according as to full explanation Stalin himself. The makers, why certain notably and others did not may never be avail minorities received autonomy to had little that the decisions it is safe able; argue, however, relatively to do with actual ethnic demands.

At the end of the Soviet era in the three South Caucasian republics
of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Four tled minorities.33 had there were nine compacdy and Georgia, an autonomous status: the Armenians set of

Nagorno-Karabakh inAzerbaijan and the South Ossetians inGeorgia held autonomous regions; and the Abkhaz and Ajars inGeorgia held
autonomous the Soviet Az?ris a level of self-determination higher republics with nonautonomous state structure. The minorities the Az?ris of Georgia, the Armenians within were the of Georgia,

of Armenia,

is defined as an ethnically defined population group under the jurisdiction of a ter in the South Caucasus, Au the Nakhjivan titular nationality. Hence, ritorial unit with a distinct of Nakhjivan was and tonomous Republic is left outside the scope of the study since the population remains homogeneously (93 percent) and under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani-populated

32Leff(fn.l2),210. 33 Here minority

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258

WORLD POLITICS

and the Lezgins andTalysh of Azerbaijan.34 In the upheaval of the late


Soviet years Azerbaijan, tween central upon both first and during and Georgia, the transition to ethnic three violent of Armenia, independence conflicts broke out, all be minorities. This outcome, because

in a region where autonomous minorities and nonautonomous exist, one logically assume that nonautonomous minorities would have more griev would ances and therefore would to the central gov be more likely challenge counterintuitive ernment minorities those would than would tend those autonomous enjoying a status tend to demand with autonomy, satisfied in the South with status. similar their Nonautonomous to that enjoyed by autonomous minorities current status. How and of the late 1980s

governments seems reflection,

and autonomous

already

endowed

whereas Caucasus

likely ever, the pattern

to be more of conflict

early 1990s did not follow such logic. From the start of the process of political liberalization under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, no broad
or credible movement based, well-organized, among separatist emerged nonautonomous autonomous of the five whereas all four minorities, any

minorities

displayed high levels of separatism, with all but one case


Is this apparent correspondence spu link between and conflict? autonomy of ethnic conflict that a wide va suggests

in armed conflict. (Ajaria) ending rious or is it indicative of a causal The literature on the causes

a role in the occurrence of conflict or the riety of factors play explaining was it must be indeed decisive, lack thereof. To prove that autonomy over from cultural differences isolated from other factors?which range discrimination to external and geographic, factors. topographic, and economic conditions

Amid
the South

this multitude of explanatory factors, it should be noted that


Caucasus displays of autonomy certain that facili specific characteristics as a root cause of conflict. First, the Cau

tate the isolation

casian republics' membership in the Soviet Union brought with it similar levels of both political freedom and discrimination. This also held true for the different minority populations in the individual re
publics. Although khaz in Georgia groups, proper showed this minorities claim to have and such as Armenians suffered more its political Soviet Union or in Azerbaijan must or Ab than other be put in state that discrimination

allegation The perspective. little respect were

implications was a totalitarian political rights

for the human the targets

of its citizens, to blame for

thereby making it difficult to determine whether specific groups or the


entire population of state abuse. Who was
34 see Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and For a detailed overview of the conflicts in the Caucasus, Great Powers: A Study ofEthnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus (Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 2001)

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AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT


discrimination?the decisions matter hood were taken republics or the central Soviet state? Blaming

259
re

publican governments would actually be somewhat illogical ifmajor


of perception. that conflict will inMoscow; discrimination regardless, It is ultimately in assessing irrelevant ensue whether is largely a the likeli

discrimination has actually taken matters is is what whether there the of discrimination. place; perception to this, most While there have been exceptions in the case of notably

the "repressedpeoples" deported under genocidal conditions during the


in the South Cauca group present population to such treatment.35 And of today subjected perceptions were autonomous in discrimination entertained elites regions, by no to do so for nonautonomous mi elite existed whereas comparable Second World sus was War, ever norities. In terms of geography, in this study were located all minorities their of with ethno regions contiguous respective republics, across the border. All minorities are related linguistically living peoples in border no

to the in terms of size and are all comparable vasdy inferior numerically of the state they inhabit. Moroever, the rela titular population given size South existence small of the Caucasus and the of tively geographic in the three installations republics dur equally "porous" Soviet military transition the of the of from communism, availability ing period was entire minorities. for all the Indeed, weapons region is comparable as a can in be treated saturated with arms, another factor that parameter the study. Hence, elimination from equal Yet scores. given the diversity of factors cited in the literature that have a situation permits the the specifics of the Caucasian the study of those factors on which all cases have

bearing on the likelihood of ethnopolitical conflict, there aremany fac


tors besides outcome. autonomy The factors account for the variation in that can potentially extent to the of cul study include the pertinent

between the minority tural differences group and the titular population of the state was civic or of the state; whether the national conception to accommodation); ethnic in character (the latter being less conducive

the intensity of past conflict and mythification


of the minority's larly mountains;36 region, whether that

thereof; the topography

of rough terrain, particu is, the existence dominated the minority demographically

the region it inhabits;whether minority populations had ethnic kin in


35 The Meskhetian Turks of Southern Georgia were deported in 1943 but have not yet been allowed to return to their native lands. 36 Fearon and Laitin find that "mountain groups were six times more likely to see large-scale fight a the Soviet collapse." As they note, moreover, rough terrain is useful tool ing with the state following can "sustain to significant guerrilla conflicts with the state.* explain how minorities with small numbers Fearon and Laitin (fn. 5), 18-20.

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260 neighboring economically

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POLITICS region among support was the for

the minority-populated whether countries; a radical leadership existed viable; whether and finally, whether there was of these factors interplay with earlier, autonomy increases external

minority population; the minority. Several for reasons listed described above positively

indeed, autonomy; of the likelihood

mythification
factors to correlate ment?and One

of past conflicts aswell as of radical leadership. All the


can be formulated with as that are expected propositions the level of ethnic mobilization and hence

also with the likelihood of aminority challenge to the central govern


hence can obtain the level of conflict.37 priori with a indication of the role played by autonomy rough its correlation its correlation with conflict with with a

by comparing other factors. Although the number of cases and number of independ out ent variables in this study any statistically precludes significant various the of come, contrasting factors, including presence autonomy, or not of conflict a mea in the given case, provides with the existence sure of the value of the possible causal factor in question. In explanatory to statistical this the Fisher Exact terms, Test, corresponds Probability

a technique for analyzing discrete data with

small samples. This

is

a score of or "no" to each done, first, by assigning "yes" straightforward case on the occurrence of conflict?Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, are cases an armed in which South Ossetia conflict has occurred, a score of six are not. Then, in the same manner, "yes" or "no" is ex to each case for each causal factor. The assigned possible is then its value of each factor assessed correlation planatory by viewing or nonoccurrence In case of a with the occurrence of conflict. perfect whereas the other all areas of "no conflict" would covariation, tor in and cases of conflict would question, Table case 1 summarizes as the findings is considered have a "no" score on the fac a score. "yes" of causal factors. A all have

of this overview

the proposition if a "no" score on the supporting a "no" score on the occurrence or if a factor is matched of conflict, by score on the factor is matched a score on the occurrence "yes" by "yes" of conflict.38
37 does not automatically Ethnie mobilization carry with it ethnic conflict; conflict only occurs if the can take central government decides to answer the minority's challenge by force. Secession, of course, cases of peace place peacefully, if the government simply lets go of the province in question; however, elite either through ful secession are diminutively few. Another option is the cooptation of the minority or integration in the central government simply through bribery. In the final analysis, it is nevertheless on the the norm and not the exception that a minority subject of territory is answered by challenge force on the part of the central government. 38 The full supporting information and the coding of factors and cases relevant to this study, includ ing tables for each factor, is available at http://www.cornellcaspian.com/autonomy.html.

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AUTONOMY

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT Table 1 in Nine


of Cases Value

261

Autonomy

and Rival

Explanations
Number

Caucasian

Cases

Causal

Factor 8

Supporting

Factors

Explanatory

Autonomy

External support 7 Past conflict 7 Economic viability 7 Rough terrain 6 Radical leadership 6
Ethnic/civic national conception 6

Cultural differences 5 Ethnic kin 4


Demographic dominance 3

a full cor the ten possible causal factors surveyed, none displays in seven of relation. The explanatory value of three factors is supported nine cases, but only one indicator?autonomy?is supported by eight Of

of the nine cases. Only the case of Ajaria (inGeorgia) does not support
is a factor leading to conflict; it represents the proposition that autonomy a case of an autonomous not armed conflict region that had experienced not its central government. This the argu with does jeopardize finding as mentioned a ment made in this is neither earlier, autonomy study; nor a sufficient factor for conflict to take necessary place. Indeed, of the more than one dozen autonomous only one?Chechnya?has This brief survey in the Russian republics in armed conflict with engaged Federation, since Russia

the political liberalization of theUSSR began in the late 1980s.


the basis of the theoretical argument strengthens more since than any other factor men autonomy previously presented, in for the emergence of ethnic conflict tioned in the literature accounts the Caucasus. This, as a cause of ethnic cases of given Perhaps, could be spu result, the correlation satisfactory of the survey does not add to our understanding a nor that in practice make conflict does factor; autonomy to in and under which interrelation which circumstances, becomes important a contributing to further factor investigate to ethnopolitical the available however, conflict. does not prove that autonomy the insufficient indeed number acts

for a statistically rious. Moreover, this

mechanisms

it explain other factors, autonomy It is therefore conflict. empirical record.

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262

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POLITICS

Autonomy
The comparability

in Practice: and Georgia

Conflicts
cases three

in Georgia,
in the brief countries. survey

1987-2000
of Armenia,

of the nine in these

Azerbaijan,
economic tal policies, individual

is hampered by the divergent political and


General governmen and the level, foreign relations of any its policies toward minorities. While

developments turmoil at the central state may have affected

a detailed study of all nine cases is beyond the scope of this article, it is both expedient and useful to focus on Georgia, which displays the full
range of variations have held found in this study. Georgia areas since still includes five com

pactly settled minorities;


autonomous

the Ajars, South Ossetians,

and Abkhazians

the 1920s, whereas the Armenians and Az?ris have never had any autonomy. The following analysis will cover events from 1987?when movements the first toward dissocia

tion with the Soviet Union emerged inGeorgia?to 2000. During this in conflict armed occurred Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ajaria period, has maintained a high level of autonomy, involving a sometimes high
level of The political Armenian but not armed conflict with in the Javakheti minority with its situation, dissatisfaction Finally, the Azeri the government of Georgia. ex has region occasionally but has not seen has been any major almost com

pressed ethnic mobilization.

minority

pletely quiet during this period. The most violent armed conflict inGeorgia took place inAbkhazia,
where to secure control over the en the separatist leadership managed tire territory, even though the ethnic Abkhaz formed less than 2 percent autonomous A similar region. phenomenon, in the South Ossetian Autonomous two-thirds although to a lesser

of Georgias population and only 17 percent of the population of their


own degree, occurred Ossetians constituted sixty-seven gain control the Region, where but only numbered to still managed leadership

of the population

thousand; yet their separatist half the of could such developments have territory. How as the taken place in these two regions especially government Georgian was to secession it aggressively? and fought adamantly opposed By contrast, armed conflict curred, even

for a decade warned observers of though political no oc the Javakheti Armenians, such conflict involving in spite of existing In fact, among tensions. the six cases in

which no conflict took place, Javakhetis scores indicated the highest


for conflict (seven indicative factors, compared with five in propensity in three other cases, and three fac four indicators dicators for Ajaria, from those of Abkhazia or South Ossetia only by its lack of autonomy.

tors in the case of theTalysh of Azerbaijan). Javakhetis scores differed

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AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT


Why did a credible as indicators and strong separatist would show? movement not emerge

263
in

Javakheti,

the only case of an autonomous represents Finally, Ajaria not the South Caucasus in violent conflict with engaging

region in its central

government. Though
conflict there, Ajaria

few other indicators pointed to a high risk of


had experienced many of the same circumstances

that led to conflict inAbkhazia and South Ossetia. How Ajars avoid armed conflict?
These detail. four cases, as well as the Az?ris, will be examined

then did the


in further

Abkhazia:

The

Impossible Happening

The conflict inAbkhazia occurred against all odds.39 In 1989, the eth nic Abkhaz formed only 17 percent of the ASSR population of half a
million, cent, accounted for 45 percent, Georgians and Russians 12 percent. tensions Interethnic while Armenians had erupted 14 per briefly

in 1978 and 1988 but remained limited. In June 1989, however, ethnic clashes in the capital Sukhumi left a dozen dead and hundreds
wounded.40 Despite whereas these incidents, Abkhazia in was relatively calm dur

ing the rule of the nationalist


1990-92,

politician Zviad Gamsakhurdia


the Os

in
the that

Georgia?including and Az?ris?had relations with setians, Armenians, uneasy Ajars, center. It was Gamsakhurdia's in fall from power after early 1992

all other minorities

tensions began heating up between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. Historian Vladislav Ardzinba was elected chair of the Abkhaz
1990. Soon after, a new electoral law was a seats for adopted, providing sixty-five-seat parliament. Twenty-eight were re reserved for the Abkhaz, for and the twenty-six Georgians, were mainder distributed and Greeks. Russians, among the Armenians, Supreme Soviet in December Hence, Abkhaz 17 percent of the population, the despite only constituting seats. A 43 percent of the parliamentary controlled parliament

was elected along these lines in fall 1991 amid unrest inTbilisi
eventually into two brought factions?an down the Gamsakhurdia but Abkhaz-led group

that

regime, split of non mostly composed and the Georgian group. The main dispute between deputies Georgian over on the factions occured the need for two-thirds majority "impor

it soon

tant" issues that had been defined only vaguely in the electoral code. It was resisted by the Abkhaz-led group but insisted upon by the Geor
gians, who saw the measure as a guarantor of their position.
14-16. 39 For a detailed overview of the conflict, see Cornell (fn. 34), 142-96. 40 See, for example, Current Digest of the Soviet Press 41, no. 29 (1989),

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264 Prior to the election

WORLD of the

POLITICS

Moscow-sponsored viet Union. Whereas

referendum

fused to hold the referendum, it was held in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the Georgian population loyal to Tbilisi boycotted the
Developments in November when the Caucasus vote. of a regional nature also Sukhumi hosted a congress took place in Abkhazia, of Mountain of Peoples Caucasian includ peoples

arose over a tensions parliament, on a new to restructure the So treaty to the Georgian secede, re government, seeking

and North (where Ossetians were a document the that adopted estab Chechens ing represented) a "Confederative Union of Mountain of the Caucasus". lishing Peoples

Throughout 1991, Abkhazia continued to distance itself increasingly from Georgia by building up a political system enshrining the domi nance of theAbkhaz ethnic group and by forging ethnic coalitions both inAbkhazia (withArmenians and Russians) and regionally (with north
Caucasian

Tbilisi, and in early summer 1992, a high-level Georgian delegation traveled to Sukhumi to discuss the division of powers between Tbilisi
and Sukhumi, but the talks led nowhere.41 As tensions rose between the soon two sides, the Abkhaz Vladislav declared Ab leader, Ardzinba, a somewhat to state khazia "strong enough fight Georgia," surprising

peoples).

These

centrifugal

developments

drew

attention

in

ment given the Abkhaz's demographic position and lack of military


or equipment training.42 Nonetheless, its 1925 constitution instated defining that same summer, Abkhazia it as an independent state.43 re

This ethnopolitical activity at the helm of theAbkhaz ASSR would have been impossible without ethnic Abkhaz domination of political
the Abkhaz republic. As the titular nationality, benefited from affirmative action policies that ensured full control over institutions In addi their vast numerical republican despite inferiority. tion to the quota of seats in the republican reserved for eth parliament nic Abkhaz, in practice, more than two-thirds of government ministers and local communist heads were also ethnic Abk party department haz.44 Hence Armenian by forming populations, alliances guaranteeing with segments control over of the Russian the parliament, and the life in the autonomous

Abkhaz could dominate the political development of the republic and


41 BBC Monitoring Service, June 18,1992, 16,1992. quoting Russian television "Rossiya/'June 42 to Service, July 30,1992. "Georgia: Abkhazia 'Strong Enough Fight Georgia,'" BBC Monitoring 43 BBC Monitoring Service, July 25,1992. The 1925 constitution did stipulate that Abkhazia was tied a a to and was cer special union treaty, but de facto it amounted to secession from Georgia Georgia by as such inTbilisi. tainly perceived 44 See Darrell Slider, "Democratization inGeorgia," in Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds., Con Press, flict, Cleavage and Change in Central Asia and the Caucasus (Cambridge: Cambridge University 1991), 170.

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AUTONOMY

as

source

of

conflict

265 against the


struc institu for their of es a peace

guide policy toward the central government


wishes tions weak of the Georgian plurality. The tures was a sine qua non for the Abkhaz and thereby the demographic territory status. existence to control

in Tbilisi

of autonomous the political

of Abkhazia,

compensating the challenge Achieving the violent

Despite tablishing ful secession

these republican structures, controlling an was Abkhazia daunting. independent

given appeared unlikely, particularly Georgian to Ossetian not the Abkhaz response separatism. Moreover, only had to contend with the resources mobilized state, by the entire Georgian

but also had to deal with themany ethnic Georgians loyal toTbilisi liv ing inAbkhazia. Given that the prospect of achieving independence by
arms must khaz The tions have seemed authorities events during shed some light on the calcula that followed, however, their that may have underlain confidence. controlled and Poorly the confidence far-fetched, displayed summer 1992 looks perplexing. by Ab

disciplined Georgian paramilitary forces attacked Abkhazia inmid August, occupying Sukhumi and driving back the Abkhaz formations
to the Russian border. Yet the Abkhaz counterattacked ber, suddenly help equipped with heavy armaments, casian volunteers, air support. and Russian Sukhumi in Abkhazia sudden were evicted. An in unstable in early Octo from North Cau was eventually has essen inAbkhazia The in

recaptured by Abkhaz forces in September 1993, and virtually allGeor


gians living cease-fire

tially held since late 1993, interrupted in early 1994 and during May
1998.45 The outside close increase ethnopolitical assertiveness in the event and Russian

in 1992 may have been partly conditioned by existing knowledge that


support would relations between be forthcoming Abkhaz leaders of conflict. military forces

the North Caucasus are fairlywell known,46 so it is likely that the heavy military equipment supplied to theAbkhaz was in keeping with exist
ing agreements. A number of factors and conflict in Abkhazia. clearly contributed to the ethnic mobilization

with Georgia?particu Existing grievances over the state's in the 1990-92 toward minorities larly period? policies a tense situation a in that could foster role creating significant played in the country. Moreover, the ethnic mobilization among ^//minorities cause was of external support for the secessionist availability especially important in guiding the Abkhaz toward confrontation. But the crucial

45 See Cornell (fn. 34), chap. 4. 46 Ibid., 142-96.

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266 factor was the existence

WORLD

POLITICS structures that enabled the eth elite

of autonomous Without

nic Abkhaz
would

to form a political elite that took control over the territory


of Abkhazia. had on the necessary autonomy, institutions?such the Abkhaz as the Supreme

and administration not have decide

Soviet of the Abkhaz Autonomous


mately secession

Republic?with
Such

which

to legiti
also en

from Georgia.

institutions

hanced theAbkhaz elites' ability towin external support.Through the


struc and channels from Soviet Communist inherited linkages Party access to contacts in elites Abkhaz had the former Soviet tures, military can forces that were crucial in securing support for the struggle. There be little doubt that the existence of autonomy was a sine qua non for the Abkhaz secession from Georgia.

South Ossetia:
much

The Power

of a Parliament seceding from Georgia was initially not


While ethnic Ossetians, unlike the Ab

The chance of South Ossetia


greater than Abkhazia's.

khaz, did form amajority (of just over two-thirds) of their autonomous
regions in 1989, their numbers population out of a thousand sixty-seven population sand. However, almost a hundred thousand regions of Georgia. Like the Abkhaz, were diminutive?roughly of only ninety-eight thou Ossetians lived scattered in South Ossetians were a

other brethren Ossetia

comparatively smallminority within Georgia, but they also had ethnic


in the North in Russia. Caucasus?the 1988 Autonomous A November of North Republic law strengthening of the position

theGeorgian language in South Ossetia led to disturbances the follow


was the first ing year.47 This in earnest laws," which began has been termed a "war of step in what an in the fall of 1989.48 With perestroika,

Ossetian popular front called Ademon Nykhas emerged, and in spring 1989 it addressed an open letter to theAbkhaz people, supporting their
claims. Isolated instances of violence in started occurring and guerrilla attacks by both Ossetian and Georgian Ossetia, armed bands were reported throughout the summer. In August, Tbilisi to make took measures the sole official for use in Georgian language South public where life.49 Such only a 14 percent would South Ossetia? have affected provision a of Ossetians knew Georgian?to higher de secessionist

47 See Elizabeth Fuller, "Draft 'State Program' on Georgian Language Published," Radio Liberty Re search Report no. 559/88, December 12,1988. 48 of the Conflicts," See Catherine Dale, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Dynamics in Pavel Baev and Ole Berthelsen, eds., Conflicts in the Caucasus, Report no. 3 (Oslo: International Peace Research Insti tute, 1996), 13-26. 49 See Elizabeth Fuller, "South Ossetia: Analysis of a Permanent Crisis," Report on the USSR, Feb ruary 15,1991,21.

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AUTONOMY gree or Abkhazia, than Ajaria of autonomy. This hierarchy tion with tion North toMoscow Ossetia, in support

as

source

of

conflict status

267
in the for unifica sent a peti

lower given South Ossetia's fueled an emerging movement and accordingly Ademon Nykhas ofthat effort.

By Interior Ministry nic clashes began

late September,

tensions

in early November South Ossestia be upgraded

troops had to calm the situation, to erupt attempts despite the South Ossetian Soviet demanded Supreme to the status of an autonomous

had grown to the point where additional to be in to secure order. Intereth brought and that

republic.

Within
Union, clashes

aweek, Georgia

affirmed its right to secede from the Soviet

in South Ossetia; the tensions interethnic resulting a refurnish the fall left several dead.50 Meanwhile, throughout the within the took South Ossetian elite, moving ing Supreme place of Ademon The Gamsakhurdia Soviet closer to the position Nykhas. exacerbating responded that was billed in late November attended by march over by organizing ten thousand a "March people. but Ossetians on The

government Tskhinvali"51 march was

perceived armed clash Ministry coming

as "a peaceful it as a show offeree contained

for reconciliation," the marchers, and blocked forces until

(clashes, elections,

only by armored continued nonetheless,

to an leading of the Soviet Interior 1990). Geor

January

gian legislation inAugust

1990 banned regional parties from the up

Soviet immediately Supreme status to that of an its "Independent upgrading riposted by unilaterally to the elections Soviet of Soviet Democratic Supreme Republic." After and the South Ossetian the "new" South Ossetia Oblast.52 conflict. The dia and eased as change of government to power the accession but the collapse inTbilisi after the ouster Shevardnadze of Gamsakhur temporarily in the amassed of Eduard were held of Soviet in early December troops was now 1990, the Geor armed

gian Supreme Soviet abolished


Only the presence

the South Ossetian Autonomous


preventing

tensions, duels

of the Soviet Union?resulting Caucasian volunteers

removal of Soviet peacekeeping troops?led


artillery in North Ossetia, accelerated much as and North

to conflict by April 1992

Russian

government

The later to support Abkhazia. they would the Ossetians sided with and by late also openly

50 Ibid. 51 in J. and Boundary Dispute," Ossetian Territorial See Julian Birch, "The Georgian/South Wright is the capital of the South et al., eds., Transcaucasian Boundaries (London: SOAS, 1995), 182.Tskhinvali Ossetian Autonomous Region. 52 on the See Elizabeth Fuller, "Georgian Parliament Votes to Abolish Ossetian Autonomy," Report Humanitarian Law Rachel Denber, Bloodshed in the Caucasus: Violations of 21,1990,8; USSR, December and Human Rights in the Georgia-South Ossetia Conflict (New York: Helsinki Watch, 1992), 8.

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268

WORLD POLITICS

spring 1992 there was a substantial risk of the conflict turning into a
new threat nevertheless forced Georgias war.53 This Georgian-Russian a to to in 1992 submit late Russian-led government June peacekeeping force that effectively from approximately removed Georgia half of South Ossetias thousand tonomous in which was territory.

The Georgian-Ossetian
Ossetians within The

conflict initially involved only the sixty-five


the borders escalated of the South Ossetian Au as a result of a "war of laws," in South Ossetia parliament political aspirations The that

Region. a Soviet formerly rubber-stamp into a vehicle transformed for Ossetian and later unilaterally declared in the institutions regions

conflict

within amonth decided to make Ossetian


Ossetia autonomous

the state language of South


role of the of the conflict was

independence. development

critical. In September 1989, before Gamsakhurdias march on Tskhin vali, Ademon Nykhas had already petitioned for the unification of
North extreme laws. The with Moscow and South stand South Ossetia within following Ossetian the enunciation an Federation, adopting of the language Georgian Soviet, by contrast, was content Supreme as the and asking regions official language the Russian during the winter, republic like Ab the stream of de

Ossetian announcing to raise its status the situation

to that of an autonomous

khazia. As

deteriorated

cisions from the South Ossetian Supreme Soviet slowed dramatically. Ademon Nykhas apparently gained control over the institution during
these months, and by September the body abandoned and compromise declared total independence from Georgia. the pr?existence of Clearly, a use was a for South Ossetian the el by legislative body leadership key ement in the escalation of conflict. As will be discussed, the Armenians was of Javakheti unable possessed to assume no such organ, and their nationalist organization a role. In South Ossetia, autonomy mobilizing

provided the Ossetian leadership with a decision-making mechanism for responding to Tbilisi, thereby heightening tensions. As inAb
khazia, external the conflict. By support certainly the time external the conflict of North played actors had in the development became involved seriously escalated out of control. a role of in

late 1991, however, While the existence

already

to action, itwas commit tions for the development Javakheti, sharing many

to surely spurred the southerners that provided the permissive condi autonomy of the conflict in South Ossetia. The case of Ossetia similarities with the Ossetian case save its lack

53 See Alexei Zverev, "Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus, 1988-94," tested Borders in the Caucasus (Brussels: VUB Press, 1996), 46.

in Bruno Coppetiers,

ed., Con

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AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT


of autonomy this fact. and absence of conflict, serves as a further illustration

269
of

Javakheti: Escape
The main

from War?
of Armenians in Georgia Armenia. is found Ethnic in the Armeni

concentration

of Samtskhe-Javakheti, province ans form a compact majority minda districts,54 numbering Ossetians

bordering and Ninots there, in the Akhalkalaki In about the 150,000. many ways,

Javakheti Armenians exhibit numerous similarities with both the South


With in Azerbaijan. and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh near the minorities their compactly settled Armenian present Ar menian and Nagorno-Karabakh had been bones border, both Javakheti of contention between the short-lived Armenian Democratic Republic its neighbors, the Georgian 1918 and 1920.55 publics, between and and Azerbaijani Re Democratic wars were over In fact, both fought war of the time was the sig regions, Armenian-Azerbaijani although more severe. Relations minorities between these Armenian nificantly their Armenian and their host nations have been uneasy. Because iden tity remains feel excluded tions' national in both Azerbaijan and Georgia very strong, Armenians civic interpretation from even the most of these two na Unlike conceptions. Ajars are not Armenians considered consider themselves or in Georgia in Lezgins nation part of the majority as such. Both groups also reside in

Azerbaijan, and do not mountainous

is located at ap terrain?Javakheti's capital, Akhalkalaki, sea exist as 3600 feet above level. Of course, differences proximately are less marked; Armenians well. Cultural differences and Georgians

are both Christian peoples (although of different rites),whereas Az?ris


are Muslims. Armenians weariness 1918-1919 the Az?ris occasionally brief war in and suspicion but seldom by overt conflict?the the Armenians equate exception. By contrast, widely being as per Armenians with Turks,56 a group widely by perceived pronouncedly, and Georgians has Most the historical between relationship been characterized by

of Javakheti," Caucasian Regional accessed October 2001); Ugur of the Baku-Ceyhan Akinci, "Javakhetia: The Bottle-Neck Pipeline," Silk Road: A Journal ofWest Asian Studies 1 (December 1997); Igor Rotar, "Tbilisi Has Only Partial Control over Georgia's Armenian Levon Sevunts, "Squeeze Play in the Caucasus: Russia Regions," Jamestown Prism 4 (May 15,1998); Break Out of Bear Hug," The Gazette (Montreal), No Could Tighten Its Grip as Georgia, Armenia vember 29,1999. 55 1917-1921 See Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, (Oxford: George Ronald, Studies 1951). 56 a are a Turkic The Azerbaijanis language closely related to Anatolian Turkish, people speaking but for the overwhelming part of their history they have been politically separated from Turkey and to Iran. have had closer relationships

54 For overviews of the issue, see Voitsekh Guretski, "The Question 3, no. 1 (1998) (poli.vub.ac.be/publi/crs/eng/0301-05.htm,

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270

WORLD

POLITICS and Az?ris fought historical wars an

of genocide petrators against them. Armenians in 1905-06 and 1918-20. As a result of these and myths, Armenian-Azeri tagonisms more are than complicated Georgian-Armenian military soldiers base where local Armenians

surviving are relations relations.

incomparably

The Javakheti regional center of Akhalkalaki is the site of a Russian


over two-thirds of the comprise and noncommanding officers and a third of the officers?sug a that Javakheti Armenians gesting enjoy the support of foreign patron arms access to and have ample and military training. Indeed, Javakheti a thorn Armenian in the side of the Georgian pendence. ethnic government have nonetheless since inde remained

has been

entrepreneurs in their with the Georgian govern relatively powerless relationship or to extract to make in their voices heard Tbilisi unable ment, largely In of significance. any concessions they have spite of these frustrations, not to stir up a movement. managed large-scale popular Much like other minorities, the South Ossetians, specifically were movement in Armenians alarmed the nationalist Javakheti by

Georgia led by Gamsakhurdia in 1989-91, and there emerged at roughly the time of the formation of Ademon Nykhas a political or
ganization Armenian gia. The rule were named Javakhk, which for the creation of an campaigned autonomous at par with other autonomies in Geor region issues at stake for Javakheti Armenians during Gamsakhurdia's similar to those

in South Ossetia?with issues, in language at the top of the in Minorities particular, agenda. Georgia generally and Russian, the language of inter tongue spoke both their mother in the Soviet Union; ethnic communication few however, spoke Geor

gian. The 1988 law strengthening the position of theGeorgian language


was hence menian as a threat to the minorities. the Ar Meanwhile, auton of had substantial cultural Javakheti enjoyed population even in the absence of or territorial self-rule. Most schools in political perceived and the Armenians

were equally disturbed by the not man in the legislation period. Javakhk has to sustain a permanent active level of support and has been aged popular so no clear chain of command internal exists in the plagued by disputes, at times is statements Its certain organization. position contradictory; seem from the organization toward Tbilisi whereas others conciliatory are more militant in their demands for Armenian self-determination.57 Another fects, which
Annotated

omy the area were Armenian, of Georgian development

contentious

issue has been regime

the Gamsakhurdia
Headlines of the Georgian

that of centrally pre appointed introduced. Through large-scale


21-22,1998.

Press, September

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AUTONOMY

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT

271

three differ demonstrations, Javakheti Armenians physically prevented ent of ethnic from of assuming appointed prefects origin Georgian was authorities solved lack of legitimate fice.58 The governing ensuing a of the creation council of for the through provisional representatives Akhalkalaki words, ation of institutions In other elected representatives. region, with twenty-four a took Armenians first unilateral toward the cre Javakheti step of self-rule. have The been

of these insti popular legitimacy or autonomist served as an embryonic as remains doubtful nevertheless they basically even before to the self-dissolved the ascent of Eduard Shevardnadze were un state. the Armenian activists head of the Georgian Basically, institutions able to create legitimate for their struggle, and no preexist were In 1995, Georgian authorities present. ing institutions successfully tutions, which might secessionist movement, has to its west, Meskheti the region the Javakheti region with a clear to create the of Sam Georgian province majority), interpreted demographic by Javakhk position resentment as an attempt in the admin and suspicion

merged (which

This move was tskhe-Javakheti. to dilute the Armenian artificially large-scale protests, it did

istrative units of southern Georgia. Although


increase Armenian

the move did not lead to

ofTbilisi. The absence of conflict in Javakheti must be associated with the lack
of a strong and legitimate son with South Ossetia, nationalist which had leadership, especially a conflict comparable in compari potential.

Ademon Nykhas did not have a higher degree of initial popular legiti macy than Javakhk; the key difference in the development of the two
was that the autonomy organizations and strengthening tated the cohesion movement around the governmental facili enjoyed by South Ossetia of the nationalist/separatist institutions of the region. In

Javakheti, the Javakhk movement needed to build up its position on its


in administrative the creation of provisional structures; own, including a with such institutions South Ossetia, existed, rigid hierarchy already of national and an accepted process. The decision-making legitimacy not their and achievements leaders was determined only by personality when unfavorable laws were but also by the posts they held. Moreover, had Armenians introduced the the Javakheti by Georgian parliament, or little to respond with demonstrations. Os except petitions popular a Soviet of setians, by contrast, possessed legislative body, the Supreme the autonomous channel province, which provided for the struggle against Georgian them with actions. an institutional the inter Likewise,

58Guretski(fn.54).

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272 nal dissension decision proves, process Other within

WORLD Javakhk

POLITICS amounts to an incapacity to

and what

take, let alone enforce, decisions reflected the lack of a clear hierarchy of
as the case of South Ossetia structures, of command that facilitates the decision-making possess a at the of level. and enforcement decisions taken higher making. Autonomous a chain have factors

an role in Javakhetis important relatively played the First, government Georgian already having peaceful development. two other secessionist has been cautious been defeated movements, by not to the Javakheti Armenians. the Armenian Furthermore, provoke of the importance of its relations with Georgia, mindful government, in the has been careful to defuse potential problems region, intervening to several times dissuade Javakhk from holding referenda on autonomy external support provided by the Russian military is the of the Armenian effect base, therefore, gov by calming mitigated ernment. In the final analysis, in the lack of autonomy however, as a reason still be noted for the weakness of Javakheti must significant ethnic mobilization and the absence of armed conflict there. or secession. The

Azeris: The
Littie

Silent Mass

unrest or activity, let alone separatism, has been observed political are in who in the southern Azeris concentrated and among Georgia, were a of the Azeris southeastern However, target of Georgia. regions

Georgian nationalist groups fearful of the rapidly increasing birth rates of Azeris and otherMuslim peoples inGeorgia. In 1989, Georgian in formal groups forced several hundred Azeri families in the Bolnisi re
gion 1990 to to Another incident worth migrate Azerbaijan. case of information failure between Georgian in which a false rumor that the Azeris mentioning nationalists were about is a and to se

Azeris, spread cede and join Azerbaijan. this news, receiving Upon followers and marched gian nationalists gathered

a group of Geor on Azeri areas.

authorities were able to defuse the situation before any blood Georgian was shed, after their position with coordinated the Azerbaijani having no secession were Front and ascertaining that steps toward Popular re In the postindependence era, the close and improving being taken. in have ensured the lations between Azerbaijan and Georgia stability live relatively scattered across southern and south region.59 The Azeris eastern in the of over 70 percent while Georgia, forming majorities districts. The remainder the Dmanisi of and Bolnisi, Marneuli, popula and Kurds. There is no tion is composed of Georgians, Armenians,
59 Author interviews inTbilisi and Marneuli, 1998.

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AUTONOMY clearly would demarcated consider have Azeri "theirs".

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT area The in Georgia, good and given between external their

273 lack of au

tonomy, itwould be difficult for Az?ris


Azerbaijan tionalism also eliminated

to outline which

areas they
and for na

relations

Georgia

any tangible support nor has a nationalist in Georgia; among Az?ris leadership that the Az?ris been able to emerge. It should be mentioned, however, in in rural areas, and though their economic condi live mainly Georgia tions are political low number are rather fairly good, they life. Very few among them have access isolated

very

from Georgian social and a proportionally speak Georgian, to and the Georgian education, higher

them. A certain amount of re has done little to integrate government sentment and feeling of alienation has been reported, but it has failed to a national did not find an effective channel for expression; leadership exist "by default," as it did activity, ethnopolitical the lack of autonomy turbulent post-perestroika Georgia's Ajar?a?Regionalism The Enforced earlier, represents not involved region This is not surprising, Ajars the only case of a in armed conflict given that few in dif reli in areas. In sum, the low level of in autonomous of Azerbaijan, and the role of the government areas among the calmest in have made Azeri history.

case of as mentioned Ajaria, autonomous South Caucasian its central government.60 importantly,

with

dicators ever pointed to a high risk of ethnic conflict between Ajaria


and Georgia. fering from Islamic Most the majority (during population the centuries are in fact ethnic Georgians, on account of their Muslim of Ottoman rule that ended

gion. The majority


culture

of its inhabitants adopted Islam and much of

1878) while retaining strong cultural similarities with Christian Geor


as to whether them as it questionable classifying gians. This may make an a constitutes is impor minority certainly Christianity appropriate. tant part of the of after national years seventy Georgian identity, yet weak hold on the Soviet atheism Ajarian Islam has a comparatively in the defi therefore remain accepted predominant Ajars population. no can other minority nition of the Georgian be said of nation, which in Georgia. Nevertheless, since the early 1990s Ajaria has been dominated by a

60 and Minor Favorable Economic See Judith Hin, "Ajaria. Authoritarian Location, Governance, at in Keeping Violent Conflict Ethnic Tensions: The Interests of the Local Potentate Bay" (Paper pre New York, of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, sented at the Fifth Annual Convention was based on research project, data from the Brown University unpublished April 2000). The paper "Can Deadly Conflicts Be Prevented," funded by the Carnegie Corporation.

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274

WORLD

POLITICS

local potentate with significant political ambitions. Asian Abashidze, descending from an influential family of the local nobility, acceded to the leadership of Ajaria in 1991 and has since imposed an increasingly
authoritarian

well as in intra-Georgian feuds, Abashidze

rule. During

the wars

in South

Ossetia

and Abkhazia

as

skillfiilly achieved wide self

to turn rule by maintaining Abashidze managed neutrality. Moreover, an into economic the of Ajaria important region through development re asset trade links with Turkey, of the port of Batumi, the using the on the Black Sea coast. In turn, the govern gional capital Georgian no further trouble with on its its provinces, left Ajaria ment, desiring own in most matters. Abashidze endorsed Eduard Shevard Although nadze's bid for the Georgian attempts presidency, Tbilisi's subsequent

to rein inAjaria within


the deterioration

the hierarchy of the Georgian


between Batumi

state has led to

for example, and Tbilisi; to its laws with national guidelines. refuses harmonize Ajaria Although case of these do not the Ajarian clear elements regionalism, displays have a significant ethnic character. Abashidze has established Indeed, as a on the national himself level, in fact emerging politician Georgian as the most to Shevardnadze serious challenger and his Citizen's Union Charles The H. Fairbanks summarizes the Ajarian situation well:

of relations

of Georgia Party even though his political life is based heavily inAjaria.
local boss, Asian Abashidze,
wants tropical simply products, The

has never raised any question of secession


to do what and he wants and smuggling across to enjoy the border the profits with Turkey. main of

He from Georgia. vacation hotels, like a small

There seems to be nothing public inAbashidze's motives; he is operating essen


tially central businessman. Russian garrison on the border, whose

occupation

seems to be smuggling, gives Abashidze


government; the Moscow government

the protection
approves

to defy the
this arrange

Georgian

ment because it limits Georgian

independence from Russia.61

In the final analysis, the independent-minded


Ajaria would have been without the

rule of Abashidze
institution of auton

in

impossible a not of the separate Ajarian omy. The weakness identity does provide or for re movement base for a vigorous nationalist strong excessively in this context the of of the gionalism; province population Mingrelia institutions attitudes.62 The of Ajarian arguably has stronger regionalist autonomy brought Abashidze to his position of power and enabled

61 in the Former Soviet Space," in Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr., "Party, Ideology and the Public World and M. Richard Zinman, Arthur M. Meltzer, eds., Politics at the End of the Century Jerry Einberger, and Littlefield, (Lanham, Md.: Rowman 2001), 252. "Cornell (fn. 34), 184-85.

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AUTONOMY

AS A SOURCE OF CONFLICT

275
re for

Ajar?a to remain largely isolated economically and politically from the


rest of Georgia; sources of the torical and ethnic the political likewise, autonomous republic framework, lead to ethnic institutions have and financial a base provided

Abashidze s bid for a national political role inGeorgia. Given the his
there were conflict no conditions in Ajaria. under which autonomy suc who autonomy would a did provide ground Georgian However, of a local potentate rule.

for the emergence a

ceeded in keeping his region free of the problems experienced by other


regions while establishing rigid autocratic

Conclusions
of institutionalized, for an ethnic territorial autonomy cause of the its effect?it intended may aug may minority opposite a ment rather than reduce the potential for conflict between minority is neither a suf and a central government. As stated earlier, autonomy cause of conflict. Yet, it has a strong causal rela ficient nor a necessary The provision

tionship with both aminority's willingness


to revolt.

and especially its capacity

au It is reasonably the Caucasian clear that within context, to it. This pre tonomy has been a source of conflict and not a solution is likely secessionism conclusion ceteris that suggests liminary paribus, to be autonomous minorities than among among higher significantly to nonautonomous limited minorities. This has been study empirically the that the former Soviet it and should be spe space, acknowledged as to cific history and characteristics of this area leave open the question

whether
other

the findings here would be replicated in similar studies of


settings. Nevertheless, of territorial autonomy areas of the world a number are as likely of factors to have had inherent in the same con in the former

political the institution

in other sequences Soviet Union.

they have

are nevertheless of these findings signifi the results of this study, one disheartened if autonomy, of raised the obvious practitioner diplomacy question: bearer of much of ethno resolution for and the management hope The practical implications cant. When confronted with conflicts, what problematic, political does a solution but is rather inherently actually answer is the way to manage ethnic tensions? The is not and that may it model, the pitfalls of realizing a to view ethnofederal tendency this study prescriptions, structures that cut across eth

not lie in any general and easily applicable self be one of the most consequences important

of autonomy. Where there has been as cure-all in one form or another solutions points to the merits of devising political

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276 nie and other

WORLD

POLITICS

communal civic identities, but dis divisions, encourage use mean not in the of the That does courage ethnicity political sphere. or to are to that all autonomy solutions destined necessarily collapse lead to war. It does mean that whenever the ethnicization of territory or of

can be avoided, it should be avoided. to show that the This has of resolving study advocacy attempted on the devolution ethnic conflict solutions based preventing through power along ethnic Unes is at best a questionable and at worst a disas

trous enterprise. The little publicized pitfalls of ethnofederalism hence need to be kept in mind while formulating policies in and toward
multiethnic societies.

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