This book is the result of a conference held in Denmark in 1996 to discuss the situation in the Caucasus. The meeting was attended by historians, anthropologists, political scientists, as well as diplomats and journalists from the countries of the Caucasus, Turkey and Europe. The book tries to develop a general strategic framework for the major geopolitical stakes in the Caucasus, as well as the national interests of the countries inside and outside that area. The articles are very well written, focused, and invoke important themes.
There is a good historical introduction regarding the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the European powers, especially Russia, that shaped the historical evolution of the Caucasus. There is also an analysis of the concept of "otherness" that was developed to accentuate the physical and cultural differences between the Russians and the peoples of the Caucasus.
The politics of the Caucasus traces the rise of the concepts of nationalism, the emergence of ruling elites, and the practice of democracy. The economic discussion highlights the significance of the construction of the Caspian pipeline project and its strategic implications. In addition, the foreign-policy studies of the book present the reader with the options available for the leaders of Turkey, Armenia, Abkhazia and Chechnya in pursuing their political goals.
Contributors to the conference point to the impact of nineteenth-century European nationalism on the formation of modem nationalism in the Caucasus. Yet the Bolshevik Revolution succeeded in "aborting" Caucasus nationalism early in the 1920s by creating a single state that embodied Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan known as the "Caucasus Federation." In this regard, an interesting historical analogy is drawn between the Caucasus and the Baltic republics, since the latter were merged into one single political unit by Moscow in different historical circumstances. That Baltic nationalism was manifested in a more harmonious relation among Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, compared to the uneasy coexistence among Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, is attributable to the fact that the Baltic republics belong to the European civilization and its values. In other words, the authors judge the Caucasus to be part of the Middle East. However, the book fails to mention the views from the Arab world concerning the Caucasus and the differences between Middle Eastern and European nationalism.
The study throws light on the development of Armenia's foreign policy. It refutes the widely-held expectation that an independent Armenia will provide another "Israeli model" in the Middle East. This was based on the possibility that the Armenian diaspora and Armenia's ties to the West would make it more hostile to its neighbors, especially Turkey and Azerbaijan.
However, former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian was less inclined to continue confrontation with Azerbaijan after the war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1998-99. Armenia also felt that Russia was the guarantor of its independence and that close ties to America might strain relations with Moscow. Moreover, the Turkish embassy in Moscow established an early understanding between Turkey and Armenia over future diplomatic relations between the two countries. The rationale for that relationship was based on the fact that Greece and Turkey still maintained important ties despite their dispute over Cyprus. Accordingly, relations between Turkey and Armenia should overcome memories of the 1915 massacre and Turkey's support of Azerbaijan.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan has taken steps to cement closer ties with the West. The visit by Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev to Washington in 1994 was crucial in emphasizing to the Clinton administration that any development in the Caspian oil pipeline was contingent on reaching a political settlement for the different territorial disputes and ethnic wars in the Caucasus. Another foreign-policy option that Baku promoted successfully was the assertion of the rights of the Azerbaijani population in the area adjacent to Armenia known as Nakhitcevan. Furthermore, before the Elcibey regime fell from power in 1992, its call for pan-Turkism received little support from either Turkey or Azerbaijan.
The articles on Turkey are somewhat critical of Ankara's domestic and foreign policies. First, there is the contrast between the secular foundations of the modem Turkish state and its nationalist policies that discriminate against minorities and contradict the Lusanne Treaty of 1926, which allowed for the exchange of populations between Turkey and its neighbors. There is also a critique of Turkey's ambivalence toward Azerbaijan and an analysis of how much support Ankara can lend to Baku in expressing solidarity among "Turkic" peoples without alienating any other country or ethnic group in the region. Some papers presented underestimate Turkish-Azerbaijani ties. One quotes former Turkish President Turgut Ozal's statement in Washington in 1989 that because the majority of Azeris are Shiites, they are closer to Iran than Turkey. Also, Turkish foreign policy has relied on symbols to send certain political messages. This was manifested in the attendance of a formal delegation from Turkey at the inauguration of the Chechen president in 1997. There is more evaluation of Turkey's diplomacy toward the Caucasus and Central Asia because it generated high expectations regarding the capability of Turkey to promote its interests in that part of the world following the breakdown of the Soviet Union.
However, the Turks were credited with lobbying the United States to persuade Armenia not to oppose the exploitation of Caspian oil. In this regard, the debate over the Caspian pipeline is not viewed in the book as a zero-sum game between a Turkish and a non-Turkish route. It is stated that "the Turkish Straits constitute obviously the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and a limited volume of Russian oil is transported through them. But this route will not be able to sustain the shipment of Caspian oil to the Western markets." In other words, the building of a pipeline through the Caucasus will require a huge investment in Turkey's infrastructure.
The national-security stakes for the Caucasus are promulgated by officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense, who define the Caucasus as the southeastern perimeter of NATO's security. This idea is baseless; the West could not intervene militarily in Chechnya in 1994, in contrast to NATO's bombardment of Serbia following the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
Contrasts and Solutions in the Caucasus explains superbly how the Caucasus figures in contemporary world politics and current East-West relations. The book has a number of shortcomings, however. It is difficult for the reader to understand the different routes for the shipment of Caspian oil without maps. In addition, the views of Russia and Iran are not included. Despite numerous references to these two countries and the important stakes they have in the Caucasus, only one Russian scholar was invited to reflect on his country's relations with that region. Absent is an analysis of U.S. diplomacy toward the Caucasus and how the White House and State Department deal with this area. Moreover, historical data are spread out among the different chapters. A chart highlighting major historical developments would have helped the reader grasp the full gamut of modern Caucasus history.