Are Caucasians a minority in California

Caucasus region

The South Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are threatened with political fragmentation due to national minorities striving for sovereignty. This endangers the economic development of the region, which has rich natural resources.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at a press conference in 2011. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

Republic of Armenia

When Armenia held the fourth presidential elections since its independence in 1991 on February 19, 2003, this was of particular importance in several respects: The elections, in the run-up to the upcoming parliamentary elections, were intended to demonstrate the stability of President Robert Kocharian's government after an armed attack on parliament on October 27, 1999, in which eight politicians were killed, was repeatedly exposed to domestic political tensions. It was also the first election since the country was admitted to the Council of Europe on February 25, 2001.

Data and facts: Armenia
Before and with the admission of Armenia, the Council of Europe - as in the case of Georgia and Azerbaijan - set conditions for compliance with and adaptation of the legal situation to European standards. The conditions that still existed in some cases included the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the abolition of the death penalty, impunity for homosexuality, the establishment of alternative military service and the office of ombudsman, as well as the revision of the law on political parties and the media. With international support, a new electoral law was passed in July 2002, which stipulated an improvement in the registration of those entitled to vote and a reorganization of the electoral districts. The presidential election, in which Kocharian emerged victorious, should now be a kind of "dress rehearsal" for the parliamentary elections taking place on May 25, 2003 and at the same time set standards for the upcoming elections in Azerbaijan and Georgia in the autumn. Last but not least, they served as a gauge of the progress the country has made on the path of transformation towards democratization.

The findings of the election observers of the ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights / Organization for Democracy and Human Rights, based in Warsaw) of the OSCE were rather sobering here, as in the parliamentary elections on May 25, 2003. Relatively equal opportunities for all parties, election blocs and candidates in the election campaign and the improvement of voter registration were mentioned as positive aspects. As in previous elections, however, the strong under-presence of women, attempts to influence voters and election fraud were criticized.

It also concerned the still inadequate practical implementation of democratic norms. In the elections to the National Assembly on May 25, the voters, for example, did not have sufficient opportunity to discuss important constitutional amendments, which affected almost 80 percent of the Basic Law. After that, for example, the powers of parliament and the judiciary vis-à-vis the president were expanded, the office of ombudsman for human rights was introduced, dual citizenship was abolished and land acquisition rights were granted to foreigners. Only about a third of those eligible to vote spoke out in favor of the constitutional amendments. This was also due to the low voter turnout (51.5 percent), for which, in addition to the high number of migrants, the silent political refusal of the population was the cause.

The new composition of the parliament reflects a clear preponderance of the forces supporting the government (HHK, OE, HHD). Including non-party MPs, the bloc is estimated to have at least 77 seats, while the opposition forces (A, National Unity, non-party) have around 28 seats in parliament.

At the same time, the increased or consolidated influence of oligarchs became clear. Wealthy business people with direct or indirect links to the shadow economy will participate in parliamentary immunity, but at the same time can accelerate the process of further privatization and liberalization in the economy. Last but not least, they stand for close ties to compatriots living outside Armenia (six million in 102 countries, including the USA: around one million, France: 400,000) and, above all, to Russia. Around 50 percent of the approximately two million "Russian" Armenians are in the greater Moscow area alone, while 43,000 Russian soldiers are stationed in the country on the basis of the CIS security pact signed in 1992 and the friendship treaty concluded in 1997. The exit of the Communist Party - still the second strongest force in the 1999 elections - from parliament is put into perspective, as many "independent" parliamentarians conceal at least the family of a former representative of the Soviet party and state bureaucracy.

On the way to independence

The first stanza of the Armenian national anthem ("Our fatherland, robbed, harassed, oppressed by unscrupulous enemies, now calls its loyal sons to carry out the avenging blow") signals that their own history has become a nightmare for many people in Armenia . Historians and political scientists speak of a "trauma" caused by the mass persecution of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire, which began with the persecution and killing of thousands under Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909) and with the murder and expulsion of around 1.5 million Armenians from Eastern Anatolia between 1915 and 1917 was cruelly continued by the Young Turks. For the Armenian communities, whose merchants as mediators between Orient and Occident under Catherine II were supposed to support the settlement and reconnaissance plans, especially in the newly conquered areas of southern Russia, Russia had recommended itself as a "protecting power" since the 18th century. Special immigration rights increased the number of Christian Armenians in Transcaucasia from around 200,000 in 1846 to 1.68 million in 1915. Many of them benefited from the homogenization of economic, social and cultural structures that had been striven for in the course of the modernization of the Russian Empire since 1861. At the same time, nationalists in the Armenian communities of the Ottoman Empire increasingly called for civic equality, cultural self-assertion, moral renewal up to "national rebirth" and soon called for "cross-border liberation activities".

As early as 1890 a center of politicized Armenians had moved to Tbilisi, where the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) was founded from the amalgamation of several groups. Demands for civil rights and freedoms now went hand in hand with the idea of ​​establishing an independent state. The First World War and the revolutions of 1917 offered good opportunities to achieve this goal. On May 28, 1918, after the failed attempt to form a Transcaucasian government, the "Democratic Armenian Republic" was proclaimed. After the establishment of Soviet power in 1920 and with the Sovietization of the entire region by 1921, the central Soviet power intervened in the settlement of territorial claims. Referring to a provisional agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan from 1919, Karabakh and Nakhichevan were incorporated into the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic within the "Transcaucasian Federation" created in 1922 on July 7, 1923. Armenia received Sangesur, which acted as a dividing corridor between the national territory of Azerbaijan.

Arbitrary demarcation and resettlement became normal under Soviet rule. The struggle for the connection of "Armenian settlement areas" formed the focal point of the dissident movement in Armenia. Following the traditions of the "National Unification Party" founded in 1966, the Yerevan Helsinki Committee has been calling for the "restoration of national statehood over the entire territory of historical Armenia" and the national rebirth of an independent Armenia since the mid-1970s. Glasnost and perestroika seemed to offer favorable conditions for border shifts.

From February 12, 1988, there were demonstrations in Stepanakert (Chankendi), the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, in favor of the annexation of the area to Armenia, which places in Armenia quickly joined. The first attacks and Azerbaijani refugee movements from Armenia marked the escalation of the conflict. The Karabakh Committee, founded in 1987, was at the forefront of the Armenian citizens' movement. His spokesman Lev Ter-Petrosian became the first non-communist to take office as president after the new elections for the Supreme Soviet of Armenia and on August 23, 1990, he announced the independence of his country.

Political and economic transformation processes

On September 21, 1991, 94 percent of the Armenians eligible to vote voted to leave the USSR in a referendum. Four years later, in July 1995, the first free parliamentary elections took place. Since then, a process of political transformation has taken place in the country. Armenia remained the only CIS member country that ultimately proved resistant to former Communist Party leaders or their parties in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Domestically, the situation was characterized by the fact that the citizens' movement formed its own parties, "old" parties returned from emigration and new interest groups organized themselves politically.

The government crisis that started in 1999 with the assassination of leading politicians appears to have come to an end with the results of the 2003 elections. There was a redeployment of forces, which with the appointment of the leader of the Armenian Republican Party, Andranik Markarian, also led to new alliances. Previously the president's greatest critic, the party has changed course and emerged victorious from the 2003 general election with a confident support program for Kocharian. Regardless of the political constellation, the country faces acute social and economic problems. Against this background, important structural projects and legislative initiatives (banking reform, privatization, reform of the judiciary) were introduced within the framework of strict guidelines from the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, last but not least, with the support of the EU. A restrictive monetary and fiscal policy could contain inflation and improve macroeconomic data. A donor-financed economic upswing (agriculture, housing program in the earthquake area) is concentrated in a few labor-intensive economic sectors or regions (Greater Yerevan).

However, the practical implementation of reform steps continues to suffer from staff changes at decision-making levels and an insufficient investment climate. In addition, the decision-making bodies often have little expertise, legal uncertainty and corruption. According to state and UN data, around 55 percent of the population live below the poverty line, six to seven percent live in extreme poverty, and only 15 percent of families consider themselves adequately cared for. The role of the shadow economy, which is calculated by experts at up to 100 percent (WB: 30 to 40 percent) of the officially reported gross domestic product, as well as the importance of remittances from relatives from abroad (2002: 250 million US dollars) remained unchanged. It is estimated that 700,000 to one million Armenians have left the country and work abroad due to the social hardship. Both factors are currently essential elements for the country's economic survival.

Source text

Little experience in state building

[...] For six centuries the Armenians did not have a state of their own. After displacement and genocide by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and 1916 - more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed in this first genocide of the twentieth century - the Armenians fought for their first republic in 1918. This fell a good two years later to the Soviet power. When the Soviet Union collapsed seventy years later, the dream of an independent Armenian state came true for the second time. But anyone who expected that the Armenian people, scattered halfway around the world, would pour into the second republic was mistaken. Many Armenians made their way, but in the other direction: they have been leaving their homeland in droves for twelve years.

Most of them go to Russia, where they know the language and culture. [...] Even if there is an immigration and return migration - hardly any Armenian from the Armenian communities in Western Europe and the United States has moved to the independent state. "That's just a handful," says Raffi Hovannisijan, an Armenian born and raised in California. The lawyer and businessman [...] returned to Armenia with his wife in 1988 and was the country's first foreign minister from 1991 to 1992. His grandparents survived the 1915 genocide because a Turkish family saved them. "Armenia has always been a dream for the diaspora," says Hovannisijan. But realizing this dream in the new state is far more difficult than dreaming it.

According to Raffi Hovannisijan, the departure of hundreds of thousands of people from Armenia is not only for economic reasons. "We just don't have any experience building a state," he says. There is a lack of "good governance" and therefore the Armenians' trust in the state and government. Hovannisijan sees the departure of his compatriots [...] as a permanent threat to the country's national security. After the war for the autonomous region of Nagorny Karabakh, the country and its neighbor Azerbaijan live under the conditions of an economic blockade and a fragile ceasefire. Soon he could run out of recruits for his army. [...]

For many Armenians, emigration is not just a way of leaving their homeland, but also a way of escaping the traditions and constraints of the Caucasian family and society. [...]

Markus Wehner, "Exodus of a People", in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of March 11, 2003.