RSC Director Richard Giragosian participated in a conference sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC, entitled, “The New Geopolitics of the South Caucasus: Prospects for Regional Cooperation and Conflict Resolution.” Under the direction of Dr. Shireen Hunter, the conference brought together experts from the region, including from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey, as well as from the European Union, with additional analytical support from several former U.S. ambassadors and government officials.

For the one-day meeting, which was held on 28 October 2016, each of the experts tasked with the preparation of a presentation for the one-day meeting. RSC Director Giragosian offered his assessment of regional geopolitical trends and developments from an Armenian perspective. The presentations will serve as chapters in a subsequent edited volume, to be published later in 2017.

The project consisted of four main objectives: (1) to examine the record of the last quarter century; (2) to derive lessons learned from it; (3) to discern the future trajectory of the region’s developments and the factors most likely to contribute to them; and (4) to explore ways in which the region could be nudged in more positive directions and towards less strife and more cooperation.

Specific Recommendations for Western Policy towards the South Caucasus

The conference concluded with a set of six specific recommendations for Western policy towards the South Caucasus, including:

First and foremost, Europe and America should not ignore the South Caucasus because they are preoccupied with other parts of the world, including the Middle East. They have already invested considerable financial, political, and intellectual resources in the region and should not allow those to go to waste;

Second, the West should be more active in resolving outstanding conflicts in view of their highly negative consequences on the economic and political evolution of states in the region;

Third, if possible, the West should not look at the region mainly through the Middle East prism. It should specifically not try to use the South Caucasian states to correct Middle East imbalances. This strategy has not worked in the past twenty-five years and is unlikely to work in the future. Excessive linkage between Middle Eastern and South Caucasian politics has only complicated the region’s geopolitical map and created security dilemmas for regional states. It has also prevented regional cooperative measures, which could have contributed to South Caucasian states’ economic development;

Fourth, the West should recognize the inevitability of continued Russian interest in the region. Thus, while countering Russian expansionism, the West should be receptive to Russia’s security concerns, and if possible, work out mechanisms for reconciling mutual interests and preoccupations. It should also find ways of cooperating with Russia in resolving outstanding conflicts;

Fifth, the West should undertake more sustained efforts to help Turkey and Armenia resolve their differences, even though this might take a long time. It should also help Armenia economically and otherwise so that the country can become more autonomous and free of excessive Russian influence;

And lastly, if possible, the West should differentiate between Iran’s policies in the South Caucasus and its behavior in the Middle East. Instead of punishing Iran for its Middle East policies by keeping it completely out of the South Caucasus, it should try to use its engagement in the South Caucasus as an inducement to transform its policies in the Middle East. Iran’s isolation in the last twenty-five years has not been helpful to the cause of regional cooperation or conflict resolution. It has only tended to strengthen Russian presence and influence over Armenia and even Azerbaijan. Thus, allowing Iran a role in regional cooperative projects and conflict resolution efforts could balance Russian influence and offer regional states more options. It could also have the added benefit of potentially helping in the improvement of Western-Iranian relations.

The attached is the 21-page report from that one-day conference, and the edited volume will be published in 2017.