Oil-Gas Pipeline Politics & Ethnic Conflict in Georgia
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Oil-Gas Pipeline Politics & Ethnic Conflict in Georgia
Georgia is a conglomerate of ethnic groups. Even the Georgian group is composed of the Kartvelian, Mingrelian, Svan & Ajar sub-groups, each with its own language or religion. However, what distinguishes the ethnic minority issue in Georgia is the existence of a high number of autonomous entities on its territory. No other former Soviet republic has proportionally such a large number of autonomous entities. In the north-west is the autonomous republic of Abkhazia, which, although always enjoying close links with Georgia, historically had its own king & princes. In the north-central part of Georgia lies the autonomous district of South Osetia. In the south-west is Ajara, where centuries of Ottoman rule have meant that the majority of the population is Georgian-speaking, but Muslim by religion, in contrast to most of the Georgian who are Orthodox Christians. Like Abkhazia & South Osetia, Ajara was granted autonomous status by the Soviet leadership. Georgia has no specific friends abroad- neither an influential Diaspora as Armenians have, nor any "brother nation" as Azerbaijan has in Turkey. Until now, no serious oil or gas resources have been discovered in this country, that would have made foreign oil companies interested in investing in Georgian economy. Yet, Georgia has traditionally played an important role as a link between the regions of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe due to its favorable geographic location, bordering Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan & Turkey. And having several convenient sea ports. The latter have allowed Georgia to serve as a transit route for its immediate neighbors, as well as the landlocked states of Central Asia eager to get the shortest way to access to Europe. In addition, the country has a relatively long history of serving as a route for oil transportation. The Baku-Batumi pipeline was constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century, & for many years was the principle means of transporting oil from Azerbaijan to the outside world. However, unresolved disputes between the central authorities and breakaway regions, the question of external interference, and low-intensity conflict with separatist groups have all interacted with pipeline development, undermining in effect, Tbilisi efforts to use oil transportation as a means to foster end economic growth and strengthen independence. Although pipeline development did not initially play an important role in Georgian ethnic conflict, the success of Georgia's pipeline plans have increasingly been connected to the aggravation of ethnic tensions. Among the numerous ethnic conflicts that have established Georgia, its ambitions serve as an energy bridge between the oil-rich Caspian Sea & the Western markets. The system of Soviet ethnic quotas did not do much to help Georgian-Abkhazian relations, but visa-verse. Throughout the Soviet period on the other hand, the Abkhazian political elite had been dissatisfied with thir position vis-a-vis Georgia. The Russia's role in the Abkhazian conflict was both crucial and controversial, perhaps no other conflict brought so many accusations of neo-imperialist ambitions and policies. As early as 1996, it was also reported that in return for restoring Georgia's territorial integrity, Moscow demanded from Georgia that the latter allowed Russia to control the oil pipeline that may run across its territory. Nevertheless, Russia is faced with the threat of losing its monopoly in oil transportation due to the completion of the Baku-Supsa pipeline in April 1999. History has proven that Moscow's use of ethnic tensions in the Caucasus is a major tool for projecting its will in the region. to be continued.
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