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An area most people would be unable to point out on a map, the narrow strip of land bordered by both the Black and Caspian seas has been a point of contention for centuries.
Strategically located and historically known as where Europe fades into Asia, this mountainous region is reminded of policies enacted by Communist leader Josef Stalin twenty-plus years after the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia (Stalin’s birthplace), declared independence from the Soviet yoke. But this region is not so easily divided.
There are more than three types of people here, with at least fifty different ethnic groups all trying to establish themselves. With no Kremlin and powerful military to qualm nationalistic interests, tribal feuding emerges resulting in a multitude of regional conflict.
The Chechens, with their terrorist attacks in Moscow railways may be the most notorious of this lot, but are just one example of post Soviet problems presented in the 21st century.
Societies that may be similar, but speak drastically different dialects crowd these narrow and ancient settlements, a region that harbors the most ancient forms of Christianity and churches. This small area has spent time being ruled by such superpowers as Persia, Turkey, Byzantium and Russia, but managed to keep their way of life alive against such odds.
Armenians have had a glorious history; only to have experienced such tragedy during their vast existence. A nation known to be passionate with the written language, their chronicles cover a range of history, and even translations of neighboring literature.
The holocaust of World War two even has ties to this enigmatic region. Hitler mentioned the forgotten Armenian genocide prior to his invasion of Poland in 1939. In the years between 1915-1918, 1.5 million Armenians would die from unnatural causes, and continue to suffer from the humiliation of denial.
By creating an ethnically Armenian exclave within the borders of Azerbaijan in 1923, Stalin caused conflict amongst both peoples claiming the area to be their own, creating internal strife that would in turn, weaken both nations of any potential cooperation against Moscow. The plan worked and is still working nearly nine decades after it was initiated.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of 1988-1994 was a result of borders created by Stalin to create disunity between the peoples of this region. The effects are still relevant today as both Turkey and Azerbaijan have a closed border policy resulting from Armenia’s victory in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The war ended in bitter peace and severed trade routes with the West. This currently strains Armenia economically, falling further behind her neighbors while oil-rich Azerbaijan bypasses Armenia and routes their new pipeline from the Caspian, to Georgia, and out through the Black Sea.
War between Georgia and the territory of South Ossetia has been declared three times in the past two decades. The Ossetians are an ancient Indo-Iranian ethnic group that presently has both a north territory within Russian borders, and an adjacent southern province that is a continuing point of conflict with Georgia claiming ownership.
The first war was in 1991-1992 and would break-out again in 2004.
With the Georgian-Russian war over South Ossetia contained since 2008, the conflict lasted ten days and resulted in a cease-fire. Presently, Russia and Venezuela are the only countries that recognize South Ossetia as a separate government from Georgia, who was receiving and implementing weapons provided by the USA and NATO.
With Ossetia backed militarily by Russia, comparisons can be made to the ideological cold-war conflicts in Southeast Asia. Poor host countries serving as the battleground for empires to show off weaponry.
The notorious Chechens still have animosity toward Moscow and are not afraid to hide it. After Stalin deported the entire Chechen population to Siberia or Kazakhstan, some returned home to the mountains and developed national identity once Communism fell. The Islamic Chechnyns committed jihad acts against their northern neighbor, and former ruler, Russia in recent history.
Numerous suicide bombs in and around Moscow, and the immensely tragic hostage situation at a North Ossetian elementary school in 2004 are just more examples of a region in strife.
The Armenian Genocide is a hotly debated subject to this day, as Turkey and the United States do not declare this loss of life due directly toward the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Many Armenians will agree on the contrary, and place the systematic slaughter off their people and culture on Turkish sabers and rifles.
Obama had addressed this issue during his campaigning, assuring the world that the tragedy would finally be recognized appropriately. The promise is left unfulfilled to this day, as the USA has a vested interested in Turkey’s strategic location, operating several air-bases in the most ‘western’ of Middle Eastern countries.
What can explain an area so small and isolated, yet, so full of war and conflict? The easy explanation is to blame communism as a failed social experiment, with Transcaucasia as a result of it. Or is it that diversity and multiculturalism doesn’t work? That when you have dozens of different peoples all vying for domination in a confined area, that such aspirations will turn violent toward your neighbor?
Either way, it is a tragic circumstance for a place that is used to being controlled by someone else.