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The Status and Limits to Aspirations of Minorities in the South Caucasus States

Michael B. Bishku


This is an examination of the historical background and demographic composition of minorities in the three South Caucasus states—Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia—as well as a survey of their current status and limits to aspirations of those ethnic groups. It utilizes Sammy Smooha’s concept of ethnic democracy: “a system in which two contradictory principles operate: ‘the democratic principle,’ making for equal rights and equal treatment of all citizens, and ‘the ethnic principle,’ making for fashioning a homogenous nation-state and privileging the ethnic majority.” All of the countries examined fit that category in principle given their respective Constitutions, but Azerbaijan unlike its two neighbors has an autocratic system of government eliminating itself in terms of practice. Armenia is the most homogenous of the three states, while Georgia has the most diverse population. Yet all have numerous minorities living within their borders as well as having ethnic brethren in neighboring countries; dealing with those groups has been problematic to various degrees. Georgia has lost territory—Abkhazia and South Ossetia—to secessionist minorities aided by Russia, while Armenia and Azerbaijan have engaged in war over Nagorno-Karabakh, while driving out of their respective countries either Azerbaijanis or Armenians.

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pp. 410–425