Authors: Prof. Dr. Tedo Dundua, Dr. Emil Avdaliani
Georgia is a comfortable acting passway for Asian oil and gas to the European industry. “Transcaucasian” pipelines have increased political sympathies towards the country and contribute to its economic growth.
An idea of “Transcaucasian” and Pontic (the Black Sea) transit of the Asian goods is not a new one. As far back as in the 4th c. B.C. Alexander of Macedon took his Graeco-Macedonian army towards the very heart of Asia. There, particularly in India, the Europeans tasted the spiced meals for the first time, and they decided that their life would be dull without pepper. So, one could buy some spices for, perhaps, a drachm in the valley of Indus, and sell it in Rome, or maybe, in Athens for hundred (Plin. NH. VI. 101). The profit from the trade was very handsome. In all there had been the following routes towards India: 1. maritime route – from the Red Sea ports of Egypt via the Indian Ocean towards Malabar coast. Alexandrian merchants profited from this route mostly. According to Strabo, some one hundred and twenty big Alexandrian ships sailed a year to India bringing back the spices, precious woods and stones (Strabo. II. 118; XVI. 781; XVII. 798). But the Southern coast of Eastern Iran was very wild, without harbors, so one had to load a ship heavily with food and water for a direct sail and only small section was left for the commercial goods. There existed one more sea route from India through the Persian Gulf to the mouth of Tigris and Euphrates; 2. the second route was very expensive. Starting in India, it climbed to the Iranian highlands, crossing the Iranian plateau to Mesopotamia and Syria.
There the spices were placed on the European ships. Iranians and Graeco-Syrians profited from this route; 3. the third route was amazingly cheap, for it was river-route via well inhabited and supplied districts, city of Phasis (Poti, Western Georgia) being a starting point together with a mouth of the river Phasis (Rioni), very comfortable for the large boats. Rioni is prolonged by the rivers Kvirila and Dzirula towards the Likhi mountains. They divide Georgia into two parts: the West (ancient Colchis), and the East (ancient Iberia). The merchants used to climb the mountains, and then board again at the Kura-river boat-station in Eastern Georgia. A voyage down the river towards the Caspian Sea was swift. According to Herodotus, the Caspian Sea could be easily covered in eight days on a large boat (Herod. I. 203). One could find the river Amu-Daria (Oxus) in the past joining the Caspian Sea in its Southeast section. Amu-Daria – Balkh (Bactra) – Indus is the last section of the route. And the Greek merchants were already in the wonderful country of leisure and the spices, in the homeland of Buddha. The Greeks and the Romans, the Byzantine soldiers and merchants were in Georgia for the transit purposes and within the frames of early European integration. From the 2nd c. B.C. the Chinese started to send silk caravans via the Chinese Turkestan. Then the usual “Transcaucasian” and Pontic transit took place. This route was cheap, but very fragile. As soon as Iran recovered from the Hellenic onslaught, it cut the route organizing the Caspian fleet (T. Dundua. North and South /Towards the Question of NATO Enlargement/, pp. 5-6; T. Dundua. Georgia within the European Integration. Tbilisi. 1999, pp. 30-32).
The route is well traced in Graeco-Roman sources. “Aristobulus declares that the Oxus is the largest of the rivers he has seen in Asia, except those in India. And Patrocles, as well as Aristobulus and Eratosthenes, say that it is navigable and that large quantities of Indian wares are brought down on it to the Hyrcanian Sea, and thence on that sea are transported to Albania and brought down on the Cyrus River and through the region that comes next after it to the Euxine” (Strabo. XI. 7. 3). All the authors listed above, including Strabo, use the present tense meaning that “Transcaucasian” transit of the Indian goods (along the rivers Indus – Bactra /Balkh/ – Oxus /Amu-Daria/ – Hyrcanian /Caspian/ Sea – Cyrus /Mtkvari/Kura/ – Phasis /Kvirila and Rioni/ to the city of Phasis /Poti/ in Colchis) worked hard in the 3rd c. B.C., first half of the 2nd c. B.C., and in 19/20 A.D. when Strabo “published” his work.
“Varro says also that during this expedition of Pompejus it was known that it is but seven days journey from India to the Bactrians, Bactra River, which runs into the Oxus; and that the merchandise of India, transported by the Caspian Sea, and so to the river Cyrus, may be brought in not more than five days by land as far as to Phasis in Pontus” (Plin. NH. VI. 52). It is clear enough that Varro speaks about the possibility of “Transcaucasian” transit by 65 B.C., it had been already broken. And Pliny has nothing to add. Again, there is no transit in the 70s of the 1st c. A.D.
The Seleucids gained direct access to the cheap spice market as far back as in the beginning of the 3rd c. B.C. Greeks living in Syria organized a spice supply of Europe via the “Transcaucasian” river-route thus saving much money while transportation of the Indian goods. They started to gain a handsome profit. Then it had to be shared with the allies, Greeks from Bactria. Colchian coins of the 3rd c. B.C. found the Central Asia, Bactrian coins of the 2nd c. B.C. found in Eastern Georgia, and the presence of the Bactrians in Colchis attests to this trade.
Becoming stronger, the Arsacids of Parthia/Iran cut this trade by organizing the Caspian fleet. From that day on only their merchants could have direct access to the spices transported towards Europe. The Seleucids had to do nothing but to pay a huge sum for the goods brought from the left bank of the Euphrates. Romans, already governing Syria, had to do the same.
Thus, Transiranian transit became the most important one, only sometimes being interrupted by the same Romans, humiliating the Parthians and with the help of the Kushans organizing silk and spice supply of Europe via “Transcaucasian” trade route (T. Dundua. Georgia – Early Origin and Antiquity. Appendix /in Georg. with Engl. Summary/. Tbilisi. 2019, pp. 28-40).
When the “Transcaucasian” transit was finally broken, the Byzantines did their best to reach Asia rounding the Caspian Sea in the North, and moving towards the Turks, dwelling already in Central Asia. But this route – steppe route to the North of the Caspian Sea – failed to be nice because of a very low socio-economic level of the Caucasian mountaineers by that time. When this level became a bit higher, Genoa organized silk and spice supply of Europe via the North Caspian regions and the “Northern Caucasus” to Crimea (Caffa). And the rest of the route was as follows: Sebastopolis (Sokhumi, Georgia) – Trebizond – Galata – Italy. When the Ottomans diminished the Italian trade, Africa was rounded by the Portuguese vessels (T. Dundua. The Making of Europe /Toward History of Globalization/. The Caucasus and Globalization. Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies. Volume 2, Issue 2. Sweden. 2008, p. 41).
From the Middle Ages to Modern Period
In the 7th-10th cc. two major foreign policy developments played an important role in Georgian history. First was the emergence of the Arabs and the spread of Islam and second – formation of a powerful semi-nomadic state by the Khazars to the North of the “Caucasus” in the lower reaches of the Volga River (E. Avdaliani. Georgia and Silk Roads (6th-13th cc.) /in Georg. with Engl. Summary/. Tbilisi. 2019, pp. 65-76; A. K. Bennisen. The Great Caliphs. Yale University. 2009, pp. 141-150).
The wars between the Arabs and the Byzantines as well as a long conflict between the Arabs and the Khazars severely undermined the economic potential of the “South Caucasus”. Famous for various trade routes in Late Antiquity, those corridors almost ceased to operate across the “Caucasus” in the 7th c. However, it was at this time that new trade routes (corridors) slowly began to be formed. From the turn of the 7th-8th centuries, economic activity began to shift from Armenian cities to the Kura-Araxes basin, which led to the growth of Tbilisi and various cities in Arran and Shirvan (E. Avdaliani. Georgia and Silk Roads (6th-13th cc.), pp. 100-102).
Another important factor contributing to the economic growth of the Eastern part of the “South Caucasus” were close economic contacts which from the end of the 8th c. were formed between the Islamic world and the Khazars. The economic development and furthering of trade relations should have also been caused by the Abbasids’ decision to move the capital from Damascus to Baghdad, relatively closer to the “South Caucasus” and the Khazars. 9th c. dirhems were reaching Southern parts of modern Russia and Eastern Europe from the mints of Baghdad and other Mesopotamian cities (T. Noonan. The Economy of the Khazar Khaganate. The World of the Khazars. Leiden. 2007, pp. 207-244).
Under the Abbasid rule Georgian and particularly Armenian cities experienced significant development due to a general economic growth taking place in the “South Caucasus” and the Middle East. It is notable that a long and difficult process of unification of Georgia coincided with the above-mentioned distinct economic growth of Georgian cities and villages. These led to the development of a whole network of regional trade routes along Georgia’s borders, which in turn were linked to much larger, transcontinental trade routes running through Mesopotamia, northern Iran and Byzantium (E. Avdaliani. Georgia and Silk Roads (6th-13th cc.), pp. 100-102).
Appearance of the Seljuks in the second half of the 11th c. only slightly slowed the functioning of trade routes near the Georgian borders. From the 11th-12th cc. we again see the economic growth of the cities of Arran, Shirvan, and Armenia well evident in the Georgian, Persian-Arabic and Armenian written sources (V. Minorsky. Studies in Caucasian History. London. 1953, p. 105).
Thus, like large transcontinental routes, the roads of regional importance too were located outside the Georgian territory, but nevertheless near the borders of the Kingdom of Georgia. This meant that at the time of the unification of Georgia (late 10th c.) the country was again at the periphery of major economic activity in the region.
Since the establishment of the trade routes running through Arran, Shirvan and Armenia took place simultaneously with the formation of a united Georgian monarchy, the Bagrationis (ruling Georgian dynasty) in 11th-13th centuries initiatied an expansionist policy driven by the desire to master the regional trade routes which criss-crossed Dvin, Barda, Ganja, Tbilisi, Ani, Trebizond, Ahlat, Tabriz and many other major cities (E. Avdaliani. Georgia and Silk Roads (6th -13th cc.), pp. 196-197).
The invasion of the Mongols upturned the entire fabric of the 13th c. trade routes crisscrossing the “Caucasus”, which kicked off the gradual loss of control by the Georgians over regional trade. There were periods when Italians and other Europeans traded with the Western Georgian ports in 13th-15th cc., or when the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti in the 18th c. tried to revitalize its “North Caucasus” commerce, but overall the country lost the trade transit role it once possessed (The Role of Trade Routes in Georgian History.
This effectively lasted until the late 20th c. when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a number of roads, pipelines, railroads and other infrastructure projects began to run from the Caspian to the Black Sea through the Georgian territory. Georgia returned to its positioning between the Black and Caspian seas, between Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
One of such project is the 826-kilometer Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, opened in 2017, which enables the delivery of cargo between China and Europe with a haulage duration of approximately two weeks. Up to eight million tonnes of cargo may be carried on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway by 2025. Moreover, pipelines such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) create a network spanning the Caspian and Black seas with Georgia playing a vital transit role (TANAP)
There is also a Chinese factor. Since 2013, when Beijing announced its almost $1 trillion “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) Georgia has had a chance to become a part of the initiative which plans to connect China with Europe through Russian and Central Asian corridors (China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Flux )
Georgia now works to position itself as a regional transit destination. A good representation of Georgia’s rising position on the new “Silk Road” is a recurrent event dedicated to the new Silk Road concept held in Tbilisi since 2015. The latest event was held in 2019 when up to 2000 politicians, potential investors from all over the world, visited the Georgian capital (Silk Road Forum.
Thus the period since 1991 Georgia finds itself in a favorable geopolitical situation. The country is now successfully operating as a major transit route for oil and gas heading from the Caspian to Turkey and the Balkans. Moreover, as argued above, the rise of China and attempts to revitalize the ancient silk road gives Georgia a major opportunity to evolve into a regional transit hub with an ambition to reconnect Asia and Europe.
Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today
Crisis in Armenia Provides Fertile Ground for Russian Meddling
The immediate cause came on February 25, when Onik Gasparyan, Chief of General Staff of the Armenian Army, and other senior commanders released a statement calling for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to step down. Pashinyan responded by firing Gasparyan.
Yet the real cause of the uproar is Armenia’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War last year, which has triggered a deeply troubled and long-drawn-out period of soul-searching and consequent instability.
Delving into the details over what are the real reasons and who is to blame may anyway be futile in the cloudy political world of all three South Caucasus states (including Georgia and its current woes). While many Armenians believe that the protests are more about internal democratic processes, there is an undeniable geopolitical context too. Perhaps what matters most is the international ramifications of the conflict, especially as the early phases of the Russian-brokered November 2020 ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan are now being implemented.
The political crisis in Armenia does not affect the implementation of the agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 26. Other statements by the Russian leadership indicated that the Kremlin, which closely follows the internal development of its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) ally and the fellow member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), is nevertheless remaining aloof for now.
Over the past year, Russia has confronted multiple crises along its border with some finesse, successfully managing near-simultaneous crises in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia-Azerbaijan.
In each case, the Kremlin has sought to extract geo-economic benefits. Take the current Armenian crisis. The opposition has some support, but not as much as the current leadership. Leaders from both sides have connections with senior Russian leaders, albeit the Kremlin was far more comfortable with the pre-Pashinyan Armenian political elite. They understood what Russia likes in the near-abroad – cautious leaders mindful of Russian sensitivities and unwilling to play the reformist and Western cards that Pahinyan has used since coming to power in 2018.
And yet however much illiberal Russia feels uncomfortable with the reformist Pashinyan government, it needs for now because his signature is on the November ceasefire agreement. With the early stages of the deal being implemented, Russia is keeping its eyes on the prize — most importantly, the agreement to reopen Soviet-era railways which potentially will reconnect Russia to Armenia via Azerbaijani territory. Chaos in Armenia can only jeopardize this key aim.
Russia also understands that Pashinyan is becoming increasingly dependent as time goes by and that it can exploit this vulnerability. Equally obviously, the opposition could prevail, and that would ultimately benefit Russia too.
In the long run, Russia has caught Armenia in a cycle. To stay in power, the government would need extensive Russian economic, diplomatic, and perhaps even military support. But any new government formed by the current opposition would likely demand even more weaponry from Russia to prepare for the next confrontation, however hypothetic, with Azerbaijan. In both cases, the price for more arms would likely be deeper integration of Armenia within the EEU. And whatever remained of Armenia’s policy efforts towards the West, already under grave pressure since the Karabakh defeat, would die.
Potentially, there is a yet-greater reward for Russia – persuading Azerbaijan to allow the Russian peacekeeping mission to remain on its soil beyond the end of 2025. In which case, an openly revanchist Armenian government formed by an opposition determined to build a battle-ready military capable of offensive operations would be a useful tool for the Kremlin to justify the continued presence of its units in Karabakh.
Author’s note: first published in cepa.org
Caspian: Status, Challenges, Prospects
An Analysis into the Legal Classification, Security and Environmental Concerns, Geopolitics and Energy Flow Impact of the Caspian Plateau
How has the world’s largest inland body of (salty) water escaped the economic and political notice for so long? And it is for a resource-rich area of a unique locality that connects Europe and Asia in more than just geography. Simply, the Caspian Basin is an underrated and underexplored topic with scarce literature on its geomorphology, mineral deposits and marine biota, its legal disputes, pipeline diplomacy,environmental concerns and overall geopolitical and geo-economic interplays.
As the former Minister of the Canadian government and Secretary General of the OECD – Honorable Donald J Johnston – states in the foreword, Caspian – Status, Challenges, Prospects“is a fitting title for a book that masterfully gives an objective, comprehensive overview of the region. The authors have compiled an analysis of Caspian’s legal classification, security and environmental concerns, geopolitical scenarios, and energy flow impacts as they affect the world’s largest continental landmass – Eurasia.”
From comprehensive but content intensive insights on Caspian littoral states Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russiaand Turkmenistan, to external actors like Turkey, EU, China and the United States, readers are presented how separate actors and factors interact in this unique theater. The book elaborates on the legal classification of the Caspian plateau including the recent ‘Convention on Legal Status of the Caspian,’ to the numerous territorial and environmental security concerns.
Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic and his co-authors present Caspian as the most recent, fresh and novel way, in one stop-shop offering broad analysis on the Caspian region. It is a single volume book for which extensive information is exceptionally rare to find elsewhere. Following the read, authors are confident that a new expanse of scholarly conversation and actions of practitioners will unfold, not only focused on Caspian’s unique geography, but its overall socio-economic, politico-security and environmental scene.
Welcoming the book, following words of endorsements have been said:
The Caspian basin and adjacent Central Asian region (all being OSCE member states, apart from Iran) have, since the early Middle ages, acted as a crossroads between different civilizations and geopolitical spaces. In an increasingly interconnected world, growing geopolitical competition, economic interdependence and the emergence of new global challenges, particularly those related to water, energy and the climate emergency, have highlighted the relevance of this region, making it of increasing interest to researchers and academics. This book presents a thorough analytical compendium of historical factors, political dynamics, economic trends, legal frameworks and geopolitical interests which underpin, but also affect, the stability and development of this complex, diverse and strategically significant region.
Amb. Lamberto Zanier,Secretary-General, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2011-2017) OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (2017-2020)
A thoughtful, comprehensive and balanced analysis of the complex interplay between geopolitics and geo-economics in Central Eurasia, and pivotal energy plateau – that of Caspian. We finally have an all-in reader that was otherwise chronically missing in international literature, which will hopefully reverse the trend of underreporting on such a prime world’s spot.
Hence, this is a must-read book for those wondering about the future of one of the most dynamic and most promising regions of the world and what it could entail for both reginal and external players.
Andrey Kortunov Director General, Russian International Affairs Council
Although of pivotal geopolitical and geo-economic importance, Caspian energy plateau represents one of the most underreported subjects in the western literature. Interdisciplinary research on the topic is simply missing.
Therefore, this book of professor Bajrektarevic and his team – unbiased, multidisciplinary, accurate and timely – is a much-needed and long-awaited reader: A must read for scholars and practitioners, be it from Eurasia or beyond.
It is truly a remarkable piece of work!
Authors were able to tackle a challenging subject with a passion, knowledge and precision, and turn it into a compelling, comprehensive yet concise read which I highly recommend.
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kazakhstan Erzhan Kazykhanov, Ambassador Embassy of Kazakhstan, Washington dc, USA
ARTNeT secretariat is pleased to see how our initial invitation to Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic to present at the ARTNeT Seminar Series in 2015 evolved. The talk was initially published as a working paper for ARTNeT (AWP 149). Now Prof. Bajrektarevic, in collaboration with another two co-authors, offers a comprehensive study on a nexus of legal, security, and environmental issues all emanating from and linked to energy cooperation (or lack thereof) in the subregion. This volume’s value extends beyond the education of readers on the Caspian Basin’s legal status (e.g., is it a sea or a lake?). It is just as relevant for those who want a more in-depth understanding of an interplay of economic, security, and political interest of players in the region and outside. With the global institutions increasingly less capable of dealing with rising geopolitics and geo-economic tensions, more clarity – even if only about some aspects of those problematic issues – should be appreciated. This volume offers such clarity.
Mia Mikic, Director UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) ARTNeT coordinator
It is my honor to reflect on this work on Caspian. Comprehensive and content rich, this book of professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic and his co-authors brings up comprehensively all the useful information on Caspian, with the geographical and historical background and cultural, economic as well as security aspects related to it.
Authors’ novel and unbiased approach shall certainly help decision makers in their bettered understanding of the region that has centuries-long history of peace and cordial neighbourly relations. Long needed and timely coming, I warmly recommend this reader to those who want to know, but more importantly to all those who want to understand, this pivotal region of the world.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh Former Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Iran to United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva & Vienna
The book by Professor Bajrektarevic and his co-authors embodies a wide-ranging overview of the intertwined interests pursued by the young democracies of the Caspian basin, battling with inherited land and water disputes, and their interplay with regional and global powers. Apparently, supporting political independence of the formers and promoting their integration into the latter’s markets requires adequate analyses, timely outreach policies and consistent engagement. In this sense the publication serves as one of the scarce handbooks to understand diverse interests of stakeholders, dynamically changing security architecture of the region and emerging opportunities of cooperation around the Caspian Sea.
Ambassador GalibIsrafilov Permanent Representative to the UN Vienna and to the OSCE Embassy of Azerbaijan to Austria
An Analysis into the Legal Classification, Security and Environmental Concerns, Geopolitics and Energy Flow Impact of the Caspian Plateau
As Georgians Fight Each Other, Russia Gleefully Looks On
Earlier today, the leader of Georgia’s major opposition party – United National Movement (UNM) – was detained at his party headquarters by government security forces, the most recent escalation in a drawn-out political crisis. This could well be the beginning of a new troubled period in the country’s internal dynamics, with repercussions for the country’s foreign policy.
The optics favor the opposition. Images of armed and armored police storming UNM’s headquarters was damaging to the ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD). Western diplomats expressed grave concern over the events and their repercussions. Protests have been called, and will likely be covered closely in Western media.
What comes next, however, is not clear.
Much will depend on what long-term vision for the country the opposition can articulate in the aftermath of the most recent events. It was not that long ago that UNM was declining as a political force in Georgian politics. There is a real opportunity here. But the burden is on the opposition to make a play for the loyalty of voters beyond its circle of already-convinced supporters.
Appealing to ordinary Georgian voters is ultimately the key to resolving the crisis. Beyond the intra-party clashes about the legitimacy of the most recent elections, there is a growing chasm between political elites and the challenges faced by people in their daily lives. And tackling these challenges successfully will not be easy.
Both the ruling party and the opposition have been facing declining support from the public at large. Long-term economic problems, which have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, have not been credibly addressed by either side. Instead of solutions, both sides have engaged in political theatrics. For many voters, the current crisis is more about a struggle for political power, rather than about democracy and the economic development of the country. No wonder that most people consider their social and economic human rights to have been violated for decades no matter which party is in power. These attitudes help explain high abstention rates during the most recent election. Despite remarkable successes in the early years after the Rose Revolution, Georgia has lacked a long-term policy for reimagining its fragile economy since its independence and the disastrous conflicts of the 1990s.
None of this, however, should minimize the threats to Georgian struggling democracy. Today’s arrests reinforce a longstanding trend in Georgian politics: the belief that the ruling party always stands above the law. This was the case with Eduard Shevardnadze, Mikheil Saakashvili, and is now the case with the current government. For less politically engaged citizens, plus ça change: Georgian political elites for the last 30 years have all ended up behaving the same way, they say. That kind of cynicism is especially toxic to the establishment of healthy democratic norms.
The crisis also has a broader, regional dimension. The South Caucasus features two small and extremely fragile democracies – Armenia and Georgia. The former took a major hit last year, with its dependence on Moscow growing following Yerevan’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War. Today, Russia is much better positioned to roll back any reformist agenda Armenians may want to enact. Armenia’s current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been weakened, and easily staged protests are an easy way to keep him in line.
Georgia faces similar challenges. At a time when Washington and Brussels are patching things up after four years of Trump, and the Biden administration vigorously reiterates its support for NATO, Georgia’s woes are a boon for Moscow. Chaos at the top weakens Georgia’s international standing and undermines its hopes for NATO and EU membership. And internal deadlock not only makes Georgia seem like a basket-case but also makes a breakthrough on economic matters ever more unlikely. Without a serious course correction, international attention will inevitably drift away.
At the end of the day, democracy is about a lot more than finding an intra-party consensus or even securing a modus vivendi in a deeply polarized society. It is about moving beyond the push-and-pull of everyday politics and addressing the everyday needs of the people. No party has risen to the occasion yet. Georgia’s NATO and EU aspirations remain a touchstone for Georgian voters, and both parties lay claim to fully representing those aspirations. But only through credibly addressing Georgia’s internal economic problems can these aspirations ever be fully realized. The party that manages to articulate this fact would triumph.
Author’s note: first published in cepa.org
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