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Monday, March 01, 2004

IS THE (CHRISTIAN) CAUCASUS UN-EUROPEAN? William Pfaff, of whom I am no great friend anyway (see August 25), thinks that the Caucasus is outside of "Europe" and the people there should effectively forgot about becoming a part of EUrope.
To begin with, even his phrasing is rubbish, if the Baltics were "under European influence" that logically means they can't be European themselves.
Whether Pfaff actually knows what he is writing about is drawn into doubt however by this:

And there is Armenia. Independent since 1991 - for the first time in its history, except for two years after 1918 - Christian Armenia has been in a struggle with Muslim Azerbaijan

This is non-sense twofold. Armenia's history has for millenia been tilting back and forth between independence and foreign rule, so Pfaff seems worse informed than me, a mere blogger and hobby politico. Also, more seriously, he is implying that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is about religion when in fact it is an ethnically based conflict, maintained to a good degree by the interests of powerful outsiders. Binding either Armenia or both into a EU-NATO framework would effectively loosen the pressure Armenia is under and make a peace deal easier to conclude.
Pfaff discusses the US's growing interest in the region as part of its greater Middle East strategy which clearly underlines the region's importance. There is every reason why the EU should get involved here because this is somewhere where it can actually make a difference and a good one at that in contrast to its aimless and counterproductive posturing on Iraq and Israel.
But perhaps Pfaff has identified a problem:

History and geography impose distinctions. U.S. intervention in the Caucasus involves states that in modern times have nearly always been part of a sphere of Russian vital interest. The West may wish them well in their independence, but - alas for President Saakashvili - they have never belonged to the "Euro-American fold."

I find that wholly unconvincing. Why does it matter how long countries have been a part of Russia's sphere of interest, as opposed to Germany's? Anyway, the reason why Georgia and to a lesser extent Armenia seek a connection to the "Euro-American fold" is because they seek a way in which they can maintain their security in a very hostile and instable neighbourhood. Also doing this in a framework of European states is for them the ultimate conclusion of their ancient Christian identities that makes them just as European as Portugal and Estonia, as Iceland and Greece.
So what should the role of our Government, our European colleagues and the EU be in the Caucasus? Whatever the answer, one thing that is not the case is that the Caucasus, especially its Christian bits, are un-European. This is one of the forgotten big issues for Europe and it is certainly one that I will address at greater length at some point.

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