Political unity in the Caucasus was followed by an economic union, the countries’ strengths combining to make a prosperous and connected region.
·Next month, the Caucasus Union will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its establishment on May 26, 2020. World leaders, including the presidents of Russia, the US, China, India and Europe, have already confirmed their plans to attend the celebrations, which will be held at the new capital of the union, Batbivan, built at the crossing point of the borders of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Looking back, it was the arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan – which started soon after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s – that played a large role in the build-up of tensions across the border in 2014 and 2015. The following years, in 2016 and 2017, these tensions spiralled out of control and led to week-long skirmishes with the highest death toll since the official armistice in 1994. Against the backdrop of worsening Russian-Turkish relations, this situation soon took on larger proportions. Turkey came to the help of Azerbaijan and Russia supported Armenia. American military advisors settled in Georgia, where violent clashes between once peacefully cohabiting Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities demonstrated that Tbilisi could not stay out of this. Both sides deployed mid-range rockets pointing towards the opposing capitals, Baku and Yerevan, and newspapers around the globe evoked the horror of the Cuban missile crisis.
It was the prospect of the total destruction of their countries that gave rise to the Bakuriani Peace movement, uniting Armenian and Azerbaijani writers, actors, singers and popular politicians, who drove and then walked from their respective capitals to the border area to eventually meet and sing old Soviet songs together. No one dared to open fire on this assembly of national treasures, and thanks to the Internet news of the gathering soon reached everyone. The dramatic event seemed to wake people up from a nightmare, and the bloodthirsty hardline politicians were forced out of power. An armistice was signed, this time followed by the 2019 peace agreement.
The consequent accords included Georgia, and the three states announced their demilitarisation and international neutrality. The states understood that, on their own, they were not likely to progress. The scale of their economic ruin caused by oligarchism, currency devaluation, falling commodity prices and the arms race was so immense that only by joining efforts could the countries move forward from that deadly point. Their international creditors also insisted on cooperation, promising big loans if the three states joined efforts to overcome their funk.
The first step came in the form of a referendum for the union and its constitution in 2020. The non-recognised states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia announced they would enter the union if all member states had equal votes in the Caucasian Parliament, the Seim, located in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. In spite of some small protest rallies in Georgia, the Georgian government decided to agree to the request of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, considering this a good opportunity for the reintegration of these former Georgian regions. After the Union Referendum, the states took steps for the economic rehabilitation of the union.
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For this purpose, the Caucasus Union decided to reconstruct the Pan-Caucasian railway, which connected the region to the Russian railway network during the Soviet period, passing through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Abkhazia. The next step was the connection of this railway network to the railway networks of Iran and Turkey, which helped to connect the region to the railway systems of Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East. The reconstruction of the Pan-Caucasian railway network was completed two years ago and inaugurated with a moving circus on rails, a colourful parade from the Caspian to the Black Sea. It became a huge boost for the economic stability of the region, finally making it a transportation corridor for transit, from east to west and from south to north. Another boost in this context was the modernisation of the ports in Batumi, Poti, Sukhumi and Baku. The Caucasus Union soon became known as the Pearl on the Silk Road, the most important transit corridor and economic centre between Asia and Europe.
After the construction of the railroad, the Caucasus Union realised another colossal project – the Caucasus Bank and Trade Market were founded, making the union more attractive for foreign investment. Two years after the reconstruction of the railway network and the trade market, the GDP of the Caucasus Union rose by 25 per cent, enabling the union to build oil refineries and launch new projects such as the Trans-Caucasian pipeline, which started delivering Caspian gas to the Balkans, and to Italy through the Adriatic Sea.
The Caucasus Union also became one of the biggest exporters of clean and renewable energy in Europe, developing a network of wind and solar power stations and building a network of hydroelectric stations on the powerful rivers of the Caucasus. The surplus of green energy has made it possible for Armenia to close one unwanted piece of Soviet heritage – the nuclear reactor in Metsamor.
The enormous metal mines in the territory of Armenia enabled the union to become a quickly industrialising state, people started to move from their provinces and villages to the cities, leaving uncultivated land behind. In order to keep farmers and villagers in their provinces and develop agriculture, the union announced a 15-year moratorium on taxation of the agricultural sector. Big donations provided by the state, and excellent climate and soil quality, have made the Caucasus Union one of the bestknown agricultural centres in Europe and the Middle East. Its agricultural produce is exported to the Middle East – especially the Arabian Peninsula – Russia and Europe.
With significant political influence in the US and certain European countries, as well as big financial resources in Russia, the Armenian diaspora brought in investment and capital for the new economic projects of the union. They also chipped into the Caucasus Educational Fund for the advancement of education and innovation in the region. Schools and universities were renovated and the monthly salary of school teachers, compared with the pre-union period in all countries, increased by 250 per cent, while the salary of university professors increased by 310 per cent. The union also granted free university education to all citizens.
Tourism became another of the Caucasus Union’s developing sectors. Known for its ancient historical monuments and beautiful natural landscapes, high mountains and canyons, the region became one of the most important and attractive tourist destinations in the Eastern Hemisphere. A network of luxurious hotels and entertainment centres was established, as well as a diverse range of cheap hotels and tourist attractions for budget travellers. The Pan-Caucasian railway increased the number of tourists, allowing the opportunity to reduce travel expenses through cheap railroad tickets.
This fast-growing economy needed more people and a bigger labour force, so the Caucasus, traditionally known for its export of migrant workers, started to attract the attention of the global labour market. Thousands of migrants started to come to the Caucasus each year to earn money and start a new page of their lives. Other elements of the economy also fell into place, with the banking network attracting new investment and financing to the region.
And though some separatist and nationalist movements inspired by the influence of certain regional powers are still active, fewer people are attracted to these ideas, because the member states have achieved better results in the union than before it was established.
These last ten years of a joint effort by its people have provided fast results, which in turn have helped eliminate mutual hatred and distrust among citizens. This region of conflicts, mutual hatred and distrust has become a union of mutual interests, prosperity and development. For some it’s an ideal model of reconciliation and economic growth; for others it’s just a dream of a colourful garden.·