From November 16-21, GMF organized a study tour to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Among the participants were journalists, government officials, and think tank representatives. The group visited Tbilisi, Baku, and Istanbul, where they met with high-ranking government officials, opposition leaders, NGO representatives, journalists, and leaders of the business community in order to obtain a broad overview of the current situation in each country and region.
In Georgia, participants met with several government officials, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The group met with the Deputy Ministers of Interior and Defense to hear more detailed accounts on what happened in August and why. The field trip outside Tbilisi to some of the Russian/South Ossetian checkpoints revealed the continued fragility of the situation. The group also met with opposition representatives, as well as foreign diplomats and the EU Monitoring Mission.
In Azerbaijan, the group met with government officials, including the Chief of Staff of the President's Office, Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Economic Development, opposition representatives, and journalists. A visit to the regional office of British Petroleum showed the importance of Azerbaijan as an energy supplier in the region and also the sensitivities that have risen after the war in Georgia. The different meetings made it clear to participants that Azerbaijan is struggling to find its path and impact in the Caucasus and how difficult the situation is for any political opposition and independent media.
In Turkey, the focus of the meetings with representatives of business community, NGOs, media, and ruling party was on the recent policies of the government and what role Turkey is playing in the region, but also the role wants to play in the near future. The participants raised serious concerns regarding Turkey moving away from a democratic path and the increasing role of Islam in politics. During the meetings in Istanbul, even more than Georgia and Azerbaijan, it was obvious on how big the expectations of the government and also other players have for the new U.S. administration.