GMF Study Tour Takes a Closer Look at the South Caucasus and its Conflicts
From Sunday, October 16 to Friday, October 21, the Black Sea Trust of the German Marshall Fund, in partnership with the Robert Bosch Stiftung, hosted a senior delegation of US and European experts, policymakers, and journalists on a study tour of the South Caucasus. The trip aimed to explore the issues driving the region’s relationship with the EU, Russia and the protracted conflicts.
In Baku, Azerbaijan, the group met with a number of Government officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, representatives of Presidential Administration, and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR). The discussions focused on the current political, social and economic situation in Azerbaijan, with a special emphasis on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK). The group also met with local political analysts, representatives of civil society, and international organizations.
In Baku, the delegation was also hosted by the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, an educational institution associated with the Azeri Ministry of Foreign Affairs that offers world class undergraduate and graduate programs to an international student body. The Diplomatic Academy is currently building the 1st Green Campus in the S. Caucasus, which will use solar and wind energy to operate the ultra modern campus open 24/7. The 100 million euro campus located in the center of Baku will include lecture halls, an extensive library, dormitories, and various outdoor recreational facilities. The general impression about Baku is that it is a growing, vibrant city, with the country’s oil revenues being reflected in the numerous construction sites around the city. Azerbaijan currently accounts for anywhere between 75% - 83% of the entire economy of the South Caucasus, and it has the real potential to become a regional leader.
While in Baku, the delegation was invited to attend a private reception hosted by the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, on the occasion of Azerbaijan’s 20th Anniversary of independence. The group was also hosted by the German Ambassador and the US Ambassadors to Azerbaijan.
The trip continued on to Tbilisi where the delegation learned about the current state of affairs in Georgia, and in the region, from several key ambassadors, representatives of political opposition, as well as local experts and representatives of international organizations who work in Georgia, but also cover the S. Caucasus region. The issue of the occupied regions of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia and efforts to reintegrate both territories were discussed at length during a meeting with Eka Tkeshelashvili, State Minister of Georgia for Reintegration. The group also met with the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, touching upon the current and future reforms in the country, the role of the opposition, the media, and the country’s relations with Russia.
The six-day long study tour concluded in Yerevan, Armenia, where members of the delegation were briefed about the current situation in the country by locally based diplomats, experts, government officials, the opposition, and civil society. The NK conflict dominated the majority of meetings held in Yerevan, which continues to be an important and highly sensitive issue for Armenians. The delegation was also received by the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who spoke highly of GMF and welcomed this type of visits in order to learn directly from the source about the situation in Armenia, and in South Caucasus in general.