The New South Caucasus: Overcoming Old Boundaries

We would like to present the result of an experiment that the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s South Caucasus Regional Office has carried out since 2003. Within the framework of its Regional South Caucasus Scholarship Programme, the Heinrich Böll Foundation provides young scholars with the opportunity to perform independent scientific research beyond the traditional academic settings.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Regional Scholarship Programme for the South Caucasus has two major objectives:

  • It hopes to encourage young researchers to take on interdisciplinary, individual research projects and to contribute to the renewal of the social sciences in the region through the use of innovative research methods.
  • It seeks to construct a cross-border network of young scientists and practitioners, which can serve as a framework in which cross-border projects in the fields of socio-political education and social science research can be carried out. 

The proposed collection represents the scientific results of the fourth generation of the scholars of the Heinrich Böll Foundation from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and allows observing the scope of scientific interests of the new generation of researchers in the South Caucasus. The publication presents individual papers that were drawn up within the framework of the programme in the field of social sciences in 2007. Some of the research projects have derived from the daily experience of the researchers. Others were motivated by their social position or the practical experience obtained in their professional environment.  Not aimed at elucidating all the major research questions in the majority of social sciences,   the papers reflect on the data of the empirical research, that view relations of the individual and the society in the context of modern analysis.

The authors have taken interdisciplinary approaches to subjects that are of fundamental importance for the understanding of social and political processes in the societies of the South Caucasus, but which are hardly touched upon in public debate, or even fall into the realm of taboo to some extent.  And yet anyone who attempts to foster social modernization and democratization in this region has to take a critical look at these very themes at some point. Therefore, of particular relevance is the work of the scholars engaged in researching issues of social and political transformations. 

Two articles in the first section of the book – “Politics and society” are dedicated primarily to the questions of informal mechanisms for the realization of power and for regulating access to power. The reader can examine the issues, which are often masked by formal democratic facades. G. Babunashvili describes informal mechanisms of decision-making and party influence using the example of Tbilisi city government. The research reveals new trends of increasing centralization of power combined with a growing role of party resources for the purpose of controling political conduct of the party members. G. Shubitidze studies the influence of clientile relationships over the self-governance system and tracks the development of informal relationships in the local government of Khashuri. The article of A. Malania is assessing the state policy for integration of IDPs using the example of Kutaisi and reveals the reasons that complicate the process of integration of IDPs from Abkhazia within the local “host” communities:  spatial aggregation, unemployment, wish to return, and specific social infrastructure of the IDP community. M. Baiadze describes the social environment that forms social skills and values and at the same time determines stigmatization or socialization of children that are brought up in children’s home.

The papers in the second section – “New Identities” – deal with historical and sociological points of changing ethnic, national and religious constructions of identity in the societies of Southern Caucasus that took place during the 20th century. T. Dalanyan’s article discusses the process of constructing new national identities, namely Kurd and Yazidi, among the Kurmanji speaking population of Armenia. A. Suleimanov studies the Molokan community in Azerbaijan; the article analyses transformation of confessional identity into local and ethnic identities. E. Paverman looks into the construct of the Georgian ethnic code, which plays a significant role in the social relations of the modern Georgian society. The author reveals two elements as the markers of this code: the Georgian gene as well as the factor of the right family name. A. Chobanyan in her article describes the motivation of emigration and returning to Armenia as well as the strategies of overcoming various obstacles, encountered by re-emigrants in the process of reintegration in their own country. The author draws the interesting conclusion that the decision to return is influenced mainly by non-economic factors, while the initial decision to emigrate is determined exclusively by economic motivations.

The editors hope that this fourth volume will provide interesting asset to library stocks, not only to a specialized readership, but to anyone interested in the political and social developments in the South Caucasus or involved in civil society initiatives.  We also hope that this publication will open some doors to the international scientific “community” for these young scientists and, by doing so, encourage the process of opening up South Caucasian societies to the international exchange of ideas and opinions.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all of the experts in and outside of the South Caucasus who are guiding and supporting our scholarship programme with their scientific expertise and personal commitment.

Tbilisi, December 2008

Nino Lejava
Scholarship Programme Coordinator
South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation

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