The present and future of Azerbaijani-Georgian relations is inextricably linked with the solution of a number of political, economic and religious problems:
First, Tbilisi's associated relations with the EU entail mandatory liberalization of all spheres of life of Georgia, which inevitably affects Azerbaijan, which is involved in the course of events in this country. The change of power in Yerevan should be taken into account.
Secondly, the level of integration of the Azerbaijani community (about 300 thousand) of the Kvemo Kartli region into Georgian society is extremely low. This is hampered by the low level of Georgian command of Georgian and a number of religious aspects. Renaming Azerbaijani settlements to Georgian manner, translating school education into Georgian, land and personnel problems, etc. are annoying to both the local Azerbaijani population and Baku.
Third, Azerbaijan's monopoly position in the Georgian energy market is weakened as the volatility of world oil prices, and consequently natural gas, as well as the fall in oil production in the republic itself.
Fourth, the growth rate of imports from Georgia to Azerbaijan far exceeds the growth of exports from Azerbaijan to Georgia. This growth is due to the re-export of cigarettes, cars and other goods from Georgia to Azerbaijan. As a result, Azerbaijan lost its advantage in foreign trade relations with Georgia, which was observed earlier. Tbilisi conducts a more effective foreign trade policy than Baku.
Fifth, the situation is at the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border. Since 2007, only 66% of the total Azerbaijani-Georgian state border has been delimited and demarcated since the agreement was reached.
Problems of Azerbaijan-Georgia interstate relations
One of the main problems in the Azerbaijani-Georgian interstate relations is the distribution of revenues from pumping oil and natural gas from Azerbaijan through the Georgian territory. The fact is that the total income of the Georgian side from the transportation of Azerbaijani energy resources (including rail transportation of oil) is no more than 100 million USD per year, with maximum utilization of the transportation capacity of the BTC oil pipeline, the Transcaucasian gas pipeline Shahdeniz - Erzurum, and Erzurum pipeline .
However, official Baku at one time made significant concessions in terms of distribution of profits from the operation of the above-mentioned energy communications, but the regional result from the creation of these communications for Azerbaijan and Georgia was completely different. Thus, Azerbaijan's revenues, which depend on the functioning of the energy communications data, at times exceed Georgia's revenues. Despite the fact that Georgia, in the name of construction of the aforementioned energy communications and ensuring transportation of oil and natural gas towards Turkey, entered into a long-term and violent confrontation with Russia, which caused political and economic damage to the country, which cannot be compared with the revenues from transportation of gas and gas. .
Moreover, it is the official Tbilisi that in the long run will have to fulfill the tasks of protection and security of the aforementioned energy communications, including TANAP, which will require serious financial costs and will further worsen relations with Russia. Therefore, many Georgian politicians and analysts urge the government to review the country's energy transportation policies and attribute the loss of Georgia to Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia's involvement in these projects.
It is natural that the issue of necessity to revise tariffs for transportation of oil and natural gas from Azerbaijan across the Georgian territory is already under discussion in Georgia's political circles, as it is already under discussion. at the time of the decisions on the construction of the aforementioned energy communications, world prices for oil and natural gas in the South Caucasus region were below current prices.
Another problem is the monastery complex "David Gareji" (state historical and cultural reserve "Keshikchidag"), part of which is located on the territory of Georgia and part on the territory of Azerbaijan. The recent incident around the David Gareji Complex has accelerated the negotiation process for the delimitation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border. The sites of the David Gareji Monastery Complex and the area of the Red Cross border checkpoint remain controversial.
It is symbolic that Georgian politicians and experts increasingly point out that Tbilisi's relations with Baku should be equal and based on a principled position. This is also indicated by a recent statement by the Secretary of the NSS, Georgian Interior Minister Georgy Gahari: "We will try to reach such an agreement with a strategic partner and fraternal state, which will take into account both the cultural heritage and the interests of our church."
However, the interests of the Georgian church are in direct contrast to the interests of official Baku. Yes, 2 May this year. Ruiz-Urbnis Metropolitan Job, in a sermon in the monastery complex of David Gareji Monastery, warned parishioners that Georgia and Azerbaijan are on the verge of a religious conflict and reminded the official Baku that "its oil and gas pipes are passing through Georgian territory."
It should be noted that statements in Tbilisi have repeatedly been heard that allegedly Georgia owns not only the territory of the David Gareji complex, but also the whole Gakh, Zagatala, and Balakan regions of Azerbaijan, which are referred to as the Georgian side by the historic province of Saingilo, and the local population is considered as Georgian. who have been subjected to violent Islamization. However, several thousand Georgians live in the Gakh region of Azerbaijan, who also frequently complain about the problems associated with visiting shrines. There are also problems with opening the House of Georgian Culture and difficulties during the crossing of the Azerbaijani-Georgian border.
It is obvious that such territorial claims of Georgia in Baku are perceived as extremely painful in the background of the Karabakh conflict. In addition to its symbolic significance, the territory of the David Gareji Monastery Complex has a military-strategic function. The David Gareji Monastery Complex is at an altitude of 800 m and is of strategic importance in the event of military action. It offers views of Sagarejo and Rustavi. Therefore, official Baku will not accept exchanges with official Tbilisi territories.
Azerbaijani investments in the field of economy and culture of Georgia are directed, including the realization of some expectations of the official Baku. Yes, official Baku has been trying to open Azerbaijani consulate in Marneuli for a long time, but official Tbilisi opposes it. Baku wants wider representation of ethnic Azeris living in Georgian local authorities. They are underrepresented in the Quem-Cartley government agencies. Despite the fact that in Samtskhe-Javakheti, where the Armenians are compactly living, all the leadership of Armenian nationality, and in Marneuli, Bolnisi, Dmanisi, Gardabani and in other places, Azerbaijanis are represented in the authorities in a minimal way.
The official Baku also wants to draw the attention of official Tbilisi to the problems of the Meskhetian Turks and their return to Georgia. At present, the number of Meskhetians in Azerbaijan, including citizens of the republic, is about 100 thousand. However, only a few hundred people can actually return to Georgia. The official Tbilisi is creating artificial problems for the mass migration of Meskhetian Turks to Georgia, despite existing obligations to international structures.
Georgian fears are caused by the fact that the Meskhetian Turks intend to achieve autonomy in Georgia in the future. By the way, Meskhetian Turks want to return to their former homes in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, which will connect the districts of Kvemo-Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti with Azerbaijan and Turkey. The official Baku in this issue has not put a lot of pressure on official Tbilisi, given the political expediency not to spoil relations with Georgia.
Over the coming 2 years, the overall dynamics of relations in the energy and communications sectors indicates that the construction of the TANAP and TAP gas transportation project will be completed. However, the President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili in Baku noted that she is glad to make "her first regional visit to the fraternal country". However, S. Zurabishvili in January this year. made her first foreign visit to Brussels, held talks with the European Commission and at NATO Headquarters, and visited Berlin and Paris. Thus, Tbilisi outlined Georgia's long-term priorities.
In other words, S. Zurabishvili's visit to Baku is aimed at maintaining Georgia's partnership with Azerbaijan. The fact is that today there is no reason to argue about the Azerbaijani-Georgian relations within the framework of a strategic strategic military-political union with clear goals and obligations of the parties. Moreover, to demonstrate the level of Azerbaijani-Georgian relations is higher than the current “strategic partnership”.
The cooling of Georgia's relations with Azerbaijan is also due to the fact that Tbilisi is concerned about the reduction of ethnic Georgians against the background of the growth of the Muslim population of Georgia, which has unpredictable consequences for the titular nation of the republic.
Tbilisi is projecting a religious situation in Azerbaijan on the Kvemo Kartli region. Given the weak demographic indicators of ethnic Georgians, as well as their increasing emigration from Georgia, Azerbaijan's demographic dominance in many southeastern regions of Georgia will grow. Obviously, this scenario is dangerous for Georgia. Moreover, Ankara is stepping up Turkey's presence in Georgia's Adjara, which can be seen as a way of putting pressure on Georgia.
However, Baku and Tbilisi traditionally seek to coordinate their positions in the course of voting and public manifestations of their approaches at the sites of various international forums and organizations (UNGA, PACE, OSCE, etc.) in the issues of settlement of Karabakh, Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. . Tbilisi fears renewal of the Karabakh conflict, believing that it will have catastrophic consequences for the economy and energy security of both Georgia and the entire South Caucasus, and could eventually lead to an increased geopolitical influence of Moscow in the region. That is why Georgia is trying to maintain friendly relations with both Azerbaijan and Armenia. This approach is also important for Georgia's internal political stability, as the largest national minorities in the country are Azerbaijanis and Armenians. For stability in Georgia, it is necessary for Azerbaijanis and Armenians to be satisfied with their situation and maintain friendly relations with each other even in the event of escalation of tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh.
At the same time, there are fears in Tbilisi that separatist sentiment may arise among Georgian citizens of Azerbaijani origin, which can damage not only the economic, but also the geopolitical and demographic foundations of the country's stability. Tbilisi believes that in order to avoid Azerbaijani demands, as well as to reduce Georgia's dependence on Azerbaijan, the country's economy should be diversified. In this matter, the official Tbilisi is considering the West, China, Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan.
However, Azerbaijan sometimes refrains from sharper language regarding Russia, as Georgia insists. In its turn, official Tbilisi is using Georgia's monopoly transit and communication position for Azerbaijan, trying to get maximum political and economic dividends for using the country's territory for pumping energy resources.
First, the in Baku, Georgia's foreign policy priorities for Azerbaijan are changing. The intensification of the Azerbaijani-Georgian relations was conditioned by the implementation of major energy and transit projects between Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Today, there are no new impulses in the Azerbaijani-Georgian cooperation that would determine the further development. Despite the strategic partnership and similarity of interethnic conflicts in Azerbaijan and Georgia, the two countries are not ready to take responsibility for each other's problems. Azerbaijan and Georgia's security needs are driven by similar economic and energy factors. But Azerbaijan and Georgia have different estimates of the sources of threats. This circumstance limits the opportunities of Azerbaijan and Georgia for full and practical cooperation in foreign policy. For Georgia, the main potential adversary is Russia, Azerbaijan in its geopolitics focuses on Armenia.
Second, the Georgia's course on integration into Euro-Atlantic structures puts pressure on geopolitical processes around Azerbaijan. Georgia's hypothetical NATO membership obliges official Baku to clarify Azerbaijan's relations with NATO and the CSTO.
At the same time, the prospects of the MTC between Azerbaijan and Georgia have the following directions: preparation for anti-terrorist operations due to the occupation of the territories of both states; interconnections in terms of logistics and aircraft supply; joint measures to train army personnel; coordinated activities of the MIC of both countries; improving transit capabilities for counterterrorism operations through Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Third, in the coming years, the main task of Tbilisi's foreign policy is to integrate Georgia's borders by enhancing the republic's authority in the South Caucasus region, so as not to encounter another separatism in Georgian territory. Otherwise, the disintegration processes in Georgia will result in the geographical contraction of the country, preserving only Tbilisi and the adjacent areas.
Fourth, the rapprochement between Armenia and Georgia symbolizes the fact that the authorities of the two South Caucasus republics do not condition the development of bilateral interstate relations by cooperation with third countries; Azerbaijan and Turkey. Therefore, an equal and mutually beneficial bilateral format of relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia and Georgia - Armenia is important for official Tbilisi in the defining role of the EU.
Fifth, the Azerbaijani and Georgian authorities can agree on the delimitation of the state border if a consolidated and compromise approach on both sides is shown in this matter. Otherwise, there will be a crisis situation between the countries.
The problem of belonging to the David Gareji Monastery Complex can lead to an increase in anti-Azerbaijani sentiment in Georgia, and this issue will negatively affect the situation of the Azerbaijani community in the republic. The official authorities of Azerbaijan and Georgia are not interested in exacerbating interethnic sentiment in the two neighboring countries.
Most likely, the delimitation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border will not prevent the emergence of new conflict situations at the border of the two countries. Demarcation work can begin only after delimitation, and it will take a long time. The delimitation process is time consuming, first the boundaries need to be identified on maps, then diplomatic negotiations are held, and only then the demarcation work begins - the determination of the border line in place.
Negotiations on the delimitation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border have a fundamental problem, which has a negative impact on political and economic relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia (first of all, the BTC railway) and on humanitarian processes on both sides of the state border (issues of status of ethnic Georgians). and ethnic Georgians in Azerbaijan).
The parties mainly demonstrate a forceful approach to border security, linking it to a closed and tightly controlled border space. Such a vision of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border does not imply trust between Azerbaijan and Georgia in ensuring border security and creating some areas of shared use. Therefore, it is unlikely the creation of a monastery "extraterritorial" in the area of the David Gareji complex.
However, Baku has officially stated that the Azerbaijani side is committed to completing the process of delimitation of the state border with Georgia as soon as possible. However, in Baku, they believe that the delimitation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border does not imply territorial concessions, but only draws up and consolidates internationally recognized borders on the territory.
The delimitation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border will stretch in time with all the ensuing consequences. David Gareji is a complex of various monasteries built on a fairly large area of territory in the border area between Azerbaijan and Georgia. In addition to the David Gareji complex, the official Baku also claims three more churches located in the Azerbaijani territory. We are talking about two monasteries - Bertubani and Chichhituri. These monasteries form one whole, but one part of them will be located in the territory of Azerbaijan in any schedule of delimitation of the state border between the two countries.
Therefore, before the delimitation and demarcation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border, Tbilisi will seek to agree and develop a special treaty between Azerbaijan and Georgia, which regulates the issue of the David Gareji complex, while preserving its integrity and integrity. After all, this object has a deep religious content for Orthodox Georgia.
Rauf Rajabov, Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan