Carnegie’s Jessica Matthews and Thomas de Waal and Anthony Richter from the Open Society Foundation opened the conference. De Waal stressed that the conference would aim to leave discussions of geopolitics aside and take a closer look at states, societies, and state building in the South Caucasus. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are no longer countries “in transition” or “geopolitical pawns” under the influence of great powers, he argued, but functioning, sovereign states. “It’s time to treat these countries as grown-ups,” he concluded.

Hans Gutbrod from the Tbilisi-based Caucasus Research Resource Center presented the results of surveys taken across the South Caucasus in 2010. These “Caucasus Barometer” surveys gauged public opinion in each country on issues such as state and society relationships, economic developments, and engagement with the outside world.

Results By Country

  • Armenia: Many Armenians today believe there are few opportunities to obtain employment, receive an education, and enjoy a good standard of living, said Gutbrod. Nearly one third of Armenians expressed a desire to emigrate permanently. Public trust in the military and the Armenian Orthodox Church remains high, he noted, whereas trust in the president, state institutions, and judiciary is low. More than 70 percent of Armenian citizens believe that the government treats them unfairly, he added.

  • Azerbaijan: In contrast to Armenia, public trust in religious institutions is relatively low while trust in the president and military is high. Despite widespread endorsement of the president, however, only 37 percent of Azerbaijanis believe that their country is heading in the right direction, Gutbrod noted. Corruption remains a significant problem – 30 percent of respondents admitted that they or a family member had recently paid a bribe.

  • Georgia: In Georgia, interaction between state and society is more seen as a contractual relationship where the government acts as an “employee” that serves citizens’ needs, noted Gutbrod. There is widespread unhappiness with levels of unemployment and poverty. But 55 percent of Georgians are optimistic about their children’s prospects for a better life in the coming decades. The vast majority of Georgians believe that their country will eventually become a true democracy, he concluded.  

Regional and Global Perspectives

  • Similarities: In all three countries, the middle class is small and poverty and unemployment remain very serious problems, Gutbrod said, leading to continued widespread emigration. Social networks, loans, and remittances play an important economic role in all three countries. Across the South Caucasus, citizens remain politically inactive, rarely mobilizing to solve local problems or engage their governments. Indeed, in Armenia and Azerbaijan, most citizens believe that the interaction between the government and general public resembles a “parental” or extractive relationship, he added.

  • Self-Perceptions: According the survey results, a majority of Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians believe that their countries generally have a positive image abroad. At the same time, Gutbrod noted that Azerbaijanis are the least confident that the outside world knows about Azerbaijan.

  • South Caucasus and the World: Despite the controversial 2008 Russia-Georgia war, most Georgians approve of doing business with Russians as much as they do with Americans. Georgians also value doing business with Abkhaz and South Ossetians – the main ethnic groups in the two regions that tried to secede from Georgia in the 1990s – more than they do with Armenia. Armenians overwhelmingly approve of maintaining business ties with Russia and the United States, while Azerbaijan favors trade with Turkey. In regards to strategic alliances, there is substantial popular support for NATO membership in all three countries, especially in Georgia where public approval is 70 percent, Gutbrod concluded.