Democratic Bright Spots in the South Caucasus


Jan 23, 2019

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan review the honour guard at a welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 30, 2018

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at a welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 30, 2018

Photo by David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

By Denis Corboy, William Courtney, Kenneth Yalowitz

This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on January 22, 2019.

Democratic bright spots are emerging in Armenia and Georgia despite their being wedged between less-than-democratic regional powers—Iran, Russia and Turkey. Both countries seek to consolidate democratic gains and overcome poverty while managing daunting challenges from Russia and separatist conflicts. Even as the West keeps its primary focus on Russian aggression in Ukraine, it can encourage positive developments in the two South Caucasus countries.

Georgia in 2003 and Armenia last year underwent cathartic popular uprisings via the Rose and Velvet revolutions. Frustration with entrenched politics and poor living standards helped spark public demonstrations and political changes that brought reformist leaders to power.

The democratic revolution in Armenia and progress in Georgia run counter to prevailing views that around the world democracy is “under siege.” Armenia's newly elected government, headed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, has wide backing and seems determined to fight corruption, enhance transparency, and restore popular faith in government.

Georgia has made steady progress toward building democracy as evidenced by successive parliamentary and presidential elections that have generally been praised by independent monitors. Last month, however, the final round of the presidential election was flawed. It was won by Salome Zourabichvili, a former Georgian foreign minister who ran as an independent but in effect was the standard bearer of the ruling Georgian Dream Party and its leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili. International monitors criticized the abuse of administrative resources, attacks on civil society organizations, and lack of a level playing field.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit's annual Democracy Index published this month, Armenia showed the most improvement of “hybrid regime” countries in eastern Europe last year and Georgia the steepest fall, although Georgia still ranked higher than Armenia.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at

Denis Corboy was director of the Caucasus Policy Institute, King's College London, and EU ambassador to Georgia and Armenia. William Courtney is an adjunct senior fellow at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation, and was U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, Georgia and a U.S.-Soviet commission to implement the Threshold Test Ban Treaty. Kenneth Yalowitz is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Global Fellow at the Wilson Center, and was U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.

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