Caucasian Boundaries and Citizenship from Below

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Caucasian Boundaries and Citizenship from Below

Caucasian Boundaries and Citizenship from Below

Authors: Lale Yalçın-Heckmann et al.

Lale Yalçın-Heckmann

Rural property and economy in postsocialist Azerbaijan

Milena Baghdasaryan

Social Implications of Armenian Citizenship for Refugees from Azerbaijan

Teona Mataradze

Citizenship and Labour Migration in Georgia

Florian Mühlfried
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter

Being a State and States of Being in Highland Georgia

Nese Ozgen
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin

Project Discription

The project is led by Dr Lale Yalçın-Heckmann, who has been working in Azerbaijan and who will continue research with a new field site there. She is working with two PhD students, Milena Baghdasaryan to work in Armenia and Teona Mataradze for the research in Georgia, as well as Dr. Florian Mühlfried with a post-doc position to complement the research in Georgia. The associate project of Prof. Neşe Özgen is located in eastern Turkey at the borders with Georgia and Armenia. The project commenced in October 2003 and the group to start research has been recruited from February 2006 onwards.
This new research group will focus on the notion of citizenship, which has been changing in the postsocialist context. The former Soviet republics of the Caucasus were quick to declare their independence from the dissolving Soviet Union , but over the last fourteen years they have been seeking to re-establish old alliances and to forge new ones. War, political tensions, conflicts and economic crises have closed some borders, but opened up others. Throughout the transition years, the new republics from the former socialist bloc have been subject to transnational processes of democratisation and privatisation, which have been accompanied by nationalising politics and the re- and de-territorialisation of borders and, hence, also of citizenship, belonging and property (Verdery 1998).
By employing the concept of citizenship “from below,”the members of the project group intend to explore how social citizenship is articulated in the South Caucasian republics. The notion of social citizenship includes not only citizens’ economic, social and political entitlements vis-à-vis the welfare state but also state practices resulting in the inclusion and exclusion of individuals as citizens (legal citizenship rights) and the civic commitments that are expected of citizens (duties). To what degree do the claims and duties of citizens correspond to state policies and practices regarding citizenship? When they do not correspond, do citizens organise and act as agents shaping new notions of citizenship and belonging? If so, how?
Paying special attention to citizenship “from below,” the members of the research group seek answers to the following questions: How do people negotiate their units of belonging? How do they use economic, religious and other kinds of networks to increase their bargaining power? Do they retain and renew their old passports, and, if so, how do they use them? Do they choose out-migration or life in the diaspora? Or do they remain active in regional networks in order to secure economic and political survival?

Labor migration and trade, both of which involve temporary movement across borders, are a major phenomenon in the South Caucasus, and, therefore, they will be a first important axis of research on new notions of belonging and citizenship. For instance, the Armenian and Azerbaijani Republics suspended warfare in 1994 and still have no common peace agreement. Nevertheless, traders from both countries meet in Georgia to buy, sell, or barter their goods. Ethnic Azeris have been unofficially expelled from Georgia, but they still go there to trade and maintain their networks. Nakhichevan is formally cut off from Azerbaijan and survives economically through trade and labour migration to and from Turkey. All these movements of people and goods for economic or political reasons are bound to shape and be shaped by notions and practices of citizenship, in short citizenship regimes.
Citizenship laws and regulations seldom reflect the dynamics of social action or their economic and political implications. In the case of the Caucasus republics, the maintenance of “old” Soviet passports or their replacement with new documents from the new states has important consequences. It is estimated that millions of Azerbaijani citizens living in formerly Soviet countries, especially in the Russian Federation, still have these old passports, which they often keep in order to avoid having to apply for visas and residence permits. Therefore, legal notions of citizenship must be investigated in wider social contexts, which frame the second axis of research in this project, namely, the more diffuse ideas of political belonging and group identity in Transcaucasia. For example, Turkey has become a “western” country in the eyes of its former communist neighbours, especially because of its economic opportunities. Turkish traders have been remarkably entrepreneurial in almost all former socialist countries. Turkish goods as well as Turkish businessmen and officials (technical experts, bureaucrats, military staff and the politicians) are agents who help shape new forms of cultural and political belonging and who encourage the development of new notions and practices of citizenship. Simultaneously, Turks utilize their new links to the former Soviet countries as resources in negotiating their identities as “harbingers of modernisation” and in renegotiating their ethnic and political allegiances: Are the Azerbaijanis really their ethnic brothers? Are the Georgians fundamentally different because of their religion? To what degree do the Armenians in Armenia differ from their ethnic brothers in Turkey , if at all? The answers to such questions are dynamic, as are all comparable notions of political and economic inclusions and exclusion; and they are subject to change, depending on the experiences that people have made in the last fifteen years and are continuing to make.
Within this thematic focus, research will be carried out in the former Soviet countries of the Caucasus and also in Turkey . Fieldwork will reveal how, through links across new borders and through the effects of regional interests and global processes, new notions of citizenship are being created from below.
Keywords: citizenship; identities; boundaries; trade; local politics; religion; ethnicity


Verdery, Katherine (1998) “Transnationalism, Nationalism, Citizenship, and Property: Eastern Europe since 1989” in: American Ethnologist, 25, 291-306.

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