May 10, 2005

Tbilisi George: Regional Implications?

The scene in Tbilisi:

After arriving here Monday night, Bush and his wife, Laura, received an extraordinary welcome in the city's Old Town. It was a lively scene as Georgian dancers costumed in red-black-and-white and colorful headscarves performed dozens of routines around Bush, who smiled, clapped and even shook his hips.

Bush, who stayed longer than the 20 minutes allotted by the White House, was caught up in the enthusiasm, which contrasted sharply with the unfriendly protests that have greeted him in some other countries.

As dancers leapt, whirled and stomped their feet, children performed acrobatic feats and others danced to more mournful tunes. The event was capped by a fireworks show above an ancient church on a hillside.

Afterward, Bush and his entourage dined at an Old Town restaurant and emerged to another fireworks show.

``It was great food, really good food,'' Bush said, rubbing his stomach. ``I recommend getting a bite here.''

I think I've eaten at that restaurant--and I can echo Bush that it's definitely worth grabbing a bite there. Any chow-hounds out there; please duly note that Georgian fare is tasty indeed. But that's a story for another time. I link this boiler-plate, analysis-free AP dispatch merely to point out possible regional implications stemming from the rapturous crowds that greeted Bush in Tblisi. Readers have probably espied from my surname that I'm of part Armenian heritage (there's also some, er, French in there! ed. note: Yes, that should help explain all the annoying French words thrown into seemingly every post over here). I don't generally blog about the Caucasus because I'm involved in philanthropic activities in Armenia. As part of these activities, I meet with the leaders of the Armenian government routinely. I've decided, frankly, that I can help the average person out more by rolling up my sleeves on the philanthropy side of the fence rather than penning scathing critiques of Armenian elites or the like. Hey, life's full of trade-offs. But I did want to note that I believe Bush's forward leaning democratization strategy, exemplified by trips like this one to Georgia, could well reap some dividends in Yerevan and Baku. The stagnation born of the Nargorno-Karabakh conflict, of course, acts as a powerful brake for forward reformist movement in these countries. But cosmopolitan Yerevanis and doubtless some activists in Baku are increasingly getting quite restless. And there's a reason the U.S. is building a huge Embassy in Yerevan. Policymakers see a real opportunity there for further democracy-building and economic revitalization. Also, rather obviously, and partly born of the war on terror (sorry, extremism!), we've become increasingly intent on wielding major influence through the trans-caucasus for strategic reasons (the region straddles the nether regions between Russia and Iran and Turkey). Armenia is trickier to influence than Georgia (a young NY trained lawyer at the helm!) or Azerbaijan (well known to U.S. multinationals because of oil reserves in the Caspian), and partly as the Christian Armenians have historically looked to co-religionist Mother Russia for protection against the Turkic hordes to the south. But smart Armenians know well that the Russians would, if pressed, sell them down the river rather quickly indeed. A smart insurance policy, therefore, is improving relations with the U.S. Bush's presence in nearby Tbilisi, I suspect, will not be without some influence in Yerevan itself (unless reformist elites have flat-out become too cynical). I'll get a better feel as I'm heading out there in early June. Perhaps more on this then.

P.S. On another topic, who will have to do the necessary task of deflating Praktike's poo-pooing of the state of Egyptian democratization efforts? Will this dreary task have to fall to B.D.? Jokes aside, I hear the uber-commenter (lately given to tinges of nostalgic sentiment) is off to Egypt shortly. Could he drop me a line as I've got a query or two for him? Thanks in advance.

Posted by Gregory at May 10, 2005 02:14 AM | TrackBack (28)

Readers have probably espied from my surname that I'm of part Armenian heritage

Would this be a good time to ask how to pronounce Djerejian?

Posted by: fling93 at May 10, 2005 03:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

heh. why not? JE-RE-JIN. "Je" close to the French pronoun with the "j" pronounced more like the beginning of the word "juice". "Re" as in the beginning of remark. Jin close to the drink, as in Bombay Gin. Does this help? Now I'm confused!

p.s. yes stress on the JE...

Posted by: greg at May 10, 2005 03:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks! Yes, that helps. I assume the stress is on the first syllable?

Posted by: fling93 at May 10, 2005 03:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

flipping Armenia ... now that would be something indeed. Tricky to pull off while we're also trying to deepen ties with Baku, but I think it could be done. Woodrow Wilson's dream fulfilled!

BTW, I did give Bush props here for his Egypt comment in Riga:

Posted by: praktike at May 10, 2005 03:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

bump it to the top (from free republic..)

Posted by: harry at May 10, 2005 04:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In the medium term, of course, watch the magnetic pull of the European Union start to work. Europe signifies stability and prosperity, two things that post-communist citizens have found pretty darn attractive so far.

Turkish membership is likely to accelerate the process.


Posted by: Doug at May 10, 2005 02:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, we may disagree on small ideological matters like - who should be leader of the free world. But I firmly endorse your enthusiasm for Georgian cuisine! Among the best!

Someone needs to open a Georgian restaurant in DC. What I would not do for Ishpinat Paxahli! Chachapuri, etc.!

Posted by: Laura at May 11, 2005 02:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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