Abstract

The granting of autonomous status to minority populations has gained support among academics and practitioners alike as a way to solve, manage, and even preempt ethnic conflict. In spite of the enthusiasm for ethnofederalism, however, the provision of autonomy to minorities may actually increase rather than decrease the likelihood of conflict. Under certain political conditions, autonomy promotes the separate identity of the minority and increases its motivation and capacity to seek separation from the central state. This article presents a rudimentary theoretical framework identifying which qualities of autonomy solutions increase the likelihood of conflict. It discusses how autonomy relates to other factors conducive to conflict by studying minorities in the South Caucasus and examines the case of Georgia. In Georgia, there were five ethnic minority populations, two of whom--the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians--enjoyed autonomous status and were the only minorities to engage in armed conflict with the Georgian government. This article shows how autonomy, by empowering ethnic elites with control of statelike institutions and by enhancing factors such as leadership, economic viability, and external support, played a crucial role in the escalation of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Conversely, the absence of autonomy mitigated separatist and secessionist sentiments among two of Georgia's other minority groups--Javakheti's Armenian and Kvemo Kartli's Azeri populations.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3338
Print ISSN
0043-8871
Pages
pp. 245-276
Launched on MUSE
2002-01-01
Open Access
No
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