Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tradition vs. Sexual Minority Rights in Georgia

In recent months, the debate concerning LGBT rights in Georgia has been marked by several major events. On May 17 in Tbilisi, a rally held by 50 activists for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia received a violent reaction from thousands of people. In September, Thomas Hammarberg, the European Union's Special Adviser for Legal and Constitutional Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, published a report on human rights in Georgia, including a section on the rights of sexual minorities. In the report, Hammarberg addresses the May 17 demonstrations and writes that, “It should be understood that the issue [of LGBT rights] is not about so-called propaganda for a certain lifestyle but about ensuring basic rights to all human beings.” In response, on October 14, Georgian newspaper “Kviris Palitra” published an open letter (a translation is available here) from members of a broad spectrum of the Georgian elite (writers, academics, politicians, artists, etc.). Entitled, “Respect our Traditions!”, the letter describes Georgia as a traditional society, and argues that the United States and Western Europe are attempting to impose an artificial ideology in equating the rights of sexual minorities with the rights of national and religious minorities. This blog shows that many Georgians believe that LGBT rights are not compatible with Georgian tradition and that they see advocacy for LGBT rights as a foreign influence.

CRRC conducted a special survey in Tbilisi following the May 17 protests which included several questions concerning the importance Georgians place on traditions in their society versus the acceptance of different values. When asked whether a successful organization of a peaceful demonstration dedicated to the International Day Against Homophobia would endanger Georgia in any way, 57% of respondents replied affirmatively, while 30% of respondents said it would not.

When asked to what extent a good citizen should defend traditions, 72% of respondents replied always. 64% and 65% of respondents also replied that a good citizen should always respect the rights of ethnic and religious minorities respectively, while only 16% responded that a good citizen should respect the rights of sexual minorities, echoing the sentiment of the open letter which refused to equate the rights of sexual minorities with ethnic and religious minorities.

Furthermore, when asked who was the main organizer of the May 17 demonstration, respondents were scattered in their responses. Some identified the main organizer as an NGO, as sexual minorities, the United National Movement, or as “Outside Forces”/Foreigners/International Organizations. Almost of half of respondents did not know. This reflects the open letter’s stance that advocacy for LGBT rights appears to many Georgians as having a foreign origin and not being compatible with Georgian tradition.

When asked who the main organizers of the counter demonstration were, the respondents were much more unified in their responses. 43% identified regular citizens/people as the main organizers, yet a large amount also said they did not know who the organizers were. The respondents were much quicker to identify regular citizens as participants in the counter demonstration, than in the original pro-LGBT rights demonstration.

Finally, in the 2012 CB, when asked about the most pressing issue facing the country, only 2% chose human rights, and 3% selected it as the second most pressing issue. Unemployment and poverty attracted the most responses by far, with 51% of respondents identifying it as the most pressing issue and 23% identifying poverty as the second most pressing issue.  

For more information on the May 17th events in Tbilisi, see our survey page.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Attitudes towards atheists in the South Caucasus

After just over seventy years of formal state atheism during the Soviet Union, attitudes towards relationships with atheists are generally negative in the South Caucasus. Most people in Armenia and Georgia (and lesser in Azerbaijan) consider themselves to be religious, and the predominant religions in these countries (Georgian Orthodoxy and the Armenian Apostolic faith, respectively) are strongly connected to each country’s national identity. In addition to the usual questions on religiosity, the 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB) included two questions on attitudes towards atheism for the first time– one concerning personal relationships and family (attitudes towards marrying atheists), and another on professional relationships (business with atheists). Comparing these attitudes provides a deeper understanding of attitudes towards atheism.

The WIN-Gallup 2012 Religiosity Index asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious persons or a convinced atheist?” With a global average of 59% who call themselves religious, Armenia is in the top ten most religious countries by declared level of religious belief, with 92% considering themselves religious (with a further 3% non-religious, 2% convinced atheists and 2% unsure). 84% of Georgians say the same (12% non-religious, 1% convinced atheists and 3% unsure). Much fewer Azerbaijanis consider themselves religious (44%) and 51% say they are non-religious (0% convinced atheists and 5% unsure). The 2012 CB also shows that a majority of people in all three countries of the South Caucasus consider religion to be important in their daily lives (although attendance of religious services is much lower). South Caucasians thus appear to have more of a subjective attachment to religion.

The Helsinki Committee’s 2010 Study on Freedom of Religion in Armenia noted that, “Nationalist ideas began to replace the old Soviet ideology, and the traditional church was often equated to national identity”. Accordingly, the special roles of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Armenia and Georgian Orthodox Church in Georgia were recognized by each state through signed concordats in 2007 and 2002, respectively. For some, atheism is thus a rejection of these established churches which are viewed as important elements of national identity. Though the relationship between the State and the CMB (Caucasian Muslim Board) in Azerbaijan is more complex, Islam similarly plays a crucial cultural part in Azerbaijani national identity.

The numbers of and exposure to atheists are negligible in the South Caucasus. In the 2012 CB, 4% of Armenians 0.2% in Azerbaijan and 0.7% in Georgia said they had no religion. However, being irreligious, indifferent and atheist are not synonymous. Regarding contact, the majority of people in all three countries say they have not had any contact with atheists. Interestingly, Azerbaijanis appear to have the most contact with atheists on a regular basis (10% on a daily basis).

There are overwhelmingly negative attitudes to marriage with atheists in all three countries. Georgians show the highest level of uncertainty (15%). Armenians have the most negative attitudes to this idea (77% object overall), while Azerbaijanis are slightly more tolerant when it comes to having an atheist in the family.

However, people have more accepting attitudes towards doing business with atheists. This may indicate a tendency in the South Caucasus to object to more personal relationships with atheists, while being more accepting of professional relationships

Negative attitudes towards atheists (despite having almost no contact with them), are widespread across the South Caucasus. Despite their subjective attachment to their religions, people in the South Caucasus perceive religious belief as a desirable quality in business partners and spouses, though it is more significant in a personal relationship such as the latter. Although there is a notable difference in the declared religiosity between Azerbaijanis, on the one hand, and Armenians and Georgians on the other, all three groups have overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards atheists. Georgians are the most uncertain on their attitudes towards business and marriage with atheists, whilst Azerbaijanis are most uncertain about their contact with atheists.

As one interviewee from the Helsinki Foundation’s study said, “I have a positive attitude towards the [Armenian Apostolic] Church because it was an institution created by Armenian people, rather than imposed on us by anyone from above.” This quote illustrates post-Soviet perceptions of religious identities well – Soviet atheism being perceived as an imposition from above and abroad, in contrast to the traditional religious beliefs of the peoples of the South Caucasus.

Attitudes towards atheism is one of many complex and interesting topics in the South Caucasus which would benefit from further study. What do you think are possible causes for the negative attitudes shown? Explore further by downloading any of the Caucasus Barometer datasets here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Perceptions of Court System Fairness in the South Caucasus

Ann Bennett Lockwood, an American attorney, politician and author once said that, “If nations could only depend upon fair and impartial judgments in a world court of law, they would abandon the senseless, savage practice of war”. For many, the credibility of a government is judged by the fairness of its judicial system. For instance, Michel Rosenfeld (2001) argued that a fair justice system creates respect and faith in government by saying that, “If a citizen implicitly or explicitly endorses a law or legal regime, the latter can be considered subjectively fair.” Therefore, trust in judiciary system can be seen as a reflection of government performance, and is interpreted as one of the major conditions for a functioning democracy. Trust also signifies the perceived legitimacy of a particular institution. Data from the 2010 European Social Survey (ESS) shows that the perceived legitimacy of a country’s justice system may improve compliance with the rule of law more than the risk of punishment. Due process and equal protection before the law are stipulated in the Georgian (Article 14), Armenian (Article 14) and Azerbaijani (Article 25) constitutions. Yet, these populations tend to be skeptical about the practice and security of these constitutional rights. This blog discusses opinions and perceptions about the justice system in each of these countries.

According to 2010 ESS data, Eastern and some Southern European countries tend to be less trusting of both police and court systems than Nordic countries, as well as less believing that these institutions are legitimate holders of judicial power. In the case of court systems, the South Caucasus populations are also skeptical. Each year the Caucasus Barometer (CB) asks respondents to assess their level of trust towards their court system. According to the 2010 CB, just under one third of Azerbaijanis (30%), and less than one fifth of Armenians (17%) and Georgians (18%) said they trusted their respective court system (the sum of “fully trust” and “somewhat trust”). In the latter two countries, the trust in the court system fell by 5% and 13%, respectively during the last 2 years (from 2011 to 2012). In contrast, Azerbaijanis have indicated slightly more confidence in their court system – trust increased from 24% in 2011 to 30% in 2012.

For a broader length of time, from 2009 to 2012, the level of trust in the court system has remained relatively similar in Azerbaijan (a change of 3%), and in Armenia (a change of 5%), while it has decreased by 8% in Georgia. In the 2011 CB, these populations were asked if “Bringing a case to the court will make the problem worse.” Comparing the results, 36% of Armenians, 36% of Azerbaijanis and 13% of Georgians agreed with this notion.

From 2009 to 2011 the CB also asked to what extent people agreed or disagreed with one of the following statements--“The court system in their country favors some citizens” or “The court system in their country treats all citizens equally”. The results indicate that most frustration about the court system is felt in Armenia where two thirds (67%) of the population in 2011 thought that the court system was unjust and favored some citizens. However, this percentage has gradually decreased from 81% in 2009. A similar situation is observed in Georgia where from 2009 to 2011 these figures fell from 52% to 37%. In Azerbaijan the percentage change from 2009 to 2011 was low at 3%. Thus, the majority of adult citizens in Armenia and Azerbaijan believe that their court system treats favors some citizens over others. It is thus noticeable that the more the court system is perceived to favor some citizens is, the less there is trust in the court system.

Despite the fact that the independence of courts is guaranteed by the constitutions and laws of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, many people in the South Caucasus still believe that the court system is unjust. A fair justice system can help to create an environment in which those subjected to a crime can seek justice, and those committing a crime can be held accountable under the law.

If you would like to explore more about trust in various institutions in the region, please visit

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Us and Them: Ethnicity in the South Caucasus

The South Caucasus region is one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse regions of the world.  The titular ethnicities in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia form a clear majority (98%, 91% and 84%, respectively). Significant minorities also exist in Georgia where 6.5% of the population is ethnically Azeri and 5.7% is ethnically Armenian. Azerbaijan has fewer ethnic minorities including Lezgins (2.2%) who are also present in Dagestan, as well as other groups that comprise 3.3% of the population (including the Talesh who straddle the border with Iran). Armenia is the most ethnically homogenous of the post-soviet countries with a small Yezidi Kurdish population (1.3%). Using data from the 2011 Life in Transition (LIT) survey, this blog assesses perceptions between ethnic groups in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Relations between particular groups will also be examined using data from the 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB) from questions on willingness to engage in business and marriage with someone from another ethnicity. Finally, this 2012 data will be compared to data from the 2009 Caucasus Barometer.

The LIT survey asks, “To what extent do you trust people from the following groups: Your family, your neighborhood, people you meet for the first time, friends and acquaintances, people of another religion and people from another nationality?” 43% of Georgians say they trust people from another nationality (23% distrust and 29% neither trust nor distrust). Armenians and Azerbaijanis show lower levels of trust with 14% and 17%, respectively, who say they trust people from another nationality (50% and 57% say they distrust people from another nationality, respectively).

Additionally, survey respondents were asked if they disagreed or agreed with three separately-asked statements about other nationalities on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). This question permits a deeper understanding of perceptions between certain ethnic groups in the South Caucasus. 30% of Georgians agreed that people from other ethnic groups enrich the cultural life of their country, followed by 25% of Azerbaijanis and 20% of Armenians who say the same. However, more Georgians also think that the presence of people from other ethnic groups is a cause of insecurity (31%), followed by 24% for Azerbaijanis and 20% for Armenians. Finally, on the third statement, 42% of Georgians believe that the presence of people from other ethnic groups increases unemployment. 38% of Azerbaijanis and 23% of Armenians say the same. Consequently, the data indicates that although more Georgians think ethnic minorities enrich the cultural life of their country than their neighbours, they are also most worried about other ethnic groups posing a threat or taking jobs.

Opinions vary with regard to particular ethnic groups. One way to understand perception trends is to look at the willingness of doing business with people from other ethnic groups. Data from the 2012 CB shows that practically 0% of Azerbaijanis approve of doing business with Armenians, and 32% of Armenians are open to doing business with Azerbaijanis. 39% of Armenians also approve of trade with Turks, which have the highest approval rating for business among Azerbaijanis (92%). Georgians take the middle ground with more or less 75% willing to engage in business with most of the groups listed. It is important to note that despite the recent conflicts, Georgians are rather accepting of doing business with Abkhazians (74%) and Ossetians (73%). Overall, Russians are well-perceived (85% for Armenians, 81% for Azerbaijanis and 84% for Georgians), while Kurds get the lowest ranking (60%, 48% and 60%, respectively).

Comparing CB data from 2009 and 2012 reveals a few important trends. Azerbaijanis demonstrated the largest increase in approval of doing business for most of the ethnic groups listed; during the past three years approval for doing business with Americans increased from 46% to 70%, from 44% to 74% for Georgians, from 34% to 63% for Greeks, and from 62% to 81% for Russians. On the other hand, Georgian and Armenian attitudes have remained more or less similar from 2009 to 2012 with most changes within the margin of error. In Georgia, approval for business with Russians increased from 76% to 84% and decreased from 75% to 65% for Turks.

Approval of women marrying someone from another ethnic group follows a similar pattern, but on a much lower scale. Azerbaijanis and Armenians continue to largely disapprove of marriage with each other. Georgians are slightly more open to the idea of marrying outside their ethnic group (albeit results are within the 25%-35% range). Again, Abkhazians and Ossetians figure in this middle range. Russians continue to garner the highest approval, while Kurds receive less approval than many of the other groups. The main difference is that Azerbaijanis overwhelmingly disapprove of Azerbaijani women marrying outside of their ethnicity (only 6% to 11% would approve of doing so). The exception is marriage with Turks (53%) as they share some religious, cultural and ethnic similarities. There are no radical changes over time except for a decrease in the number of Armenians willing to marry Russians (53% to 40%) and Americans (44% to 33%). 

For more information on ethnic perceptions and the South Caucasus in general, visit the Life in Transition data on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s website, and the 2012 Caucasus Barometer dataset.