Something is stirring across the vast expanse encompassing the Caucasus and Central Asia, an area of nearly 1.6 million square miles and more than 86 million people. Throughout the region, political momentum is gathering for deeper cooperation, engagement, and coordination.
This is a decidedly new development. A millennium ago, the broad area that is today known as Central Asia was a global hub for commerce, science, and innovation, before it was gradually eclipsed by the rise of competing empires and intellectual stagnation. More recently, the region’s potential has been stifled by decades of Soviet control and by post-Soviet political fragmentation. Over the past quarter century, territorial disputes (like the one between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh), resource squabbles (such as those surrounding Caspian energy and Central Asian water sharing), and sundry other divisions have dominated regional discourse, shaping how local states have seen one another—and how the outside world has viewed the area as a whole.
Now, however, the region is exhibiting new signs of life. In the last year, Georgia’s government has begun to implement an ambitious a reform plan aimed at improving the country’s investment climate, and Kazakhstan has made major strides in education reform. The government of Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan has launched expedited visa procedures designed to boost tourism and commerce, and that of Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan has abolished them altogether for at least 45 nations. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, has established new transport links with Kazakhstan’s central cities, Astana and Almaty, as well as with Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. These developments and others and suggest a degree of political consolidation and innovation that was unthinkable even ten years ago.
DRIVERS OF DYNAMISM
The causes of the newfound energy now palpable around Central Asia and the Caucasus are practical and political.
First and foremost is the degree of internal development that has taken place throughout the region. A quarter century after their separation from Moscow, a great deal remains to be done in the former Soviet
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