I was going to write about my experience with piti here. Not pity. Piti is much more tasty. A lamb stew with chick peas and saffron that is a specialty of the Sheki area. But in the last 36 hours, the attention of this region of the world has been drawn to the human suffering and danger that is lying across the border in Georgia. While the eyes of much of the world were focused on the Olympics in China, a much more important contest was beginning in in the break-away region of Southern Ossetia. This is occupies our attention in this part of the world. The situation is perceived generally as yet another invasion by Russia, another attempt to subdue the independence of countries on its periphery.
I am a Russian-speaking American - but I have quite a few Azerbaijani friends at this point and I can understand their perspective. While Georgia is entirely distinct culturally, Azerbaijan and Georgia do share some elements of history, mainly a history of Russian domination. While I was planning to visit Georgia, I have not visited there yet - but from what I hear that country is even more anti-Russian than Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijanis have special reasons for resenting the Russians, because they are perceived to be the essential backers of the break-away area of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijanis believe that without Russian support, this conflict could not have occurred. And while other ethnic conflicts in this country do not come close to breaking into the news, there are other ethnic groups that the Russians are perceived to bolster in the hopes of weakening Azerbaijan. The Lezguins in northeast Azerbaijan and the Talysh south of the country both have been named as receiving Russian support for their separatist aims.
I also have many Russian friends, and I've already heard from one of them - defending Putin's actions. I know that in the Russian media, the situation is being painted as a genocidal act of the Georgians against an ethnic minority that sought political union with Russia.
At this point, however, I think most people outside Russia can see the import of the Russian action. Whatever its original justification, the Russian military are now well positioned to achieve a more important goal than the protection of any ethnic minority: the subjugation of a neighboring republic that was acting far too independently. So, Georgia will be subdued, and the control of Russia over the energy supply to Europe will be strengthened.
As an American, my primary regret is for the role of my government. The U.S. government has been saddled for the last seven years with an immoral and incompetent administration that has squandered its material and immaterial resources. Because my country has been consumed by fighting a war that the Bush administration chose to start, it is in no position to offer real support to the Georgians. Its energy policy is bankrupt. The country's economy is foundering. The US military is overextended. And the United States policy has been so blatantly hypocritical about defending "democracy" that even the most optimistic of its friends see its claims as hollow. So, the Georgians are yet another group to suffer from the unintended consequences of George W. Bush's adventurism.
There are a lot of other people writing on this subject at the moment. Here's one link to some blogs: