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NGO Leaders Say Western Attention Needed to Democracy in the Caucasus


(Washington, DC--June 24, 2003) Direct Western support is needed to assure the further development of democracy in the countries of the South Caucasus, according to three leaders of major non-governmental organizations in the region.

The three -- Board Chairmen Mikhail Chachkhunashvili of the Open Society-Georgia Foundation and Boris Navasardyan of the Open Society Institute-Assistance Foundation of Armenia, and Farda Asadov, Executive Director of the Open Society Institute-Assistance Foundation in Azerbaijan -- spoke to a RFE/RL audience last week about the potential for political transformation in their countries. All three agreed that the international community can play a major role, if it remains fully engaged with the nascent civil society movements in each of the countries.

Navasardyan said that in Armenia, where recent controversial elections have left the political opposition "weak" and "marginalized," the West needs to support "long-term preparations for elections, not just [provide] observation teams that come one month ahead of the elections." Chachkhunashvili seconded this opinion, saying that the best way to strengthen parties in Georgia is to "create the environment where [party members] can discuss the issues that exist." He emphasized that the period "before and after the election is as important as the election itself." Asadov encouraged international organizations to "speak up" if they discover a lack of fairness in an election process, because in the case of Azerbaijan, the coming elections will affect the stability of the entire Caucasus region.

The three chairmen also described their organizations' action plans for the next year. Navasardyan said that in Armenia, his foundation hoped to influence the newly elected parliament by working in a "supplementary role," providing a forum for roundtable discussions on needed reforms. He added that solutions can be found for the country's problems, if there are "legitimate leaders who can take courageous steps," but they will need "firm public support" if they are to act.

Asadov said that Azerbaijan's national development is inextricably linked to the country's rich oil resources and that his foundation has had some success in moving the present government to see the need for transparency, good management, and modernizing the political system, particularly regarding oil revenues. The next step, according to Asadov, is "to improve the legal situation for parties," and to provide "legal opportunities for a broader segment of society." He expressed concern that the possible "radicalization" of young refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh, "who haven't known peaceful co-existence" could prevent a solution of the regional conflict.

Chachkhunashvili said the most recent local elections in Georgia, which were won by the opposition parties, have encouraged people to get involved in the political process. Expressing deep concern for the level of corruption that "now prevents us from building a democratic society," Chachkhunashvili said his foundation will focus on helping ensure that the November parliamentary elections are open and democratic -- "they will be a crucial moment in the history of Georgia." To hear archived audio for this and other RFE/RL briefings and events, please visit our website at www.regionalanalysis.org.
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