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Newsline - April 24, 1998


The State Duma on 24 April voted by 251 to 25 in a secret ballot to confirm Sergei Kirienko as prime minister. Communist deputies appear to have defied party discipline in order to hand Kirienko the winning margin. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced following a plenum of the party's Central Committee on 23 April that the Communist faction would oppose Kirienko and would seek to conduct an open vote. He added that if the Duma conducted a secret ballot, Communist deputies would not participate in the voting. However, many Communist deputies did pick up ballots on 24 April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction did not take part in the secret ballot as a sign of their united opposition to Kirienko. President Boris Yeltsin did not visit the Duma before the vote, limiting his lobbying efforts to a written appeal asking deputies to support Kirienko. LB


Addressing the Duma before deputies voted on his candidacy for the last time, Kirienko promised that the government will not break up natural monopolies in the energy and transportation sectors or sell its controlling stakes in those monopolies, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He also promised to enact measures to help oil companies, which have been hurt by falling oil prices on world markets. In an indirect appeal for the deputies' support, Kirienko said that "the huge amount of tasks in the Russian economy's complex situation gives us a joint responsibility before Russia and the people," Reuters reported. He added, "Let us show this responsibility not with words but with deeds. There is no time to lose." If the Duma had rejected Kirienko on 24 April, Yeltsin would have been constitutionally obliged to dissolve the Duma, setting back legislative activities for several months pending new elections. LB


The presidential press service on 23 April "categorically denied" that Yeltsin has agreed to appoint former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais as chief executive of the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES), Russian news agencies reported. Earlier the same day, Ekho Moskvy quoted an unnamed source close to the presidential administration as saying Yeltsin has assented to the appointment. Chubais's spokesman Andrei Trapeznikov described the report as "disinformation" designed to deter the Duma from voting to confirm Kirienko. Chubais's possible appointment is strongly opposed by some influential businessmen as well as by politicians including Communist Party leader Zyuganov, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. In contrast, media financed by Oneksimbank have advocated appointing Chubais to EES and putting acting First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov in charge of supervising natural monopolies in the energy and transportation sectors. LB


Yeltsin has promised to issue a decree that will outline "unconventional" measures to help coal miners, Russian news agencies reported on 23 April. At a Kremlin meeting with delegates from miners' trade unions, coal enterprise directors, and officials from regions with a large coal sector, Yeltsin instructed acting Prime Minister Kirienko and Aleksander Livshits, deputy head of the presidential administration, to prepare that decree. He suggested that some of the proceeds from the privatization of coal enterprises may be spent on improving mine safety and that some funds obtained through the government's alcohol policy will be allocated to the coal industry. In addition, Yeltsin said part of a $1.5 billion loan from Japan may be spent to build housing for miners, and he told Kirienko to restructure the debts of coal-mining companies. Yeltsin made the promises one day before a congress of coal industry workers began in Moscow. LB


Addressing the Duma on 24 April, Kirienko said the government has drafted plans to ensure that coal enterprises receive regular financing. In a speech to the Federation Council two days earlier, the acting prime minister promised that the government will enact a program to double funding for coal-mining regions this year. Meanwhile, Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Igor Kozhukhovskii announced on 21 April that Russia is conducting negotiations with the World Bank on a possible $600 million loan that would be used primarily to resettle coal miners from the country's northern regions to more central areas. Russia has already received two World Bank loans to support the coal industry, for $500 million and $800 million. Only $400 million of the second loan has so far been allocated. LB


Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov, Yeltsin's longtime bodyguard, leveled numerous accusations against the businessman Boris Berezovskii in an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 22 April. Korzhakov said Berezovskii helped arrange a lucrative deal to publish Yeltsin's memoirs and was also behind business deals for other members of Yeltsin's family. He declined to specify how much Yeltsin and his family earned from those deals. Korzhakov also admitted that he helped Berezovskii take control of the Sibneft oil company, which, according to Korzhakov, Berezovskii said he needed as a source of financing for the Russian Public Television network. In addition, Korzhakov accused Berezovskii of embezzling more than $100 million from Yeltsin's re-election campaign. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, a political opponent of Berezovskii. The popular daily was reported to be involved in a media campaign to persuade Yeltsin to oppose certain "oligarchs" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1998). LB


Luzhkov has created a new department on public relations in the Moscow city administration, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 April. Luzhkov appointed Olga Kostina to head the department, which will coordinate all activities to shape the mayor's public image. Kostina has denied the new department was created with a view toward the next presidential election, but "Kommersant-Daily" cast doubt on her denial. Kostina has been an unofficial adviser to Luzhkov since 1996. In 1994-1995, she was a public relations adviser for Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the founder and then head of the Menatep Bank. LB


Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Valerii Zubov on 23 April ordered the confiscation of some 850,000 copies of a newspaper reportedly published by former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed's campaign headquarters, ITAR-TASS reported. The newspaper contained an article alleging that Zubov's campaign is preparing to commit "a subversive act" and blame that act on Lebed's supporters. Lebed has said "his people" had "nothing to do" with the article. On 22 April, Zubov charged that some candidates are trying to bribe voters in violation of federal and regional laws. Neither Lebed nor Zubov is expected to gain more than 50 percent support in the first round of the gubernatorial election on 26 April. LB


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 April that the Krasnoyarsk Krai electoral commission has issued a warning to Lebed over the distribution of printed campaign materials that do not contain all the required information. The commission has also uncovered evidence that four candidates, including Zubov and Communist-backed Duma deputy Petr Romanov, have received financial contributions that exceed the maximum allowable level. Alleged violations during the campaign before a 29 March mayoral election in Nizhnii Novgorod were cited by the city's electoral commission as grounds for annulling that election after a controversial candidate won by a narrow margin. LB


French actor Alain Delon appeared alongside Lebed at a 23 April rally of some 10,000 people in Krasnoyarsk, Russian news agencies reported. Several well-known Russian pop singers also performed at the rally. In an interview with ITAR- TASS, Delon said he believes Lebed could play the same role in Russia that Charles de Gaulle played in France. NTV reported that Delon has denied he was paid to come to Krasnoyarsk on Lebed's behalf. Meanwhile, Lebed charged on 22 April that Moscow Mayor Luzhkov is supporting Zubov because the federal authorities need an "obedient governor" who will not stand up for the interests of his region, Interfax reported. Lebed also accused Luzhkov of planning to use Zubov for his own presidential campaign in 2000. Speaking to Interfax, Luzhkov denied he is supporting Zubov at Yeltsin's request and repeated that he does not have presidential ambitions. LB


Russian security officials on 22 April arrested a senior Interior Ministry official in connection with the abortive July 1997 attempt to blow up a Moscow monument to Tsar Peter the Great, Russian agencies reported. The official, who has been charged with terrorism, had collaborated with members of the so-called Revolutionary Military Council of the RSFSR in an attempt to destroy the controversial statue. Members of that organization tipped off Interfax and the bomb, which was due to explode on the night of 5-6 July, was defused (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1997). LF


At a news conference in Moscow on 23 April, Union of Muslims of Russia Chairman Nadirshakh Kharchilaev, Council of Muftis of Russia Chairman Ravil Gainutdin, and other Muslim leaders expressed concern over the planned publication of a Russian translation of Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses." The Limbus-Press publishing house in St. Petersburg has announced it will publish a translation of the controversial novel next month. Kharchilaev said the planned publication is "an insult and a challenge" to Russia's estimated 20 million Muslims. He hinted that some of them could resort to violence against Limbus-Press's staff or premises. Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on Rushdie when the novel was published in 1988, accusing the author of profanity. LF


Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Albert Gore at the White House on 23 April. Agreements were signed whereby the U.S. will provide $750,00 for a feasibility study of Trans-Caspian oil and gas pipelines on the Caspian sea bed and the U.S. Export-Import Bank will grant more credit to Turkmenistan for purchasing U.S.-made goods. The previous day, Turkmen officials signed agreements with U.S. companies Mobil and Exxon on the exploration and extraction of oil in western Turkmenistan. ITAR-TASS on 24 April quoted Niyazov as saying the agreements will be "useful to all the governments of the region." But the Tehran Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 23 April said the "legal regime of the Caspian Sea and water borders of its littoral states are not determined yet." It added that the Iranian route is by far the cheapest for exporting Turkmen gas and oil and that Turkmenistan 'should not submit to the ad hoc pressure exerted by powers outside the region." BP


In its annual study released on 23 April, the International Institute for Strategic Studies casts doubts on U.S. claims that Caspian oil reserves amount to 200 billion barrels, equal to 16 percent of the world's known reserves. It suggests that a more realistic estimate is between 25 and 30 billion barrels, Reuters and AFP reported. LF


The Russian newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 April described Niyazov's visit as the U.S.'s latest bid to break up the CIS and "ensure" that at next week's CIS summit Central Asian and Trancaucasian leaders "are not overly compliant." The Helsinki Commission wrote a letter to President Clinton saying "no political reforms or human rights issues matter to the United States as long as you have oil or natural gas." White House spokesman Michael McCurry said the U.S. is calling for a multiparty system, fair elections, and the release of political prisoners in Tajikistan. With regard to the last-named, Niyazov said "they're free" as he left the White House. Previously, he has denied there are any political prisoners in Turkmenistan, and he has consistently told journalists in the U.S. that they are "poorly informed" in response to questions about the country's poor human rights record. BP


Abdumalik Abdullojonov, the leader of the Tajik National Revival Movement, has sent a letter to the Tajik National Reconciliation Commission requesting that his group be included in current negotiations, Interfax reported on 23 April. Abdullojonov, a former prime minister, said that "no real peace will be reached in Tajikistan" until his movement is included. The commission rejected Abdullojonov's request, saying Abdullojonov's "initiatives can harm the tangible results already achieved in the [negotiating] process." Abdullojonov's movement, enjoys widespread in the northern Leninabad region. BP


At a 23 April session of the parliament at which a draft law on corruption was discussed, Alnur Musayev, chairman of the National Security Committee, said that "corruption is deeply rooted in Kazakhstan and poses a threat to the republic's national security," Interfax reported. He went on to say "if we don't take urgent and resolute measures, this threat will undermine the foundations of our state system." President Nursultan Nazarbayev said "anyone taking bribes is considered an opponent of the president's policy," ITAR-TASS reported. The parliament is expected to adopt the law in June. BP


The Armenian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement responding to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's decree last month naming 31 March the "Day of the genocide of the Azerbaijani People." That decree claims that in the19th and 20th centuries, Armenia and its "protectors" implemented "a systematic policy of genocide" against the Azerbaijani people, expulsion of Azerbaijanis from the Armenian SSR, and dismemberment of Azerbaijan's historical territory. The Armenian Foreign Ministry rejected those claims as "senseless," unfounded, and aimed at erasing the memory of the genocide against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere in Azerbaijan. It said Armenia "categorically condemns the unconstructive approach of the Azerbaijani authorities, which impedes the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict." "Nezavisimaya gazeta", which published Aliev's decree on 22 April, noted its anti-Russian tone and its promulgation one month before the upcoming CIS summit. LF


National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian told RFE/RL on 23 April that his party is gaining strength and many new members, despite his defeat in last month's early presidential election. Manukian came third in the first round of voting, which he later condemned as unfair. Manukian said his party "has remained clean" and will continue competing for power. He predicted that the party will have an important impact on future political developments in Armenia, but he refused to discuss its new strategy or the possibility of new opposition alliances in the runup to the next parliamentary elections. Manukian also denied reports that new President Robert Kocharian repeatedly offered him the post of prime minister. LF


Five people who took part in demonstrations in Baku on 22 April to protest the suspension of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani-language medium-wave broadcasts have been sentenced to between three and10 days in jail, AFP reported on 23 April. The Radio Liberty Defense Committee said on 23 April that it will stage further protests next week. LF


The Association of Industry, a Yekaterinburg-based joint-stock company, has paid $1 million for a 75 percent stake in the Chiatura manganese mine, Caucasus Press reported. Once one of the country's major industrial enterprises, the mine has been idle for the past two years. Meeting on 22 April with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Association of Industry president Aleksandr Vyatkin said his company will pay off the mine's estimated $60 million debt, fund reconstruction of the Chiatura municipal infrastructure, and create some 2,500 new jobs. LF


As part of the ongoing reshuffle of the cabinet, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma replaced Agroindustrial Complex Minister Yuriy Karasyk with Borys Supikhanov, Karasyk's deputy. He also appointed Leonid Derkach, former chairman of the Customs Committee, as chief of the Security Service. Volodymyr Radchenko, who was the security chief until recently, was appointed first deputy secretary of the Ukrainian Council of National Defense and Security. JM


Ukrainian Health Minister Andriy Serdiuk said on 22 April that more than 12,500 people involved in the cleanup following the 1986 Chornobyl accident have died from the effects of radiation, AFP reported. He added that many of the 350,000 people involved in repairs and cleaning work after the accident have developed thyroid cancer, leukemia, and other ailments. But an expert from the Kyiv-based French Institute for Nuclear Safety and Protection said that "these numbers do not correspond to anything.... For several year it has been the practice to release extravagant figures a few days before the anniversary [of the Chornobyl accident]," AFP quoted him as saying. JM


Tamara Vinnikava, former chairwoman of the Belarusian National Bank, will soon face trial on charges of abusing her official position and of grand larceny, the Belarusian Prosecutor- General's Office told journalists on 23 April. Vinnikava is currently in the hospital but according to the Prosecutor- General's Office, her health is improving. Vinnikava was arrested in January 1997 and detained for several months. She was then placed under house arrest owing to her deteriorating health. JM


Jerzy Buzek and Benjamin Netanyahu led the annual "March of the Living" at the former Auschwitz death camp to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. Some 7,000 Jews from all over the world, including 1,000 Holocaust survivors, took part in the March. Both Netanyahu and Buzek addressed the crowd. The Polish premier said Auschwitz was the place "where Jews and Poles suffered separately, even though they died together... We [the Poles] were passive and defenseless witnesses to monstrous extermination, but it was we who alerted the entire world to it," "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported. JM


A small group of Poles gathered nearby the march route with placards that read "Keep Jesus in Auschwitz" and "Defend the Cross." They were protesting Jewish demands to remove a huge cross erected at the death camp site in 1979 to commemorate Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland. A Polish bishop participating in the march criticized the pickets, saying that "Jesus is present in Auschwitz all the time." JM


Solidarity Electoral Action and Freedom Union parliamentary deputies have voted down a motion by the opposition Peasant Party to hold a referendum on administrative reform, Polish media reported on 23 April. The reform is aimed at reducing the number of provinces and decentralizing power. The motion was supported by the Democratic Left Alliance and the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland. JM


In an open letter to the government and the parliament on 23 April, nine Roman- Catholic bishops warned against the "polarization of society" and the "artificial instigation and nourishing of ethnic hatred." They spoke out against the emergence of "a group of the enormously enriched" who "acquire uncontrolled power" and are unwilling to solve social problems. And they condemned disrespect for rulings by the Constitutional Court, "electoral manipulation through changing the election law," and the granting of amnesty to those "involved in crimes." The letter was signed by all Slovak bishops except Cardinal Jan Chyzostom Korec and Archbishop Jan Sokol, who consistently avoid criticizing Vladimir Meciar's government, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. MS


A public opinion poll released on 22 April by the Focus institute shows Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) continuing to trail behind the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK). The HZDS is backed by 21.9 percent, down from 23.6 percent in March. The SDK has also been losing ground but is still ahead of the HZDS with 24.5 percent support (compared with 29 percent last month). The poll shows the new Party of Civic Understanding in third place and with growing support (rising from 11 percent in March to 17.2 percent this month). MS


The prime ministers of Hungary, Italy, and Slovenia agreed in Trieste on 23 April that the construction of road and rail links connecting Trieste, Ljubljana, and Budapest will have priority in cooperation between the three countries. Gyula Horn (Hungary) and Roman Prodi (Italy) also agreed that as of 1 July, Hungarian citizens need only show their identity cards when entering Italy. The three premiers also decided to jointly develop and utilize the Adriatic ports of Trieste in Italy and Koper in Slovenia. And in a joint statement, they urged the start of an "unconditional dialogue" between Belgrade and Prishtina in settling the Kosova conflict. MSZ


Yugoslav state radio reported on 23 April that the Yugoslav army killed 16 Kosovar Albanians in fighting near the province's western border with Albania, Reuters reported. Other Yugoslav sources said 23 ethnic Albanians were killed and two taken prisoner in three separate incursions from Albania by ethnic Albanians. Reports said the largest of those incursions involved some 200 ethnic Albanians exchanging fire with Yugoslav troops near the village of Kosare. The Democratic League of Kosova called on NATO, the U.S., and other Western countries to stop "the military gallop of Belgrade before Kosova and the entire region blow up and the last chance of a peaceful settlement" is gone. The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry summoned Albania's charge d'affaires in Belgrade, Fllorian Nova, to lodge a formal protest against what it called "systematic armed provocations" originating from Albania. Fighting was also reported in the village of Babaloc, where ethnic Serbian refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina are being protected by Serbian police. PB


Preliminary results of the referendum in Yugoslavia on international mediation in the Kosova conflict show that some 97 percent of voters do not want such efforts, Reuters reported on 23 April. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said after casting his vote that the referendum was to allow "Serbia to make decisions in Serbia," and he urged Kosovar Albanian leaders to "forget about foreign meddlers" concerned only with self interests. Aljus Gasi, a member of the presidency of the Democratic League of Kosova, called the referendum "damaging" and said it could lead to further destabilization of the situation. He added that a third party was needed to mediate talks between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian leadership in Prishtina to guarantee implementation of any agreements. In Washington, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said he has a "negative opinion" of the referendum, which, he said, should have asked whether Serbia "wants to be part of the international community or to live isolated from it." Voter turnout is estimated at about 75 percent. Kosovar Albanians boycotted the vote. PB


Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic finished a two-day visit to Washington on 23 April saying that U.S. officials have pledged solid support for his Yugoslav republic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djukanovic met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen before leaving for New York. Djukanovic said his trip is intended to promote democratic developments in Yugoslavia and not to undermine Belgrade or isolate Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Djukanovic is to meet with business leaders in New York. He said that investment prospects are good in Montenegro, despite the political uncertainty in the region. PB


A mob of several hundred Bosnian Serbs trapped Bosnian Cardinal Vinko Puljic and some 100 worshippers inside a church in the northern Bosnian town of Dervanta before they were rescued by NATO troops, Reuters reported on 23 April. Puljic and several Bosnian Croats who wanted to celebrate a mass at the church received minor injuries after being stoned by the Bosnian Serbs during the evacuation, a UN International Police Task Force official said. The group of Bosnian Serbs also used felled trees to block 20 buses from Croatia travelling to the church. The mob also tried to set fire to the church, which was severely damaged during the war. Republika Srpska Interior Minister Milovan Stankovic said he had warned NATO troops and police that the cardinal's visit would rankle tensions in the area. PB


Martin Raguz, a senior aide to the Croatian member of the Bosnian presidency, said on 23 April that Bosnia- Herzegovina should be divided into three entities, the Croatian daily "Jutarnji List" reported. Raguz said the composition of Bosnia as prescribed by the Dayton agreement, "one country, two entities, and three nationalities," blocks "every function of the government." Raguz proposed that the Muslim-Croatian federation, which makes up half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, be divided into Muslim and Croatian territories that would be equal in status to the Republika Srpska. U.S. Ambassador to Croatia William Dale Montgomery recently called on Zagreb to use its influence to dissolve the Croatian quasi-state of Herceg-Bosna (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 1998). PB


Andy Bearpark, International High Representative Carlos Westendorp's deputy for Bosnian refugees, said that the Bosnian government is confident that 10,000 refugees will return to their pre-war homes within the next two months, AFP reported on 23 April. Bearpark said Westendorp will continue to remove officials considered to be obstructing the return of refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 220,000 people will return to their homes in Bosnia-Herzegovina this year. At The Hague, Bosnian officials gave the World Court a document that it says contains "extensive evidence" of Serbian acts of genocide during the war. Bosnian authorities filed a case with the World Court in 1993 saying that Yugoslavia's involvement in the Bosnian war violated the 1948 Genocide Convention. PB


Sali Berisha is among 24 former government officials who will be questioned by a parliamentary commission about their roles in the violent upheaval that engulfed the country last year. The commission said that it has evidence showing that Berisha and many of his government ministers were directly involved in the unrest, which led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people. Commission Deputy Chairman Spartak Braho said evidence "shows that Berisha is the author of the tragic events" that led to the destruction of the country "and the deaths of hundreds." Former Defense Minister Safet Zhulali and several generals and police chiefs will also be questioned about their roles in the events. Berisha's Democratic Party has accused the commission--set up in October--of being biased, and it has refused to send any representatives to it. The Democrats have also blamed the ruling Socialists for using the commission to exact political revenge on their party. PB


In a statement released after her meeting with Andrei Plesu on 23 April, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Washington wants to "help Romania become a pillar of democracy and stability in the region." She also said the U.S. wants "to see Romania fully integrated into European and Transatlantic structures." She added that the U.S. welcomed the new government's "commitment to reform" and to a "strong relationship" with Washington. And she pledged to "continue to work" through "our Strategic Partnership, the South Eastern European Strategy, and NATO-related activities" to "help Romania achieve those objectives." MS


The government on 23 April published the 6 April agreement between the coalition parties. That accord considerably strengthens the premier's authority over the ministers in his cabinet, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. It stipulates that if the prime minister considers cabinet members' views to be incompatible with his own, the parties to which those ministers belong will be obliged to replace them at the premier's request. The parties themselves cannot replace ministers without the premier's consent. Ministers must refrain from publicly attacking the premier and must back his initiatives for economic reform. Any disagreement with the premier must be communicated to him in writing or in person, while ministers wishing to resign from the cabinet must inform the premier of their intention before telling the press. MS


Dumitru Diacov, the leader of the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc has been elected chairman of Moldova's new parliament, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 23 April. He was backed by his own formation, as well as by its Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM) and Party of Democratic Forces (PFD) allies in the new coalition. The Party of Moldovan Communists cast its ballots against Diacov and for its own candidate, party chairman Vladimir Voronin. Iurie Rosca, co-chairman of the CDM, and PFD leader Valeriu Matei were elected deputy chairmen. MS


The World Bank on 23 April approved a $15.9 million loan to Moldova to promote private land ownership, dpa reported. The same day, James Parks, the bank's resident representative in Moldova, told journalists in Chisinau that the bank will soon "examine jointly with the new government their cooperation strategy for the next three years," BASA- press reported. Parks said there are "contradictory developments" in Moldovan economy, pointing out that "on the one hand, inflation is declining, but on the other hand the budgetary policies have not been adjusted to correspond to this drop, which triggered arrears in wage payment." He noted that the decline in GDP has stopped but that the private sector and services are still very weak. MS


Bulgaria on 23 April proposed to side-step Serbian opposition to foreign mediation in the Kosova conflict by inviting both sides to exchange views in writing. Speaking after consultations with officials from Britain, Austria, and the European Commission, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told journalists in Sofia that exchanging such written statements "would be the beginning of a dialogue without direct international mediation," an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia and Reuters reported. She also said the two sides are so divided that written statements would "represent progress." MS


by Emil Danielyan

Armenians throughout the world are today commemorating the 83rd anniversary of the genocide in which more than one million of their compatriots were massacred and another one million or so forced out of their homeland. In Yerevan, hundreds of thousands of people are to proceed slowly toward the genocide memorial on Tsitsernakabert Hill in order to pay tribute to the victims.

Many scholars argue that the 1915 genocide was premeditated by the Ottoman Turkish leadership and aimed at the annihilation of Armenians (the largest remaining Christian minority) in the empire's eastern provinces. The arrest on 24 April 1915 of the entire Armenian intellectual elite of Constantinople and their subsequent execution signaled the start of the genocidal policy. Mass executions of Armenian males, who were mobilized into the Ottoman army but then disarmed, were followed by the systematic deportation of their families and the infamous "death marches" to the south.

Most of the women, children, and elderly people forced to take part in those marches died in armed attacks, of hunger, or from disease before they could reach their destination, the Syrian desert. Those who survived took refuge in the Middle East and later in Europe and the Americas. A significant number of people escaped to the territory of the present Republic of Armenia.

The huge number of victims and the loss of some 80 percent of their historical homeland deeply scarred the Armenians. Turkey, meanwhile, continues to deny the genocide. According to the official Turkish version, it was a "peaceful evacuation" of the treacherous Armenians to preclude their collaboration with advancing Russian troops.

For generations of Diaspora Armenians--the direct descendants of survivors--achieving international recognition of the 1915 genocide has been their life's chief aim. Appeals to various governments and international organizations and demonstrations in front of Turkish embassies have been part and parcel of Diaspora life.

The issue also has far-reaching implications for Armenia's foreign policy, in general, and relations with Turkey, in particular. The authorities of independent Armenia have so far not considered recognition of the genocide as a precondition for developing ties with Turkey. Nonetheless, there is still a deep divide between the two nations. Turkey continues to be regarded as the number one threat to the country's national security--hence, the desire to have a powerful foreign protector.

Historically, it was Russia that took on that role. The Russian empire guaranteed the security of its Armenian citizens, something that Ottoman Armenians could only dream about. Even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Moscow continued to play that role. The troops Russia maintains in Armenia will be welcome as long as there is no political reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey. Indeed, mutual trust between Ankara and Yerevan, a potentially strong stabilizing factor in the region, seems virtually impossible without agreement on the interpretation of the 1915 events.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said earlier this week that the issue of recognizing the 1915 genocide will be on the agenda in the new government's dealings with Turkey, stressing that its inclusion will be "not for the sake of conflict but in order to establish more healthy cooperation." This is a significant shift from the policy of the Ter-Petrossian leadership, which had tried to sidestep the problem, at least in the short term.

Many in Armenia opposed that policy, which they claim has not resulted in gestures of good will on the part of Turkey. They point out that Ankara closed its borders with Armenia, refused to establish diplomatic ties with its eastern neighbor, and gave unconditional backing to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It may well be that by putting the issue on its agenda, Yerevan aims to have leverage to counter Turkish engagement in the Caucasus.

Meanwhile, lack of recognition of the 1915 genocide undermines Turkish efforts to become involved in the Karabakh peace process. Armenia rejects such involvement out of hand. The average Armenian still identifies Azerbaijanis with Turks and looks at developments surrounding the Karabakh dispute through the prism of the 1915 genocide. Some analysts have suggested that a final peace in Karabakh may require Turkey to face its troubled past and finally recognize the events of 1915. But such a development does not seem likely in the near future. The author is a Yerevan-based RFE/RL correspondent.