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Azerbaijan Report: April 12, 2004


12 April 2004
NEWS BRIEFS
What Can A Possible Opening of Turkish-Armenian Borders Lead To?
Over the last few months, a possible opening of Turkish-Armenian border has been intensively discussed in theAzerbaijani media. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has emphasized that the opening of the Turkish-Armenia borders would complicate the solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. President Aliyev said that he is aware of "immense pressure" from the outside on Turkey to open its borders with Armenia, but added that he is confident Ankara will not act against the "interests" of Azerbaijan. Turkish officials, however, state that Ankara will stick to its policies and will not make any changes to the border issue without having reacehd agreement with Azerbaijan.

The discussions on opening the border have become heated in the run up to President Aliyev�s official visit to Ankara. Some local media outlets suggest that Baku has intentionally raised the matter on the eve of the visit in order to put it on the agenda of the president's meetings, as well as to enable President Aliyev to present the topic being of public concern.

Fazail Agamali, chairman of the Vatan (Motherland) Party, is optimistic that despite pressure Turkey will restrain from opening its border with Armenia. According to Agamali, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is merely one reasons why the Turkish-Armenian frontier should remain closed. He added that Ankara has its own arguments in this respect. Agamali noted that keeping the borders closed is an important lever of pressure on Armenia, and such pressure must be intensified to accelerate the solution to the Karabakh dispute. Recalling pressures on Turkish authorities from Europe and the United States, Agamali noted that this is simultaneously an attempt to free Armenia from Russia's influence. If the borders are opened, he said, this could strengthen Armenia's integration with the West and Europe. It is Armenia that is mostly interested in putting the border issue on the agenda, as the opening of the frontiers will stimulate the country's economic development.

Fazil Gazanfaroglu, head of the Great Construction Party, suggested that Turkish authorities keep their borders closed not due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, referring to the reopening of the air borders with Armenia in 1995. Gazanfaroglu said Turkey would never sacrifice its national interests for the sake of Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is an issue that is to be solved by Baku and Yerevan, he said.

Meanwhile, during his meeting with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish said that the U.S. is planning to replace its representative at the OSCE Minsk Group. Rudolf Perina is to be replaced by Steven Mann, the U.S. envoy on Caspian energy. The fact that Mr. Mann is well acquainted with the Caucasus region and its problems provides important opportunities for the solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, local experts point out.

Rustam Mammedov of the Presidential Administration recalls that the current Russian co-chairman of the Minsk Group, Yurii Merzlyakov, earlier also worked as an extraordinary and plenipotentiary envoy to the Caspian basin. And if following Russia's example the United States also sends its Caspian ambassador to the Minsk Group, this would mean that the two superpowers approach the conflict in the context of energy resources.

According to Mammedov, previously Russia represented an obstacle to progress in the Karabakh conflict. But unlike former President Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin intends to participate in large-scale regional economic undertakings. Now the only hindrance is the Armenian government's reluctance to make any concession, Mammedov said. He added that recent events in Armenia must be viewed in this context.

(Zhale Mutallimova and Babek Bekir)

How Are Recent Events In Armenia Seen From Azerbaijan?
While the opposition protests in Armenia demanding President Robert Kocharian's resignation continue, analysts compare these events with the RoseRevolution last November in neighboring Georgia. But is a regime change in this country realistic? Which side is more interested in these events--Russia or the West? What consequences can these processes lead to in the region? And finally, can the developments in Armenia be defined as the first steps of another Rose Revolution?

According to Mubariz Ahmedoglu of the Center for Political Technologies and Innovations, a change of govenrment in Armenia is possible. Irregularities during the last presidential and parliamentary elections, harassment of opposition activists and the deterioration of the social and economic situation, along with the geopolitical isolation of Armenia�all this can be viewed as preconditions for a possible change of power in Armenia.

Ahmedoglu suggested that the current events in Armenia are not likely to yield results during the next several months. But if the opposition gathers strength and the popular discontent rises to a higher levels, it will be impossible to impede the process. According to Ahmedoglu, the West and Europe will continue to exert pressure on Armenia in order to complete the integration process in the southern Caucasus. The West has hitherto failed to wrest what it wanted from President Robert Kocharian. As for Russia's interests in Armenia, Ahmedoglu noted that Moscow has profited sufficiently from Kocharian. Now, the Armenian president is an "insignificant political figure" even for Russia, he said.

Khaleddin Ibrahimli, head of the Caucasus Research Center, agrees that the tension in Armenia will intensify. But Ibrahimli categorically excludes the possibility of a civil war in Armenia. According to him, Kocharian's ouster is against Russia's interests. A change of leadership is mostly of interest to the West, because the existence of a pro-Russian government in Armenia only hampers the integration of the Caucasus into Western structures.

But how would a possible change of leadership in Armenia affect the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Local experts are sure it would have at least minimal impact. Political scientist Rasim Musabekov noted that the overthrow of Kocharian would be welcomed by Baku, considering that Kocharian seems not inclined to make concessions in the negotiation process. If the developments in Armenia result in his overthrow, a new leadership will, in any case, assume a more constructive and moderate position. Nevertheless, Musabekov does not view a likely regime change in Armenia as leading to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. Among the Armenian opposition there are still enough supporters of the idea of a "Great Armenia," he said. A turning-point in the solution may occur only when the situation in Armenia gets out of control and the political confrontation turns to chaos. He does not rule out that scenario, adding that this could weaken Armenia as a state, and undermine its military power.

Former presidential adviser on foreign affairs Vafa Guluzade points out that a solution to the conflict is possible only if the situation in Armenia develops and results in a kind of Georgian scenario. If pro-Western forces come to power in Armenia, the Caucasus will entirely fall into the U.S. range of influence and then Russia will no longer be able to prevent the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem via Armenia. But Guluzade warns that events in Armenia may not result in the triumph of the Western-minded forces either, adding that Armenian society has always felt strongly drawn toward Russia.

(Zhale Mutallimova and Rovshen Ganbarov) (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)

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