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Caucasus Report: March 16, 2001

16 March 2001, Volume 4, Number 11

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER AT ODDS OVER KARABAKH SETTLEMENT? On 7 March, former Azerbaijani presidential advisor Eldar Namazov and former Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov unveiled their "Initial Platform towards a Settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict." That blueprint reflects policy recommendations the two men made in a series of interviews in the independent daily "Zerkalo" last year, but it also, according to Namazov, includes suggestions made by unnamed political scientists and members of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia.

The "Platform" comprises two parts: "Analysis and Evaluation of the Situation," and "Proposals on Negotiations within the Framework of the OSCE Minsk Group." The two former officials argue that Azerbaijan's negotiating position should be formed on the basis of combining a clearly formulated political position (insistence that Baku can grant Nagorno-Karabakh no more than "broad autonomy" and that only the "step-by-step" approach to resolving the conflict is both acceptable and realistic, provision for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to monitor compliance with an eventual peace agreement), backed by the implicit threat that the country is both militarily able and politically willing to risk military action if all attempts to reach a political solution to the conflict fail.

But that military operation would, at least initially, apparently be restricted to implementation of what Namazov and Zulfugarov refer to as "a humanitarian operation" to return to Baku's control the seven districts adjacent to Karabakh currently occupied by Armenian forces in order to enable displaced persons to return to their homes. In the wake of such a successful military operation, the two ex-officials say, Azerbaijan might toughen its negotiating position, withdrawing the offer of autonomy to the disputed enclave and insisting instead on the creation of an Azerbaijani administration that would "ensure security and the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens of the Azerbaijan republic, regardless of [their] nationality."

The blueprint was immediately endorsed by several opposition party leaders, and on 12 March, Azerbaijan's current foreign minister, Vilayat Quliev, termed it "praiseworthy," adding, however, that it contains "nothing new." But President Heidar Aliyev the same day was scathing in his rejection of the Namazov-Zulfugarov initiative, implying that officials who had been closely involved in the negotiating process, as they had been, should have been able to draft more realistic and effective proposals. At the same time, however, Aliyev stopped short of ruling out a military solution to the conflict. (Liz Fuller)

...AS MORE POLICY PROPOSALS ROLL IN. Addressing the Azerbaijani parliament on 13 March, speaker Murrtuz Alesqerov said that no fewer than 92 proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict have been submitted to the legislature. The overwhelming majority of those (86) advocate a political solution to the conflict, while only six involve military actions, he added. During the 23-24 February debate on the conflict, President Aliyev had called on the parliament and the population at large to suggest how the conflict might be solved (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 10, 9 March 2001).

Among the opposition political figures who submitted such proposals was Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov, who suggested staging mass protests by Azerbaijani displaced persons along the Line of Contact that separates that Armenian and Azerbaijani positions.

The reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) unveiled its own seven-point proposal for resolving the conflict on 15 March. That program encompasses measures to resolve the conflict; foreign policy in general; the formation of an Azerbaijani diaspora organization that would lobby the international community; strengthening the country's armed forces; instilling a sense of military and patriotic duty into the population; the establishing of a center for Karabakh strategic research; and information policy. The leader of the AHCP reformist wing, Ali Kerimov, implied that in each of these spheres the Azerbaijani leadership's activities have proven ineffective. Like Namazov and Zulfugarov, he argued that creating a stronger and more effective army "will enable us to negotiate with Armenia in a different way," meaning from a position of strength rather than weakness.

In what appears to be an allusion to Mamedov's call for demonstrations in support of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, Kerimov argued that such protests must mobilize "hundreds of thousands" of participants to be taken seriously by the international community. He said that hopes of Turkish military support to liberate occupied territories are misplaced, since Turkey as a NATO member has limited scope for independent military activity. Finally, Kerimov said that his party will ask the Azerbaijani government not to discuss the political status of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan until after the occupied territories have been freed. (Liz Fuller)

OPPOSITION GERMAN POLITICIAN STRESSES 'STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE' OF SOUTH CAUCASUS. In an extensive analysis published in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 7 March, former German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe argues that the three South Caucasus states are an integral part of Europe, and that the countries of Europe, and Germany in particular, should do more both to stabilize the situation in the region, and to make it clear to Moscow that Russia's claims that the South Caucasus constitutes part of its "sphere of vital interests" are untenable.

Ruehe reasons that as the largest European importer of both oil and gas, Germany has grounds for concern that the exploitation and export of Caspian hydrocarbons depends at least in part on the outcome of the ongoing replay of the "Great Game" -- a replay that, in Ruhe's view, has led to the hardening of what he portrays as two axes, north-south (Russia-Armenia-Iran) and East-West (Central Asia-Azerbaijan-Turkey-Ukraine.) That stereotyped view fails, however, to take into account the fact that in recent years Armenia has pursued an increasingly nuanced and multi-faceted foreign policy in an attempt to balance its earlier focus and dependence on Russia.

Noting that Russia has consistently sought to manipulate the territorial conflicts in the South Caucasus to preserve its dwindling influence in the region, Ruehe stresses the need for decisive active to prevent a spillover of the Chechen war on to Georgian territory, and to expedite a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, given that the potential successor to President Heidar Aliyev may be counting on using oil revenues to finance a new war to bring the enclave back under Baku's control.

Ruehe argues that both German and European policy should be directed towards rejecting Moscow's claims that it has a right to intervene in the South Caucasus, especially in Georgia; to countering the emergence of regional blocs; and to stabilizing the South Caucasus and promoting the region's integration into the European family of states. Specifically, he makes the following recommendations:

German policy should be coordinated with that of its European partners and with the efforts of international organizations such as the UN and the OSCE to mediate in territorial conflicts.

While the European Commission conducts valuable work in funding aid, development, and reconstruction, it has neither the mandate nor the means to promote political stabilization. Therefore the EU should develop and energetically implement its own program for doing so.

Germany should embark on a dialogue, coordinated with its European allies, with the most important regional players, including Russia, Turkey, and Iran, in an attempt to counter attempts by those states to manipulate the situation in the region for their own geo-political interests. That attempt should embrace the issue of export pipelines for Caspian hydrocarbons; Ruehe argues that the greater the number of such export pipelines, the less export will depend on a single transit country.

At the same time, Germany should attempt to persuade Turkey to soften its position with regard to Armenia, and to assure Iran that the West is not seeking to undermine its position in the South Caucasus. In that context, Ruehe proposes naming a German diplomatic representative with special responsibility for the South Caucasus. He acknowledges that Germany has few experts on the region. (Ruehe himself inadvertently demonstrates the lack of specialized knowledge by giving credence to the Georgian and Azerbaijani leaderships' exaggerated claims of the number of displaced persons who fled during the hostilities in Abkhazia and in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.)

Ruehe argues that the South Caucasus states have made far greater progress towards democratization than have the post-Soviet states in Central Asia. But he nonetheless sees the need for building up a network of permanent advisors to the governments of the three countries on legal and economic reform and streamlining their respective bureaucracies.

Noting that "the three countries can achieve long-term stability only by creating a common Caucasian economic space and by close political coordination between the three capitals," which will serve to strengthen their resistance to the "hegemonistic ambitions of the regional great and medium-sized powers," Ruehe expresses concern that at the present stage even the most basic forms of bilateral transport cooperation between the "strategic partners" Georgia and Azerbaijan are being sabotaged by the systematic unofficial tariffs levied by the Georgian transport police.

With regard to long-term integration of the South Caucasus states into European structures, Ruehe leaves open the question of whether the shared aspiration of Georgia and Azerbaijan to NATO membership is realistic. And he implicitly rejects the possibility that any of the three states will succeed in joining the EU, arguing that what is needed are possibilities for different levels of integration with that body, whether through closer cooperation in various spheres of policy including the common foreign, security and defense, or energy policy, or in the form of associate EU membership, or through the creation of a pan-European economic space that would be closely linked with the EU internal market.

Ruehe concludes by pointing out that even if it proves possible to resolve territorial conflicts in the Caucasus tomorrow, much remains to be done to promote lasting stability and prosperity. Germany must, he says, acknowledge its responsibilities to the region, and the sooner the better. (Liz Fuller)

SPOKESMAN DENIES KARABAKH PREMIER PLANS TO RESIGN. A spokesman for Anoushavan Danielian, who is prime minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has rejected as untrue Armenian press reports that his boss has either already submitted his resignation to the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, and left the republic, or that he plans to do so, Armenian agencies reported on 9 and 12 March. The spokesman further denied any tensions between the two leading politicians, saying rumors to the contrary have been deliberately spread by "forces interested in aggravating the tension in society and destabilizing the situation." At a cabinet session in Stepanakert on 7 March, Ghukasian reportedly criticized Danielian in connection with delays in paying pensions and allowances to war veterans and their families.

One of the original Armenian reports that Danielian planned to resign appeared in the Armenian weekly "Iravunk." That paper is published by the Union of Constitutional Right, which is sympathetic to former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, who was sentenced last month to 14 years' imprisonment on charges of masterminding an attempt last March to assassinate Ghukasian. According to "Iravunk," Ghukasian holds Danielian responsible for the deteriorating economic situation in the enclave.

A second Armenian paper, "Haykakan zhamanak," had suggested late last year that Ghukasian might make Danielian the scapegoat for the deteriorating social and economic situation in the unrecognized republic. That paper adduced rumors circulating in Stepanakert that the pro-Ghukasian Democratic Union of Artsakh parliament faction was at that time collecting signatures to force a no-confidence vote in the premier. But notwithstanding those rumors, a New Year's poll of 29 local journalists and Karabakh parliament deputies conducted jointly in Stepanakert by RFE/RL and the local newspaper "Azat Artsakh" revealed that Danielian was perceived as only marginally less influential than the enclave's president.

That rating is the more significant in that the 44-year-old Danielian is not a native of Karabakh and thus does not have an established power base there. Born in Georgia, he spent most of his life in Crimea, where he studied international relations at Simferopol University before going into local politics: in the mid-1990s he served as deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament. It was Ghukasian, whom he first met in Crimea in 1994, who offered Danielian the post of Karabakh premier in June 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 1999).

On the minus side, some of Danielian's actions have been queried as bordering on illegality, and he has been described as something of a rough diamond. But he nonetheless has the reputation of a competent economist and manager. Moreover, he gives the impression of being realistic enough not to challenge Ghukasian's authority, while the latter might be hard pressed to replace him as premier. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "Our aim is not war but the liberation of the occupied territories and the restoration of peaceful coexistence in the region. We hope the Armenian leadership can adopt a constructive position, in the interests of the Armenian people." -- Azerbaijani presidential administration official Ali Hasanov, in an interview with ANS TV on 10 March (courtesy of Groong).