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Caucasus Report: December 13, 2001


13 December 2001, Volume 4, Number 41

THE SEARCH FOR A NEW CHECHEN CONSTITUTION. Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin's September statement that paved the way for the first round of talks on a possible peaceful solution to the war in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001), Chechen politicians in both Grozny and Moscow were debating the optimum constitution for a post-conflict Chechen Republic within the Russian Federation.

That debate focuses primarily on whether Chechnya should be a parliamentary or presidential republic, a choice that is of vital concern to those political figures who already aspire to the post of either president or premier.

As of late November, at least four, and possibly five, separate draft constitutions had been prepared. Akhmed Zavgaev, who is Chechnya's representative to the Federation Council, said that four drafts exist. The first of those, Zavgaev told Interfax, was written by the pro-Moscow Advisory Council subordinate to Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, which comprises both members of the clergy and representatives of the general public. Zavgaev said he anticipates that most Chechens will support that draft, which calls for presidential rule. Kadyrov has consistently argued in favor of the presidential model on the grounds that Chechnya needs "an honest man and a firm hand," and clearly envisages himself as occupying that post.

Advisory Council Chairman Shaid Zhamaldaev told Interfax on 5 November that the council's draft will be worded along the lines of the existing constitutions of the republics of Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. But that statement is confusing and ambiguous insofar as Kabardino-Balkaria has a universally elected president, while Daghestan does not.

The second draft constitution, Zavgaev said, envisages a parliamentary republic and is therefore, in his opinion, at odds with the Russian Federation Constitution. Zavgaev said two further draft constitutions exist, one authored by "public figures" and the other by supporters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. But he dismissed both those drafts as inappropriate on the grounds that they envisage "unacceptable structures."

It is not clear, however, whether Zavgaev's listing takes into account two separate but very similar draft constitutions prepared by former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, who was named in June as an inspector on the staff of presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev. Both those drafts, according to the website vremya.ru, define Chechnya as a secular state within the Russian Federation, but one provides for a president who is empowered to dissolve parliament and dismiss the government, while the second envisages a parliamentary system in which the head of the executive branch is universally elected and is subordinate to the parliament. Under this model, the National Assembly is empowered to dismiss the premier while the latter may dissolve parliament.

Adding further to the confusion, "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 November mentioned only one draft prepared by Gantemirov which states that Chechnya is "a sovereign democratic state within the Russian Federation" and that sovereignty belongs to the Chechen people. That draft designates both Chechen and Russian as state languages.

While the majority of the Chechen population may indeed favor the presidential model, as Zavgaev affirms, some senior officials believe that the parliamentary model is more appropriate in the long term. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 November, Shali Raion administration head Sherip Alikhadzhiev argued that for the next three to five years, until "order is restored," Chechnya needs "a clearly defined vertical power structure" headed by an administrator who would be directly subordinate to the Russian president. But after that stabilization period has elapsed, Alikhadzhiev continued, Chechnya should become a parliamentary republic with a bicameral legislature modeled on Daghestan's, and which would elect the head of state. Such a structure, Alikhadzhiev reasoned, would provide for the equitable representation in the legislature of Chechnya's myriad teyps (clans). Daghestan's parliament similarly provides for representation of the republic's 14 largest ethnic groups.

Gantemirov's statements on the subject of the ideal state model are not completely consistent. "Vremya novostei" on 3 July said Gantemirov believes Chechnya should be a parliamentary republic, while "Trud" on 13 October quoted him as saying it is too early to choose between the presidential and parliamentary models. (In his interview with "Trud," Gantemirov also downplayed the significance of the teyps, saying that those who believe the teyps have a role to play in post-conflict Chechnya are not adequately acquainted with the situation on the ground.)

The website vremya.ru quoted Gantemirov as explaining that Chechens' psychology is such that they consider the president "a god or a tsar, to whom everyone must submit unconditionally." For that reason, Gantemirov argued, "a fight for the presidential chair will begin between various political and religious groupings and family clans, and this could lead to an armed confrontation." Nor is there any guarantee, Gantemirov said, that "a new Dudaev or Maskhadov" will not appear and launch a new war against Russia. By contrast, a parliamentary republic "dilutes" supreme power.

Nor is interest in the optimum state model for Chechnya confined to Chechnya itself. According to vremya.ru, Russian State Duma deputies have proposed setting up a joint commission with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to draft a Chechen constitution and decide how that constitution should be adopted. Most Duma deputies favor abolishing the Chechen presidency and establishing a bicameral parliament.

Also a matter of dispute is whether whichever draft constitution is finally selected should be adopted by means of a referendum (as Zavgaev and presumably Kadyrov want) or by a constitutional assembly.

The Duma and the PACE both favor the idea of a constitutional assembly. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in February, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, who is the secretary of the State Duma's commission on Chechnya, explained that during the PACE delegation's visit to Chechnya in January 2001, agreement was reached on the need to create a "proto-parliament" comprising representatives of all ethnic groups in Chechnya and deputies to the Chechen parliament elected in the summer of 1997. That "proto-parliament" would in turn form a constitutional assembly that would serve as a forum for dialogue on the most appropriate state system for Chechnya.

Why no progress has yet been made toward implementing that decision is unclear. But the co-chairman of the PACE-Russian State Duma Joint Working Group for Chechnya, Lord Frank Judd, offered one clue after his most recent visit to Chechnya last week. Judd told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he is concerned that members of Kadyrov's administration are far more hostile to the idea of peace talks with Maskhadov than are some Duma deputies. Moreover, Judd continued, many statements by those Chechen officials are at odds with pronouncements by President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). That reluctance on the part of the Chechen administration to endorse a broad dialogue on Chechnya's future suggests that its members intend to hold on to power at all costs, and to undercut any initiative that might reduce their chances of doing so. (Liz Fuller)

TURKISH-ARMENIAN GENOCIDE STUDY PANEL IN LIMBO. The Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) appeared on the verge of collapse on 12 December after its Armenian members halted their participation in the controversial initiative, accusing their Turkish counterparts of backtracking on a recent agreement to seek an independent study on the 1915 genocide. The four Armenian participants said they informed a U.S. mediator that the commission "is not going to proceed" because its Turkish members "unilaterally" told a New York-based human rights organization not to undertake a study on whether the 1948 UN Genocide Convention is applicable to the Armenian massacres. They argued that the unexpected Turkish move undermines mutual trust among TARC members.

The decision to request such a third-party analysis from the International Center for Transitional Justice was taken at the most recent meeting of the TARC in New York late last month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 40, 4 December 2001). The move was touted as an important element in the U.S.-backed dialogue between the two estranged states.

"Mutual trust and respect for agreements is vital for the success of any joint undertaking and our commission in particular," Alexander Arzoumanian, a TARC member and Armenia's former foreign minister, said in an RFE/RL interview. "Since these principles have been undermined, we Armenian members found it expedient to stop our participation for the time being." Arzoumanian and his Armenian colleagues suggested that the Turkish commission members, among them a former foreign minister and retired top diplomats, were apparently pressurized by their government into withdrawing their consent to the genocide study. At the same time, the Armenian representatives stressed that the commission has not formally ceased to exist and may still resume its activities.

"I think it might be premature to consider it dead," said Arpi Vartanian of the Armenian Assembly of America, a Washington-based lobbying group and a key backer of the reconciliation initiative. Arzoumanian agreed, saying that the contacts between the two sides will continue. "We will discuss the situation and try to look for ways out of this situation together," he said.

One Armenian source close to the commission told RFE/RL that "the next step is up to the Turkish members." "I think that they should go back to their government and decide what to do next," the source said.

Meanwhile, opponents of the Turkish-Armenian initiative declared on 12 December that the row over the international genocide study vindicates their belief that Turkey is not prepared for dialogue. The most vocal critic, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), described the statement by the Armenian members of the TARC as a "belated recognition" of its failure. The nationalist party's worldwide governing bureau reiterated its view that the TARC's creation last July was a Turkish ploy to derail international recognition of the Armenian genocide.

"Any Turkish-Armenian dialogue will yield results only after Turkey accepts the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide, something which cannot be a subject of bargaining," the Dashnaktsutyun body said in a statement in Yerevan.

A spokeswoman for Dashnaktsutyun's lobbying arm, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), said the near collapse of the TARC removes a barrier to the genocide recognition campaign. Elizabeth Chuljian told RFE/RL from Washington that the ANCA will step up its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill after the latest developments.

The Armenian Assembly's Vartanian, however, insisted that the direct contacts between prominent Armenians and Turks should continue. "That work still must go forward," she said. "In what form, in what way and by whom, remains to be seen." (Emil Danielyan)

ARMENIAN GROWTH MAINLY BENEFITS THE RICH. Widespread tax evasion and corruption mean that it is mainly wealthy Armenians who enjoy the fruits of robust economic growth, President Robert Kocharian's chief economic adviser admitted on 7 December.

Vahram Nercissiantz, a U.S. citizen of Armenian descent who headed the World Bank office in Yerevan in the 1990s, argued that the rise in overall living standards is seriously hampered by poor tax collection and the resulting lack of public spending. He said the authorities should ensure a "more just" distribution of incomes among all segments of the population.

"It is obvious that people benefiting from the economic growth are dodging their state responsibilities by evading taxes," Nercissiantz told RFE/RL in an interview. He added that poor management of public utilities and corruption in the entire public sector are a huge burden on the impoverished country. "These are that three main financial hemorrhages that impede the entry of sufficient resource into the [state] budget and prevent a just distribution of incomes generated by economic growth," he said.

Nercissiantz's assessment of the economic situation in Armenia is largely in line the conclusions drawn by the World Bank, the country's main creditor. The bank's vice president, Johannes Linn, has termed an "economic paradox" the absence of a significant rise in living standards after seven years of GDP growth that has averaged 5.5 percent. Official figures show that the growth rate has hit almost 10 percent in the first 10 months of this year.

But as the World Bank concluded in a report in May, "the country has not benefited from commensurate job creation or poverty reduction." The report pointed to the "narrow base" of Armenian growth and its "limited impact on job generation and, hence, on poverty."

Nercissiantz warned that the Armenian government risks dampening long-term prospects for growth if it keeps up the current extremely low volume of government expenditures on education and health care. "We are still consuming the social infrastructure and human capital inherited from the communist era, and are not investing enough resources to ensure future economic growth," he explained.

Nercissiantz said one of the ways of boosting budget revenues is to drastically raise the tax on real estate owned by the rich. He said he has already submitted appropriate policy recommendations to Kocharian.

Tax revenues make up approximately 14 percent of Armenia's GDP, only half as much as in the world's developed economies. (Atom Markarian)

HAS GEORGIA REACHED A MILESTONE IN WAR ON CORRUPTION? Two seemingly minor Georgian news agency reports over the past two days may have major long-term implications both for efforts to crack down on endemic corruption and on the country's political landscape.

On 10 December, a small group of journalists who focus primarily on corruption claimed to have acquired documentary proof that two of the country's most influential young opposition politicians, former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania and former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, control more than 500 Georgian companies and have been instrumental in enacting legislation that facilitated financial malpractice and inflicted serious damage on the Georgian economy. The group, whose earlier investigations other journalists in Tbilisi consider to have been fair and well-researched, demanded that both men's parliamentary immunity be lifted to facilitate a criminal investigation into their alleged corrupt activities.

Zhvania and Saakashvili are at the forefront of the mounting popular opposition to President Eduard Shevardnadze. It is not clear, however, whether the other opposition factions within the fragmented parliament, whose influence could be undercut by the new opposition movement Zhvania and Saakashvili are creating, could raise a majority in favor of raising their immunity.

As of 13 December, neither Zhvania nor Saakashvili had commented on the corruption allegations. One argument that could be adduced to counter them is the suspicion among some Tbilisi journalists that the anticorruption group has connections with, and may even be financed by, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze. (Earlier reports compiled by the anticorruption team were reported extensively on Adjar Television.) Abashidze has every reason to seek to discredit both Zhvania and Saakashvili, who would constitute serious competition should Abashidze decide to contest the next Georgian presidential election.

On 12 December, Caucasus Press quoted Vano Merabishvili, chairman of the parliament's Committee for Economic Reform and a former protege of Zhvania, as announcing the drafting of a bill specifically intended to prevent the embezzlement of revenues from state-owned enterprises. He claimed such losses amount to millions of dollars, some of which find their way into bank accounts owned by members of Shevardnadze's family.

Merabishvili made headlines earlier this year when he was quoted by "The Washington Post" as saying that Shevardnadze is too old and tired to make any headway in the fight against corruption in Georgia, and that his repeated vows to do so are intended primarily to reassure the international community and those international financial organizations who keep the country afloat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 18 and 19 April 2001). Should the charges against Zhvania and Saakashvili be substantiated, Merabishvili would be well-placed to take over Saakashvili's former role of anticorruption campaigner. But whether he has the political savvy and adequate support both within and outside parliament to make a bid for the leadership of the new opposition movement Zhvania and Saakashvili are planning is an open question. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Beginning in 1988, Azerbaijan has been confronted with Armenian separatism and terrorism. Armenian separatists and their confederates have organized more than 30 terrorist acts as a result of which more than 2,000 Azerbaijanis perished and hundreds were mutilated. For that reason we know very well what terrorism is and what a threat it poses to people's security and to the sovereignty of the state." -- Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev, in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" (6 December).

"Armed insurrection against tyranny is no terrorism -- nor is it always separatism. Neither democracy, nor the rule of law, nor the protection of people's right to freedom and freedom from repression are served by insuring the immutability of oppressive regimes in the name of stability or the status quo." -- Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, addressing the OSCE Ninth Ministerial Council meeting in Bucharest on 4 December (quoted by Noyan Tapan).

"Our common interest is peace. In the settlement process it cannot be said that one side loses and the other side gains. Everybody loses when there is no peace." -- Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, speaking on Artsakh State Television on 10 December, the tenth anniversary of the referendum in which the majority of the enclave's inhabitants opted for seceding from Azerbaijan (quoted by Groong).

"They have been making promises for 13 years, but I still have no home and job." -- Unidentified Armenian women from the town of Spitak, which was totally destroyed in the December 1988 earthquake, commenting on government pledges to complete reconstruction by the end of 2002 (quoted by RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 8 December).

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