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Caucasus Report: September 10, 1999

10 September 1999, Volume 2, Number 36

Mission Impossible? Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov toured the capitals of the three South Caucasus states late last week in what many observers both in those countries and elsewhere saw as a desperate attempt on Moscow's part to halt, if not to reverse, the ongoing erosion of its influence in the region. Yet Ivanov's stated objective of establishing "all-encompasing, equitable and mutually advantageous" relations with all three states in the region is unrealistic and untenable, given the suspicions two of those countries (Azerbaijan and Georgia) harbor concerning Russia's motives, and the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The existing tensions in Moscow's relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia derive from those two countries' unequivocally pro-Western orientation, on the one hand, and, on the other, from their belief that Moscow has in the past sought to manipulate the Karabakh and Abkhaz conflicts in order to weaken them. Georgia and Azerbaijan have both made no secret of their aspiration to NATO membership. Georgia is seeking the closure of the four Russian military bases on it soil -- on its own terms. Azerbaijan, for its part, wants Moscow to revise the level of its defense cooperation with Armenia, in particular to demand the return of several billion dollars' worth of weaponry clandestinely supplied to Armenia between 1994-1996. Both countries announced earlier this year that they had no interest in renewing their membership of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. In addition, Georgia and Azerbaijan are both founding members of the GUUAM alignment, which many Russian politicians believe is intended to sabotage the CIS from within. A further priority of the GUUAM member states that is likewise anathema to Moscow is cooperation in exporting Caspian oil and gas to international markets, bypassing the Russian Federation.

In his talks with Ivanov in Baku on 2 September, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev harshly criticized what he termed Russia's differentiated approach to relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan and its "passive" policy towards the South Caucasus which, Aliyev said, is no less a strategic region than the Balkans. Aliyev told Ivanov that Baku expects Moscow to galvanize the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to find a solution to the Karabakh conflict, adding that his own direct talks with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian are no substitute for such mediation. (Ivanov had said before his meeting with Aliyev that he considers those direct talks "the best way" to resolve the conflict.) But at the same time Aliyev noted that Moscow's increasingly close military cooperation with Armenia "is complicating the negotiating process on Nagorno-Karabakh."

Ivanov, for his part, replied that Moscow "understands perfectly" that the issue of its defense cooperation with Armenia is a sensitive one for Azerbaijan and the entire South Caucasus. He echoed the assurances of Armenian officials that Russia's defense cooperation with Armenia is not aimed at Azerbaijan or any other third country, and called for closer contacts between the defense and other power ministries of Russia and Azerbaijan. Ivanov also said that Moscow does not intend to favor either the Armenian or the Azerbaijani side in seeking a solution to the Karabakh conflict.

Whether Ivanov made any concrete concession to specific Azerbaijani concerns is not clear. At a statement after their talks, however, Aliyev struck a more conciliatory note, describing bilateral relations as "friendly." He added that, despite disagreements, Baku will continue its strategic policy of strengthening cooperation with Russia.

Georgian officials similarly made it clear to Ivanov in Tbilisi two days later that they consider the current state of bilateral relations unacceptable, and that the fault for that state of affairs lies with Moscow. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania pointed out, for example, that for five years the Russian State Duma has declined to ratify the Georgian-Russian Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation signed in early 1994. But as in Baku, it was the Russian military that proved the fundamental bone of contention. Some Georgian opposition parliamentarians, and the chairman of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, Revaz Adamia, have proposed that at least two of the existing four Russian bases in Georgia should be closed. The U.S. has indicated that it may be prepared to shoulder part of the cost of doing so.

But some Russian politicians have attempted to call Tbilisi's bluff. Adamia told the Russian newspaper "Vremya MN" last month that former Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin responded to Tbilisi's demand to reduce its military presence in Georgia by proposing to close the Russian military facility in Akhalkalaki, which is virtually the sole employer for most of the disaffected Armenian population of that region.

Ivanov made it clear that as far as Moscow is concerned, a withdrawal of its troops from Georgia is not on the agenda, as their presence there "serves Russia's interests." How Georgian officials responded to his offer to raise the level of military cooperation between Russia and Georgia to that between Russia and Armenia was not reported.

In Yerevan, by contrast, Ivanov expressed satisfaction after his talks with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian at the level of cooperation between countries that are "strategic partners." Touching on the Karabakh conflict, Ivanov again endorsed direct talks betweeen the two presidents. Interfax quoted him as denying Azerbaijani media reports that he had said in Baku that Moscow no longer backs the Minsk Group proposal that Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should form "a common state" -- an option that Azerbaijan has rejected as violating its territorial integrity. Ivanov also argued that it is imperative to involve the Karabakh Armenian leadership in the peace process, which Baku is also reluctant to do.

In all three capitals, Ivanov discussed the situation in the Caucasus as a whole, stressing the need for cooperation between the countries and republics to restore stability to the entire region. But the priorities of those various republics and states are so diverse, and the centripetal process in Chechnya so far advanced, that stability appears utopian. And Ivanov's statement that "it is impossible to settle conflicts in this region without Russia or against its interests" will inevitably be construed by many politicians in the North and South Caucasus as a threat, rather than a promise. (Liz Fuller)

Azerbaijani President Comments On Geneva Talks. Interviewed on 7 September by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev argued at some length that the KGB, in which he made his career, was fundamentally a reformist organization. Asked at the very end of the interview whether his recent meeting in Geneva with Armenian President Robert Kocharian has brought a final settlement of the Karabakh conflict closer, Aliyev said that "I am simply seeking possibilities for a peaceful solution to the conflict. There is the [Azerbaijani] opposition, you understand, and it is a mediocre, mediocre, uneducated opposition, lacking in refinement [...] They [i.e. the opposition] grew up on the Karabakh problem, anyone who wanted to started shouting 'Karabakh, Karabakh, Karabakh,' his support on the streets increased. Then I came and stopped the war, that was five years ago, it had lasted from 1988 to May 1994."

"I consider that it was a major achievement on my part to maintain the ceasefire for over five years and not allow another war, and the second thing is that there are no peacekeeping forces deployed between us to keep the two sides apart, we are standing face to face, our troops and the Armenian troops. We are maintaining it, it is not just to our credit, it is to the Armenians' credit as well, but they are in a more advantageous position, they have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, so they don't need to fight any more."

"But our opposition says 'Let's go and fight, we'll win it back,' and so forth, but I won't let them do so, I cannot allow it.

For that reason I am looking for peaceful ways [to resolve the conflict] that would correspond to the interests of both the Azerbaijani and the Armenian side." (Liz Fuller)

Azerbaijani Emigres Form New Association. The first meeting of the Confederation of Azerbaijan Communities was held in Bonn on 21-22 August. Attending the meeting were representatives from all the Azerbaijani communities in Europe -- Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, England, Italy, and Turkey. The meeting had two goals: first, to approve of the goals and duties of such an organization; which united all the Azerbaijani community organizations abroad and second, to reach this agreement in a completely democratic manner. This meant that every representative of every group present had to stand up and express his views before any of the principles was accepted. There would then be a vote to determine whether the confederation as a whole would accept the corrections or modifications to a draft "Charter" (Esasname). This process took two days, and could easily have taken longer. Once accepted, however, these principles became the basis of the new organization and need not be discussed in detail again until such time as the majority feel that changes are necessary.

According to the Charter, the "confederation unites [Azerbaijani] societies and individuals defending and working for human rights in the modern world." This is the first objective because most of the Azerbaijani emigration is from South Azerbaijan, in Iran, and are deprived of many of the human and national rights which are present in most advanced societies.

The participants at the meeting are those living abroad as Azerbaijanis in terms of their national, political and cultural identities. They feel obliged "to transmit the masterworks of Azerbaijan's culture abroad," and also "to communicate foreign cultural monuments to their compatriots at home."

The Confederation will work to give wider publicity to the national liberation struggle in South Azerbaijan, as well as defend and strengthen the democratic laws of the Azerbaijan Republic.

It is clear that Karabakh is of primary concern to the members of the confederation. The last objective of the statement of the duties and goals of the new organization concern ramifications of this question. It states that "all possibilities for the liberation of territory of North Azerbaijan in the past and recent years must be utilized." At the same time, the document stresses that "Everyone living on the soil of Azerbaijan is a citizen of Azerbaijan." That person has civil rights and can use them.

Participants expressed the hope that their completely democratic approach will also become commonplace in organizations formed or being newly established in both parts of Azerbaijan. (David Nissman)

One Abortion For Every Six Live Births in Azerbaijan in 1998. Nearly 25,000 abortions were performed in Azerbaijan in 1998, Turan reported on 3 September quoting "Ekspress." "Yeddi Gun" reported on 24 July that a total of 124,000 children were born in Azerbaijan in 1998, of whom 2,000 died and an unknown number were exposed. No data on the number of miscarriages is available. In the 1980s, Azerbaijan had one of the highest birthrates in the entire USSR. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "We think Turkey's positive and even-handed engagement in the Nagorno-Karabakh [peace process] and the Caucasus in general could be extremely helpful and conducive to a peaceful settlement." -- Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 8 September.

"In military terms, our army is better by far than Russia's. Look at how much time the Russians need to capture two villages in Daghestan. With my soldiers, I could take those villages in one day." -- Unnamed commander of a regiment of the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, quoted in "Yerkir," 9 September 1999.

"I am simply obliged to act in such a way as to prevent a war in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. And both the center and all right-minded people are obliged to do the same." -- Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia President-elect Vladimir Semenov, quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 9 September 1999.