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Western Press Review: Political Transition In Kyrgyzstan, NATO And The 'Greater Middle East,' And Armenia's Genocide

Prague, 23 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed by some of the world's leading dailies today are the potential for democratic transition in Kyrgyzstan, a new role for NATO in the "Greater Middle East," the 89th anniversary of the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, and how trans-Atlantic relations affect common responses to global crises.


An analysis by this regional daily says 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections may see Kyrgyzstan become "the first Central Asian state to experience a ballot-box-driven transfer of power."

President Askar Akaev has said he will not seek re-election, although he may seek to maintain some element of control over the political process. A 2003 referendum created a legal loophole that would let him run for a third term if he so chose. But whatever his personal ambitions, the daily says Akaev seems intent on preventing the opposition from coming to power.

Opposition activists say the Akaev government's "tight hold over mass media would give incumbent authority a distinct electoral advantage." There have also been complaints that the authorities harass independent regional media outlets.

But the paper says the political opposition has been "relatively quiet since the February 2003 referendum." Disunity "has hampered the opposition's ability to challenge [Akaev]. Prominent opposition figures, including [imprisoned opposition leader Feliks] Kulov, Azimbek Beknazarov and Topchubek Turgunaliev, have been unable to formulate a cohesive strategy for the parliamentary elections.”

"Opposition disunity should assist [Akaev] in accomplishing one major political aim: packing the next parliament with as many of his supporters as possible," the paper writes. But it says if Akaev indeed declines to run in 2005, "the voluntary departure from power of a sitting president would establish an important precedent in Central Asia's political development. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, no Central Asian state has witnessed a turnover of authority in the executive branch."


Columnist Philip Stephens discusses the meeting this week of NATO officials in the Gulf state of Qatar, which sought to address the alliance's potential role in "projecting strategic security" across what is now being called the "Greater Middle East." The new distinction includes Pakistan and Afghanistan in the broader considerations of the region.

Stephens says, "The principal threats to European, as well as to U.S., security are centered on instability and conflict in the Middle East. If NATO is to retain any relevance as an alliance it must address that reality." And yet "the nature and scope of this new outreach program remains distinctly hazy," he adds. Earlier "grand designs" have been replaced by "a more practical program of political encouragement and financial support for democratic reform and economic development."

Talk of a NATO role in Iraq has centered around creating a force similar to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. But any such deployment would take place only "if and when the present insurrection is brought under control and sovereignty is properly transferred to Iraqis." NATO is also set to take on "a new security role in the Middle East by offering co-operation agreements to reformist-minded governments." Thus, says Stephens, the alliance looks ready to be part of a multilateral system that will "provide the peacemaking forces and the strategic security vital to [U.S. President] George W. Bush's broader ambitions in the Muslim world."

In Doha, security in the Greater Middle East was viewed as "the grand project on which the transatlantic community would be rebuilt." But Stephens says some observers also maintain that this is the project that might "finally break the alliance."


Yerevan-based journalist Kim Iskyan discusses the 89th anniversary on 24 April of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, an episode in history that continues to have geopolitical implications for both Armenia and Turkey. She says Armenians "can never forget or forgive the slaughter of some 1.5 million men, women and children."

Many Armenians "are passionate in their insistence that the genocide be officially recognized." Iskyan says the "cultural and ethnic identity of Armenians -- particularly those in the diaspora -- is formed in no small part by the trauma of genocide passed down through the generations. Armenians seek acknowledgment of their suffering, a sense of closure and, possibly, compensation."

But for Turkey, "admitting that the country's forebears were guilty of genocide would contradict generations of official indoctrination and could lead to uncomfortable questions about the foundation of the republic." Ankara is particularly sensitive to the use of the word "genocide" in any discussion of the events.

Since the early 1990s, Turkey has sealed off its border with Armenia. The World Bank estimates that reopening the border would boost the Armenian economy by 30 percent. But "many elements of Armenia's diverse diaspora remain focused on genocide recognition, often at the expense of issues of more immediate impact on the country and region today."

Iskyan says that, while continuing to honor the memory of their dead, Armenia's "diaspora and the world community should be careful not to allow recognition of the genocide to undermine the future of the country and the region."


Columnist Thomas Schmid says it was "a crude move" for someone alleging to be Osama bin Laden to release a tape calling for Europe to distance itself from U.S. foreign policy in Iraq if it wanted to avoid more Madrid-style attacks. "But it certainly hit a sore spot and showed that Al-Qaeda terrorists see Europe as a political unit with which they can play strategic games."

Over the past several decades, Europeans "saw themselves in a coalition of interests and values with the United States." Now they are "emphasizing small differences" and seeking diplomatic distance from its policies. "This would be legitimate if Europe's desire to decouple itself from the United States was based on political strength and a convincing concept for a common European foreign policy. But Europe has a long way to go to get there."

The United States "has not brought peace or perspective to Iraq since its invasion last year," Schmid says. And much of this was due to an inexcusable naivete, he says. Washington fell into the common trap of believing "that the end of a dictatorship would automatically mark the birth of freedom and democracy. It entered postwar reality badly prepared and badly advised."

But he says Europe, for its part, "has always been the small, dependent child of the United States: It could rely on words and diplomacy only because the big brother carried the sword." But today's United Nations, that focal point of world diplomacy, is now "a useless power in crisis resolution."

The question today, says Schmid, "is how words and swords have to work together in a crisis situation. Words alone will not help get the job done."