DUMA TO RECONSIDER CHERNOMYRDIN NEXT WEEK
According to Interfax on 1 September, the State Duma will vote on the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for a second time on 7 September. After the Duma voted 251 to 94 not to confirm Chernomyrdin on 31 August, Russian President Yeltsin immediately resubmitted his name. Communist Pary leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhironovsky have declared their intention to reject the nomination, while Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that Chernomyrdin has "no chance" to win Duma acceptance on the second try. According to the Russian Constitution, if the Duma rejects Chernomyrdin a third time, Yeltsin will have to dissolve the legislature and hold new elections within four months. JAC
CLINTON ARRIVES IN MOSCOW WITH FULL AGENDA. U.S.
President Bill Clinton arrived in Moscow on 1 September with a number of foreign policy, arms control, and trade issues to discuss with his Russian counterpart. Russian presidential foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko told Interfax that Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Clinton will discuss the G-8, Russian-NATO cooperation, particularly in Albania, Afghanistan, and Iraq, implementation of START-I, ratification of START-II, and preparation of START-III. President Yeltsin will also raise the issue of non-citizens living in Latvia and Estonia. In the area of economic relations, the presidents will discuss most-favored-nation trade status for Russia, while joint space exploration and peaceful uses of nuclear energy are also on the agenda. JAC
PLUTONIUM ACCORD SLATED FOR SIGNATURE
Clinton and Yeltsin are expected to sign an agreement on reducing each nation's stock of weapon-grade plutonium by 50 tons through reprocessing and disposal. According to ITAR- TASS, U.S. experts estimate that the U.S. has 100 tons and Russia 160 tons. Both sides would use the plutonium to produce fuel and in power-generating nuclear reactors. Several other joint statements are also slated to be signed during Clinton's visit, including on handling common security challenges during the next century, exchanging missile-attack early warning information, and banning biological weapons. JAC
CLINTON TO MEET LEBED, ZYUGANOV
President Clinton on 2 September will meet with Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, a likely Russian presidential candidate in 2000, and Communist Pary leader Zyuganov. According to ITAR-TASS on 31 August, Lebed said he does not know what Clinton wants to discuss with him but that he will raise the issue of establishing a trans-Arctic airline route from North America to Southeast Asia over Krasnoyarsk territory. Lebed hopes that the route would enable Krasnoyarsk to earn substantial revenue and create thousands of new jobs. Meanwhile, Lebed continues to express his lukewarm support for acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. In an interview with the French newspaper "Le Figaro" on 31 August, he said: "Chernomyrdin has only a minute chance of slowing down the collapse, but at least he has one. Others do not. It is in everybody's interest to support him--otherwise we will drown." He refused to say whether he will run for president. "I have not yet announced my decision.... The problem is money and nerves," he noted. JAC
GORBACHEV APPROVES CLINTON VISIT
Former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev said that President Clinton's trip to Moscow is well timed, since dialogue is even more important under crisis conditions. He also said that U.S.- Russian relations at present "are not very saturated with content," according to Interfax. Gorbachev suggested that the U.S. is trying to deal with Russia "from the position of a stronger country," but he added that even when weakened, "Russia has an important say in international affairs." JAC
REGIONAL LEADERS REACT TO CRISIS
Governors in various Russian regions appear to back Chernomyrdin if only out of a sense that continued delay in installing a government will risk exacerbating the economic crisis. According to ITAR-TASS, Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov told reporters on 31 August that he thinks Yeltsin will keep proposing Chernomyrdin and will go as far as dismissing the government, which, he stressed, "is more important than any other state structure." He added that "if the deputies' ambitions exceed their reason, the process of confirming the prime minister will drag on and every extra day means rising prices and instability." Samara Governor Konstantin Titov recommended that Chernomyrdin be approved "before full-scale chaos develops in the Russian economy." Lipetsk Governor Oleg Korolev said that the history of other countries suggests that paths other than compromise and consensus-building inevitably lead to failure. JAC
LEFTISTS FLOAT ALTERNATE CANDIDATES
Interfax reported on 31 August that leftist opposition groups want to offer their own candidates for the position of prime minister. These would include Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev, and Industry and Trade Minister Yurii Maslyukov. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Zhironovsky has offered himself as candidate. "Moskovskii Komsomolets" reported on 1 September that Luzhkov met with Yeltsin, Stroev, and Chernomyrdin the previous day and agreed to support Chernomyrdin's candidacy. However, that was before Zyuganov had proposed Luzhkov as a potential candidate for the post of premier. The newspaper speculates that now Luzhkov may be reconsidering that decision in light of his new career prospects. JAC
ALL QUIET ON STOCK MARKET
Political uncertainty in Moscow continues to have a deadening effect on the Russian stock market. According to Interfax on 1 September, there was little trading activity, and quotations for leading stock fell 15 percent to 30 percent. JAC
RHETORIC HEATS UP...
In their statements to the press and in public speeches, Duma members and administration officials have adopted more inflammatory rhetoric than usual. After it was clear that the leftist opposition parties would not support Chernomyrdin, presidential representative to the Duma Aleksander Kotenkov warned the opposition that if the crisis continues, both the Communists and the administration will be swept away through "a popular uprising, merciless and senseless." In his speech to Duma, Chernomyrdin warned that "Russia is on the verge of political and economic collapse," while Communist Party leader Zyuganov said "if we fail to reach an agreement here, everything will spill out to the streets." On 1 September, he declared that Yeltsin's decision to renominate Chernomyrdin will push the country to "a civil war and strong confrontation." JAC
...WHILE CITIZENS CALL HOT LINE
Meanwhile, the tone of Russians calling the White House's three telephone hot lines have been more anxious and despairing than angry and combative, according to "Krasnaya Zvezda" on 28 August. One operator servicing the hot line said that most callers are concerned about what will happen to their bank deposits. Others question why the state has not done enough to defend the ruble against the dollar. The newspaper reports that Chernomyrdin closely studies data on the phone calls collated by a special working group that determines which subjects are of most concern to Russian citizens. Its links Chernomyrdin's attention to the calls with his other efforts to resolve problems in Russia's regions, such as preparation for winter, gathering the harvest, and helping victims of natural disasters. JAC
NEW CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF DAGESTANI LEADER
The Union of Muslims of Dagestan called on 29 August for the resignation of State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 September. The union also demanded that the republic's constitution be amended to provide for republic-wide elections for the head of state. At present, the State Council chairman is elected by the members of that body. The constitution was amended in March 1998,to allow for Magomedov's re-election for a second term, but Magomedov agreed to hold a referendum on further amendments to the constitution to introduce the post of elected president. LF
TURKMEN, CHINESE PRESIDENTS SIGN AGREEMENTS
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who is on a six- day visit to China, met with his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, in Beijing on 31 August, ITAR-TASS reported. Their talks focused on regional security, including the situations in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Taiwan, and the fight against separatism. They also discussed the construction of a 6,700 kilometer gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China, which eventually may also provide gas to Japan. The Japanese company Mitsubishi and U.S. company Exxon are participating in that project. The two presidents signed a declaration on strengthening bilateral ties. Jiang emphasized "the extreme importance of selecting this or that path of socio-economic development in accordance with the realistic conditions in one's own country while preserving internal stability." Agreements were also signed on air links, education, scientific and technical cooperation, and tourism. BP
ALL OPPOSITION FIGHTERS IN TAJIKISTAN TAKE OATH
ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September that all fighters from the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) who are currently in Tajikistan have taken the oath of allegiance to the government. The total number of those who have sworn allegiance is 5,200; only 200 UTO fighters in northern Afghanistan have not yet done so. The UN will assist in returning those fighters to Tajikistan after the Tajik government and UTO hand over those suspected of killing four UN employees in late July. The arrival of those suspects in Dushanbe has again been delayed owing to "technical reasons." UN special envoy to Tajikistan Jan Kubis met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 31 August. Kubis said later that he is satisfied that the suspects have been detained. However, Kubis has recently said the UN will not help repatriate the UTO fighters in Afghanistan until the suspects arrive in Dushanbe. BP
KAZAKH OFFICIALS DISMISSED
Chairman of the National Security Committee Alnur Musayev has been demoted to deputy chairman of the same committee, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 1 September. No reason was given for his demotion. Musayev has made several statements in the media recently about the fight against corruption, but a recent article in the Kazakh independent newspaper "DAT" questioned how Musayev's daughter was able to study abroad at a university where tuition costs are $40,000 per year. Presidential adviser Nurtay Abikayev replaces Musayev. Also dismissed was Akhmetzhan Yesimov, the head of the president's administration. Yesimov is being transferred to another post and is replaced by Alikhan Baymenov, deputy head of the presidential administration. BP
COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION IN TRANSCAUCASUS
A Council of Europe delegation headed by Secretary-General Daniel Tarschys visited Baku, Tbilisi, and Yerevan on 29-31 August to assess the chances of the three Transcaucasus states of being granted full membership in the council. Currently, those states have "special guest" status. Tarschys discussed with both Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian the prospects for a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. Progress toward reaching such a settlement is a precondition for Azerbaijan and Armenia to receive full membership in the council. In an indication that the council has revised its previous intention that the three Transcaucasus states be granted full membership at the same time, Tarschys said in Yerevan on 31 August that simultaneous accession would be "a coincidence," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF
ARMENIA'S PRESENT, EX-PREMIERS ASSESS RUSSIAN ECONOMIC CRISIS
Prime Minister Armen Darpinian told Noyan Tapan on 29 August that he is confident the Russian financial crisis will not adversely affect Armenia, where there is an absence of those conditions that brought on the crisis. Darpinian said that in Armenia the correlation between budget revenue and expenditure is "realistic" and that there is no threat of an unanticipated deficit. But former Premier Hrant Bagratian disagreed, pointing out that one-quarter of Armenia's foreign trade is with Russia and that the fall in the value of the ruble will curtail Armenian exports. A correspondent for RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau noted that proposed investments in Armenia's industrial sector by leading Russian banks may be in jeopardy and that those Armenians who depend on money transfers from relatives working in the Russian Federation will now receive less in dollar terms. The ruble exchange rate fell last week from 64 to 52 Armenian drams to one ruble. LF
KUCHMA DECREES ADDITIONAL SUMS FOR PENSION FUND
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has decreed temporary charges on the sale of gold jewelry, cars, and gasoline to be paid as compulsory pension insurance, Ukrainian News reported on 31 August. Under the decree, retailers must pay 3 percent of the price of each piece of gold jewelry (except wedding rings), 100 hryvni (some $44) for each car, and 1 kopeck for each liter of gasoline. Another presidential decree bans enterprises that owe wages from raising employees' wages or benefits until the wage arrears have been paid. JM
IMF NEEDS 'TWO MORE DAYS' TO DECIDE ON LOAN TO UKRAINE
The IMF needs another two days to decide on a $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September, citing an unidentified source in Ukraine's presidential administration. Ukraine urgently needs IMF support in order to replenish its hard-currency reserves to stabilize the falling hryvnya. The hryvnya's official exchange rate on 31 August reached the upper limit of 2.25 to $1 dollar, which was introduced by the National Bank until the end of this year. Unofficial rates ranged from 2.35-2.45 to $1, making people "rush to buy whatever they can afford," AP reported on 31 August. JM
LUKASHENKA URGES 'DECISIVE STEPS' TOWARD SLAVIC UNITY
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists on 31 August that Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine should take "more decisive steps" toward closer integration during the current financial crisis in Russia, AP reported. In his opinion, only the united efforts of the three Slavic states can soften consequences of the crisis. "If we do not make these steps toward each other, we will commit another crime, I stress, a crime," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. JM
ESTONIA INDICTS ANOTHER ALLEGED MASS DEPORTER
Charges of crimes against humanity have been filed against Mikhail Neverovski, 78, who is suspected of involvement in the deportation of 281 people to Siberia in 1949, BNS reported on 31 August. Neverovski, an employee of the Soviet-era security services, allegedly drew up lists of people living near Parnu who were deported to Russia's Far East. Three other men have been indicted on similar charges and, like Neverovski, face life in prison if found guilty. Proceedings against two men, aged 87 and 97, also suspected of involvement in mass deportations were halted in late 1997 and earlier this year following the deaths of the defendants. JC
RIGA COURT UPHOLDS RULING AGAINST PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE
The Riga District Court has upheld a decision by the Central Electoral Committee to reject the candidacy of Ingrida Podkolzina of the National Harmony Party in the upcoming parliamentary elections, BNS reported on 31 August. The committee rejected Podkolzina's candidacy on the basis of a ruling by the State Language Inspectorate that her knowledge of the Latvian language does not meet required standards, despite the fact Podkolzina has a language certificate from the inspectorate. A representative of the National Harmony Party said it is difficult to understand why the committee had based its decision on the inspectorate's ruling rather than on the certificate. The court's decision is final and cannot be appealed. JC
WALESA BLASTS SOLIDARITY LEADERSHIP
Former Polish President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa told Polish Radio on 31 August that the Solidarity trade union should not take part in government. He criticized those leaders for allowing a takeover of the bankrupt Gdansk shipyard by the Gdynia shipyard. "When they sell the shipyards, they cannot call themselves Solidarity any more," he commented, adding that the Solidarity leadership is "destroying its cradle." Walesa said that for this reason he would boycott celebrations marking Solidarity's 18th anniversary on 31 August. Solidarity current leader Marian Krzaklewski, who attended the celebrations, pledged to make the Gdansk shipyard work as an "independent entity," PAP reported. Last week, Krzaklewski announced he will step down as chairman of the Solidarity Electoral Action caucus but will continue as the leader of the trade union. JM
BALCEROWICZ PROPOSES FLAT TAX IN 2000
Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz on 31 August submitted to the government a white paper proposing to do away with the current three-level tax system. According to the 31 August "Rzeczpospolita," the plan provides for a flat rate of income tax of 22 percent to be introduced in 2000 and the abolishment of virtually all current tax exemptions. Poland's current tax rates are 19, 30, and 40 percent. Under Balcerowicz's plan, there would be only two income tax rates of 22 and 32 percent next year. Corporate tax, now at 36 percent, would be reduced to 22 percent in 2002. Balcerowicz told journalists on 31 August that reducing taxes will motivate people to work harder and will increase profits, thus boosting growth and creating new jobs. JM
ODS WARNS IT MAY RESCIND AGREEMENT WITH CZECH SOCIALISTS
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) deputy chairman Ivan Langer on 31 August told the daily "Pravo" that his party may withdraw from its "opposition agreement" with the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) if Milos Zeman's cabinet does not consult the ODS on filling senior posts in state-owned companies, CTK reported. Langer said it is "up to the CSSD how seriously it takes this warning." He added that according to the CSSD-ODS agreement under which the minority cabinet was set up, the two sides must consult each other on all important issues. Langer was responding to the cabinet's secret decision on 5 August to replace the heads of state-owned companies. That decision was leaked to the press last week. MS
HUNGARY'S SECURITY SERVICES CLEARED OF ILLEGAL DATA COLLECTION
Minister without portfolio Laszlo Kover, who oversees the security services, told the parliament's National Security Committee on 31 August that there is no evidence that those services were involved in the illegal gathering of data on Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party leaders last year. Representatives of coalition parties and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party voted down a proposal that the committee investigate the allegations. The committee's chairman, Gyorgy Keleti of the Socialist Party, said that vote made it clear that the coalition does not want to clarify the case. The Swedish Embassy has denied press reports that documents on the surveillance process were forwarded to the press by one of its employees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 1998). MSZ
KOSOVARS SAY SERBS LAUNCH OFFENSIVE OUTSIDE PRIZREN
The Kosova Information Center (KIC), which is close to the shadow-state government, reported on 1 September that Serbian special police launched an offensive against several suburbs of Prizren early that morning. The police action allegedly began with "two large explosions," which were followed by gunfire. The police demanded that local residents surrender their weapons by noon or risk attack. KIC reported that the Kosovars began fleeing their villages soon after receiving the ultimatum. In Geneva, a spokesman for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that the UNHCR has turned down a Yugoslav government request for aid to restore damaged houses in Kosova. The spokesman added that the destruction of houses must stop before reconstruction can begin. PM
YUGOSLAVIA BARS U.S. ENVOY
David Scheffer, who is President Bill Clinton's special envoy for war-crimes issues, said in Zagreb on 31 August that the Yugoslav authorities recently denied him a visa to investigate rights abuses in Kosova. He added that Belgrade's decision reflects "once again that government's insecurity about its own accountability under international law." The diplomat had planned to investigate several reported atrocities, including possible mass graves of Kosovars at Rahovec and an alleged crematory at Klecka, where the Serbian authorities charge that Kosovars burned the remains of Serbian civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 1998), RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meanwhile in Prishtina, the General Staff of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) issued a statement denying any responsibility for possible atrocities at Klecka. The text added that the charges constitute a "typical lie by the genocidal Serbian regime," the Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote. PM
SERBIAN WOMEN STONE U.S., RED CROSS OFFICES
Some 200 Serbian woman on 31 August stoned the Prishtina-based office of the U.S. Information Agency, which serves as the main U.S. diplomatic representation in Kosova. The women had first demanded to speak to U.S. officials about the alleged atrocities at Klecka. When no diplomat responded to their calls, they began shouting "this is Serbia" and "the high and mighty democrats...only want to talk to [ethnic] Albanian politicians." Later, the women also threw stones at the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross and physically attacked a Kosovar security guard there, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Prishtina. PM
HELSINKI COMMITTEES WANT HAGUE COURT TO INVESTIGATE CHARGES
The International Helsinki Federation and the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee said in a joint declaration in Budva on 31 August that both sides in the Kosova conflict should enact a cease-fire in order to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe," "Danas" reported. The text added that the "more than 300,000 displaced persons" must be allowed to return home. The two NGOs urged the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to investigate all charges of atrocities, including those at Klecka, and condemned the recent killings of three aid workers and of 11 members of one Kosovar family by Serbian gunners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 28 August 1998). PM
ALBRIGHT, CLARK DISCUSS KOSOVA
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reviewed NATO plans for possible military intervention in Kosova with General Wesley Clark in Sarajevo on 31 August. Two days earlier in Washington, she said that the U.S. is pursuing a three-track policy on Kosova. The policy includes providing aid for refugees and displaced persons, encouraging efforts aimed at reaching a peaceful settlement, and preparing plans for possible military intervention. Meanwhile at the UN in New York, Slovenia's Danilo Turk, who is current Security Council chair, said on 31 August that "Europe seems to have been vacationing in August...[and that as a result] very little was said, let alone done," by the international community to deal with the conflicts in Kosova and the former Zaire during that time. PM
ALBRIGHT SAYS DAYTON REMAINS UNCHANGED
Albright told Muslim and Croat leaders in Sarajevo on 31 August that the Dayton agreement will not be revised and that Bosnia must not be partitioned, "Oslobodjenje" reported. She also stressed that "it's time for Bosnia to have something it didn't have before the war: a chance to be a free country that is fully a part of Europe." She met the day before with the Banja Luka-based Bosnian Serb leaders but did not meet with the Pale-based leadership, which is opposed to the Dayton agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 1998). In response to this snub, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Pale-based Serbian member of the joint presidency, said that Albright is deluding herself if she thinks that the Banja Luka group is truly representative of Bosnian Serb voters. PM
ALBANIAN OPPOSITION STAGES RALLY, DESPITE POLICE BAN...
Some 3,000 supporters of the Democratic Party defied a police ban and staged a rally in central Tirana on 31 August. They were protesting the arrest of six officials of the previous Democrat-led government. Addressing the demonstration, former President Sali Berisha said "we shall use all peaceful means, but the government should be aware that we are ready to fight dictatorship with all means." He then urged the demonstrators to march to Prime Minister Fatos Nano's office. The crowd surged past lines of police, who carried truncheons and shields, but there were no clashes. The following day, spokesmen for the Democrats announced the establishment of a Coordinating Council of Protests and called for demonstrations throughout Albanian on 4 September. FS
...WHILE SECURITY SITUATION DETERIORATES ELSEWHERE
Police spokesmen announced on 31 August the arrest of two people who planted explosives next to the Socialist Party offices in Shkodra the previous evening. Earlier that day, an explosion damaged a medical laboratory next to Socialist headquarters, Reuters wrote. Police set up several roadblocks near Shkodra in an attempt to control any influx of weapons into the city. Elsewhere, Democratic supporters blocked the main highway near Gjirokastra for several hours on 31 August until police intervened. A police spokesman in Tirana told Reuters that the number of police guards has been increased around public and government buildings in the capital. FS
ALBANIAN PYRAMIDS COME UNDER HAMMER
The first auction of property belonging to pyramid investment companies ended in Tirana on 31 August. The U.S. accounting firm Deloitte & Touche sold 133 pieces of property from five pyramid companies for a total value of $300,000. The most expensive item was a coastal vacation complex near Durres, previously owned by VEFA, which sold for $270,000, ATSH reported. VEFA owner Vehbi Alimucaj had claimed that he bought the complex for $600 million. Assets owned by the five pyramid companies will continue to be auctioned off until the end of this year. FS
ROMANIAN PREMIER IN LEBANON
Radu Vasile on 31 August met with his Lebanese counterpart, Rafik Hariri, to discuss bilateral economic relations, ways to attract Lebanese investments in Romania, Romanian participation in the reconstruction of Beirut, and the Middle East political situation. In addition, they decided to begin negotiations on a free trade accord. Vasile was also received by President Elias Hrawi. MS
MOLDOVA MARKS 'LANGUAGE DAY'
Moldova on 31 August marked Language Day, the country's second most important public holiday after Independence Day (27 August). Romanian was granted the status of "state language" on 31 August 1989, but the parliament in 1994 changed the official state language to "Moldovan." On 30 August in Chisinau, Romanian Culture Minister Ion Caramitru, who attended the celebrations, and his Moldovan counterpart, Genadie Ciobanu, signed an agreement on cooperation between the two ministries, Romanian state radio reported. MS
BULGARIAN SPIES BROUGHT BACK IN FROM COLD
Bulgaria is withdrawing its secret agents from foreign countries, dpa reported on 31 August, citing the daily "24 Chasa." A plan for the gradual disbanding of the Bulgarian armed forces' military intelligence department is already being implemented and has begun with the closing down of a unit that spied on the U.S. military. Meanwhile, the NATO unit will also be closed shortly. U.S. specialists were quoted as saying Bulgaria no longer needed such military secret services, since they are able to obtain all necessary information through diplomatic sources. MS
DEMIREL'S OVERTURE: OLIVE BRANCH OR CHALLENGE?
by Liz Fuller
Armenian presidential adviser for public relations Gassia Apkarian told journalists in Yerevan on 26 August that Turkish President Suleyman Demirel has invited his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, to participate in the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. Kocharian has accepted that invitation and will announce shortly who will represent Armenia at the ceremonies in Ankara and Istanbul on 29-30 October.
Demirel's overture and Kocharian's acceptance are the most concrete manifestations to date of Ankara's and Yerevan's desire, expressed by both after Kocharian's election as president in March, to improve bilateral relations. Although in late 1991 Turkey recognized the independence of Armenia, along with that of the other former Soviet republics, it has never established formal diplomatic relations with Armenia. And despite flourishing informal business contacts, Ankara has refused to reopen the border crossing with Armenia that was closed at the time of an Armenian offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1993.
The Turkish government insists that reopening the border and establishing formal diplomatic relations are contingent on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from six districts of Azerbaijan adjacent to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Yerevan's recognition of Azerbaijani sovereignty over the disputed Armenian- populated enclave. Turkey is keenly interested in promoting a lasting political solution to the Karabakh conflict, fearing that continued instability in the Transcaucasus may adversely affect the prospects and timetable for construction of the proposed Main Export Pipeline, which will transport Azerbaijan's Caspian oil from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan. The realization of that project will not only benefit Turkey financially; it is considered symbolic of Turkey's aspirations to be recognized as a regional power.
From the Armenian perspective, the primary obstacle to improved relations with Turkey is one of moral principle, namely the refusal of successive Turkish governments to acknowledge that the killings of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 constituted a deliberate policy of genocide. The new Armenian leadership has pledged that securing international recognition and condemnation of the killings will be a key tenet of its foreign policy. But Armenian officials stress that the motivation for achieving that aim is not because Yerevan aims to force a confrontation with Turkey but because failure to discuss that legacy "poisons" bilateral relations and precludes increased cooperation.
In this context, the timing of Demirel's proffered olive branch may be intended to highlight the distinction between Ottoman Turkey and the Republic of Turkey and thus underscore Ankara's argument that the latter should not be held morally responsible for the crimes committed by the former. In addition, the Turkish leadership may hope that by adopting a more conciliatory attitude toward Armenia, there is less likelihood that other countries will follow the example of France in formally condemning the Armenian genocide. Turkey reacted with shock and anger when the French National Assembly (the lower chamber of the parliament) adopted such a resolution in July.
There is also a second foreign-policy dimension to Demirel's overture insofar as it raises the possibility of Ankara's reconsidering its position of linking the establishment of diplomatic relations with Armenia to concessions by Yerevan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Such a "de-linkage" would constitute a retreat from Turkey's hitherto unwavering support of Azerbaijan's position on resolving the Karabakh conflict. In the same vein, Demirel's invitation to Kocharian may be intended to convey the message to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev that Ankara expects him to deliver on his professed commitment to implementing the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project.
It is equally possible that the Turkish leadership is counting on Kocharian's decision not to travel to Turkey for the October anniversary celebration but to send instead a lower-level delegation. Last month, Kocharian declined an invitation to attend an EU-sponsored conference on the TRACECA project in Baku. Kocharian's foreign policy adviser, Aram Sarkisian, explained that Kocharian's participation would have given an overtly political dimension to what is first and foremost an economic forum. "Anti-Armenian hysteria in the Azerbaijani press" would have turned Kocharian's presence at the conference into "a political show," he argued.
Another reason why President Kocharian may not attend is the possible adverse public reaction in Turkey to such a visit--especially in the light of his key role in coordinating the Karabakh Armenians' military victory over Azerbaijan. Similarly, Armenian public opinion and several of the political parties that currently support Kocharian may argue that if he were to accept Demirel's invitation, he would be presenting the Turkish president with a public relations victory, without a guarantee of receiving anything in return. The Armenian president thus has to weigh the possibility of a domestic political backlash against the opportunity to drive a wedge between Turkey and Azerbaijan and simultaneously to demonstrate to the international community that he is not the hard-liner he is frequently portrayed as.