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Caucasus Report: March 10, 2006

10 March 2006, Volume 9, Number 9

ONE THREAT TO STABILITY RECEDES IN ADYGEYA, BUT A SECOND PERSISTS. For almost two years, Adygeya's Slavs, who currently constitute some 70 percent of that republic's population of 445,000, have been lobbying for subsuming the Republic of Adygeya into Krasnodar Krai, within which it currently constitutes an enclave. Adygeya's Adygei and Cherkess minority for its part has campaigned with equal single-mindedness against that proposed merger. In April 2005, some 10,000 people took to the streets of Maikop, Adygeya's capital, to protest the anticipated abolition of Adygeya's status as a republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2005). And last month, the lower chamber of Adygeya's parliament voted down a draft law on referenda that would, if enacted, have constituted the legal basis for a republic-wide vote on such a merger in which the Slav majority could have carried the day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9, 2006).

The idea of subsuming Adygeya into Krasnodar Krai first emerged in 2004 in the context of Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to streamline the Russian Federation by reducing the number of federation subjects by means of territorial mergers, an approach that self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky denounced in a February 28 interview with as a pretext for resurrecting "the Soviet model." The rationale adduced by Russian officials for doing so is first and foremost economic: thanks largely to Black Sea coast tourism and the legendary fertility of its soil, Krasnodar is regarded as an economic success story, even though levels of economic development vary widely within the krai, and some districts are dirt poor and plagued with high unemployment. Adygeya, by contrast, relies heavily on subsidies from Moscow to balance its budget.

Adygeya's Slavs, however, cite political factors, included alleged discrimination, to substantiate their arguments in favor of merging the two regions. Union of Slavs of Adygeya (SSA) Chairwoman Nina Konovalova recently told "Caucasus Times" that the titular nationality has "taken control of everything: personnel policy, the economy, culture." She accused the Cherkess of consistently interpreting any criticism of the leadership's policies as ethnically motivated, and she implied that the Cherkess should content themselves simply with those measures foreseen by Russian legislation to safeguard their language and culture. (That line of argument overlooks the fact that in many small national republics, for example Mari El, such legislation is routinely violated or at best ignored.) But an anonymous commentator who posted on February 14 on the website an essay summarizing the arguments pro and contra the proposed territorial merger rejected claims by Konovalova and others that Slavs in Adygeya are excluded from positions of power. That commentator referred to the ratio of Slav surnames on any list of members of the republic's government. He did not, however, cite statistical data to substantiate his rebuttal.

The Slavs further argue that, in a democracy, the preferences of the (Slav) majority should take precedence over those of the (Adygei/Cherkess) minority, even though the latter constitute the titular nationality in the Republic of Adygeya. The Adygeis and Cherkess point out that Adygeya is the only place on earth that they can call their homeland. As a result of forced outmigration to escape extermination at the hands of Tsarist Russian troops in the 19th century, there are currently an estimated 3-4 million Cherkess scattered across the face of the planet, far more than live in Russia. (In July 2005, Adygei and Cherkess organizations in Adygeya addressed a written appeal with the Russian State Duma to issue a formal condemnation of Tsarist policies as "genocide." After a six month silence, that request was finally rejected, according to on January 27.) Almir Abregov, director of Adygeya's National Museum, explained last month to that the creation first of an Adygey Autonomous Oblast and then of a national republic served to promote a sense of national identity.

Both Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev and deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Aleksandr Pochinok went on record last year as disavowing the reported merger plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26 and 28, 2005). But despite those denials, discussion of the planned merger has gained momentum in the runup to the elections, scheduled for March 12, to a new republican parliament. The SSA announced in December its intention of concluding an election alliance with the United Industrial Party of Russia in the hope of winning a majority in the new legislature and pushing through legislation that would expedite a merger. Two Cherkess organizations -- the Cherkess Congress and Adyge Khase -- immediately addressed appeals to the international community, including the OSCE High Commission on National Minorities, condemning the SSA's election manifesto as chauvinistic and xenophobic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 20 and 29, 2005 and January 17, 2006). The two organizations have since appealed to Republic of Adygeya Central Election Commission Chairman Yury Khut to bar the SSA from the parliamentary ballot, "Kavkazsky uzel" reported. They argued that "people and parties with such ideas should not participate in elections to the highest legislative organ of the republic, on whose work stability and calm in Adygeya depends to a large degree" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006).

But even if the SSA wins a majority of seats in the March 12 election, its chances of spearheading the desired abolition of Adygeya's status as a republic now look far remoter than they did a few months ago. Speaking on February 28 after a meeting of the heads of North Caucasus branches of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, Tkachev and Adygeya's President Khasret Sovmen jointly declared that the proposed merger is no longer on the agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 2006).

Shortly before that meeting, during a nationwide television broadcast on February 21, the pro-Kremlin political commentator Gleb Pavlovsky excoriated Tkachev, implicitly blaming him personally for serious political and socioeconomic shortcomings, including frequent reprisals against Armenians, Meskhetians, and other non-Slavs living in Krasnodar, reported. Tkachev was first elected governor in January 2001 and reelected in 2004 for a further term with almost 84 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," March 17, 2004).

Some Slavs, however, have already formulated a fall-back position. Aleksandr Dorofeyev, a parliamentary candidate for the Rodina (Motherland) party, was quoted on February 28 by as saying Rodina has already formed an initiative group to lobby for a referendum on changing Adygeya's status. But instead of subsuming Adygeya into Krasnodar, Dorofeyev advocated creating an Adygo-Kuban Republic, by analogy with the Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republics, with Maikop as its capital. That variant would have the advantage of not lowering Adygeya's status and in addition elevating Krasnodar from the level of a krai to that of a republic.

Whether the Cherkess would find that solution acceptable is unclear. At a meeting in Maikop on February 25, representatives of the Adygei and Cherkess communities from Adygeya, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Krasnodar adopted a declaration addressed to President Putin, the Federation Council, and the leaders of their respective federation subjects, reported on February 27. That appeal stressed the need to preserve Adygeya's current status as a separate federation subject. It further warned that in the event that measures are not taken to preclude any further lobbying for Adygeya's merger with Krasnodar Krai, they reserve the right to proclaim an Adygei Republic within the Russian Federation that would encompass not just the present-day Republic of Adygeya but all those territories to which the Cherkess lay a historic claim: Adygeya, Kabardia, Cherkessia, and the historic homeland of the tiny Shapsug minority on Krasnodar's Black Sea coast. The Adygeis, of whom the Shapsugs are a sub-group, the Cherkess, and the Kabardians are ethnically close, and their respective languages belong to the same north-west Caucasian language family, along with Abkhaz and Abazin.

The Kremlin may have shown exemplary (and uncharacteristic) political acumen in proclaiming that the controversial plan to abolish Adygeya's status as a republic is at least on hold, if not off the agenda for good. But the Adygeya authorities' heavy-handed approach to a second explosive issue may prove just as potentially destabilizing. An article posted in February on claims that Adygeya police have adopted as a sort of handbook a recent publication denouncing wahhabism, which the author alleges is being spread by Cherkess from the Middle East who have come to settle in Adygeya in recent years. The author of that handbook lists superficial and misleading criteria by which he claims it is possible to differentiate between those Cherkess who continue to espouse the traditional synthesis of Islam with folk and pagan tradition, and those who practice the allegedly more dangerous "pure" Islam that the recently arrived repatriants are said to be preaching. The author points out, for example, that "wahhabis" oppose the wearing of the felt trilbies (familiar from Soviet-era photographs of the Politburo) that Muslim men in Adygeya traditionally wear at funerals as a mark of respect for the deceased, and that they likewise eschew the baking for funeral repasts of traditional maize-meal cakes. Therefore, the author infers, any male who appears at a funeral not wearing a trilby is clearly an Islamic radical. However simplistic that argument may appear, the book in question has reportedly been published in a huge edition and distributed to all government officials, and its author continues to lecture the republic's law enforcement personnel on the dangers of Islamic radicalism.

In response to that perceived threat, immediately after the multiple attacks by militants on police targets in Nalchik last October, police in Adygeya began checking the identity of young men who regularly attend prayers at several Adygeya mosques (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2005). (Liz Fuller)

SOUTH CAUCASUS STATES MAKE SLOW PROGRESS ON CLOSER EU TIES. Representatives of the governments of the three South Caucasus states visited Brussels earlier this week for a second round of talks on details of their respective "action plans" for closer cooperation with the European Union. Those plans detail the assistance the EU will offer Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan over the next few years.

All three countries are keen to pursue closer ties with the EU, which according to European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin is moving as quickly as possible. Udwin told RFE/RL: "We are hoping to be able to conclude consultations on the action plans for all three countries of the South Caucasus as rapidly as possible, and consultations up to this point have gone very well... We've just completed the second round - - the first was held just before Christmas -- and we are making very good progress. We are narrowing down the number of topics that still have to be tackled."

Udwin added, however, that a third round of talks will be needed. Commission sources say these may take place in the second half of May. Commission officials refuse to elaborate on the details of the talks, saying it could have a negative impact.

Udwin said there was no political motive behind this extension of the "action plan" talks, and no technical difficulties holding things up. "There is no delay as such; we started a little later than some had hoped, but the consultations, now they are under way, are going extremely well," she said. "It's important to understand that the action plans that we're talking about cover a very wide range of policy areas and each of the difficult chapters has to be tackled and they have a number of very precise points within them."

Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Chechelashvili told journalists in Brussels on March 9 after his round of talks on March 7 that there is agreement with the EU on about three-quarters of the contents of the "action plan." He said the next round of talks in May could prove to be the last.

Chechelashvili said Georgia would like the "action plan" to contain a reference to the prospect of free trade with the EU. He said Georgia is preparing to unilaterally give up trade restrictions for the entire world, but understands that the EU is not keen to tackle the issue within the framework of the present talks. Georgia would also like the EU to ease its visa regime, having itself unilaterally lifted its visa requirements for EU citizens.

EU sources have told RFE/RL, however, that the bulk of Georgia's diplomatic energy is currently focused on securing greater EU involvement in conflict resolution -- something the "action plans" do not encompass beyond a reference to the EU's readiness to assist with postconflict rehabilitation.

The Georgian minister for conflict resolution, Giorgi Khaindrava, was also in Brussels this week. According to diplomats, he was lobbying EU member states to join the Joint Control Commission -- which is tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone and is comprised of Georgia, the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, Russia, and the Russian Republic of North Ossetia � and to contribute peacekeepers for the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, and to agree to set up a border monitoring mission. The EU itself is at the point of dispatching a formal reply to an earlier letter from the Georgian government requesting assistance.

Armenia's main sticking point in the "action plan" talks appears to be the future of the Medzamor nuclear plant. Yerevan is keen to secure more financial EU support for the decommissioning of the plant and securing alternative energy supplies.

Azerbaijan's main problem regarding the negotiations is with Cyprus. The EU member state has, in the course of the past year, put the brakes on EU-South Caucasus progress over Baku's apparent willingness to pursue ties with Northern Cyprus. The internationally unrecognized government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus relies on backing from Turkey, which is also a close ally of Baku. EU officials say Azerbaijan has only allowed one commercial flight to take place, in violation of the policy of isolation followed by the EU with regard to Northern Cyprus, but refuses to commit itself unequivocally to ruling out any further flights. Similarly, Baku refuses to take steps to close down a cultural exchange center in Northern Cyprus, which it says is operated privately.

The Azerbaijani-Cypriot spat may partly explain why the EU is content to put off the conclusion of the talks on the "action plans" by a few more months. But EU officials say that Cyprus is likely to prevent the South Caucasus action plans from coming into effect unless Azerbaijan clearly renounces links to Northern Cyprus. (Ahto Lobjakas)

ARMENIAN MINING INDUSTRY POSTS IMPRESSIVE GROWTH. The aggregate output of Armenia's metallurgical enterprises jumped by 33 percent to about 130 billion drams ($290 million) last year and is on course to maintain its rapid growth in the coming years, Trade and Economic Development Ministry department head Artur Ashugian said on March 7.

Ashughian attributed the production surge to strong global demand in non-ferrous metals and the privatization of the country�s largest mining plant.

The Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine, which employs thousands of people, was purchased for $132 million in December 2004 by a consortium of local and foreign investors led by Germany's Cronimet metals group. The latter owns 75 percent of the company's stock, both directly and through its Yerevan-based Makur Yerkat smelter. The remaining 25 percent is controlled by two obscure Armenian firms reportedly linked to senior government officials.

According to Ashughian, the privatization has proved to be a blessing for Zangezur as its new owners have already made considerable capital investments in accordance with their contractual obligations. He said they will invest an additional $157 million by 2008. "This year will see a great deal of modernization at Zangezur," he told a news conference.

Ashughian stressed that Cronimet and its partners are also honoring their pledge to smelter copper and molybdenum ores mined near the company's headquarters in Kajaran, southeastern Armenia. "Furthermore, last year they imported ore concentrates for further processing in Armenia from as far afield as Chile and China," he said.

Armenia's second largest metallurgical company, ACP, runs copper mines and a smelter in the northern Lori district. Its principal owner, Valeri Mejlumian, has said that it plans to expand its operations in the near future.

Another major player in the Armenian mining sector is the Indian-owned Sterlite Gold firm that controls the country's largest gold mines. Its four-year track record in Armenia has been highly controversial. The Armenian government agency accused Sterlite in June 2004 of underreporting more than two metric tons of gold extracted from their mines, a charge the company strongly denied. Industry sources say its owner, Indian mining tycoon Anil Agarwal, is now considering pulling out of Armenia. (Atom Markarian)