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Caucasus Report: May 28, 2004

28 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 21

POLL SHOWS MANY EXPERTS THINK ARMENIA SHOULD JOIN NATO. An opinion poll conducted by a Yerevan-based think tank shows unexpectedly strong support for Armenia's membership of NATO among Armenian political and public-policy experts. It also suggests that they are overwhelmingly critical of the geopolitical role played by Russia, their country's main ally. The findings of the survey, conducted among 50 local experts, were made public on 27 May by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS). The research center, headed by former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, did not publish the list of the respondents. It said only that 70 percent of them are affiliated with private institutions.

According to the poll, almost two-thirds of the experts believe that Armenia should join NATO within the next decade, and even more of them do not regard the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri as the main guarantor of the country's security. Furthermore, when asked to name a foreign nation or bloc that "limits Armenia's independence," 56 percent of them singled out Russia. Only 4 percent referred to archrival Turkey, a country that has served as the main rationale for the close Russian-Armenian military ties.

Armenia's government has repeatedly ruled the possibility of seeking membership of the U.S.-led alliance in the foreseeable future, and the military alliance with Russia remains a rare issue of consensus among the country's biggest political groups. Only a handful of parties, most of them supporting former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, advocate a pro-Western U-turn in the Armenian security doctrine. One of them, the Liberal Progressive Party (AAK), was set up three months ago and has since been aspiring to the status of Armenia's most pro-Western political forces. Its leader, former pro-establishment lawmaker Hovannes Hovannisian, renewed on 27 May his strong criticism of Armenian foreign policy, saying that it has left the country in international "isolation." "We have reached a point where our country is considered a Russian region," he told a news conference.

Prominent Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hayrikian expressed similar sentiments during a conference of his National Self-Determination Union. Hayrikian, who worked as an aide to President Robert Kocharian from 1999-2001, lashed out at the Armenian leader for agreeing equities-for-debt deals with Moscow that left more than 80 percent of the Armenian energy sector under Russian control. "Only a foreign agent or an immature politician can hand over his country's energy facilities to a foreign state. A state that has repeatedly proved its disloyalty to human and Christian values," Hayrikian charged.

The ACNIS survey also shows strong expert support for Armenia's integration into the pan-European structures. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said the Council of Europe and the European Union play a positive role in strengthening Armenian statehood, while 82 percent found "unsatisfactory" Yerevan's fulfillment of membership obligations to the Strasbourg-based organization.

"Instead of having positive results 3 1/2 years after [joining the Council of Europe], we see phenomena like political prisoners," Aram Harutiunian, a Yerevan State University professor and one of the authors of the survey, said during the presentation. "This is something which runs counter to the principles of the organization of which we are a member," he added. "Our political leadership has acted in a way that resulted in a movement backwards rather than development."

In a resolution on Armenia adopted in January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said "no progress has been made in the current reforms" over the past year. It denounced "massive fraud" in the 2003 elections as well as the authorities' failure to ensure media pluralism, the independence of the judiciary and legalize a nontraditional religious group.

However, a top representative of the human rights organization's executive Committee of Ministers, struck a more positive note during a visit to Yerevan in February. Ambassador Pietro Ago said the Armenian authorities should be "congratulated for their good actions" which he said are fostering the country's democratization. (Hrach Melkumian and Gevorg Stamboltsian)

AZERBAIJAN'S 'GRAY CARDINAL' LAMBASTES OPPOSITION. Ramiz Mekhtiev, who served as Azerbaijan's Communist Party ideology secretary in the1980s and since 1993 has headed the administration of two successive Azerbaijani presidents, Heidar and Ilham Aliyev, has launched a scathing attack on the Azerbaijani opposition and on unnamed foreign powers that he claims sought to promote Islam in Azerbaijan in ways that posed a threat to the country's national security.

Mekhtiev's criticisms are larded into a 15,000 word article published in the official Russian-language government daily "Bakinskii rabochii" and entitled "Azerbaijan in the Era of Globalization: A Development Stategy." The first half of that article does indeed focus of the implications of globalization for Azerbaijan, painting a rosy picture of economic development and integration into both regional and global economic processes. At the same time, the author affirmed that Azerbaijan is a European state committed to democratization and strengthening the rule of law. In that context, Mekhtiev dismissed suggestions that Azerbaijan has a "monocentrist" political system but went on to stress that "even if it is bipolar or multicentrist, the political space must answer the requirements of the masses, express the interests of the population, contribute to the development and flowering and, most important, try to preserve national sovereignty."

Mekhtiev then proceeded to underscore the need for tolerance in political dialogue in civil society. "For this reason," he wrote, "the leaders of the opposition, especially its destructive-radical wing, should understand that Azerbaijan has entered a phase of its development in which relations between the opposition and the authorities and the struggle for power can be carried out only by civilized methods, by means of dialogue." That latter statement is clearly a reference to the clashes between police and opposition supporters that took place in Baku in the wake of October's disputed presidential ballot.

Mekhtiev noted that municipal elections are scheduled in Azerbaijan for this fall, and a parliamentary ballot for late 2005. He expressed the hope that "young, enterprising, energetic, patriotic" candidates who are committed to "building a strong and independent state" will successfully contest both ballots and thus "contribute to the emergence of a new political elite." That new elite, while conscious of their national identity as Azerbaijanis, will, he predicted, work to strengthen national statehood and economic integration on both a regional and global scale.

Mekhtiev stressed that while Islam is a component of Azerbaijanis' national identity, Azerbaijan is nonetheless a part of Europe. He expressed concern that in the 13 years since Azerbaijan regained its independence, unnamed powers have sought to promote specific religious models, and the removal of all constraints on religious activity created a situation that could undermine the country's national security, as "attempts were undertaken to unite radical Islamist groups under the banner of a political party." He likewise condemned unidentified "patrons" who financed the construction of countless mosques throughout Azerbaijan, many in districts that did not have the most basic facilities such as schools and hospitals. It has, Mekhtiev continued, taken a decade to come up with a balanced conceptual definition of the place and role of Islam in Azerbaijan. (In practice, that redefinition has meant the closure of unregistered religious communities or those, like Baku's Djuma Mosque, that are not tightly controlled by the "official" Muslim clergy.) In that context, Mekhtiev observed that there are groups in Azerbaijan who reject both globalization and the concepts of Western democracy and civil society because they suspect the West has a hidden agenda in seeking to promote such values.

The final section of Mekhtiev's article focuses on national security. He defined Azerbaijan's national security policy as having three main components: "Eurocentrism," in acknowledgement of the country's participation in European security structures, including NATO; Atlanticism, comprising "strategic rapprochement" with the U.S. and participation in the international antiterrorism coalition; and the "regional component," which centers on cooperation with regional and Caspian states in developing Caspian hydrocarbon resources. A further aspect of this latter regional component is Azerbaijan's participation in both East-West and North-South transport corridors.

In conclusion, Mekhtiev proposed that Azerbaijan should profit from the inevitable "narrowing of national sovereignty" that accompanies globalization to create a "civilized" domestic political space dominated by forces that will promote development, economic modernization and "the strengthening of the moral foundations of contemporary Azerbaijani society." (Liz Fuller)

AN FSB EXECUTIONER CONFESSES. The independent Ingush website posted a statement on 22 May addressed to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov from a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who recently ended a tour of duty in Ingushetia. The signatory, Igor N. Onishchenko, admitted to having worked since early 2003 as a member of a death squad in Ingushetia, during which time he worked with five other officers, abducting and murdering individuals suspected of either openly criticizing Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov, or of links to the Chechen resistance. The quota they were required to fill was a minimum of five detentions per week.

Onishchenko said that on orders from the head of the FSB department in Ingushetia, General Sergei Koryakov, "I personally...crippled more than 50 people, and buried about 35." (Koryakov was commandeered to Ingushetia by Russian President Vladimir Putin and FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, Onishchenko wrote, referring to hearsay.) Specifically, Onishchenko claimed to have personally tortured and killed an unnamed local prosecutor who had allegedly collected materials incriminating Koryakov, and whom Koryakov "had been hunting down for a long time." The website construed that statement as a reference to 29-year-old Rashid Ozdoev, a senior assistant to the Ingush prosecutor who was responsible for liaison with the local FSB. Ozdoev was himself abducted on 11 March and taken to the infamous detention center at the Russian military base at Khankala in Chechnya. His family has appealed both to President Zyazikov and to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help in locating him, but without success. In an article published on 15 April in "Novaya gazeta," journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote that at the time of his disappearance, Ozdoev had just completed an investigation of the recent wave of disappearances of residents of Ingushetia and had collected materials implicating both local law-enforcement officials and Koryakov. He had sent those materials to Prosecutor-General Ustinov. Politkovskaya also quoted Ozdoev as having told his father that he was aware of the risk he was taking in doing so, but that "if the agency I supervise is implicated in abductions and murders, then I am the sole person in Ingushetia who has the legal right to demand" that appropriate measures be taken to stop those killings.

On 26 April, Zyazikov finally agreed to meet with Ozdoev's father Boris and with Politkovskaya, according to "Novaya gazeta" on 6 May. During that meeting, Zyazikov claimed that there have been only seven abductions in recent months, rather than the 33 that Rashid Ozdoev documented. He then claimed to have been misinformed by the local prosecutor's office, and laid the blame for the failure to locate and release people who have been abducted on the Ingush Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Kukushkin, a Russian who was appointed to that post following Zyazikov's election as Ingushetia's president in April 2002, reportedly left Ingushetia in early April. Zyazikov reportedly plans to name his devoted supporter Yakub Kartoev to replace him, according to on 4 May.

While does not vouch for the authenticity of the facsimile of Onishchenko's letter that it reproduces, it does claim to have established that Onishchenko worked in Ingushetia and that the letter bearing his signature was indeed received by the Prosecutor-General's Office (it bears the relevant stamp dated 12 April) and forwarded to the subdivision of the Prosecutor-General's Office within the Southern Federal District (which stamped it on 16 April). That said, it should be borne in mind that the website is reportedly financed by Zyazikov's Moscow-based political rivals, Mikhail and Khamzat Gutseriev. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "In a certain sense the EU expansion eastward has become an even greater threat to Russia than NATO expansion." -- Commentator Mehman Gafarli, writing in "Novye izvestiya" on 20 May

"The people have not lost faith in the opposition, in the Musavat [party], they have lost faith in [the possibility] that democratic forces can come to power by democratic means." -- Musavat Party Chairman and defeated Azerbaijani presidential candidate Isa Gambar, in an interview with the online daily on 22 May.