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Caucasus Report: September 24, 2004

24 September 2004, Volume 7, Number 37

ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA REJECT GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S NEW PEACE PLAN. Addressing the UN General Assembly on 21 September, Mikheil Saakashvili outlined a three-stage plan for resolving Tbilisi's conflicts with the breakaway Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by exclusively peaceful means, RFE/RL's UN correspondent reported. That plan comprises confidence-building measures; the demilitarization of the conflict zones -- to be followed by OSCE monitoring of the Roki tunnel linking South Ossetia and Russia -- and the deployment of UN observers along the border between Abkhazia and Russia; and the granting to the two republics of "the fullest and broadest form of autonomy." Saakashvili said that autonomy would protect the Abkhaz and Ossetian languages and culture, and guarantee self-governance, fiscal control, and "meaningful representation and power sharing" at the national level.

But within hours, senior officials in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia categorically rejected Saakashvili's proposed plan. Abkhaz presidential aide Astamur Tania said none of the points contained in Saakashvili's proposal, even the proposed "broad autonomy with wide-ranging powers," is acceptable to Abkhazia, which, he stressed, is an independent state. Murat Djioev, foreign minister of the Republic of South Ossetia, similarly said that South Ossetia "will under no circumstances become part of a Georgian state," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September. Djioev also affirmed that the conflicts between the Georgian central government and South Ossetia and Abkhazia "are in no way internal Georgian conflicts."

It was highly unlikely that either of the two would-be independent statelets would have considered Saakashvili's offer attractive. First, as Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev pointed out in a detailed analysis (posted on on 17 August) of the legal implications of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR's moves in 1991 to secede from the Russian Federation, in the eyes of residents of former autonomous formations within the USSR the very term "autonomy" is irrevocably discredited. In their collective experience, that "autonomy" provided only minimal concessions to the needs of the local population, giving the impression that they were, as Zakaev puts it, "second-class citizens" compared with the titular nationality.

Second, Saakashvili's "one-size-fits-all" approach, in contrast to the "asymmetrical autonomy" proposed by his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze, fails to take into account that under the Soviet system, Abkhazia enjoyed a larger measure of what passed for "autonomy" than did South Ossetia. As Abkhaz Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Raul Khadjimba pointed out in an interview published in "Sovershenno sekretno" (No. 9, 10 September 2004), Abkhazia was part of the Russian Federation from 1917-21 and, after the Soviet takeover of Georgia in 1921, Abkhazia had the status of a union republic. That status was downgraded by Stalin in 1931 to that of an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. South Ossetia, by contrast, only ever had the status of an Autonomous Oblast within the Georgian SSR.

Third, Saakashvili's proposal would grant Abkhazia less control over its affairs than would an alternative draft peace plan unveiled earlier this year and submitted to Georgia's National Security Council for discussion. That plan entails the creation of a two-member (Georgia and Abkhazia) federal state within which Abkhazia would be granted the "broadest possible degree of autonomy) in exchange for abandoning its insistence on formal independence. According to one of its authors, former Deputy Justice Minister Kote Kublashvili, "Abkhazia will have all the rights of a sovereign state except for one -- the right to [internationally recognized] independence" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 June 2004).

The earlier peace proposal envisages the signing by the Georgian and Abkhaz sides of agreements on the nonresumption of hostilities and on resolving future disagreements exclusively by peaceful means, through negotiations. After that, the Federal State of Georgia and its comember, the Abkhaz Republic would sign an agreement on the distribution of powers between them. According to Kublashvili, neither side would be empowered to make subsequent amendments to that agreement without the consent of the other party.

The draft identifies as falling under the jurisdiction of the central authorities defense and foreign policy, border defense, the customs service, and the fight against organized crime. All other issues would lie within the competence of the Abkhaz authorities. Abkhazia would not be entitled to maintain its own armed forces but would have its own police force.

Abkhazia would be a parliamentary republic, and the majority of parliament deputies would be ethnic Abkhaz, even though if all, or even a majority, of the Georgian displaced persons who fled the region in 1992-93 return to their homes, the Abkhaz will again become a minority.

That earlier proposal makes no provision for South Ossetia, however. Nor does it comprise the element of international control by either the OSCE or the UN included in the Saakashvili plan. Finally, the UN has devoted considerable time and effort to drafting its own blueprint for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, the so-called "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competences between Tbilisi and Sukhumi," which the Shevardnadze leadership accepted as the basis for a settlement. The text of the "Basic Principles" has never been made public, but the Georgian daily "Rezonansi" claimed on 13 November 2003 that they provide for a federative system with horizontal ties between the central government and those of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported.

In two separate analyses published on 18 and 22 September, "Stratfor" argued that the deployment to the internal border with South Ossetia of several thousand Georgian troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2004) and the recent creation of a unified military command for those troops suggest that a new Georgian offensive against South Ossetia is imminent, and that President Saakashvili is simply awaiting the most advantageous moment. The rejection of his new peace proposal could serve as the rationale for that offensive. "Stratfor" suggested that the primary Georgian objective will be to occupy Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, after which the remaining South Ossetian fighters will retreat to the mountains to wage a guerrilla war. It predicted that North Ossetia is too preoccupied with the aftermath of the Beslan hostage taking to send volunteers to defend its co-ethnics in Georgia, especially as Russian intelligence sources anticipate further Chechen attacks in North Ossetia.

"Stratfor" suggested that Russia, too, would be reluctant to provide assistance to South Ossetia in the event of a Georgian assault. But Georgian and Russian allegations that Chechen militants have taken refuge in South Ossetia could serve as the pretext for a counterstrike by Russia against South Ossetia. How accurate such a strike would prove to be, and whether Moscow is prepared to endanger the lives of South Ossetians to "prove" to the international community that Tbilisi cannot prevent "international terrorists" from using its territory, remains to be seen. (Liz Fuller)

AZERBAIJAN MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF 'DEAL OF THE CENTURY.' On 20 September, Azerbaijan celebrated the anniversary of the signing 10 years earlier of the first major deal with a consortium of international oil companies to develop its offshore Caspian oil resources. But the anticipated oil boom has yet to improve the lives of the overwhelming majority of the country's population, and the original time frame for the export of that oil has proven overoptimistic.

In September 1994, when the so-called "Deal of the Century" was finalized, it was by no means clear how and when Azerbaijani oil would be transported to international markets. The United States opposed both the logical, shortest route via Iran, and transporting the oil via the existing pipeline network to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk. Instead, Washington favored a pipeline to Turkey. But the shortest route, via Armenia, was not feasible as Armenia and Azerbaijan were (and still are) in a tussle for control of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Turkey in late 1994 began warning that because of the potential danger to the population of Istanbul, it would not condone an increase in the transportation of oil via the Turkish straits. Then in late 1994, the then-presidents of Turkey and Georgia, Suleyman Demirel and Eduard Shevardnadze, proposed that the export pipeline be routed from Baku via Georgia to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan.

In September, 1995, the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) -- the consortium that signed the Deal of the Century -- decided that the first, "early" oil it extracted would be exported via an existing pipeline from Baku to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast, while the larger quantities of oil to be extracted at a later stage of development would be shipped via a Main Export Pipeline, the most likely route for which was from Baku to Ceyhan. At that juncture, it was hoped that the "early oil" would begin to flow in late 1996 or early 1997. Following repairs and modernization, the first "early oil" from the Chirag field was pumped into the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline in November 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). Squabbles over funding delayed repairs to the Baku-Supsa pipeline, which was officially inaugurated only in April 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 1999).

The decision on the route and financing for the Main Export Pipeline, originally scheduled for late 1998, was likewise delayed by repeated disputes. While the United States and Turkey made clear their shared preference for the Baku-Ceyhan route, the AIOC preferred to keep its options open on the grounds that other variants were financially more viable. Russian officials argued ad nauseam that the Baku-Ceyhan route was not financially viable, an argument that was strengthened by suspicions that estimates of Azerbaijan's untapped oil reserves had been overstated. (Three of the 23 consortia formed over the past decade to exploit offshore Caspian fields have folded after test wells failed to find oil in economically viable quantities.) For a while, the United States also hoped to extend the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline eastward under the Caspian Sea to provide an export route for Turkmen oil. In April, 1999, the Azerbaijani and Turkish governments signed an agreement in Istanbul reaffirming their commitment to the Baku-Ceyhan route; seven months later, the presidents of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey signed a further package of agreements that constitute the legal framework for the construction and operation of the pipeline, including one under which the Turkish government undertook to meet costs in excess of $2.4 billion. Construction of the 1,730-kilometer pipeline was to begin after a feasibility study was conducted, and be completed in three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999).

With the question of funding still unresolved, the agreement on conducting a feasibility study was signed only in October 2000. In early June 2002, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced it would provide $300 million, or roughly 10 percent of the anticipated costs. Two weeks later, construction work formally got under way, and it was hoped that the pipeline would be completed by late 2004, and that the first oil would be exported from Ceyhan in March-April 2005. But over the past two years, new unanticipated problems have slowed construction, including warnings by international NGOs that the pipeline poses a serious ecological threat to areas of southern Georgia, including the Borzhomi Valley; protests by residents of southern Georgia whose land was bought up but who have not received what they consider adequate compensation; and strikes by construction workers on the Georgian section of the pipeline.

The export of the first oil from Ceyhan is now tentatively scheduled for late 2005, BP-Georgia Executive Manager Michael Townshend was quoted as telling journalists in Tbilisi on 27 July. But it is still not certain whether in the long term Azerbaijan can produce enough crude to meet the pipeline's annual throughput capacity of 50 million tons. Under pressure from Washington, Kazakh officials have said repeatedly over the past four years that some Kazakh oil could be exported via Baku-Ceyhan, and a memorandum of understanding to that effect was signed in March 2001. But the signing of a formal intergovernmental agreement between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, originally scheduled for the fall of 2003, was postponed first until the end of the year, and then until the summer of 2004. The agreement has still not been signed, and even if it is, Kazakhstan will not have surplus oil to export via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline before 2010-15, Kazakh presidential administration deputy head Yerzhan Utembaev said in Astana on 19 December. (Liz Fuller)

DIPLOMAT ARGUES THAT TURKISH RECOGNITION OF GENOCIDE IS 'VITAL FOR ARMENIA'S SECURITY.' The recognition by modern-day Turkey of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide would give Armenia an important guarantee of security apart from a sense of "historical justice," Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugarian said on 15 September. Shugarian also acknowledged a divergence of objectives between Armenia's campaign for international affirmation of the tragedy and that conducted by the Armenian diaspora.

"While for the diaspora genocide recognition is a restoration of historical justice, for primarily means a guarantee of security," Shugarian told a roundtable discussion in Yerevan.

The perceived security threat from Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, has been cited by successive Armenian governments as the main rationale for their pursuit of close military ties with Russia. The current authorities in Yerevan say Ankara's vehement denial of the genocide only adds to their fears. At the same time, they stress that genocide recognition should not serve as a precondition for the normalization of relations between the two neighboring states.

Turkish leaders have until now pegged the normalization of relations to a pro-Azerbaijani solution to the Karabakh dispute. But according to Shugarian, Karabakh is no longer the No. 1 Turkish precondition for improved ties. "The Turkish side has recently made some hints to the effect that even though the Nagorno-Karabakh issue remains a precondition for improved Turkish-Armenian relations, it is no longer considered the top priority," he said, echoing earlier statements by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.

The change in Turkish policy, which was signaled last year, raised hopes for an imminent reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border. However, those hopes were all but dashed earlier this year following apparent Azerbaijani pressure on the cabinet of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Still, Oskanian said in June after talks in Istanbul with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul that the Turks are "sincere" in their desire to seek a rapprochement with Armenia. (Armen Zakarian)

THE BISHOP, BESLAN, AND MOSCOW'S RELATIONS WITH ISLAM. A Russian Orthodox bishop is currently playing a key role in Moscow's counterterrorist efforts both on the ground in the northern Caucasus and in courting public opinion abroad. The special role of Bishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz was highlighted during and after the terrorist attack early this month on the school in Beslan, a city within his see. Initially, the bishop was shown in the media offering his official car to carry away the wounded. Then he told journalists that he had attempted without success to serve as an intermediary between government forces and the terrorists. And more recently, he told an ecumenical gathering in Milan that the leaders of the world's religions must unite to combat the scourge of terrorism.

In many ways, Bishop Feofan has been preparing for just such role during his entire professional life. A 1976 graduate of the Moscow Spiritual Academy, Feofan, 57, has served in progressively more responsible positions within the Patriarchate's Department of Foreign Relations and as a representative of the Patriarchate to church bodies in the Middle East. From 1977 to 1982, he worked at the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem. Then, from 1989 to 1993, he served as the Moscow Patriarchate's representative to the Orthodox Patriarch at Alexandria. And from 1999 --2002, he filled a similar role at the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.

In the intervening periods, he worked at the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of Foreign Relations, most recently from 1993 to 1999 as the deputy chief of that department. While in all these posts, Feofan cemented his close ties with Metropolitan Kirill, the longtime head of that department, a churchman reputed to have the closest of ties to Russian security agencies, and the current odds-on favorite to succeed Aleksii II as the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Because of his long exposure to the Middle East, Bishop Feofan has acquired the reputation within the Russian Orthodox Church as perhaps its leading specialist on dealing with Islamic countries. That may help to explain why he was named to his current bishopric in May 2003, only six months after he had been elevated to the position of bishop of Magadan.

Feofan's reputation is not unblemished. Sergei Buchkov, a writer with "Moskovskii komsomolets," told the website in May 2003 that Feofan is "infamous" for two reputed actions: the impregnation of a nun in the Gornensk Monastery in Jerusalem, for which he was expelled from the Russian Spiritual Mission there, and the embezzlement of "large sums" of church funds that were to be used for pilgrimages.

Whatever the truth of those charges, since coming to Stavropol, Bishop Feofan has remained focused on the Orthodox Church's diplomatic efforts in the Muslim world even as he has ministered to a region that he has frequently described as "a bleeding wound on the body of Russia."

On the eve of the war in Iraq, Bishop Feofan flew to Baghdad with several leaders of Russia's Muslims to try to work out some kind of deal, "Moskovskie novosti" reported on 20 May, 2003. And then, as part of his continuing responsibilities, he led the Russian delegation to an April 2004 meeting of the Joint Russian-Iranian Commission for Dialogue on Islam and Orthodox. At that session, he joined the Iranian representatives in condemning globalization and the United States, and agreed to future meetings on similar themes.

But he has devoted most of his attention to the complexities of the ethnic and religious situation in the northern Caucasus, as his website,, makes clear. In addition to addressing relations between Christians and Muslims in that region, he has tackled three issues more directly related to church affairs.

First, and in a move that threatened to exacerbate Christian-Muslim relations in the north Caucasus, Bishop Feofan called in July 2003 for the return to Russian Orthodox control of five abandoned churches located in Karachai-Balkaria, the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting noted in October 2003.These churches, erected in the 10th century, had fallen into disuse not only because of Soviet policy but also because both the Karachai and Balkars had converted to Islam. Nonetheless, as the leaders of these communities made clear, these churches remain important "national" symbols even if they are no longer part of the religious life of these peoples.

Karachai and Balkar leaders quickly made clear that they resented Bishop Feofan's attempt to secure their return. They were particularly angered by his comments that in all his years of service in the Muslim Middle East, he had "never encountered such barbaric treatment of cultural and historical monuments," and that "sheep are grazing in holy places and vandals are removing stones from the main churches."

If this conflict has quieted in recent months, a second one has become so intense that some Orthodox figures in Moscow appear to have begun to question whether even Bishop Feofan can intervene effectively. (One of them told a Moscow newspaper that perhaps Feofan had not been in the northern Caucasus long enough to be effective.) This concerns the clarification of church jurisdictions in Georgia's breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia.

The church situation there is every bit as complicated as the political one -- and each makes the resolution of the other more difficult. From 1992 to 2001, the Orthodox churches in this disputed region declared themselves subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), which has long been at odds with the Moscow Patriarchate. Following a split in the ROCOR in 2001, the Orthodox congregations in South Ossetia asked the synod of Metropolitan Kirpian of the Orthodox (Old Believer) Church of Greece to take them under its wing. Kiprian created an exarchate of his church to supervise the South Ossetia congregations.

But the autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Church refused to acknowledge any of these arrangements, leaving the parishes in South Ossetia effectively independent of any ecclesiastical control. That situation in turn has disposed them to support the local political leadership that seeks secession from Georgia.

As officials at the Moscow Patriarchate said in comments reported at the website on 8 September, Russian church officials are not going to do anything here without talking to the Georgian church. In those possible negotiations, Bishop Feofan seems fated to play a key role, especially since any deal will affect Christian-Muslim relations in the region as well.

But it is a third initiative, one that surfaced at the 37th World Congress of Orientalists in Moscow at the end of August 2004 and was reported by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 September, that may give the Bishop the most scope for action because of its potential to involve both Russian and non-Russian experts and churchmen in northern Caucasus issues.

Participants in that meeting backed a proposal by representatives of the South Ossetian government, the Russian Federation Institute of Oriental Studies and the international organization "Peace Through Culture -- Europe" to create an Institute of Peace in the Caucasus to bridge the divide between Christians and Muslims there and to establish an International Association for the Study of the Problems of Mountainous Regions.

Bishop Feofan would seem uniquely qualified to play a role in such international gatherings, something both the Patriarchate and the Russian Federation government would no doubt welcome. If they view his work positively, and especially if his patron Metropolitan Kirill becomes patriarch, then Bishop Feofan almost certainly will play an ever larger role in dealing with Christian-Muslim relations both within the Russian Federation and the world at large. In any case, the bishop of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz is clearly a man to watch. (Paul A. Goble)