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Caucasus Report: December 17, 2004

17 December 2004, Volume 7, Number 47

'WAR AND PEACE' REVISITED. On 26 September 1997, then Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian argued at his first press conference in five years that Armenia should accept the "phased" peace plan for resolving the Karabakh conflict proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairmen a few weeks earlier. Ter-Petrossian reasoned that it would be impossible to preserve the status quo indefinitely; that for Armenia formally to recognize the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) would be to risk the imposition of economic sanctions that could last for decades; and that Armenia and Karabakh together could not hope to win a new war against Azerbaijan.

Those arguments triggered a storm of protest across the Armenian political spectrum. Vazgen Manukian, Ter-Petrossian's main challenger in the September 1996 presidential ballot, condemned them as "capitulation" and "treason" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1997). Ter-Petrossian addressed those and other negative reactions in an article published in most Armenian newspapers on 1 November entitled "War and Peace: Time for Serious Thought." In that essay, Ter-Petrossian argued that resolving the Karabakh conflict rather than preserving the status quo was in the interests of both Armenia and the NKR, in order to remove obstacles to economic development and unspecified "problems" in Armenia's relations with other countries; that the conflict should be resolved peacefully, rather than militarily; and that the eventual settlement should constitute a compromise in which neither side would emerge as either the winner or the loser. He stressed that "compromise is not a choice between the good and the bad, but rather between the bad and the [even] worse." And he went on to warn that "the opposition should not mislead the people by arguing that there is an alternative to compromise; the alternative to compromise is war."

Ter-Petrossian also addressed anew the question of the relative merits of the so-called "phased" and "package" approaches to resolving the conflict. At his 26 September press conference, he had explained that two earlier blueprints proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group (in May and July 1997) both took the "package" approach, meaning that they addressed all aspects of the conflict and also made agreement on the future status of the NKR an integral component of any settlement document. Ter-Petrossian said both the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership and Azerbaijan had rejected those draft peace plans precisely because they entailed reaching agreement on the status issue. For that reason, he considered it not only logical but necessary to accept the more recent "phased" proposal, even though he considered its terms far from ideal.

In "War and Peace," Ter-Petrossian said that he was surprised that the Armenian opposition misrepresented his 26 September comments by alleging that Karabakh continues to favor the "package" approach while the president advocates the "phased" approach. Ter-Petrossian added that by rejecting first the two "package" peace plans (May and July 1997) and then also (on 7 October) the Minsk Group's September "phased" plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997), the leadership of the NKR had placed both Armenia and themselves in "an uncomfortable situation."

It has long been accepted as "conventional wisdom" that Ter-Petrossian's endorsement of the September 1997 phased peace plan was the primary, if not the sole reason why several of his ministers launched the campaign that culminated in his forced resignation in February 1998. But as Ter-Petrossian's former adviser Gerard Libaridian points out in his book "The Challenges of Statehood," the 26 September press conference was not the first occasion on which Ter-Petrossian had argued in favor of a compromise solution to the conflict, and the ministers in question had not previously taken issue with that argument.

Libaridian also affirmed that the disagreement between Ter-Petrossian and the triumvirate (then Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, then Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, and then Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian) that sought to oust him did not center on the relative merits of the "phased" vs. the "package" approaches to resolving the conflict. According to Libaridian, despite Ter-Petrossian's unspecified reservations about the September draft, its terms were considerably more advantageous to Armenia than the two preceding "package" proposals. Specifically, it did not call for a withdrawal of Armenian forces from the key districts of Shusha and Lachin; it provided enhanced security guarantees for the population of the NKR; it did not explicitly insist that the final settlement must respect Azerbaijan's territorial integrity; and it envisaged the NKR's de facto independence remaining unchallenged until such time as the status issue was finally addressed (for a summary of all three successive Minsk Group proposals, see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 February 2001).

Ter-Petrossian made the point in "War and Peace" that only six people in Armenia and the NKR were fully informed about the state of the ongoing negotiations; those six included Kocharian, but not Sargsian and Sarkisian. Therefore, it would seem that either Kocharian violated the confidentiality of the peace process by divulging details to Sarkisian and Sargsian, after which the collective decision was taken to push for Ter-Petrossian's resignation; or alternatively, the debate about the Karabakh peace process was only tangential, or possibly even irrelevant, to the move to oust Ter-Petrossian. Libaridian hints at this possibility, writing that "while the process that led to Ter-Petrossian's resignation was cannot underestimate the importance of external forces and factors that, for different, even opposing reasons, weakened Ter-Petrossian's position and credibility. These forces had their own scenario about who should be governing Armenia and how the conflict should proceed. The external forces strengthened the belief among Ter-Petrossian's antagonists that the international community would accept a viable alternative leadership." Libaridian does not, however, identify the "external forces" in question, adding only that "when that history is written it will reveal some strange bedfellows."

In the years since his resignation, Ter-Petrossian has maintained complete public silence on the developments that triggered it and on the relevance to those events of his arguments in favor of accepting the Minsk Group's "phased" proposal. But in late November, speaking to journalists at Yerevan's Zvartnots Airport on his return from a private visit to the United States, Ter-Petrossian said he considers himself vindicated, in that "not only is there no progress on the Karabakh issue, but...I see sad consequences," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 25 November. "The resolution of that problem is becoming increasingly complicated for us. We will never obtain what we could have done in 1997. Even with God's help."

Ter-Petrossian did not explain precisely which aspects of the current situation led him to such a pessimistic evaluation. In one respect at least, he has been proven wrong, in that Armenia's economy has not stagnated in recent years but registered double-digit growth even though the country's borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed. That economic growth has not, however, benefited most of the country's population.

In terms of the Karabakh peace process, possibly the most fundamental change is that the Minsk Group has apparently given up its attempts to craft a blueprint for resolving the conflict that would be acceptable to all three parties. Instead, as U.S. co-Chairman Steven Mann recently pointed out, it seeks to encourage Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a mutually acceptable solution. That task, in turn, is complicated by the present Armenian leadership's preference for the "package approach," while Azerbaijani officials continue to insist on the "phased" approach that would require, among other things, the liberation of occupied Azerbaijani territory and the return to the NKR of the region's former Azerbaijani community before the start of talks on the status issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004).

A survey conducted in Yerevan days after Ter-Petrossian's November news conference found that only 20 percent of the 668 respondents were familiar with the arguments the former president adduced in "War and Peace," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 6 December. But 21 percent said they believe Ter-Petrossian is the best-qualified politician to resolve the Karabakh conflict; 26 percent named Kocharian in that capacity.

Whether or not Ter-Petrossian's latest assessment is accurate, his comments appear to have been the first salvo in a campaign by his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) to remove what the HHSh in a resolution adopted on 9 December at its 14th congress terms "the present illegal regime" and restore Ter-Petrossian to power. That resolution, as summarized by Noyan Tapan on 9 December, warns that "Armenia faces the threat of a war with no prospects and senseless losses." (Liz Fuller)

IS ARMENIA HEADING FOR AN 'APRICOT REVOLUTION'? The statement of intent to oust the present Armenian leadership adopted at the HHSh congress on 9 December, coinciding as it did with the Ukrainian opposition campaign to force a rerun of the disputed 21 November presidential runoff election, has fuelled speculation that Armenia too may be headed for regime change. The series of mass opposition demonstrations in Yerevan in March-April testifies to the strength of popular feelings of alienation, anger, and disgust at perceived high-level corruption and protectionism. But predictably, President Robert Kocharian's security adviser Garnik Isagulian dismissed the possibility of an "Apricot Revolution" in Armenia in the wake of the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. Isagulian told "Hayots ashkhar" on 2 December that "there is no real alternative to the present leadership." He also pointed out that Ter-Petrossian's occasional meetings with foreign diplomats should not be conflated with a desire by the West for him to return to active politics.

Many Armenian political observers, too, are skeptical, that the HHSh enjoys broad popular support. The independent daily "Azg" on 1 December reported that of the 30 people its correspondents polled on the streets of Yerevan, not one reacted positively to the possibility of former President Ter-Petrossian's return to power. In addition, the HHSh has been weakened in recent years by the defection of many of its most effective activists to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia. "Haykakan zhamanak," which has links to the HHSh, nonetheless proclaimed on 4 December that "Ter-Petrossian's return to the public political arena is already a reality." It added that only Ter-Petrossian can preside over a victory of democracy in Armenia by virtue of being "the legitimate and recognized leader of liberal democratic forces" -- a formulation that fails to take into account the December 1998 confession by former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian that the outcome of the September 1996 presidential ballot was rigged to ensure a second term for Ter-Petrossian (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 December 1998). It also overlooks the fact that it was under Ter-Petrossian that Armenia concluded a series of crucial economic and military-cooperation agreements with Russia, as well as signing (in May 1992) the CIS Collective Security Treaty.

On 11 December, "Haykakan zhamanak" quoted an unnamed opposition politician as claiming that Washington has given the green light for regime change in Armenia. "The United States has decided, with President [George W.] Bush's blessing, to help the opposition in Armenia carry out regime change.... In order to humiliate and morally destroy this regime, it has been decided that they must quit power under the pretext of failing to bring about a pro-Armenian solution to the Karabakh conflict," that politician was quoted as saying.

Should the HHSh be contemplating active measures to topple the present leadership (as opposed to simply waiting to assess the impact of the international pressure its leaders allege is being exerted on Kocharian to agree to a settlement of the Karabakh conflict on terms disadvantageous to Armenia), then it may have to act swiftly or risk losing out to a nascent rival opposition alliance. Opposition party leaders told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 10 December that they are preparing to establish a new alignment that will not only seek to oust Kocharian, but will also espouse a more pro-Western foreign policy. Political figures named in connection with the putative new bloc include former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian, former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, and Liberal Progressive Party leader Hovhannes Hovannisian (no relation to Raffi). Sargsian confirmed to RFE/RL that "I am in favor of any new and expanded [opposition] structure." Sargsian attended last week's HHSh congress as a guest, but there have been no indications that the HHSh is being considered as a possible member of the new opposition alliance. Indeed, any cooperation with a party that many Armenians associate with years of poverty and desolation could prove more of a liability than an asset for Sargsian, who may himself run in the next presidential election (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 October 2004).

An alignment between Hanrapetutiun and Raffi Hovannisian would seriously weaken the Artarutiun opposition alliance headed by People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian. Artarutiun was the driving force behind the mass protest demonstrations last spring. "Haykakan zhamanak" on 9 December quoted an unnamed senior HZhK member as saying Demirchian has not been invited to join the Sargsian-Hovannisian alignment. But six days later, Sargsian was quoted by the same paper as saying that Demirchian is participating in the talks on setting up a new opposition alliance.

Meanwhile, a second constituent member of Artarutiun, Vazgen Manukian's National Democratic Union, is reportedly on the verge of quitting Artarutiun and joining forces with Ashot Manucharian, another long-time opposition figure who, like Manukian, served under Ter-Petrossian in the early 1990s, but later distanced themselves from him and founded opposition parties. The two men have signed an agreement on establishing two consultative councils, one of leaders of political parties and a second that will focus on foreign policy, Noyan Tapan reported on 3 December. Both Manukian and Manucharian, however, would probably be more circumspect with regard to a possible reorientation of Armenian foreign policy than would the unequivocally pro-Western Hovannisians. For that reason, a presidential candidate from that camp might be able to count on covert backing from Russia in the event of a preterm presidential ballot.

Indeed, having suffered the humiliation of seeing its preferred candidate defeated in Ukraine, Moscow might play safe by backing rival candidates in Armenia, not only the one from the Manukian-Manucharian bloc but possibly also the existing leadership's choice to succeed Kocharian, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third presidential term. The two most likely candidates at this juncture are Defense Minister Sarkisian and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. In an interview published on 9 December in the independent "Golos Armenii," Sarkisian dodged the question whether he intends to run for president when Kocharian's second term expires in 2008. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN CABINET RESHUFFLED FOR SECOND TIME IN SIX MONTHS. When President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled Georgia's new government 10 months ago, he stressed two factors: ministers' relative youth and their extreme professionalism. Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania for his part characterized his cabinet as "a united team of professionals who think alike," according to Reuters on 17 February.

Since February, however, Saakashvili has undertaken not one but two major cabinet reshuffles. The first, in early June, was confined to rotating the ministers responsible for defense, security and law and order. The second, confirmed by Saakashvili and Zhvania on 14 December after days of media speculation, affects some of the "power ministers" appointed in June, together with some economic and foreign policy portfolios.

In the June rotation, then Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze was named defense minister, replacing Gela Bezhuashvili, who was appointed National Security Council secretary. Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili took over as interior minister, and was succeeded in his previous position by State Security Minister Zurab Adeishvili. Bezhuashvili's predecessor as National Security Council secretary, Vano Merabishvili, was named state security minister (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 June 2004).

Zhvania predicted that those June appointments "will allow us to make our policy more targeted." But just six months later, a new realignment is under way. The youthful and hawkish Okruashvili has been named to replace Baramidze as defense minister; Baramidze will now coordinate Georgia's efforts to achieve integration into European structures. The Interior and State Security ministries are to be merged into a Ministry for Police and Public Order reminiscent of the early Brezhnev era when Eduard Shevardnadze headed a similarly named ministry. Saakashvili stressed on 14 December that the amalgamation of the two ministries will not negatively affect the country's security. "We will keep all the professionals, since various services have waged an attack on our country, plotting thousands of conspiracies, and we need professionals more than ever," he said. "We intend to particularly strengthen our intelligence service to ensure the security of our country," Saakashvili added.

Other commentators proved more cautious, however, recalling endless turf battles over the past several decades between the police and Security and Defense ministries, according to the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 12 December. (The Georgian Security Ministry accused the Defense Ministry of "hostile acts" after an explosion damaged its headquarters in Tbilisi in December 1993.)

Observers have also expressed concern over Okruashvili's appointment as defense minister, which some believe could herald a new offensive against South Ossetia. Okruashvili was born in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali and advocates military intervention to reimpose Georgian government control over the breakaway region. He personally commanded Interior Ministry forces during the low-level clashes with South Ossetian forces one in July-August. Saakashvili, however, offered an alternative explanation for Okruashvili's new post. Saakashvili said that as commander-in-chief of the Georgian armed forces he is not satisfied with the pace of army reform, and hopes that Okruashvili will expedite that process. Saakashvili added that he anticipates the reform process will take some time, as it cannot be completed within six months or so. In other words, Okruashvili is being given a specific mandate, presumably in the hope that it will distract him at least in the short term from saber-rattling. Okruashvili himself told journalists that his top priority will be to ensure that Georgia receives in 2006 an invitation to join NATO, according to ITAR-TASS on 15 December.

In addition to the "power ministry" appointments, Kakha Bendukidze, whom Saakashvili lured back from Russia to his native Georgia to take on the challenge of kick starting Georgia's moribund economy, has been given overall responsibility for coordinating economic reform, while his deputy Aleksi Aleksishvili will take over as economy minister. The wisdom of that move, too, has been questioned: the daily "Akhali taoba" on 15 December quoted economic expert Aleksandre Tvalchrelidze as pointing out that Bendukidze's economic strategy is spot-on, but that it was not realistic to expect his efforts to yield visible results within just a few months.

Saakashvili said on 14 December that "on the whole" he is pleased with the government's performance despite unspecified "errors and mistakes," and he told ministers to continue to act "predictably and consistently." Zhvania for his part stressed that the new appointments do not reflect a "political crisis." He also noted that parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze supports the planned changes. Burdjanadze was rumored late last month to be contemplating a break with Zhvania and Saakashvili in order to co-found a new political party (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 6 December 2004). (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "This is not so much a war of so-called resistance as a dividing up of influence and business between various power structures. It's exactly as it was after the first war. Only the names have changed." -- Unnamed Russian military officer, commenting on Russian involvement in the arms and drug trade in Chechnya. Quoted in "The Times" of London on 11 December.