4 October 2003, Volume 6, Number 34
OSCE MEDIATORS FAIL TO PUBLICIZE NEW KARABAKH PEACE PLAN. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said late on 2 October that the U.S., French and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE's Minsk Group did not unveil any new proposals on ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict when they met him in Paris earlier that day. The three co-chairs are continuing to ascertain the positions of the conflict parties before launching a fresh push for peace after the 15 October presidential election in Azerbaijan, Oskanian told RFE/RL after the meeting.
"The co-chairs do not open their cards at the moment," he said. "They are consulting with the parties and are in no rush to elaborate on the content [of their next initiative]. They want to visit the region immediately after the Azerbaijani elections and only then decide in which direction to lead the process." Oskanian said he conveyed to the mediators his "expectations" and the "limit of flexibility" which the Armenian side is ready to demonstrate.
The troika was scheduled to hold a separate meeting on 2 October with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev. News reporters cited Guliev as saying that he has no great expectations from it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003).
The meetings coincided with the official announcement on 2 October that Azerbaijan's ailing President Heidar Aliyev is withdrawing from the presidential race in favor of his son and heir apparent, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev. The latter is likely to win the presidential vote in what will be the first dynastic succession in the former Soviet Union.
Armenian leaders privately voice their support for the ongoing transfer of power in Baku. They hope that Ilham will build upon sweeping Karabakh agreements reportedly reached by his father and President Robert Kocharian. The two leaders were close to hammering out a comprehensive peace accord after U.S.-sponsored talks in Florida in April 2001. The Armenian leadership subsequently accused Heidar Aliyev of backtracking on those agreements, the existence of which continues to be denied by Baku.
According to the Armenian Assembly of America, a well-connected lobbying group in Washington, the U.S. administration will press the younger Aliyev to fall in with the next Minsk Group plan. "Administration sources now indicate that the U.S. would require strong assurances from Azerbaijan that a new peace agreement would be honored before again investing the time and prestige of the president and secretary of state," the assembly's executive director, Ross Vartian, said in a statement.
Oskanian said earlier that Armenia expects that the new peace proposals will not differ markedly from what was agreed upon at Florida. According to Armenian sources, those agreements would uphold Karabakh's de facto independence from Azerbaijan and link it to Armenia with a land corridor. (Ruzanna Kyureghian and Emil Danielyan)
OSCE DEPLORES 'IMPERMISSIBLE PRESSURE' ON AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION. The OSCE's Long-Term Observer Mission in Azerbaijan has released an initial assessment of the situation in the runup to the 15 October presidential ballot, which was summarized by zerkalo.az on 30 September. The website quoted the OSCE mission as expressing concern at "impermissible pressure" exerted by the Azerbaijani authorities on opposition candidates. The head of the OSCE office in Baku was similarly quoted zerkalo.az on 27 September as decrying "impermissible pressure" on the opposition. The statement said that the OSCE continues to receive a large number of complaints about the harassment and detention of opposition activists. It said OSCE observers witnessed such detentions and the "excessive use of force" during the clashes on 21 September between police and participants in demonstrations in Baku. Lenkoran and Masally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). According to the OSCE, blame for those clashes lies exclusively with police and local authorities. The statement categorically rejected official claims that the opposition deliberately sought to provoke such clashes in order to discredit the entire election process.
The statement further criticized the refusal by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to register four opposition political figures (former parliament speaker and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliev, former President Ayaz Mutalibov, National Statehood Party leader Nemat Panakhli, and former presidential adviser Eldar Namazov) to contest the ballot, noting that the reasons cited for those refusals were unconvincing and not always in accordance with the law.
The OSCE also noted that equal conditions have not been created for all 11 presidential candidates, as government officials are participating in the election campaign. It pointed out that the number of election campaign posters for the two candidates backed by the present leadership -- incumbent President Heidar Aliyev and his son, Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev -- far exceeds the number for all other nine candidates combined. Moreover, the OSCE pointed out that in violation of the election law, the posters for the two Alievs do not indicate where they were printed and the size of the printing.
The statement suggests that the CEC is unable to cope with the technical aspects of preparing for the ballot, having failed to display updated voter lists at polling stations by the deadline for doing so.
In a 27 September interview with zerkalo.az, Ambassador Peter Burkhard, who heads the OSCE's Baku office (but not the Election Observation Mission, which is headed by U.S. diplomat Peter Eicher, who performed the same function during the Armenian presidential election in February-March 2003), expressed similar criticism of the election campaign so far. Burkhard, too, said he has the impression that the opposition is subjected to "impermissible pressure." He rejected the authorities' claim that police are justified in trying to disperse "unsanctioned meetings" in support of opposition presidential candidates, arguing that "during an election campaign all meetings ought to be sanctioned."
But Burkhard's primary concern is clearly the spiraling mutual animosity and mistrust between the government and the opposition. He said he has the impression "that participants in the electoral process...perceive the elections as a merciless and uncompromising struggle bordering on war." That is all the more unfortunate in that "a certain minimum level of mutual trust and social calm, [together with] the capacity to avoid acute standoffs, is necessary for the conduct of honest, democratic elections." (Liz Fuller)
AZERBAIJANI ELECTION EXPERT COMPARES 2003, 1998 PRESIDENTIAL BALLOTS. In an interview published in zerkalo.az on 1 October, Eldar Ismaylov, who heads the NGO called For a Civil Society, assessed the current presidential election campaign as proceeding in "a less honest atmosphere" than the 1998 ballot. He also noted that the two candidates from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, incumbent President Heidar Aliyev and his son, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, have not participated personally in the election campaign so far. (Ilham, in fact, held his first campaign rally on 1 October, accusing the opposition of planning to undermine Azerbaijan's statehood and promising to create 60,000 new jobs within five years if he is elected).
Of particular interest was Ismailov's assessment of the campaign conducted by YAP. He said that he does not think that the Azerbaijani leadership intends to rely solely on falsification of the ballot to ensure that its candidate wins, but that "unfortunately the authorities do not know which are the election technologies that could help them win. At any rate, they are not using a single modern election technology. They are using methods that cannot in any way guarantee they will win. I would even go so far as to say that these technologies...could work against the authorities' candidates.... YAP is doing a bad job of selling itself."
As one example of potentially counterproductive campaigning, Ismaylov adduces the pop concerts organized by YAP, which he says are pointless unless the presidential candidate participates. On the contrary, Ismaylov said, voters do not trust the participants in those concerts. (Liz Fuller)
REJECTED AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CALLS FOR ELECTION BOYCOTT. Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 30 September, National Statehood Party Chairman Nemat Panakhli warned that the ongoing presidential election campaign has polarized Azerbaijani society to the point that a violent confrontation is increasingly probable, in which case innocent people could die. He appealed to the opposition to join forces against the ruling regime and boycott the 15 October presidential election which, he claimed, will be falsified in order to ensure Prime Minister Aliyev wins with 69.5 percent of the vote.
Araz Alizade, who is one of the co-chairmen of the Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijani (the other is former President Ayaz Mutalibov), has also advocated an election boycott. But zerkalo.az has pointed out that as the election law does not specify any minimum turnout needed for the ballot to be valid, simply not voting would not reduce the chances of a win by the candidate representing the authorities. On the other hand, the paper points out, if more than 50 percent of those who do vote select the "against all" option rather than voting for a specific candidate, the ballot will be invalid.
Panakhli criticized the opposition representatives on the CEC for failing to vote in favor of his registration as a presidential candidate, arguing that their reluctance to support him demonstrates that the parties they represent are hand-in-glove with the present leadership.
Panakhli is regarded as a controversial figure. In late 1988 he was instrumental in mobilizing thousands of Azerbaijanis who congregated in Baku to protest the Armenian campaign for the transfer of the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast to Armenia. But following Heidar Aliev's return to power in June 1993, Panakhli accepted a post in the presidential administration, which he resigned shortly before the 1995 parliamentary elections due to disagreements with the president. (Liz Fuller)
ABKHAZ PRESIDENTIAL AIDE EXPLAINS SECURITY CONCERNS. In an interview with Abkhaziya.info pegged to the 10th anniversary last week of the end of the 1992-1993 war, Astamur Tania, who is an aide to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, highlighted priorities and achievements in the ongoing UN-mediated negotiations with Georgia.
Tania explained that since the summer of 1998, when Georgian guerrillas launched an abortive incursion into Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 26 May 1998), the talks have focused on security issues. He pointed out that agreement has been reached on limiting the number of armed men either side may deploy in Gali, and that in 2000 Georgia and Abkhazia agreed to abjure calls for resolving the conflict by force, but that neither agreement is fully observed.
Moreover, Tania added, the deterioration in 2001 of the situation in the Kodori Gorge requires the drafting of a new document that would effectively preclude further clashes there. In late September 2001, Chechen fighters and other unidentified gunmen infiltrated Kodori but were driven back by the Abkhaz army (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 12 October 2001). The Abkhaz authorities are convinced that Georgia maintains some 800 army troops in the upper, Georgian controlled-reaches of the gorge.
What the Abkhaz authorities want, Tania explained further, is an agreement under which the international community would be empowered to impose "sanctions of a political, economic, and military character" if one of the conflict sides launched a new offensive. The CIS peacekeeping force, he added, could be entrusted with the military sanctions. That proposal suggests that the Abkhaz still anticipate a new Georgian offensive at some point. But the Georgian government, which claims it has no influence over the guerrilla forces operating in Gali, is unlikely to agree to the Abkhaz demand. (Liz Fuller)
QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "In Chechnya, Russian troops have wiped out a democratically elected government, killed tens of thousands of civilians, forced others out of refugee camps and back into the war zone, reduced the capital and every major town to rubble, indiscriminately rounded up the entire male populations of dozens of villages for torture or summary execution and so shattered the country's civil society that previously marginal Islamic extremists now are a major force." -- "Washington Post" editorial of 26 September.