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Caucasus Report: July 15, 2002

15 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 24

IS 'TRAIN AND EQUIP' UNDER THREAT OF COLLAPSE? The much-trumpeted U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program that is intended to prepare some 2,000 Georgian servicemen in the skills needed to combat a nebulous Chechen and/or Al-Qaeda terrorist threat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and 3 May 2002) may be in jeopardy due to a combination of inefficiency and a lack of volunteers.

AFP on 6 July quoted Georgian Defense Ministry official Dmitrii Lezhava as saying on Georgian National Television the previous evening that only 98 applications had been received for a total 600 vacancies. The deadline for applications is 19 July. Volunteers to serve on a contract basis must be under 30 and have already performed their military service in the Georgian Army. They will be paid between $400-$700 per month, a small fortune by Georgian standards, but should they violate the terms of their contract they would be required to repay the estimated $25,000 cost of their training.

Irakli Batiashvili, chairman of the Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee, cited the same figure of 98 applications during a 10 July committee meeting to discuss the program. But Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Djoni Pirtskhalaishvili pointed out that the 170 Georgian servicemen currently serving as part of KFOR in Kosova will also automatically join "Train and Equip," as will some 360 reservists. He expressed confidence that 600 men would be selected by the end of this month for the first battalion to undergo training.

Other Defense Ministry figures have cited higher figures: on 9 July Public Relations Department head Mirian Kiknadze said 500 applications have been received, and more are expected. And on 11 July, Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze said 803 applications have been submitted.

Meanwhile some Georgian politicians and observers have identified other factors that they fear could undermine the program's effectiveness. "Alia" on 11 July quoted Davit Gamkrelidze, a member of the "New Right Wing" parliament faction, as saying he considers the Georgian armed forces totally unprepared for such training, and some senior Defense Ministry officials downright incompetent. He said he does not exclude the possibility, which has been raised by some unnamed politicians, that Russian intelligence agents within the Defense Ministry may be trying to sabotage the program.

The newspaper "Dghe" on 5 July similarly pointed to a lack of competence on the part of some members of the first officer contingent to begin training. The paper claimed that the 150-man contingent numbers personnel from the National Military Academy, the Defense Ministry, the General Staff, the National Security Ministry, the State Border Guards, and the Intelligence Department, some of whom have only theoretical knowledge and no experience in the field. In addition, the paper claims, the proficiency of the Georgian interpreters from English "leaves much to be desired." As a result, "many of the students either sleep through lectures, or read newspapers, or simply leave the lecture room to smoke a cigarette." (Liz Fuller)

TURKISH-ARMENIAN PANEL SEEKS TO BREAK DEADLOCK... Members of the controversial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) embarked on a four-day meeting in Turkey on 10 July amid continuing uncertainty over the future of the initiative, which was launched exactly one year ago with U.S. government backing.

Prominent scholars and retired top diplomats making up the body will make another attempt to revive their activities, which ground to a halt last December due to a row over an international study on the 1915 Armenian genocide, the thorniest issue in Turkish-Armenian dealings (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 41, 13 December 2001). They have been unable to break the deadlock as yet.

"We still can not say for certain whether the commission will continue its activities. Things will be clarified during the meeting," David Hovannisian, a retired diplomat and one of the TARC's four Armenian members, told RFE/RL on 9 July before leaving for Istanbul.

Hovannisian said at the same time that is he is upbeat about the future of the initiative, which has been strongly criticized by many political groups in Armenia and the diaspora. "I am quite optimistic and...believe that the commission will be able to proceed," he said. Still, Hovannisian admitted that the Armenian and Turkish participants continue to be divided over the idea of a third-party genocide study.

An analysis on the applicability of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention to the 1915 massacres was due to be conducted by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a New York-based human rights organization. Hovannisian and his Armenian colleagues froze the TARC's activities in December, accusing the Turkish side of unexpectedly asking the ICTJ in early December not to go ahead with the study. The six Turkish members, however, insist that they did not intend to scuttle the agreement and that one of them had simply "directly communicated" with ICTJ without informing the Armenians.

The Armenians for their part claim that progress is being held up by serious differences among the Turkish members, some of whom are opposed to any discussion on the Armenian genocide. One of the Armenian members, Moscow-based political analyst Andranik Migranian, called for the removal of some of his Turkish counterparts last April, citing their tough position on the issue.

But according to Hovannisian, the Armenians are not insisting on changes in the TARC's composition as a condition for resuming their participation in the initiative, despite being upset at public statements by some of their Turkish colleagues denying the genocide. At the same time, he said they are standing firm on the need to examine the killings of 1915.

There have been active behind-the-scenes attempts to salvage the reconciliation effort over the past six months, but little headway has been made so far (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 3, 17 January 2002 and No. 13, 10 April 2002). Still, one U.S. official informed about the process insisted recently that the December statement by the Armenian commission members "neither suspended nor ended the TARC's work."

One of the ways of breathing new life into the TARC which is currently being considered is to expand the number of its members to make it more representative of the Armenian and Turkish publics. That idea is backed by David Phillips, a U.S. scholar and State Department adviser who has moderated the commission's meetings. Phillips visited Armenia and Turkey last spring to gauge public opinion in both countries.

The TARC's one-year activities have faced strong criticism from many Armenian parties and civic groups which view the initiative as a Turkish ploy to undermine their campaign for international recognition of the genocide. They have also argued that Hovannisian, Migranian, as well as former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanian and a senior member of the Armenian Assembly of America, Van Krikorian, lack a mandate to make far-reaching decisions on behalf of the Armenians around the world.

Hovannisian, meanwhile, claimed on 9 July that the TARC has registered major achievements over the past year. He said that the recent direct diplomatic contacts between Turkey and Armenia were made possible by the commission's work. (Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan)

...AS FORMER PREMIER LAUDS IMPROVEMENT IN BILATERAL RELATIONS... In an extensive interview with Arminfo on 24 June, which was later circulated by Groong, Armen Darpinian, who served as Armenian prime minister from May 1998 to June 1999, expressed satisfaction that Turkey has clearly modified its policy towards Armenia in acknowledgement of Armenia's enhanced role in the South Caucasus. Darpinian attributed that shift to the present Armenian leadership's "balanced" foreign and regional policy.

Darpinian reasoned that "the obvious change in Turkey's attitude toward Armenia is accounted for by the realization of the fact that Armenia, as I have said, demonstrates itself as a regional factor. We are accustomed to the fact that, in implementing an independent policy in the region, Turkey did not consider, nor did it want to consider Armenia as acting in this capacity. But Armenia's quite balanced foreign and domestic policy resulted in Turkey's having to consider Armenia as a factor and correct its policy. All contacts with Armenia, both at the state and at the public levels, are intensive now as never before. Although they are not properly efficient, the very fact of the dialogue is most positive. I think that this dialogue will result in the Turkish and Armenian public realizing the necessity for finding and defending common interests, in contrast to the policy that was based not on common interests, but on confrontation, on different views and approaches. If we base ourselves on differences, which are numerous, we may never start a dialogue or sit down at the negotiating table." (Liz Fuller)

...WHICH MAY BE AFFECTED BY CEM'S RESIGNATION. In a statement to the media on 11 July, the Armenian Foreign Ministry expressed the hope that the resignation earlier that day of Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem will not halt the developing dialogue between the two countries, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported.

Admitting that "recent political developments in Turkey are so swift they are unpredictable," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian said: "Armenia has always been for a high-level dialogue which it has consistently advocated.... It is important to note that the establishment of stability in Turkey is highly important for Armenia. I can express optimism that irrespective of the political developments in Turkey, the dialogue will be continued as it proceeds from the interests of the two neighboring countries and peoples," according to Noyan Tapan on 12 July. (Liz Fuller)

POLL SUGGESTS BOTH AZERBAIJANIS AND ARMENIANS FAVOR PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT OF KARABAKH CONFLICT. Between 1 January 2001 and1 February 2002, the Baku and Yerevan Press Clubs, with the support of the Open Society Institute, conducted an opinion poll on attitudes to the Karabakh conflict and the optimum approach to resolving it. Arif Aliev, the head of the Baku Press Club presented the results of the poll at a 9 July press conference.

Journalists in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic questioned 152 displaced persons, 1,155 residents, and 64 experts in Azerbaijan, 1,000 residents and 100 experts from Armenia, and 250 Armenian residents and 25 experts from Nagorno-Karabakh.

In Azerbaijan, 49.5 percent of the respondents expressed the hope that the admission of Azerbaijan and Armenia into the Council of Europe would help resolve the Karabakh conflict. But 19.1 percent of displaced persons said they doubt this will prove to be the case. Half of the Azerbaijanis questioned expected positive results from the meetings between the two countries' presidents, while 49.3 percent of refugees do not.

In Armenia, 24.7 percent of respondents support negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, while 8.9 percent prefer bilateral discussions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and 42.1 percent are in favor of trilateral negotiations between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

In response to a question on the optimum future status of Karabakh, 56 percent of Azerbaijani respondents want to see the region as a part of Azerbaijan without any autonomous status, 33.7 percent would support granting it autonomous region status within Azerbaijan, 0.8 percent see it as an independent state, and 0.1 percent approve of Karabakh becoming part of Armenia but possessing a broad self-governing status.

Answering the same question, 45 percent of the Armenian respondents want to see Karabakh as an independent state while 42.7 percent would want it to become a part of Armenia, and 0.3 percent would agree to leave Karabakh within Azerbaijan.

Of the Armenian respondents from Nagorno-Karabakh, 63.6 percent voted for the region's independence, while 35.2 percent approved of union with Armenia, and 0.8 percent would like to enclave to remain a part of Azerbaijan.

Answering a question on how the conflict should best be resolved, 56 percent of the Azerbaijani respondents prefer a step-by-step solution, while 21.19 percent favor a package deal. In Armenia, 30.2 percent prefer a phased approach, while 16.5 percent opted for a package solution, and 44.4 percent could not say which approach they considered more effective.

It should be pointed out that in Azerbaijan 50 percent of the respondents spoke in support of a peaceful settlement, 32.6 percent would go to war should the negotiation process fail, and 13 percent believe that only a new war can solve the problem. In Armenia, 69.6 percent support a peaceful settlement of the conflict, 23.9 percent are for a war if the negotiations end without any concrete result, and only 1.4 percent see war as the only option.

Asked when they think a settlement could be reached, 52.9 percent of Azerbaijani experts believe that it is possible within two years, while 21.6 percent believe it will take three to five years, and 11.8 percent five to 10 years.

The Armenians are more pessimistic: 22 percent expect a solution within two to three years, 26 percent within three to five years, and 32 percent within five to 10 years. (Natik Zeinalov)

NEW REGIONAL ORGANIZATION TAKES SHAPE IN AZERBAIJAN. In a move that serves to highlight the degree to which regional identity remains a factor in Azerbaijani politics, politicians from various opposition political groups joined forces last month with the aim of founding a new organization intended to represent the interests of three distinct geographical areas: Baku, Shirvan (the region to the west of Baku), and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Tofik Djafarov, a former police officer and a member of the eight-person working group chosen to prepare for the new organization's founding congress, was quoted by "Zerkalo" on 20 June as explaining that Baku and Shirvan have suffered the most from neglect under President Heidar Aliyev (who favors his home region of Nakhichevan). As for Karabakh, Djafarov continued, it is on the verge of being "irremediably lost" to Azerbaijan.

Djafarov told "Zerkalo" that two events served as the catalyst for creating the new organization: the clashes in early June between police and residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku, and President Aliev's revelation that he reached tentative agreement last year with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian on an exchange of territory between the two states.

Djafarov also said that at some point the new organization will transform itself from one that aims to represent the population of specific regions of Azerbaijan to a pan-national one. It will also, he said, nominate its own candidate for the presidential elections due in October 2003, as he does not believe any of the present opposition party leaders is capable of defeating President Aliyev in that ballot. (Liz Fuller)

STATISTIC OF THE WEEK. A poll of 1,000 Georgians conducted last month by the "Gorbi" institute revealed that 83.3 percent of them are not satisfied with their socioeconomic status, Caucasus Press reported on 28 June.

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Chechnya should not be turned into a tourist Mecca." -- Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (quoted by Interfax on 8 July).

"Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan are Siamese twins, and their division by sword will lead to their death. In everyday life borders must lose their meaning." Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer, speaking at Yerevan State University on 9 July (quoted by Noyan Tapan).

"I am entitled to have the last word in talks on a Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement." -- Armenian President Robert Kocharian (quoted by Arminfo on 10 July, courtesy of Groong).