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Caucasus Report: July 25, 2002

25 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 26

OFFICERS' PROTEST HIGHLIGHTS DISCONTENT WITHIN GEORGIAN ARMY. On 19 July, 102 officers and NCOs of two crack Georgian Army regiments resigned their commissions to protest deep-seated problems within the country's military. Virtually all the men in question subsequently retracted their letters of resignation, but the question of just how effective efforts have been over the past four years to reform the armed forces remains unanswered.

The moving force behind the demarche was 32-year-old Colonel Nika Djandjgava, said to be one of the army's most promising young officers. A graduate of a U.S. military college, Djandjgava three weeks earlier had been named acting commander of the Land Forces and a coordinator of the U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program. Djandjgava told ITAR-TASS on 19 July that he and his fellow officers, many of whom also studied at military institutes in the United States, Germany, or Turkey, were motivated by dissatisfaction with the situation within the Defense Ministry, inadequate financing, ill-advised personnel policies, and incompetent commanders. The following day, he was quoted by Caucasus Press as deploring the existence of "clans" within the Defense Ministry; it is not clear, however, whether he was referring to the generational divide noted by "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 July between older officers trained under the Soviet system and men of Djandjgava's generation who were trained abroad.

Some reports, however, suggest that Djandjgava had an additional motive for his action, namely a long-standing personal disagreement with Major General Koba Kobaladze, commander of the National Guard. (Shortly before his appointment to that post in August 2001, Kobaladze underwent a training course at China's top military college.) Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 19 July, Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze announced that he had fired Djandjgava from his post as acting commander of the Land Forces. Tevzadze also criticized Djandjgava for disclosing classified information about "Train and Equip." Tevzadze declined to comment on the rumored Djandjgava-Kobaladze feud, and denied outright the existence of factions within the army.

By virtue of his age (53), Tevzadze belongs to the older generation of the Georgian military -- but he spent his early career teaching philosophy at Tbilisi State University and took up arms only during the Abkhaz war in 1992-93. He then studied at the NATO Defense College in Rome, the George W. Marshall Center in southern Germany, and the U.S. General Staff College in Kansas. Since his appointment as defense minister in April 1998, he has worked systematically to modernize, streamline, and generally render more effective the forces he inherited from his pro-Russian and Soviet-trained predecessor, Vardiko Nadibaidze. (Djandjgava was reportedly expelled from the armed forces after crossing swords with Nadibaidze but reinstated one year later by Tevzadze after the latter was named minister.)

Tevzadze's efforts to reform the Georgian military have, however, been hampered by chronic funding shortfalls: The Defense Ministry received only 33.05 million laris ($14.9 million at today's exchange rate) in 2001 and 36 million laris in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 47, 8 December 2000). And delays in transferring those funds meant that officers frequently did not receive their salaries for months on end.

What is more, Tevzadze appears to have some influential political adversaries. In late 1999, he engaged in a public dispute with Chief Military Prosecutor Badri Bitsadze, steadfastly rejecting the latter's allegations of misappropriation of funds within the ministry. That spat spawned rumors, which proved misplaced, that Tevzadze would be forced to step down.

And in the wake of Djandjgava's dismissal, "Akhali taoba" claimed on 25 July that the New Right Wing parliament faction is preparing to demand Tevzadze's impeachment.

Even assuming he retains his post, however, Tevzadze's chances of realizing his September 1999 boast that "by 2004 Georgia will have a strong army that meets NATO standards," seem pretty bleak. (Liz Fuller)

FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY PLANS POLITICAL COMEBACK. The former ruling party Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and allied parties gathered in Armavir, 60 kilometers from Yerevan, on 20 July. Although participants claimed the gathering was "just a friendly meeting," it nonetheless triggered speculation that the purpose was to discuss a possible bid for the presidency in next year's elections by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ter-Petrossian's spokesman and one of his close allies, Davit Shahnazarian, told the press last week that Ter-Petrossian will most probably run for presidency, leading to speculation that the former regime is seeking political revenge for its defeat in 1998, when Ter-Petrossian's resignation led to massive defections from the HHSh to the rival camp.

According to former deputy parliament speaker Ara Sahakian, a leading HHSh member, "There are positive changes in the HHSh, and we are outlining our future plans of action for the upcoming elections." He confirmed that the HHSh will participate in all upcoming local, parliamentary, and presidential elections.

Sahakian also argued that only the Dashnaktsutyun, the Communist Party, and the HHSh had a major impact on Armenian politics in the 20th century and should therefore have more or less equal representation in parliament. The Armenian Communists and Dashnaks each currently control some 10 percent of the 131 seats in the Armenian parliament, where the HHSh has no representation. Sahakian said that, with or without Ter-Petrossian, the HHSh should reach a level of representation in the Armenian political landscape which is commensurate with its capabilities.

HHSh Deputy Chairman Andranik Hovakimian told RFE/RL that the party has started active preparations in various regions of Armenia. It currently has 59 regional branches with a total of 5,500 members.

Sahakian believes that the former president will definitely make a political comeback because he remains engaged in the political realities of the country. He stressed that Ter-Petrossian "is concerned about the failure of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, about the deadlock in the negotiating process." Sahakian added that Ter-Petrossian still firmly believes that the Nagorno-Karabakh peace plan offered in 1997 by the OSCE Minsk Group was the best offer to date. "Armenia will get the best results from a peace deal if it succeeds to go back to the plan offered in 1997," he predicted.

Sources close to Ter-Petrossian's circle told RFE/RL that the discussions on the possible nomination of Ter-Petrossian as a presidential candidate for next year's elections began some time ago. The former president was asked during a meeting one month ago with the ambassadors of the EU countries in Armenia whether he is going to run for the presidency, but he declined to give a direct answer (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 23, 1 July 2002). (Armen Zakarian and Harry Tamrazian)

FORMER ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER PREDICTS OPPOSITION WILL UNITE AGAINST PRESIDENT. Speaking to reporters in Yerevan on 24 July, National Democratic Union (AZhM) chairman Vazgen Manukian condemned President Robert Kocharian's policies as destructive for the country. "He is dismantling the army, splitting parties, and has no right to lead the country," Manukian said. The AZhM, once one of the most influential opposition forces in parliament, has split over the past 18 months into four separate parties (see "RFE/RL Armenia Report," 6 February and 6 October 2001). Some former leading AZhM members allied themselves with the president, while others quit the party, citing serious differences with Manukian. "This president must go," said Manukian, who with Levon Ter-Petrossian was one of the original members in 1988 of the Karabakh Committee and served as prime minister under Ter-Petrossian in 1990-91.

Over the past decade, Manukian has registered as a candidate in three successive presidential ballots. In 1992 he withdrew his candidacy; in 1996 he narrowly lost (in all likelihood as a result of falsification) to incumbent President Ter-Petrossian; and in 1999 he failed to qualify for the run-off in which Kocharian defeated Karen Demirchian.

Asked whether he will run in next year's presidential elections, Manukian again said that he will monitor the political infighting in Armenia and then decide if he should run for the presidency or not (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 23, 1 July 2002). Manukian told journalists that his party will remain part of the alliance of 13 anti-government opposition parties and will continue to cooperate with them. However, agreeing on a single presidential candidate is not in Manukian's view the most important issue for the opposition block of 13. "Everyone talks about single candidate, but no one yet is really thinking about it. The most important thing is a victory of ideas. We should rally around ideas, rather than candidates," Manukian said.

Asked whether he is ready to cooperate with the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement and other liberal parties, Manukian said that he does not exclude cooperation with any party. He refused to comment on reports that his bitter rival, former President Ter-Petrossian might run in the next presidential elections. "He is a politician, and he has to decide to run or not. It is not up to me to comment on that possibility," Manukian said.

According to Manukian, after a difficult period when splinter groups left AZhM, the party has increased its membership; and he expects that with the new young members his team will make a strong showing in the upcoming national elections. Manukian said that his party will form alliances with other opposition parties and did not exclude the consolidation of all anti-government forces in Armenia. "The consolidation of forces with different political views and opinions is possible when there is an objective to unseat the authorities.... We have now such objective in Armenia," Manukian said, predicting that Kocharian will lose his job.

On foreign policy, Manukian said that Armenia should continue its dialogue with Turkey on a different level with the aim of establishing economic and political relations. At the same time, Armenia should push for the recognition of Armenian genocide. Manukian criticized the current government's handling of Armenian-Russian relations, saying that Armenia had very good relations with Russia in the past. He said the recent Russian-Armenian agreement on assets for debt demonstrates the current government's lack of respect for Armenia's dignity. "You will be punished if you cross the line of dignity," he said. He condemned the authorities for agreeing to hand over state-owned assets to Russia in order to improve their relations with Moscow. (Harry Tamrazian)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The worst thing is that many people [in Azerbaijan] have no affection either for the government or the opposition. The overwhelming majority of people have an aversion to politics. This is very dangerous." -- Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan Andreas Gross, summarizing his impressions of a fact-findng visit to Azerbaijan earlier this month (quoted by "Ekho" on 25 July, courtesy of Groong).

"Chechnya needs a strong and determined executive branch. Presidential rule is not a problem. The lack of checks and balances is." -- Presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov in an interview with "Kommersant-Vlast" (23 July).

"We consider Robert Kocharian an illegitimate president, with all his decisions and decrees." -- Albert Bazeyan, the leader of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, commenting on Kocharian's demotion of former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian ("Orran," 24 July).

"If I were the president, I would have demoted other generals too." -- Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian (ibid., likewise commenting on Harutiunian's demotion).