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Caucasus Report: February 23, 2001

23 February 2001, Volume 4, Number 8

NOTE: Due to a technical problem, last week's issue (No. 7) of "RFE/RL Caucasus Report" was distributed only by fax, but not electronically. This issue duplicates the content of issue No. 7, updated in places, and also includes more recent material.

OSCE KARABAKH PEACE PROPOSALS LEAKED. The Azerbaijani official press on 21 February published in Russian and Azerbaijani what it claimed are the texts of three successive draft proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict offered by the OSCE Minsk Group in July 1997, December 1997, and November 1998. (The second proposal was in fact unveiled in September, not December 1997.) The previous day, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and several other Armenian media outlets received an Armenian translation of the most recent of those draft peace plans, which a senior Armenian diplomat confirmed as authentic.

The leaks coincided almost exactly with the 13th anniversary of the original request by the Karabakh authorities for the (then) Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast to be transferred from Azerbaijani to Armenian control. In addition, they occurred shortly before a further planned meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss approaches to reslving the conflict. But Armenian presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian denied to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that the leaks had been coordinated. Armenian President Robert Kocharian similarly told journalists in Yerevan on 22 February that the publication of the drafts in the Azerbaijani press "was sudden and unexpected for me."

In the Azerbaijani press, the three drafts are preceded by an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry statement explaining when each one was proposed by the OSCE, and stating what the Foreign Ministry claims was the reaction to it of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships but not that of the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

The July 1997 proposal -- which was a revised version of one proposed two months earlier -- was based on the "package" approach, meaning that it aimed to resolve all contentious issues within one framework document. That draft provided for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territories which would then be declared a demilitarized buffer zone under the control of OSCE peacekeeping troops. Those troops would supervise the return of displaced persons to their abandoned homes in that zone. It also provided for the demilitarization of the Lachin corridor that links the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Armenia; the OSCE would lease the corridor from the Azerbaijani government and deploy peacekeepers there.

On the crucial issue of Karabakh's future status, the July 1997 draft reads as follows: "Nagornyi Karabakh is a state and territorial formation within the confines ["v sostave"] of Azerbaijan." The division of responsibilities was to be decided in talks between the enclave's authorities and the Azerbaijani leadership and approved by the OSCE. The borders of Nagorno-Karabakh were to be identical with those of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, meaning that Karabakh would regain some territory cccurrently under Azerbaijani control.

The second, September 1997, proposal -- which the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said was unveiled on 2 December -- was based on the "phased" rather than the "package" approach. It contained more extensive security guarantees for Nagorno-Karabakh than did the May and July drafts, and, crucially, did not contain any definition of the future status of Karabakh. Instead, it stated that following the Armenian troop withdrawal and demilitarization, "the three sides to the present Agreement, having put an end to the military aspect of the conflict, agree to continue conducting negotiations in good faith with the assistance of the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk speedily attain an all-encompassing regulation of all other aspects of the conflict, including the political aspect, which includes defining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and resolving the problem of Lachin, Shusha and Shaumian."

Both the July 1997 and the September 1997 draft proposals were accepted by both Azerbaijan and Armenia (with reservations in the case of the latter), but rejected by the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership. (Yerevan specifically objected to the above provision in the July 1997 on Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.) The Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry preamble to the published drafts claims, however, that Armenia rejected both the July 1997 and the Sepember 1997 draft.

As for the most recent, November 1998 draft, the leaked Armenian translation confirms that its provisions would give Karabakh de facto independence by placing it in a loose confederation with Azerbaijan. Karabakh would enjoy the internationally recognized status of a republic with its own constitution, armed forces, and power to veto any legislation passed by the authorities in Baku. A senior Armenian diplomatic source said the five-page document, entitled "Principles of the Comprehensive Settlement of the Armed Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh," is identical with what the Minsk Group co-chairs suggested more than two years ago. Speaking to RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity, a Karabakh government official likewise confirmed that it is authentic, if "somewhat inaccurate" translation from English. The official made it clear that Stepanakert had accepted the plan only as a basis for further discussions.

Article 1 of the would-be peace deal stipulates that Karabakh and Azerbaijan shall form a "common state" to be governed by a "joint commission" comprising representatives of the two entities, both of which would bring their constitutions into conformity with the peace agreement. Neither of them could change constitutional provisions regarding the common state unilaterally. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) would form its executive, legislative, and judicial branches as well as a "national guard" and police units.

"The Azerbaijani army, security and police forces shall not be allowed to enter the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh without the consent of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities," the document reads. Furthermore, "Azerbaijani laws, regulations and executive directives have a legal force in Nagorno-Karabakh so long as they do not contradict the latter's Constitution and laws."

Karabakh residents would travel abroad with specially marked Azerbaijani passports. Only the government in Stepanakert would be empowered to grant such passports and residency permits. And Armenian would be the NKR's "main official language."

Karabakh Armenians would be able to establish "direct relations" with foreign states in "economic, trade, scientific, cultural, sports and humanitarian fields." This also involves the right to have diplomatic missions abroad, which would nonetheless have to be affiliated with Azerbaijani embassies.

The package of proposals includes a separate agreement on military disengagement. Armenian and Azerbaijani forces would retreat from their current positions north and east of Karabakh to create a "buffer zone" controlled by a multi-national peacekeeping force acting under the OSCE aegis. Karabakh Armenian forces would then gradually withdraw from six occupied districts in Azerbaijan proper. The strategic Lachin district, which provides for the shortest overland link between Karabakh and Armenia, would remain under their control pending further agreement on its future. All heavy weapons would be moved to specially selected locations.

Also according to the document, Armenia and Azerbaijan would open their borders for the movement of people and cargoes through each other's territory parallel to the troop withdrawal. The border between the two states has been closed since the start of fighting in 1991.

The most recent Minsk Group plan also calls for the formation of an Armenian-Azerbaijani "inter-governmental commission" tasked with normalizing bilateral relations. Overall responsibility for peace implementation would rest with a "permanent mixed commission" headed by a representative of the OSCE chairman-in-office. More important, Russia, the U.S., and France would act as guarantors of the proposed settlement, while the OSCE or the UN Security Council would have a mandate to take military action to ensure the parties' compliance with their obligations.

Armenian President Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev are due to meet in Paris on 3 March for their fifteenth face-to-face meeting in two years. The talks, which like their January meeting will be again sponsored by French President Jacques Chirac, will proceed amid renewed hopes for a decisive breakthrough in the peace process. Chirac discussed the issue by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 19 February. The "New York Times" reported the following day that the French leader was "guardedly optimistic about a possible settlement" in a lengthy phone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush on 1 February. The paper said relief agencies are already putting together a "multibillion-dollar aid package" that would be part of the future peace treaty.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said last week that in January, Chirac suggested general "principles" for solving the conflict and that agreement on them will place a solution within reach. Oskanian had earlier hinted that the final settlement might comprise elements of all three earlier OSCE drafts. Armenian officials have said repeatedly that they will not agree to make any major concessions besides those envisaged by the common-state plan.

Reaction in Baku to the publication of the three draft peace proposals was overwhelmingly negative. Liberal Party Chairwoman Lala-Shovket Gadjieva said all three require "an unconditional surrender" by Azerbaijan, while Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar said at least one of those proposals violates the Azerbaijani Constitution. Ali Kerimov, the chairman of the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, said all three drafts run counter to Azerbaijan's national interests. Vafa Guluzade, who served as Aliev's foreign policy advisor until October 1999, characterized all three drafts as "unacceptable for Azerbaijan," and claimed that they were all authored by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Meeting in Baku on 22 February at the headquarters of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, representatives of some 50 Azerbaijani political parties adopted an appeal to the population to congregate outside the parliament building on 23 February, when the legislature is scheduled to debate approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. They also called on the government not to sign any "defeatist"peace agreement that would violate Azerbaijan's state sovereignty and territorial integrity. (Emil Danielyan and Liz Fuller)

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS TRIAL OPENS. The trial of 13 men charged in connection with the October 1999 shootings in the Armenian parliament was adjourned on 15 February, less than two hours after its long-awaited start. When it resumed one week later, on 22 February, the leader of the five gunmen who gunned down eight leading Armenian officials in the parliament building, Nairi Hunanian, and his brother Karen pleaded not guilty on all nine charges of which they are accused,including terorism, high treason, and planning a coup d'etat. Their three accomplices partially admitted their guilt.

The formal reason for the 15 February adjournment as cited by Judge Samvel Uzunian, was the absence of one of the defendants and two defense lawyers.

Some two hundred supporters of the assassinated officials gathered outside the court building in the city center on both 15 and 22 February to demand the death sentence for the attackers. The area surrounding the building was cordoned off by special police units on the first day of the trial. Security was particularly tight inside the courthouse with several dozen armed police guarding 11 defendants locked up in five adjacent cages.

Some relatives of the murdered officials shouted abuse at Nairi Hunanian and four other arrested gunmen, including his brother Karen and uncle Vram Galstian, as they made their way into the dock. The opening court session mostly involved a check of the defendants' identity and other formalities. Hunanian, making his first public appearance since 28 October 1999, looked calm and self-confident while answering the judge's and lawyers' questions.

Hunanian went on to demand that one of the four members of the prosecution team, Hakob Martirosian, be barred from taking part in the trial, accusing him of violating the due process of law. "I want him to be called up instead as a witness of illegalities committed during the investigation," he charged. The demand was rejected by the judge.

Hunanian claimed last April that the investigators had forced him implicate an aide to President Robert Kocharian and several other well-known persons in the killings. The 35-year-old former journalist is expected to defend the bloody raid on the National Assembly and blame the assassinated officials for Armenia's socioeconomic problems. He has refused to hire defense counsels, preferring to himself make his case.

Tension at the hearings rose when one of the three police officers charged with allowing the gunmen to smuggle weapons into the chamber, demanded that Judge Uzunian order his release. "Don't force me to sit with this scum," the defendant, Armen Gasparian, exclaimed, pointing to the other accused. The petition was turned down.

Emotions also ran high outside the building where an angry crowd demanded a tough verdict against Hunanian and his henchmen. The gathering was organized by the Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans, which was founded by Vazgen Sarkisian, the slain prime minister. Among the demonstrators were members of Yerkrapah's children's organization dressed in khaki uniforms. "Death to the criminals," read one of the black banners held by the boys aged between 10 and 15.

The trial followed a year-long criminal inquiry conducted by military prosecutors. Relatives and friends of the victims accuse the prosecutors of failing to solve the case. Aram Sarkisian, the brother of the assassinated premier, repeated the charge on 15 February, saying that he still believes the crime was masterminded by other "influential forces" and not Hunanian. He said: "I won't be taking part in the trial. I consider myself Asian and find it impossible to be in the same room with the person who killed my brother."

Sarkisian, who succeeded his older brother as prime minister and was sacked by Kocharian in May, was joined by several prominent members of his cabinet, including former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, former Minister for Industrial Infrastructures Vahan Shirkhanian, and Albert Bazeyan, the recently sacked mayor of Yerevan.

"We are demanding justice and not putting pressure on the court," Bazeyan said. "If it turns out that some governing circles were involved in or knew about the crime they will have to be brought to account," he added, in a remark highlighting some Yerkrapah leaders' continuing suspicion of Kocharian and his allies. (Karine Kalantarian and Emil Danielyan)

IS TURKEY SEEKING TO ENHANCE ITS ROLE IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS? Two recent developments suggest that Ankara may be trying to compensate for the blow dealt to its prestige from the French parliament's January resolution condemning the Armenian genocide by seeking to play a more prominent role in regional politics.

Annoyed by Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's visit to Paris just days after the French parliament resolution, Ankara appears to have extended a particularly warm welcome to visiting Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in late January. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit underscored the "strategic nature" of bilateral relations, affirming that "Georgia's problems are our problems. Georgia's security is our security." Turkish media construed that statement as reflecting Turkey's intention to create a Turkish-Georgian axis to counter the perceived special relationship between Armenia and Russia. That interpretation was fuelled by Seifi Tashan, director of Turkey's Foreign Policy Institute, who reportly argued in Shevardnadze's presence that "Turkey needs Georgia's support against Armenia."

In an attempt to dispel suspicions of an emerging Georgian-Turkish alignment, however, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze told journalists in Tbilisi on 16 February that Shevardnadze's talks on regional issues dealt exclusively with "regional cooperation and efforts to settle conflicts." He specifically denied that Georgia is considering engaging in an "anti-Russian conspiracy," according to Interfax.

Speaking at a conference in Ankara on 17 February on security issues in the South Caucasus, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem suggested that Ankara could host trilateral talks with Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry officials to discuss ways of resolving the Karabakh conflict. Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Yigit Alpogan stressed that the Turkish initiative is intended to complement, rather than undercut, the ongoing Karabakh mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, of which Turkey is a member.

Minsk Group co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh welcomed Cem's proposal. But Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 19 February that Turkey cannot act as a mediator because of its "explicitly one-sided position" in favor of Azerbaijan. She also argued that Turkish mediation is not feasible in the absence of diplomatic relations between Yerevan and Ankara. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS OUTLINE MILITARY REFORM PLANS. A U.S. military delegation visited Georgia last week to assess both ongoing bilateral (U.S.-Georgian) and trilateral (U.S.-Turkish-Georgian) military cooperation and to advise on the planned reform of the Georgian armed forces. The aim of that reform, as Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told the delegation, is to create "a small but mobile army complying with modern Western standards."

The Georgian Defense Ministry plans to publish very shortly a "White Book" giving full details of the planned reform. Meanwhile, Defense Minister David Tevzadze and Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili have explained the broad outlines of the reform in interviews published earlier this month in "Krasnaya zvezda" and "Vremya MN."

Tevzadze lists as the primary objectives of the planned reform making control of the Georgian armed forces more flexible, making the forces themselves more adaptable to serving alongside other international forces in possible peacekeeping operations, and transforming the mindset of those Georgian army officers who are veterans of the Soviet army. He observes that "Georgia is not the Soviet Union, we have absolutely different tasks," and that the threats now facing Georgia are local, and require a new concept of defense. Bezhaushvili makes the related point that Georgia's new defense concept stipulates that Georgian troops will not take part in combat operations outside Georgia, although they may participate in international peacekeeping operations.

To achieve optimim military readiness and effectiveness in conditions where the Defense Ministry budget is widely admitted to be inadequate, the number of military personnel will be reduced from the present 38,414 to 20,000 by mid-2001 and 12,000-13,000 by 2004. But those reductions will be primarily in ancillary personnel such as medical and sporting facilities for the exclusive use of the armed forces and military choirs and brass bands. The reformed armed forces will not include a separate air force as that would be too costly. Military aircraft and helicopters will be under the jurisdiction of the ground forces. The nucleus of those forces will be a small rapid-reaction force.

In comments that seem utopian in the light of budget constraints, Tevzadze said that ideally some 70 percent of soldiers will be professionals serving on contract, rather than conscripts. He also said that a review of armaments is planned to determine "what we now have and what we would be financially able to acquire in the next two-three years." Those acquisitions are likely to be contingent on continued financial support from the U.S. and Turkey, which to date have donated at least $94 million and $13 million respectively to fund Georgia's armed forces. (Liz Fuller)

INGUSHETIA'S PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF ABETTING CHECHEN FIGHTERS. Over the past month, first Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and then a senior Russian military commander have accused Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev of "open support" for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and fighters loyal to him. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 19 January, Kadyrov charged that Aushev allows Chechen fighters to take refuge on the territory of his republic, a course of action which, Kadyrov said, will bring Ingushetia "no good."

One month later, on 20 February, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, commander of the Russian Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, similarly rejected Aushev's disclaimers that there are no Chechen fighters in Ingushetia. "We have begun checking and there are entire gangs roaming there," Troshev said. He added that he is certain that Chechen field commanders too travel to Ingushetia for rest and recreation. Troshev suggested that Aushev's reluctance to try to apprehend the Chechens may be due to their threats of reprisals.

Aushev told a press conference later on 20 February that Troshev's comments contradict the general's earlier claims that "separatist gangs" are surrounded and pinned down inside Chechnya, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 22 February. Aushev again called on Moscow to begin peace talks with Aslan Maskhadov or other Chechen field commanders. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The lack of relations [between Armenia and Turkey] is not natural." -- OSCE Minsk Group co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh, quoted by AP (17 February).

"Russia's sovereign right to preserve its territorial integrity and to act against terrorism and criminality is undisputed, but...military action alone can't lead to a satisfying, just and durable solution of such a conflict. [...] In any conflict, it always ennobles the stronger party to probe the first steps to peace." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, speaking in Moscow on 21 February (quoted by AP).