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Caucasus Report: May 30, 2001

30 May 2001, Volume 4, Number 20

NEW SETBACK FOR KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian announced in Yerevan on 26 May that the meeting between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev that was scheduled to take place in Geneva next month has been postponed sine die. That statement merely served to confirm widespread suspicions that unforeseen problems in the Karabakh peace process had emerged during the visit of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen to Armenia and Azerbaijan in mid-May. Echoing earlier statements by officials involved in the peace process, Aghadjanian implied that the primary reason for the postponement was that public opinion in neither country is ready to accept the compromise that a peace agreement would entail. But while such opposition to major concessions undoubtedly exists, it may not be the sole explanation for the apparent suspension of the two-year dialogue between the two presidents.

Speaking in London on 4 May, and in Baku one day later, U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh was optimistic that in Geneva Kocharian and Aliyev would build on the progress they made one month earlier in Florida towards resolving the Karabakh conflict, even if a final peace accord was not ready for signing in Geneva. Cavanaugh also said in London that "there are a lot of signs" that both presidents are trying to convince public opinion of the inevitability of mutual compromises that such an accord would entail.

But just two weeks later, during a tour of Azerbaijan and Armenia, both Cavanaugh and Russian co-chair Nikolai Gribkov were more cautious and less optimistic. Gribkov warned in Baku on 18 May that "what we are saying could give the impression that a peace agreement is within grasp, but it is still a long way off." Two days later, he said that the planned Geneva meeting could be postponed from June until August or even later, as the co-chairs need more time to work on the new peace proposal to be presented to the presidents in Geneva. Cavanaugh, for his part, said on 20 May that a peace agreement may be further away now than it appeared immediately after the Geneva talks, because the two presidents have in the meantime considered in greater detail the details and implications of the broad principles agreed on in Key West.

And in a seeming contradiction of his remark in London two weeks earlier that the two presidents were actively trying to prepare their respective populations for a compromise peace agreement, Cavanaugh told Reuters on 21 May said that "the people haven't got a lot of signals from the top that they have to start thinking about reconciliation...the leaders aren't sending positive messages that everyone has to accept compromises if they want to live in peace."

While there is undoubtedly considerable opposition both in Armenia and Azerbaijan to the idea of compromise, that opposition is not a new development that has emerged since the Key West talks. The emphasis given to it during the co-chairs' recent visit therefore raises the question whether either or both presidents has chosen to exaggerate the extent of that opposition for tactical reasons, or whether the mediators and the two presidents have reached a tacit agreement to highlight that public opposition in order to distract attention from other developments that have jeopardized the prospects for resolving the conflict in the near future.

Azerbaijani official statements both during and since the co-chairs' 19 May talks in Baku suggest a hardening of the Azerbaijani position. Aliyev reverted to his earlier argument that it is the responsibility of the co-chairs to draft a settlement document that is acceptable to both parties (the implication being that they should pressure Yerevan to agree to a settlement on Baku's terms). "If the two presidents could have found agreement, there would have been peace long ago," Aliyev said.

Meeting in Baku four days later with a visiting EU delegation, Aliyev warned that concessions must be mutual, and that Baku will not make any unilateral concessions. He said he will not conclude a peace agreement that does not reflects Baku's demands. The most important of those demands are the preservation of Azerbaijani's territorial integrity and the unconditional liberation of occupied Azerbaijani territory. Aliyev warned that the patience of the Azerbaijani people "has been exhausted," and that popular sentiment increasingly favors a military solution of the conflict. Most recently, on 26 May, Aliyev blamed Armenia for the failure to sign a peace agreement in Key West.

On 23 May, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aghadjanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that "additional difficulties," have arisen in the negotiating process, but did not say what they entail. She said Aliyev and Kocharian would decide in Minsk on the sidelines of the 1 June CIS summit on the date for their next round of Minsk Group-mediated talks. (Liz Fuller)

AZERBAIJANI EMBASSY PROTESTS LIONIZING OF OPPOSITION POLITICIAN IN TURKEY. In a letter to the English-language "Turkish Daily News," and in a telephone call to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Azerbaijani Embassy in Ankara last week protested the lavish welcome given to opposition Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar during his recent visit to Turkey. Specifically, the Azerbaijani ambassador protested to the fact that Gambar had been welcomed at a level of protocol normally accorded only to visiting heads of state, and chauffeured in a limousine bearing the national flag. The electronic "Azerbaijan Bulletin" commented on the eve of Gambar's visit that the Musavat Party chairman, one of the few Azerbaijani politicians who can be described as a statesman, is regarded in Ankara as a potential future president of Azerbaijan.

Gambar, who claims his party would have won a majority of the votes had the November 2000 parliamentary poll been free, fair and transparent, predicted in an interview with the "Turkish Daily News" that he will soon come to power in Azerbaijan.

Gambar met during his visit with Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit and Defense Minister Sabahaddin Cakmakoglu (Mirza Khazar/Liz Fuller)

EXILED ABKHAZ POLITICIAN AMBIVALENT OVER TERRORIST KILLINGS. On 10 May, RFE/RL's Georgian Service broadcast an interview with Gia Gvazava, deputy chairman of the Abkhaz Supreme Soviet in exile, which comprises the 28 ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991. In that interview, Gvazava makes clear his reservations with regard to the Georgian government's Abkhaz policy, and his reluctance to condemn the Georgian guerrillas who are systematically targeting both Abkhaz police and civilians.

Gvazava acknowledged early in the interview that Georgian authorities do not treat the parliament-in-exile as a fully-fledged participant in the ongoing UN-mediated search for a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. One possible explanation for the Georgian authorities' circumspection is Gvazava's immediate superior, Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz Supreme Soviet in exile. Nadareishvili, whose name did not figure in the discussion, has become increasingly critical of the Georgian authorities' Abkhaz policy (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 31, 27 October 2000). More recently, he has expressed support for the Georgian guerrillas operating in the conflict zone.

Gvazava admitted that because of the Georgian authorities' attitude to the exile parliament and its members, he is not familiar with the text of the UN-drafted document currently under discussion on the future status of Abkhazia within Georgia and the division of responsibilities between the central and the Abkhaz government. He said that draft has been kept under wraps.

Gvazava said he finds incomprehensible, contradictory and absurd the formulation contained in that draft "a sovereign Abkhazia within a sovereign Georgia." The Russian representative to the UN Security Council reportedly vetoed that formulation during a discussion of the Abkhaz conflict in late April, presumably fearful of the precedent it could set for Chechnya.

Gvazava said that the ambiguous formulation should probably be construed as heralding some kind of federal arrangement, adding that as far as he could judge by studying the literature on federalism available to him, "a two-subject federation is one of the easiest structures to destroy."

Asked to comment on the UN's failure to condemn the killings of Georgians in Abkhazia in 1992-193 as genocide and ethnic cleansing, Gvazava said that the Georgian government could and should have issued such a statement, but for reasons incomprehensible to him it refrained from doing so. It is similarly strange, he added, that the Georgian authorities did not act on the relevant articles of the Georgian Criminal Code, to round up those responsible and send them to the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Of that failure, he said it "is either a measure of our impotence, or we simply did not want to take such a step." But he went on to stress that he does not hold the Abkhaz people as a whole responsible for those deaths, but rather the Abkhaz leadership in conjunction with Russia and volunteers from the North Caucasus republics.

Asked his opinion on the recent hostage-takings by Georgian guerrillas in retaliation for the Abkhaz detention last month of several oft their members, Gvazava said this "is part of a broader process" that must be evaluated against the backgrounds of the predicament of the over 100,000 Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia. Gvazava said "When people see that the state cannot fulfill its duties, that it cannot return the territory [of Abkhazia to Georgian control], then of course there are people who act on their emotions and who are ready to resort to...any methods to get their homes back. In the documents we sign we refer to these people sometimes as diversionists, sometimes as terrorists, by which I mean partisans."

In that context, Gvazava made it very clear that he differentiates between those guerrillas who are motivated exclusively by the desire to restore Abkhazia to Georgian control and return to their homes, with whom he clearly sympathizes, and those persons who may resort to violence in the course of illegal activities, primarily smuggling across the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. (Glasnost-North Caucasus on 18 May quoted the chairman of the Georgian parliament committee on taxes and revenues as estimating that up to 80 percent of Georgia's imports are smuggled.)

Gvazava said it is the responsibility of the state to take action against the latter category, but this too the Georgian leadership declines to do. Instead "it fails to differentiate between the two categories...the authorities let the smugglers carry on unimpeded and this discredits the partisan movement."

But the dividing line between the two categories may be more difficult to draw than Gvazava implies: Dato Shengelaia, leader of the Forest Brothers guerrilla formation, is widely believed to engage in smuggling or to condone it in return for a slice of the profits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2O00).

Asked by RFE/RL "Do you support the partisan movement?" Gvazava equivocated -- and again sought to lay the blame for the current situation on the Georgian authorities. He said that while he would not go so far as to assert that "all methods are permissible," "of course I support those persons who want justice to be restored, and as long as the state remains silent those people will raise their voice." The partisans would not have acted on their own initiative, he said, if the Georgian authorities had acted more decisively and sooner.

As for the chances of achieving a negotiated solution to the conflict, Gvazava said that "of course" he would prefer that the conflict were resolved peacefully -- the question is how much longer it will take to do so. "Of course we should continue with negotiations," Gvazava said, "...but if those negotiations are deadlocked, and it is our impression that they are now deadlocked, it is not for me to decide what course of action to take, it is up to the state, it is up to the people..." But at the same time he acknowledged that a military solution to the conflict is unlikely, given that "the international community will not allow Georgia to launch a large-scale war in the South Caucasus," even though it condones Russia's ongoing military action in Chechnya. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "There will be no more hostilities in the South Caucasus. The existing conflicts are quite enough for us [to cope with]." -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking in Baku on 18 May at the CIS Defense Ministers' meeting (quoted by Interfax).

"There have been lots of wars before this one, and everybody knows that negotiations are the only way to stop one. As I see it, the trouble is there is no state official in the Kremlin we can talk to reasonably. Nobody is there to discuss Russia's own interests. We do not see anybody we could negotiate with....Negotiations are possible. They are inevitable. Our proposals are well known. We have suggested negotiations without any preliminary conditions, offering to discuss everything on what we should do and how we should build our relations in future." -- Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, interviewed by "Novaya gazeta" (28 May).

"Thirty percent of Chechnya's oil is being stolen, 30 percent is burning, and only 30 percent is being extracted and sold." -- Presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev (quoted by "Vremya novostei" on 25 May).