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Caucasus Report: June 15, 2001

15 June 2001, Volume 4, Number 22

ARMENIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES ALLIES... In a 9 June speech to a congress of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Prime Minister Andranik Markarian launched a scathing attack on the HHK's allies within the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) and the Yerkrapah Union. Representatives of those factions walked out of the congress in protest, raising yet again the possibility of a collapse of the Miasnutiun bloc.

In his address to the congress, Markarian said that ever since he was named prime minister in May 2000 the HHK has been consistently dogged by the danger of "blows from behind." He also attributed to purely parochial interests those two factions' unhappiness with the HHK's reluctance to challenge President Robert Kocharian. Referring to their allegations that the HHK has diverged from Miasnutiun's original program, he said that "nobody says where that diversion has taken place, what has turned sour, and what we have failed to do." "Failure to see positive changes is a consistent political line, and not the result of misunderstanding," Markarian continued. He accused unnamed "forces and individuals who wished to see instability in the country after the 1999 parliament shootings" of being unable to forgive the Republicans their decision to cooperate with Kocharian.

Both Markarian and a second prominent HHK member, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, further accused the HZhK and Yerkrapah of refusing to assume any responsibility for the work of Markarian's government, which the premier credited with putting the Armenian economy back on course for growth.

Markarian also slammed his opponents' perceived attempts to exploit the ongoing investigation into the 1999 parliament shootings, and dismissed as misplaced their continued efforts to implicate the president in that attack.

Markarian's criticisms visibly enraged leading members of the HZhK and Yerkrapah invited to the congress, who walked out immediately after his speech. Albert Bazeyan, a former senior member of the HHK who quit in February to found the opposition Hanrapetutiun Party (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 8 February 2001), told journalists "we are now even more convinced that we did the right thing by leaving the Republican Party." HZhK Chairman Stepan Demirchian, for his part, refused to comment.

Speaking with journalists later on 9 June, Markarian struck a more conciliatory note, saying that his party is committed to preserving the parliamentary alliance intact. "We do not intend to break up Miasnutiun, we will try to reach common ground through compromise," he said. At present, the HHK commands 25 seats in the 131-deputy legislature, and depends on the support of other parties to push the government' s initiatives through the National Assembly. The HZhK has 18-19 parliament deputies, while "Hayastan," Yerkrapah's parliament faction, has nine or ten, and Bazeyan's Hanrapetutiun only a couple.

Despite some Yerkrapah deputies' reservations about specific government policies, observers consider it highly unlikely that very many of them would sever their ties with the HHK and join Hayastan in open opposition to it. Nor is it clear which other opposition parliament factions might join with the HZhK to form a new majority. In short, despite the tough talks from both the HHK and HZhK, the most recent predictions of the imminent disintegration of the Miasnutiun alliance are likely to prove just as overblown as similar predictions last year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 31, 3 August 2000 and No. 34, 24 August 2000). (Emil Danielyan)

...AS PRESIDENT REJECTS CURBS ON PRESIDENTIAL POWER. President Robert Kocharian said on 14 June that Armenia cannot afford to become a parliamentary republic because it needs a powerful head of state to successfully complete its decade-long transition to democracy and a market economy,. He thus reaffirmed his opposition to sweeping constitutional reform.

"I am convinced that personalized responsibility is very important for a country in transition in this region," he told reporters after presiding over a weekly cabinet meeting. "The parliamentary system of governance has its advantages with its emphasis on [decision-making] consensus. The existing system is semi-presidential and seeks to balance these two approaches."

The current Armenian Constitution, approved in a controversial referendum in 1995, concentrates sweeping powers in the office of president, ensuring the incumbent's supremacy over other branches of government. Growing calls for constitutional reform led in 1998 to the creation of a presidential commission tasked with suggesting amendments in the basic law. Kocharian has made it clear repeatedly that while being ready to cede some of his powers to the parliament and the government, he is against changing the existing system.

The presidential commission, which is dominated by pro-presidential lawyers, completed its work in March, submitting a package of draft amendments for Kocharian's consideration, the content of which has not yet been disclosed. They will have to be discussed by the parliament before being put to a referendum.

Most Armenian parties represented in the National Assembly, including the pro-Kocharian Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), advocate shifting to the parliamentary system that would make the government appointed by and accountable to the parliament. (Margarit Yesayan)

RETHINKING 'PHASED' VS. 'PACKAGE.' In an article published in the May issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Sodruzhhestvo," Vladimir Kazimirov, who from 1992 to 1996 served as Russia's representative to and co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group tasked with seeking to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, reviews the mediation process to date, analyses the current impasse, and suggests one approach to surmounting it.

The introductory section of Kazimirov's article deplores the failure to make any serious progress towards a political solution of the conflict since the signing of a cease-fire agreement in May 1994. He lays the blame for that failure on both Armenia and Azerbaijan, criticizing in particular efforts by the opposition in both countries to make use of the negotiating process to achieve their short-term political aims, specifically by taking a categorical stance on any concessions and thereby narrowing the leaderships' freedom of maneuver.

It is time, Kazimirov says, for all political factions on both sides to face up to their collective responsibility to reach a settlement of the conflict, as the opposition's "irresponsible" failure to do so poses a threat not only to them but to [unnamed] neighboring states. At the same time, the international community can and must insist that all mainstream political forces clearly commit themselves to seeking a swift and fair solution to all disputed issues by exclusively peaceful means.

What is needed, Kazimirov stresses, is an approach to conflict resolution that would bring about "historic reconciliation" and preclude a resumption of hostilities in the future. In that context, he warns against any attempt by either side to alter the geopolitical status quo to its advantage, since any such attempt by one side would prompt the other to do likewise and thus only serve to compound mutual suspicion and undermine the chances of reaching a peace agreement.

Comparing the relative merits of the "package" and "phased" approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Kazimirov assumes that during their face-to-face talks over the past two years, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents have been aiming for a "package" peace agreement that would simultaneously address all aspects of the conflict -- which is why the process has taken so long.

While conceding that a "package" deal is the ideal approach, he points out that it is difficult to achieve, and not without risks resulting from the confidentiality of the peace process, insofar as the apparent lack of any tangible progress engenders impatience on the part of both the Armenian and Azerbaijani public and distrust in their respective presidents. He therefore suggests that if the two presidents have in fact reached agreement on specific aspects of a settlement, they should consider whether it is expedient to make those points of agreement public. Alternatively, he proposes that the conflict parties could now switch to the "phased" approach, focussing on whatever aspects appear the most urgent at each successive stage.

Although Kazimirov does not say so, the use of the terms "phased" and "package" with reference to the Karabakh conflict originally addressed very specific aspects of a settlement. As former Armenian presidential advisor Gerard Libaridian explains in his 1999 study "The Challenge of Statehood. Armenian Political Thinking Since Independence," the phased approach favored by the OSCE Minsk Group until late 1996 entailed first reaching an agreement on the liberation of occupied territories, the return to their homes of displaced persons, the release of prisoners of war, and measures to strengthen the cease-fire, before proceeding to a discussion of the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh. That approach essentially constitutes the "land-for-peace" model," while a "package" settlement would take the "land-for-status" approach, aiming to resolves all aspects simultaneously.

Kazimirov advocates a new approach which he claims would help reduce mutual distrust. That model comprises several consecutive packages of mutual, if on occasion asymmetric, concessions. He points out that each of the three parties to the conflict -- Baku, Yerevan, and Stepanakert -- has its own priorities: Baku seeks the withdrawal of Armenian troops from seven occupied raions contiguous to Nagorno-Karabakh, Yerevan wants transport communications with Russia via Azerbaijan restored, and Stepanakert wants its status defined and guarantees of its security.

Therefore Kazimirov proposes that the first of several stages should comprise the withdrawal of Armenian forces from "a broad swathe of territory in southwestern Azerbaijan along the River Araks" (but apparently not from the strategic Lachin corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia) and the return to those districts of their Azerbaijani population; the restoration of rail communication between Baku and Yerevan; and the beginning of direct talks between Stepanakert and Baku on the future status and security of Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, the three leaders, possibly in consultation with the OSCE Minsk Group, would prioritize issues to be addressed in a second, and possibly a third and fourth, group of mutual compromises.

Kazimirov's initial proposal at first glance appears fair and reasonable, but the devil, as always, is in the details, specifically the timing. In that the occupied territories constitute Stepanakert's sole ace, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia are unlikely to agree to begin a withdrawal from any of those districts until agreement is reached both on the enclave's future status and on security guarantees, although reports such as that in "Aravot" on 9 June that Karabakh has for several months been engaged in preparing new lines of defense along its southern borders suggest that the Karabakh leadership may be preparing for an eventual withdrawal. In fact, Kazimirov's first package of compromises appears to be based on the package peace plan proposed by the Minsk Group in September 1997 and rejected by Stepanakert on the grounds that it did not provide adequate security guarantees for the unrecognized enclave. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DOWNPLAY IMPLICATIONS OF BUDGET REVENUE SHORTFALL. In May, for the fifth consecutive month, Georgia failed to meet the planned target for budget revenues. The most recent shortfall, estimated at between 3.8-4 million lari ($1.8-1.9 million), raises the total shortfall for the first five months of the year to over 60 million lari.

Commenting on the disappointing figures, Christopher Lane, the resident IMF representative in Tbilisi, told journalists on 6 June he thinks it may become necessary to sequester the budget by between 80-140 million lari. An IMF mission that visited Georgia in late April suspended payment, due in June, of a new loan tranche, warning the Georgian government that it should make efforts to reduce the budget shortfall. But the mission did not at that juncture raise the possibility of a budget sequester.

Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli said in late May, when it first became apparent that the month's target would not be met, that he did not believe it would prove necessary to sequester the budget. He predicted that the situation will improve greatly over the next two months. President Eduard Shevardnadze similarly assured journalists on 11 June that the issue is not yet on the agenda.

Georgia was constrained to sequester its budget by 300 million laris last year, reducing expenditures from the original 1.25 billion lari to 949 million lari, and planned revenues from 883 million to 679.9 million lari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The Karabakh issue is not a privatization tender to be kept secret." -- Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun member Hrant Markarian, speaking in Yerevan on 7 June (quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau).

"One of the conditions for a final settlement of the Karabakh conflict is the Karabakh side's participation in the negotiations. The people of Karabakh trust the Armenian president and are confident that he supports the principles adopted by Karabakh. But the Karabakh people must shape their own destiny themselves." -- Karabakh parliament speaker Oleg Yesayan, speaking on Armenian National Television on 11 June (courtesy of Groong).

"If I were the president of the Republic of Armenia I would not want others to support me just because they trust me as a person." -- National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian, quoted by the weekly "Iravunk" on 8 June