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Caucasus Report: July 9, 2001

9 July 2001, Volume 4, Number 25

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS CIVIL SERVICE BILL. In what observers in Yerevan have construed as a serious setback for President Robert Kocharian, parliament deputies on 28 June blocked the passage in the second reading of a key bill on the Armenian civil service. Only 63 deputies voted in favor of the bill, three less than required for its passage; two voted against, while the remaining deputies abstained. Those factions that failed to support the bill included the opposition Communist Party of Armenia, Artashes Geghamian's "Right and Accord," Hayastan, which is headed by former Premier Aram Sargsian, and some members of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), the junior partner in the majority Miasnution parliament bloc.

Objections to the bill focus specifically on its provision for a seven-member supervisory body, appointed by the president, that would decide on all key civil service appointments. Opposition parties, and also the HZhK, argue that this would place the entire state apparatus under direct presidential control and thus offset proposed safeguards against the arbitrary dismissal of bureaucrats. For that reason, they claim, the bill violates the constitution. Supporters of the bill say that it marks the first step towards eradicating widespread corruption, cronyism and protectionism within the government apparatus. "Orinats Yerkir" (Law-Based Country) parliament deputy Artur Baghdasarian pointed out the bill aims to raise professional standards, and that by insisting on specific professional qualifications it will prevent the appointment to civil service posts of unqualified individuals.

The original draft bill was amended following its rejection in the first reading in June 2000, and to address criticisms by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, according to "Azg" on 27 June. For example, while the original draft gave the president the exclusive right to nominate the members of the Civil Service Council, the amended draft stipulates that the council is to be formed by the president on the basis of proposals by the prime minister. The amended draft also deprives the president of the right to approve the council's regulations.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on 14 June, Kocharian characterized the amended draft as "perfect" and rejected as untrue claims that the Venice Commission still found fault with it. But prominent constitutional lawyer Vladimir Nazarian was quoted by the independent daily "Aravot" on 21 June as arguing that the very existence of a civil service council "which can decide the fate of tens of thousands of civil servants" is both anti-constitutional and undemocratic. Some parliamentarians have even suggested that, should the Constitutional Court uphold this interpretation, the draft could constitute grounds for launching impeachment proceedings against the president.

Some observers, however, have suggested that and individual parliamentarians may deliberately torpedoed the bill in a move to protect their own proteges within the bureaucracy. Kocharian's spokesman Vahe Gabrielian pointed out that many deputies who in the past have condemned corruption and cronyism nonetheless failed to support a draft law that would have helped combat such evils. Noting that "there is no civilized country that does not have a civil service law," Gabrielian said he is confident that the bill will eventually pass, according to "Aravot" on 30 June. Justice Minister David Harutiunian for his part told Noyan Tapan he believes many deputies "simply misunderstood" some provisions of the bill.

Meanwhile local chapters of the HZhK have demanded disciplinary action against two of the party's leading members, parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian and deputy speaker Gagik Aslanian, both of whom broke ranks and voted on 28 June in favor of the draft bill. (Liz Fuller)

HAS THE NEXT CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN BEGUN? In late June, former Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov published new proposals for ending the war in Chechnya and, by extension, deflecting the threat which that war poses to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Days later, Beslan Gantemirov, who is increasingly assuming the role of Moscow's point man on Chechnya, outlined his vision of how Chechnya should be administered once the war is ended. Both men aspire to the leading political role in post-war Chechnya, and each appears to perceive the other as a possible rival.

Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 June, Khasbulatov again slams the Russian leadership's chosen approach to "restoring constitutional order" in Chechnya. Specifically he condemns the "low professional level of those people who bear direct or indirect responsibility for resolving that task, [their] predilection for adventurism and illegal conspiratorial methods, their faith in the omnipotence of military-repressive-administrative pressure, their lack of discrimination in selecting from among local forces a partner with whom to cooperate."

As he has done in earlier articles (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 21, 26 May 2000 and Vol. 4, No. 1, 5 January 2001), Khasbulatov expresses particular concern that the Russian military's indiscriminate brutality towards the Chechen civilian population is compounding feelings of alienation towards everything Russian not only among Chechens but elsewhere in the North Caucasus. In order to halt that trend, he advocates first ending such "represssive" Russian military activity against civilians, and second, expanding the number of parties engaged in the search for a political solution to the conflict. He suggests that the Chechen population would hail the "internationalization" of the peace process, by which he explains that he means not internationally mediated peace talks but an international effort at peace enforcement aimed equally at the Russian military and the Chechen field commanders. As in earlier analyses, Khasbulatov claims there are individuals in both those camps who have a vested interest in prolonging hostilities indefinitely.

As for parties to peace talks, Khasbulatov proposes that they should include "the Chechen peoples and its intellectuals," whether currently living in Chechnya or in exile, the Russian federal authorities, the commanders of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, and the commanders of those Chechen military detachments fighting for independence. But he rejects as "a totally pointless undertaking" any attempt to revive the traditional Chechen institutions such as the teyps (clans) and council of elders (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 9, 5 March 2000), which he claims have outlived their usefulness. Social consensus in Chechnya, Khasbulatov argues, must be sought for not on the basis of teyp or religious affiliations or of allegedly "uniquely North Caucasus models," but of "shared civilized values recognized by the entire world community."

Echoing a suggestion he made in April that Chechnya be granted a unique status within the Russian Federation, Khasbulatov says the federal center must acknowledge that it made a "fatal mistake" in trying to impose on Chechnya "the status of some average Russian oblast" and administer the republic from Rostov (i.e. the power base of presidential representative to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev).

Gantemirov, for his part, took an entirely different tack at a press conference in Moscow on 29 June. First, he argued that the federal forces should continue their use of force to break the back of the Chechen resistance. Second, he advocated the drafting of a new Chechen constitution that "will not deviate one inch" from the Russian constitution. He said that Tatarstan's constitution would serve as a model for the new basic law, which would give Chechnya broad autonomy and preempt a further war. A trained lawyer, Gantemirov heads the commission to draft the new constitution.

Once hostilities have been ended, Gantemirov said, elections will be held, possibly as early as next spring, for a new Chechen parliament. That body, in turn, "may" decide that Chechnya should be a parliamentary, rather than a presidential republic. (Abolishing the post of president would undercut Khasbulatov's chances of playing a leading political role in the post-war order.) Gantemirov also told journalists that he has enlisted the support of Umar Avturkhanov, one of the leaders of the opposition to President Dzhokhar Dudaev in the autumn of 1994, Salambek Khadjiev, who served as Chechen premier for six months following the fall of Grozny in March 1995, and of Chechnya's deputy to the Russian State Duma, Aslanbek Aslakhanov. But he denied that he has asked Khasbulatov to head a working group to prepare for the planned elections. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "September 6 is Chechnya's Independence Day. After we destroy Russia, I will dance in [Tbilisi's main] Rustaveli Avenue on that day." -- Khizri Aldamov, Chechnya's representative to Georgia, quoted by "Akhali taoba" on 29 June.

"To delay the stationing of NATO forces in Georgia and Azerbaijan is a crime not only against those two countries but against the world community as well." -- Former Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy advisor Vafa Guluzade, quoted by Turan (28 June).

"Today there is a clear choice: either Robert Kocharian as president or Russia as an ally." -- National Accord Front board member Ashot Manucharian, quoted by Noyan Tapan on 27 June.