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Caucasus Report: August 6, 2001

6 August 2001, Volume 4, Number 28

BAKU IGNORES MINSK GROUP'S CAUTION AGAINST SABRE-RATTLING... Perhaps the most significant aspect of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen's visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan last month was the contrast between the official statements made during and after discussions by the two countries' leaderships. The Armenian side reaffirmed its commitment to resolving the Karabakh conflict only by peaceful means, building on the "Paris principles" agreed on in talks in March-April between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev. Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who met with the co-chairs, pledged that Armenia will not violate the cease-fire agreement signed in 1994.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev, by contrast, denied that any such Paris principles had ever been agreed to and blamed the stalemate in the settlement talks on Yerevan's "unconstructive attitude," as did Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev, who also accused Armenia of "systematic" violations of the cease-fire. President Aliev, for his part, accused the Minsk Group co-chairs of bias towards Armenia by refusing to condemn Yerevan's violations of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity which, he argued, the OSCE is bound to uphold, and by demanding greater compromises from Azerbaijan than from Armenia. Quliev commented that the co-chairs' visit failed to yield "positive results," a point of view shared by several Azerbaijani opposition political figures, including Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) Chairman Etibar Mamedov and the chairman of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Ali Kerimov. Quliev told the independent daily "Ekho" that Azerbaijan "cannot accept the status quo," and that military action to redress the balance "cannot be ruled out." ANS quoted the foreign minister as arguing that "either Azerbaijan should resolve the conflict on its own, or the OSCE should do it." Aliev, too, warned the mediators that if the peace process drags on indefinitely, "unanticipated events" could lead to "another tragedy."

Those statements by Quliev and Aliyev were made after the release on 11 July of a statement in which the co-chairs registered their concern at "bellicose rhetoric" that "only exacerbates tensions and increases the risk of renewed conflict." "Calls for a military solution to the conflict are irresponsible. We encourage all politicians, leaders of political, public, and religious organizations...and all people of good will to demonstrate restraint and responsibility by avoiding any actions or statements that could aggravate the situation and harm the delicate peace process," the co-chairs continued. (Liz Fuller)

...BUT FORMER AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS SEEK SUPPORT FOR MILITARY OPTION. Among those Azerbaijanis who also argue that Armenia's refusal to compromise may render a new war inevitable are former presidential advisor Eldar Namazov and former Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov. In March, shortly after the special Azerbaijani parliament session to discuss the leaked earlier Minsk Group peace proposals, the two men had unveiled an "Initial Platform towards a Settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 11, 16 March 2001). More recently, together with Nazim Imanov, a leading member of AMIP, and Sabit Bagirov, who served as president of the Azerbaijan state oil company under the Azerbaijan Popular Front leadership, they have drafted a "Charter" outlining priorities and ways to resolve the Karabakh conflict, and are soliciting support for that document from the country's political parties.

In an interview with "Zerkalo" published on 21 July, Namazov lists as priorities that must be addressed in a settlement the liberation of occupied Azerbaijani territories "both within Nagorno-Karabakh and beyond," the repatriation of displaced persons, and "granting to both the Armenian and Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh a status that does not violate the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan."

Namazov said that the leaders of most political parties, including Civic Unity Party Chairman and former President Ayaz Mutalibov, have appended their signatures to the charter, as have 20 parliament deputies and some 300 NGOs. The only political parties that declined to do so were the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, whose leaders explained that they cannot defy President Aliev, and the influential opposition Musavat Party headed by Isa Gambar.

Namazov argued that the groundswell of support for the charter reflects both the degree to which the hitherto fragmented opposition has closed ranks, and the growing realization among the population at large that individual opinions do carry some weight. In that context, he cited the rationale advanced by the Minsk Group co-chairs for the indefinite postponement of the meeting between Aliyev and Kocharian scheduled for Geneva in mid-June -- namely, that both presidents needed more time to prepare public opinion for the unpalatable compromises that a peace agreement would necessitate.

The charter affirms that Azerbaijan would be justified in launching a military campaign if Armenia refuses to withdraw from "our lands." Asked whether the Azerbaijani army should simply try to restore the Azerbaijani government's control over Nagorno-Karabakh, or advance into Armenia, Namazov replied that "as soon as we liberate our occupied territories, Azerbaijan should raise the question of the return of the lands that were annexed to Armenia with the help of the Bolsheviks at the beginning of the last century. This issue is extremely important both in terms of restoring historical justice and from the point of view of prevent further Armenian expansion against Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan should not attack Armenia. But having got back Karabakh, we must give the Armenians to understand that in the event of a new attack on us, the next war will end with them losing Geycha [Lake Sevan] and Zangezur." (Liz Fuller)

WHY WAS CHECHEN PROSECUTOR REPLACED PREMATURELY? Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov on 25 July named Vsevolod Chernov acting Chechen prosecutor, replacing Viktor Dakhnov, ITAR-TASS reported. That appointment was termed a routine half-yearly rotation, but in fact Dakhnov was named prosecutor only in April, replacing Chernov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2001).

Chernov told journalists on 25 July following the announcement of his renewed appointment that he will seek above all to protect human rights. Two days later, he told Interfax that "special efforts" will be made to solve "sensational crimes," including those believed to have been committed by Russian army or Interior Ministry personnel. That statement raises the question whether Dakhnov was replaced because of his handling of the investigation into brutality and reprisals against civilians committed by Russian military and Interior Ministry personnel during a security sweep in early July in the villages of Kurchaloi, Sernovodsk, and Assinovskaya. Dakhnov said on 19 July that the preliminary investigation had established that "isolated" cases of brutality occurred, but that "the excessively cruel acts by the military could have been partly provoked by certain actions of local residents." On 19 July, Dakhnov told journalists that a similar security sweep in the Grozny suburb of Raduzhnoe, in which two Chechens disappeared without trace, was justified in that it yielded a cache of heavy weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 July 2001). (Liz Fuller)

KREMLIN TO BACK DZASOKHOV FOR RE-ELECTION? Despite his life-long membership of first the CPSU and then the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin will support Aleksandr Dzasokhov's campaign to win a second term as president of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania in the poll scheduled for January 2002, "Vremya novostei" predicted on 26 July. According to that newspaper, recent visits to North Ossetia by senior Russian officials, the officially stated purpose of which was to monitor the outflow of displaced persons from Chechnya, were in fact intended to demonstrate support for Dzasokhov and his team. The paper quoted Aleksandr Abramov, a deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, as saying that "positive trends" in North Ossetia are the "direct consequence of the activities of the [republican] leadership...and of President Aleksandr Dzasokhov." He added that "we would like the elections to be legally based, to be held without any incidents and that the residents of the republic should vote for our respected president, President of the Republic of North Ossetia Aleksandr Dzasokhov."

In a recent roundtable discussion moderated by RFE/RL's Russian Service (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 27, 24 July 2001), Dzasokhov admitted that he faces serious competition from former North Ossetian Premier Sergei Khetagurov, who currently chairs the Council for Non-Ferrous Metal Industrial Enterprises. Khetagurov left the republic after losing to Akhsarbek Galazov in the 1994 North Ossetian presidential poll and has subsequently served as a deputy to Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, whose support he can still count on.

Khetagurov has reportedly already begun marshalling his cohorts and unofficially embarked on his election campaign; and his reputation for toughness has, according to "Vremya novostei," convinced many Ossetians that he is the sole figure who can "restore the grandeur of the republic." In short, despite Abramov's ringing endorsement of his rival, Khetagurov is likely to prove a formidable opponent. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "It is impossible for the country's president not to have any political convictions. It is impossible to be engaged in politics without representing a political party." -- Former Armenian Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, in a speech to a local chapter of the Republican Party of Armenia in which he argued that President Robert Kocharian should resign (quoted by Noyan Tapan on 31 July).

"We want our people to be more nationalist." -- Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, commenting on his promotion of the transition to the Latin alphabet (quoted by Space TV on 1 August, courtesy of Groong).