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Caucasus Report: June 23, 2000

23 June 2000, Volume 3, Number 25

Former Azerbaijani Presidential Advisor Launches Another Trial Balloon. In the course of a career that spanned almost four decades, Vafa Guluzade has been a Soviet diplomat, Communist Party functionary, and advisor to three successive presidents of Azerbaijan. But his most recent role is undoubtedly that which appears to have brought him the greatest publicity and satisfaction.

Over the past 18 months, Guluzade has made a series of controversial foreign policy proposals that emphasize the Azerbaijani leadership's unequivocally pro-Western orientation. In January 1999, for example, Guluzade suggested that Azerbaijan should host a NATO, Turkish or U.S. military base. Most recently, he has advocated that Azerbaijan become part of a Greater Turkey, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 June. Guluzade's rationale for that proposal was that "the world does not want to help Azerbaijan solve its problems, the Council of Europe and NATO do not experience any burning desire to invite us to join their ranks, and the U.S. does not intend to repeal Article 907 [which bars direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan]." If Azerbaijan were to become a part of Turkey, Guluzade reasoned, "we, like the whole people of Turkey, would automatically become a NATO member [and] an EU candidate, Article 907 would lose its relevance, and the occupation of Karabakh would become a question of Turkey's territorial integrity."

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" also quoted Guluzade as affirming that "the very concept 'Azerbaijani' is an anachronism from the Soviet period. Our language is Turkish, and by nationality we are Turks."

Some analysts assumed at the time of Guluzade's first such trial balloon last year that he was acting with the tacit approval of, or even on instructions from, President Heidar Aliev. But in a lengthy interview published in "Zerkalo" last month, Guluzade said the initiative was entirely his own, and that he did not discuss it with anyone beforehand.

That "Zerkalo" interview is also significant for the insights Guluzade provides into the characters of both President Aliyev and his predecessor Abulfaz Elchibey, whom Guluzade has known since their student days. Guluzade says that as a member of a former aristocratic family that had suffered during the Stalin purges, he himself was at that time a "hidden dissident." Elchibey, by contrast, "grew up in a proletarian family, and apparently liked the Soviet system, he was in Komsomol member.... His quarrels with the regime began when he came to Baku, as having little aptitude for languages he didn't speak Russian. He was outraged that in order to succeed, he needed to know Russian. That's where his nationalism arose from."

Guluzade says that he had "tremendous sympathy" for the Popular Front (of which Elchibey had become chairman) that came to power in May 1992, "because it was the first anti-communist and nationalist" leadership Azerbaijan had had. But he admits that he became progressively more alarmed at the new leadership's inability to restore order.

Guluzade also sheds light on his working relations with Aliev, whom he first got to know in 1973. At that time, Guluzade (an Arabist by training) was serving in the Soviet Embassy in Cairo, and Aliyev was First Secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. Guluzade characterizes Aliyev as "a complex personality," but an excellent judge of character. "He wipes his feet on those who deserve that kind of treatment." He also ranks Aliyev as "the most democratic" of the three presidents for whom he worked, but he adds that in contrast to Ayaz Mutalibov, whom he portrays as being wholly manipulated by Moscow, no one ever enters Aliev's office unless they are summoned.

But Guluzade's most outspoken statements relate to his perception of Russia's foreign policy. Asked why he is "so anti-Russian," Guluzade replies: "I am not anti-Russian. I have an accurate understanding of Russia's policy in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, in the world. Russia is an expansionist state....Russia settled Armenians on our territory in order to have a Christian forepost from which to launch an attack on Turkey and beyond.... Russia's policy is hostile to all the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia."

On the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, Guluzade is pessimistic, saying that a settlement is impossible at present, partly because Russia doesn't want one and is dragging out the negotiations. Arguing that "we should not deceive ourselves and let others be deceived." he advocates a single-minded effort to build up Azerbaijan's military strength.

Karabakh is, however, not the most serious problem facing Azerbaijan, according to Guluzade. More frightening, he says, is the prospect of a new power struggle after Aliyev leaves the political scene. He recalls that all previous power struggles in Azerbaijan over the past decade have been accompanied by the loss of a chunk of Azerbaijan's territory, and a new struggle could precipitate the loss of its status as an independent state if, as he fears, Russia chooses that moment to intervene. Guluzade says he does not exclude the possibility of a peaceful transition of power, but hopes that Aliev's successor does not come to power as the result of a coup. Aliev's mission, he says, is to exclude that possibility and ensure a democratic transition. (Liz Fuller)

Karabakh President Addresses Image Problem. On 18 June, the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic held elections -- not recognized by the international community as legitimate -- to a new 33-deputy parliament. Addressing the enclave's population on the eve of the ballot, President Arkadii Ghukasian sought to redress the damage inflicted on the republic's image by the wave of arrests that followed the unsuccessful attempt on his life on 22 March. Ghukasian suffered severe leg injuries in that attack and was released from hospital in Yerevan only on 17 June. The most prominent target of the crackdown was the enclave's former army commander and Defense Minister, Samvel Babayan, whom investigators say masterminded the attempt to assassinate Ghukasian. The two men had been at odds since last summer (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 27, 8 July 1999 and No. 50, 17 December 1999). Babayan's arrest and detention effectively prevented the opposition Armenian National Democratic Party, which he founded last September, from contesting the parliamentary poll.

In his 17 June TV address, Ghukasian, without naming any names, attributed the attempt on his life to elements who could not adapt to peacetime conditions (which he termed a classic post-war phenomenon), and who "are blackmailing society with the threat of a new war" (a clear allusion to statements Babayan made while still Defense Minister). He condemned as "false romanticism" attempts to rationalize the unspecified "crimes" those persons have committed, arguing that they must and should be punished, or "we could be deprived of the future we deserve."

But at the same time, Ghukasian said that the authorities, too, "must not be ashamed to confess our mistakes and attempt to correct them." In a hint that other officials may be vulnerable to censure, he said that "we must evaluate the actions of every state body, every official, to clarify whether these actions correspond to the law." That statement could be intended as a warning to the enclave's controversial premier, Anushavan Danielian. Danielian assumed the duties of president while Ghukasian was hospitalized, and in that capacity was responsible for the sacking of Babayan's brother Karen from his post as mayor of Stepanakert.

Ghukasian stressed the importance of the parliamentary poll, noting that "as yet we do not have a constructive opposition or an independent press" that could serve as a check on the actions of the executive. For that reason, he continued, "the parliament ... will have to be the main controlling mechanism for the executive structures of power."

At the end of his address, Ghukasian assured the population of Karabakh that the enclave "will not divert from the path of independence," and "does not intend to avoid open and honorable dialogue with all those who take into consideration the interests of our nation." He added that "we are also ready to resolve any disagreements with Azerbaijan if, of course, its leadership also has the same desire." Meeting with foreign journalists the following day, Ghukasian affirmed his readiness "to sit down at the negotiating table for three-way discussions with Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve the question of Nagorno-Karabakh." (Liz Fuller)

Ethnic Tensions Flare Up Again In Southern Georgia. Two incidents this month in the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Djavakheti in southern Georgia have spotlighted the latent animosity between the regions Armenian and Georgian communities. And recent ill-considered moves by the Georgian authorities may exacerbate those tensions.

On 1 June (the religious festival of St. Nino, who converted the Georgians to Christianity in the fourth century A.D.) fighting broke out in the district of Ninotsminda, apparently between local Armenian residents and Georgian pilgrims and clergy. Then on 12 June, Armenians from Ninotsminda who were returning from a visit to Armenia clashed with Georgian border guards at a border post.

Georgia's National Security Council has created a special commission to clarify the circumstances of that latter incident. But at the same time, the Georgian presidential representative in Djavakheti, Gigla Baramidze, has risked further alienating the region's Armenian population by warning that all local officials who do not acquire spoken and written fluency in Georgian within the next three years will be dismissed. Baramidze's appointment of an Armenian alleged to be engaged in smuggling to head the Akhalkalaki local administration has compounded the anger of the Armenian population, many of whom risk losing their jobs when the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki is closed.

Nor is Djavakheti the only potential ethnic flashpoint in southern Georgia. Tensions between Georgians and Armenians exist also in the Tsalka region which borders on Akhalkalaki to the north east. Until recently, the majority of Tsalka's 25,000 population were Greeks, with Armenians the second largest ethnic group and Georgians comprising only approximately 10 percent of the total population. (At the time of the 1989 Soviet census, there were some 100,000 Greeks in Georgia. That figure has now sunk to 50,000 partly as a result of the exodus of 15,000 Pontic Greeks from Abkhazia during the 192-1993 war. Last year, the Greek government adopted legislation simplifying the naturalization process for Greek immigrants from the former USSR.)

The outmigration of Greeks from Tsalka has left empty many houses that the Georgian government intended to appropriate and auction off, regional governor Levan Mamaladze said last August. But some members of the local population (whether the remaining Greeks or the Armenians is not clear), apparently oppose those plans: "Alia" on 20 June quoted Mamaladze as accusing unidentified "provocateurs" from preventing an influx of Georgians to Tsalka. Earlier in June, Nationalist Party of Georgia leader Zaza Vashakmadze warned that the situation in Tsalka is comparable to that in Abkhazia in the late 1980s. He claimed that the Georgian minority are deprived of Georgian-language education for their children, and are under pressure to leave the region. (Liz Fuller)

New Political Alliances Take Shape In Georgia. Former Georgian Communist Party First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili and People's Party chairman Mamuka Giorgadze announced in Tbilisi on 15 June the formation of an umbrella organization "For an Integral Georgia," Caucasus Press reported. Giorgadze had been campaign manager for Patiashvili's unsuccessful presidential election bid in April. The new movement's general director is Avtandil Margiani, who in 1989 succeeded Patiashvili as Georgian CP First Secretary. The movement, which will be transformed into a political party this fall, unites 29 political parties of varying orientations including some supporters of deceased president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the Stalinist wing of the Georgian Communist Party. Its stated objectives are to restore Georgia's territorial integrity and end the current economic crisis.

Patiashvili was hitherto aligned with Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, and was elected to parliament last November on Abashidze's Union of Revival Party List. His decision to contest the presidential poll without first consulting Abashidze, who had also signaled his intention to do so, gave rise to speculation of a rift within the Union. Shortly after the April presidential poll, Patiashvili announced he intended to step down as leading of the parliament minority faction to devote more time to his own political activities.

On 20 June, a second Abashidze ally, Union of Traditionalists of Georgia chairman Akaki Asatiani and Liberal Economic Union chairman Beso Djugheli announced the formation of an opposition union named "Right-Wing Alternative" that is intended to serve as an umbrella for parties that support Abashidze. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "What I want is to walk into [Abkhaz President Vladislav] Ardzinba's office and say 'Good morning, Vladislav Grigorevich,' and smile. And perhaps even shake his hand before he dies." -- Zurab Samushia, leader of the White Legion Georgian guerrillas over whom the Georgian leadership claims to have no control, in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily," 20 June.

"It is very difficult to deceive me; in fact, it is actually impossible." -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, quoted by Caucasus Press, 19 June.

"They thought they were gods and kings...and that everything they do is right. But they have fallen victim to what they created." -- General Arkadii Ter-Tadevosian, head of the new union of Karabakh war veterans, describing the leadership of the rival Yerkrapah Union. In "Azg," 20 June.