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Caucasus Report: March 9, 1999

9 March 1999, Volume 2, Number 10

Armenian Ex-President Sees No Progress On Karabakh. Levon Ter-Petrossian said on 5 March that the present Armenian leadership has failed to achieve any progress in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Ter-Petrossian said he still believes that the Armenians must offer more concessions to Azerbaijan to end the decade-long territorial dispute.

Ter-Petrossian was speaking to reporters for the first time since his resignation. He made these comments at a congress of his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh). He stepped down in February 1998 after failing to win the government's support for a then existing plan on Karabakh, put forward by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. His key ministers, led by then Prime Minister and current President Robert Kocharian, rejected that plan, which reportedly upheld Azerbaijani sovereignty over the Armenian-populated disputed enclave.

"I haven't changed my position," Ter-Petrossian said. "I knew the way for a solution. If they (the authorities) delay with that solution we won't get even half of what were offered in 1997."

The OSCE Minsk Group unveiled a new plan in November 1998 based on the idea of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. That proposal has been overall accepted by the Armenian and Karabakh authorities, who have called it a major improvement over previous ones. But Baku has firmly rejected the idea, saying that it does not guarantee Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.

Ter-Petrossian last week played down the amended OSCE plan and said the absence of progress in the Karabakh peace process is what matters most. "Nothing has changed in Karabakh. The situation has remained the same," he said.

In a now famous discourse three months prior to his resignation, Ter-Petrossian warned that the OSCE negotiators will impose the former Karabakh plan on the Armenian side if it refuses to accept it. Ter-Petrossian also indicated that no improvement has occured over the past year in other areas, either. "I quit to prevent things from deteriorating. I do not regret [my resignation]," he said.

The ex-president, known for his aloofness and avoidance of the press, has lived in seclusion since leaving office, making very few public appearances. He initially refused to answer any questions but then gave in, besieged by reporters.

Ter-Petrossian showed up at the HHSh congress as the former ruling party struggles to stay in the political arena following the flight of its chairman in the face of murder charges. Vano Siradeghian, who served as interior minister under Ter-Petrossian from 1992-1996, has been accused by prosecutors of organizing contract killings while in power. The ex-president repeated his condemnation of the authorities over the charges, describing them as "disgraceful."

Ter-Petrossian said he is still a member of the HHSh but will not seek any posts in the center-right party. Nor will he stand as a candidate in the May parliamentary elections. In his words, despite many "mistakes" during its eight-year rule, the HHSh must try to restore its formerly strong positions in Armenia.

The first president of independent Armenia refused, however, to acknowledge as a mistake the 1994 ban on the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD, Dashnak party), a move which many believe cast a shadow on his leadership's once democratic image."The HHD was engaged in terror," he claimed. "I thereby prevented further terror. You should be grateful because there were no acts of terror from 1994 to 1998. The ban has proved to be absolutely justified."

Dozens of Dashnak activists were charged with "terrorism" and coup plotting in what appeared to be politically motivated trials. Most of them were released from jail shortly after Kocharian came to power. The HHD has been one of Kocharian's leading allies ever since.

Asked about ongoing political developments in Armenia and his possible to return to politics, Ter-Petrossian gave mostly evasive answers. He rejected the argument that he is leading a quiet life, saying: "I hold meetings almost every day." But there have been no meetings with any of the current government officials, he said. Also, according to Ter-Petrossian, he now enjoys reading books on "social psychology" and American politics. "I'm learning," he said. (Armen Dulian, Emil Danielyan)

A New Strategic Partnership? Over the past two months, Azerbaijani Presidential Foreign Policy advisor Vafa Guluzade has repeatedly argued that Azerbaijan needs to host Turkish, U.S. or NATO military bases on its territory in order to counter the threat Baku sees in Russian deliveries of defensive weapons systems to the Russian military base in Armenia. The publicity and controversy generated by Guluzade's statements has overshadowed Georgia's intensive security and defense oriented cooperation with Turkey and other NATO states. Georgia, like most other former Soviet republics, signed up for NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1994, and also signed its first defense cooperation agreement with Turkey in June 1997, whereby Ankara undertook to provide training for Georgian officers. But bilateral defense cooperation with the U.S., Turkey, and Greece has taken off since Vardiko Nadibaidze, a career Soviet army officer, was replaced as Georgian defense minister last spring by West Point graduate Davit Tevzadze.

The most recent Georgian-Turkish agreements were signed in Tbilisi last week during a visit by several senior Turkish military officials. One of those agreements provides for Turkish financial and technical aid to the Georgian armed forces over a five-year period, including training for Georgian military personnel in Turkey. (It is not clear whether the financial aid in question is in addition to $5.5 million allocated to Tbilisi by Ankara for defense purposes last year.) A second protocol covers the modernization of Georgian military training facilities.

Meeting with Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Grigol Katamadze on 4 March, Lieutenant-General Engin Alan, who commands Turkey's Special Troops, said he hopes that the level of defense cooperation between the two countries will serve as a model for equally fruitful cooperation in other spheres.

Military cooperation is, however, only one facet of what Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze referred to during his visit to Turkey late last month as a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. A major component of that partnership is the U.S.-backed plan for an east-west energy corridor through Georgia, which is paralleled by the EU-sponsored TRACECA program to create a road, rail, and ferry network linking Central Asia with Turkey and Europe. But Shevardnadze, ever mindful of Moscow's increasingly hysterical reaction to perceived U.S. attempts to incorporate the South Caucasus into its sphere of influence, was swift to add that that "strategic partnership" is not intended to damage any third party. And speaking in Tokyo several days later, Shevardnadze ruled out the possibility that Georgia might host Turkish military bases on its territory. (Liz Fuller)

Georgian Opposition Politicians Assess Soviet Period. On 24 February, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau hosted a roundtable discussion pegged to the 78th anniversary (on 25 February) of the annexation of independent Georgia by Soviet Russia. The participants were Stalin Society chairman and Socialist Party member Grigol Oniani and National Independence Party chairman Irakli Tsereteli, one of the original young Georgian radicals who began their political careers in the 1980s under the tutelage of Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

Taking into account that the two politicians occupy diametrically opposite poles of the Georgian political spectrum, moderator Davit Paichadze began by asking Oniani to name the negative, and Tsereteli the positive results of the crushing of the independent Georgian Democratic Republic in 1921. Both sought to avoid that question: Tsereteli affirmed that "as a democratic and pro-Western politician I consider independence a supreme human value, and for that reason 25 February 1921 was one of the blackest days in Georgia's history." But Tsereteli nonetheless conceded that the Georgian nation had survived and that the Soviet period was not devoid of achievements. Oniani made a similar point, noting that in November 1920 Georgian Prime Minister Noe Zhordania had acknowledged that the country was on the verge of catastrophe, and that had it not been for the Soviet intervention Georgia could not have survived as a separate territorial entity, but would have been carved up between Russia and Turkey. From that point of view, Oniani reasoned, the Soviet intervention constituted the lesser of two evils.

Asked to name the most important developments during the period 1921-1991, Tsereteli singled out the 1924 uprising against Soviet rule, the Tbilisi pro-independence demonstration of 9 April 1989, and the declaration by the Georgian parliament of the republic's independence from the USSR two years later. Oniani, for his part, noted the rapid growth of the Georgian population -- from 1.5 million in 1920 to over 5 million in 1991 -- and the fact that Tbilisi had evolved from a city in which most prominent positions were occupied by Armenians to "a truly Georgian city."

A heated argument erupted during discussion of Paichadze's next question, which focussed on an evaluation of those positive achievements during the Soviet period which have been successfully preserved, and those negative consequences that still remained to be overcome. In the latter category, Tsereteli noted that Russia still maintains a military presence in Georgia. Oniani observed that "we have nothing positive left to preserve, we've lost everything positive -- Georgia's territorial unity, a strong economy, heavy and light industry, a culture that was acclaimed worldwide -- none of it exists any longer."

Paichadze's final question to the two party leaders was "Where would you be if today were 25 February 1921?" Tsereteli responded without hesitation that he would take up arms and take to the streets with the aim of killing as many Russian soldiers as he could in defense of Georgia's independence. Oniani affirmed, "with dignity," as he himself stressed, that "I would be with Russia." (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "Dashnaktsutyun believes that Robert Kocharian should assume the role of the guarantor of free and fair elections." -- Armen Rustamian, a member of the HHD's ruling board, speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 4 March (Quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau).

"Georgia will not be admitted into NATO even if we wanted to join NATO very much. [...] Neither NATO, nor Georgia are prepared for Georgia's accession." -- Georgian President Eduard Shevarnadze, speaking at the National Press Club in Tokyo on 5 March.