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Caucasus Report: September 24, 1999

24 September 1999, Volume 2, Number 38

Baku Poll Shows Majority Opposes Compromises On Karabakh. Almost 90 percent of Azerbaijanis polled in Baku last week appear to be unhappy with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's direct talks with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, aimed at seeking a solution to the Karabakh conflict by means of mutual compromise.

Of a total of 160 respondents questioned by RFE/RL's bureau in the Azerbaijani capital on 14-17 September, 48.8 percent said they are against any compromises on the Karabakh issue and that the government should take a more resolute position in negotiations with Armenia. A further 40.6 percent said that there should be a limit on the compromises Azerbaijan is prepared to make, and that the authorities should keep the public informed about the content of the Aliev-Kocharian talks. Only 9.4 percent said they favor a solution to the conflict based on compromise.

Those findings parallel most opposition parties' rejection of the more conciliatory approach Aliyev has apparently adopted in his talks with Kocharian. On 22 September, Nureddin Askerli, press secretary of the Coordinating Council of Political Parties on Karabakh, told Turan that nine people who are still continuing with the hunger strike they launched one month ago to protest the leadership's Karabakh policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999) would abandon their fast the following day in favor of "more active" protests.

Asked whom they consider the best leader for Azerbaijan, 42.3 percent of responents named Aliyev (compared with 76.1 percent of the electorate who cast their votes for him in last October's presidential elections). But 46.3 percent opposed the prospect of Aliyev running for a third presidential term, while only 26.2 percent expressed approval of his doing so.

A surprise second in the popularity stakes, with a rating of 17.5 percent, was former President Ayaz Mutalibov, who since May 1992 has lived in exile in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 35, 2 September 1999). Whether that proclaimed confidence in Mutalibov is the result of the ongoing media campaign by his supporters or whether it derives from the belief that, with Moscow's backing, Mutalibov could force a settlement of the Karabakh conflict on Azerbaijan's terms, can only be guessed at.

In third place was Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar (16.9 percent), followed by exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev (13.1 percent), and Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov (8.7 percent). In sixth place was the first deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Ali Kerimov, with 8.1 percent, ahead of that party's chairman, former President Abulfaz Elchibey, who ranked eighth with 5.6 percent, ahead of Aliev's son Ilham, who occupied ninth place with 5 percent backing. (Liz Fuller)

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining. If there is any consolation to be derived by Moscow from the Chechen-led attacks on Daghestan and the growing danger of a new war in Chechnya precipitated by the Russian military's response to those attacks, and any way in which that situation can be manipulated to serve Russia's interests, then it lies in the opportunity that destabilization in the North Caucasus provides for exerting pressure on Azerbaijan and Georgia. Since early September, when Georgian border guards finally took responsibility for controlling the last stretch of Georgia's border with Russia, three prominent Russian politicians -- State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Duma Defense and Security Committee chairman Roman Popkovich, and Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Defense Ministry's Department for International Military Cooperation -- have availed themselves of that opportunity. All three claimed that arms, ammunition, and militants are reaching Daghestan and Chechnya via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Seleznev argued that Russia's southern borders with both countries should be closed to prevent further such shipments, which Ivashov conceded may have taken place without the direct involvement, or even the knowledge, of those countries' leaders.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry and Border Guards Department, and Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, have all denied those allegations. But those disclaimers did not prevent the Russian Foreign Ministry from sending a note to both Tbilisi and Baku warning of the "inadmissibility" of either directly abetting the Chechen militants or allowing mercenaries and arms to transit Georgia and Azerbaijan en route for Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported on 22 September, quoting an unnamed Georgian Foreign Ministry source. The note said that unless such traffic is halted, Moscow may raise the economic blockade of Abkhazia, halt the export of Azerbaijani oil via the Russian Federation, and even "use its international authority to prevent the construction of the oil pipeline through the territory of other countries." (Liz Fuller)

Volunteers From Some Ethnic Groups, But Not Others, Armed In Daghestan. One of the first, highly publicized measures adopted by Daghestan's leadership in response to the first Chechen incursion into Daghestan last month was to form detachments of volunteers who were theoretically to be armed and sent to fight the invaders alongside local Interior Ministry forces. Those volunteers were in due course sent to the front line, but they were not issued weapons, because of Moscow's fear that such arms might at some future date be used either against the center or by Lezgin separatists in southern Daghestan in a campaign to carve out their own independent statelet. By mid-September, the volunteers were protesting that manifestation of no confidence in their loyalty in statements addressed to the republican leadership in Makhachkala and to Moscow.

Whether in response to those protests, or independent of them, Daghestan's military commisar finally began issuing weapons -- but primarily to his Avar co-ethnics, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 September. The Avars are the largest ethnic group in Daghestan, accounting for 28 percent of the population, followed by the Dargins (16 percent), Kumyks (13 percent), Lezgins (12 percent) and Laks (5 percent). The Laks are reportedly angry at that overt discrimination. (Liz Fuller)

For A Change, A Modest North Caucasus Success Story. In January 1998, former CPSU Central Committee secretary and Primakov protege Aleksandr Dzasokhov was elected president of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania with a convincing 75 percent of the vote. Since then, the republic's new government, headed by 44-year-old construction engineer Taymuraz Mamsurov, has scored a series of successes in the economic and social sectors, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 September. It has legalized the underground production of vodka, which had become the major occupation following the collapse of the military-industrial complex (the single largest employer in the industrial sector during the Soviet era). It has increased budget contributions at all levels, liquidated the four-month backlog of unpaid wages, and raised public sector wages by 50 percent since the Russian financial crash of August 1998.

During the first six months of this year, industrial production in North Ossetia increased by 12 percent, and agricultural output by 10 percent, compared with the same period in 1998. As a result, in terms of per capita production, North Ossetia has risen from 63rd to 39th place among Russian Federation subjects.

Those achievements have, however, been offset by the failure of Mamsurov's government to crack down on endemic crime--a failure which is reflected in that government's disproportionately low popularity rating. (Liz Fuller)

Sarkisian's Creed Still A Puzzle After100 Days In Power. One hundred days is too short a period of time to assess a government's track record. The cabinet of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, which was installed after the 30 May parliamentary elections, is no exception. Yet one can already discern two contradictory trends characterizing the mentality and work style of the Armenian premier. Political uncertainty and a difficult economic situation force him to make top government appointments on the basis of personal loyalty rather than professional skills. But on the other hand, Sarkisian does not avoid contacts with other political and economic groups, listening attentively to everybody.

The question is which principles and considerations guide the former longtime defense minister in his decision making? So far there has been a certain dichotomy between his ideas and actions. While accepting the basic principles of liberalism and free market in public, Sarkisian continues to rely on tight personal control of his subordinates (backed up by administrative measures) in managing the country's day-to-day affairs.

Sarkisian's liberal rhetoric regularly includes references to principles of morality, ethics, and kindness. From the purely ideological point of view, his discourse is all but impeccable. However, few people in Armenia believe in words anymore. What the people want to see is concrete actions.

It is already obvious that Sarkisian will find it very hard to renounce a command style which tolerates no dissent. He practiced it with respect to the military and remains faithful to it in his current post. The cabinet's composition suggests that the prime minister is reluctant to see new figures in the highest ranks of the state apparatus. Bringing in newcomers is apparently too risky for him.

But it is also true that taking reasonable risks is inevitable in a democratic system of governance. The problem is that many members of Sarkisian's team are simply unable to work in a more democratic milieu. Paradoxically, they prod him into being more heavy-handed. And even though almost all government members are Sarkisian's loyalists, the premier does not utterly trust them, as evidenced by his personal interference in all policy areas. This ranges from working out Armenia's development strategy to sacking village chiefs. Sarkisian wants to be in control of virtually everything, but that is unlikely to be possible or to meet the demands of many important constituencies. (Vahan Hovannisian)

Quotations Of The Week. "There would be no oil contracts, and no Azerbaijan Republic, but for Heidar Aliev." -- Ilham Aliev, vice-president of the Azerbaijan State Oil Company SOCAR and Heidar's son, speaking at the 21 September ceremony to mark the fifth anniversary of the signing of the "Deal of the Century" to develop the Azeri, Chirag and Gyuneshli Caspian oil fields (quoted by Turan).

"We must forget the notions 'an Armenian from the Diaspora,' 'an Armenian from Armenia,' 'an Armenian from Artsakh.' We are one people, we have always been together, and we are invincible as long as we are together." -- Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (quoted by Noyan Tapan, 22 September).