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Caucasus Report: December 8, 1998

8 December 1998, Volume 1, Number 41

Karabakh Peace Proposal As Political Football. President Levon Ter-Petrossian's advocacy in November 1997 of a swift solution to the Karabakh conflict based on mutual concessions (never clearly spelled out) while Armenia was still in a relatively strong negotiating position was the catalyst for internal opposition that ultimately precipitated his forced resignation last February. It was therefore to be anticipated that Ter-Petrossian's political allies would seek to downplay, or even discredit, the present Armenian leadership's endorsement of the most recent draft peace proposal by the OSCE Minsk Group one month ago.

Although the details of that proposal have not been made public, the Minsk Group co-chairmen have said that it calls for the creation by the Azerbaijan Republic and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic of a "common state." (The Azerbaijani leadership has categorically rejected that approach as violating the country's territorial integrity.) In addition, the new draft plan was based on the "package" approach favored by Yerevan and Stepanakert, i.e. it aimed to resolve all contentious issues simultaneously within one framework document, according to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.

Over the past two weeks, two leading members of the former majority Hanrapetutiun parliament faction have publicly questioned the reported essence of the new peace proposal. On 26 November, former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian told journalists that the new proposal "does not differ" from its antecedents, and is based on the so-called "Lisbon principles," which define Karabakh's future status under any formal settlement in terms of "broad autonomy" within Azerbaijan. One week later, parliament foreign affairs committee chairman Hovhannes Igitian similarly affirmed that the new proposal offers Karabakh no more than "broad autonomy," and makes no mention of the "common state" model. He further expressed his bewilderment at Azerbaijan's rejection of the new proposal, which Ararktsian had attributed to the desire to delay indefinitely a solution to the conflict.

In Baku, both pro-government and opposition parties have expressed their approval of the Azerbajiani leadership's rejection of the latest peace proposal. But opposition politicians have nonetheless made public their dissatisfaction with the country's Karabakh policy. The umbrella Movement for Democracy created in early November issued a statement last week arguing that the attempt by the OSCE Minsk Group to coerce Baku into accepting the "common state" model was the result of unspecified "concessions" on the part of the Azerbaijani leadership. The statement suggested that rather than continue hounding the independent media, the Azerbaijani leadership would be better engaged in trying to liberate the districts currently occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces.

In a personal report to the OSCE Foreign Ministers' meeting in Oslo on 2-3 December, OSCE Chairman Bronislaw Geremek gave details of his talks in Baku and Yerevan in late November, focussing specifically on the Azerbaijani leadership's rejection of the "common state" concept. But Geremek also noted that the conflict parties reiterated their commitment to the May 1994 ceasefire and agreed to a further exchange of prisoners. Finally, Geremek called on the Minsk Group co-chairmen to continue their mediation efforts, noting that all parties are unanimous that the OSCE Minsk Group is the only suitable framework for pursuing a settlement of the conflict. (Liz Fuller)

What Are The Obstacles To The Shevardnadze-Ardzinba Meeting? The planned meeting in Sukhumi at which Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba are to sign a protocol on the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons and a further declaration abjuring the use of force is looking increasingly remote. Ardzinba on 7 December laid the blame for the postponement squarely on the Georgian side, which he said had proposed changes that "drastically change the essence of both agreements and were tantamount to an ultimatum." Shevardnadze said in his weekly radio broadcast on 7 December that he could not agree to sign the proposed documents as they did not provide adequate security guarantees for the repatriants. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 December reported that it is the Abkhaz side that has set additional conditions which Tbilisi is reluctant to accept. One of those demands, the paper writes, is the dissolution of the so-called Abkhaz parliament and government in exile, which comprise ethnic Georgian parliament deputies and government ministers constrained to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war. The mandate of the Abkhaz parliament elected in late 1991 has expired, but Vladislav Ardzinba apparently bears a particular grudge against its chairman, Tamaz Nadareishvili. (Earlier this year, Ardzinba objected to Nadareishvili's inclusion in an official Georgian delegation to UN-sponsored talks on resolving the conflict.) Nadareishvili is also one of the leaders of the Georgian displaced persons, who, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" points out, would resolutely oppose the alleged Abkhaz demand. The second Abkhaz condition is no less contentious, namely that Tbilisi should disband and bring to trial members of the White Legion and Forest Brothers guerrilla formations, who systematically murder Abkhaz policemen in Gali raion. The central Georgian government disclaims any control over those bands, but Nadareishvili is believed to play the role of middleman between them and the Georgian leadership. (Liz Fuller)

Natelashvili's Credo. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau on 1 December, Labor Party chairman Shalva Natelashvili attributed his party's unexpectedly strong showing in the 15 November local elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 39, 24 November 1998) to the inadequate social policies of the present Georgian leadership, to its failure to restore control over Abkhazia, and above all to the fact that "people believed our ideas are right and just." Natelashvili stressed that "our program was not based on confrontation: we simply enumerated clearly and concisely what the problems are and how to overcome them. People saw themselves, their mirror image, in us: we are not corrupt." But asked to outline his program, Natelashvili said that as such it does not exist, except at a local level. The Labor Party's primary objectives, he said, are to battle corruption and to halt the closure of schools and the progressive dismantling of the country's health service. He argued that his demand -- which the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia has rejected as populist -- for free education and medical care is "perfectly normal for a civilized state," and would require only 20 million lari from the state budget. Natelashvili further expressed reservations about Georgia's relations with international financial organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank, saying it is "unacceptable" that they should dictate financial policy and deprive Georgia of its economic and financial sovereignty. Natelashvili characterized his primary foreign policy objective as rapprochement with Europe, advocating "introducing European values on a national foundation." But he insisted that Georgia should maintain strict military neutrality, and neither join NATO or agree to military cooperation with Russia. Asked whether it is not inevitable that a small country such as Georgia should be drawn into the sphere of influence of a superpower, Natelashvili said confidently that "if we declare our neutrality the superpowers will avoid a confrontation with us." Finally Natelashvili rejected rumors that his party has a shadowy but powerful backer, branding those persons who believe it does as in need of psychiatric help. In his words, "Our electorate is behind us -- brave, decent, honest, mostly young, and frequently starving." (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "Territorial integrity is not what it used to be." -- Bob Lamb of the American Philatelic Society, a propos the issuing of postage stamps by Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and other unrecognized republics "Armenian International Magazine," November 1998, p. 45.

"We are not asking anything from Georgia. If the Georgian side is not ready for a compromise, it should publicly declare it." -- Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in an interview with Abkhaz Radio, "News from Abkhazia," Vol. 1, No. 2, 5 December 1998.

"If demand doesn't take off, Caspian oil may become marginal, even non-viable. It's already on a knife-edge and needs to be exported in volume." -- Unnamed Western diplomat in Baku, Reuters, 2 December 1998.

"Federal Migration Service Director Tatyana Regent ... is well acquainted with the hatred, cultivated at the official level in recent years, towards so-called 'persons of Caucasian nationality.' And to propose in those circumstances that we should live in the regions of the Russian Federation is the height of cynicism on the part of Russia's top authorities." -- One of the Ingush fugitives from North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi raion, a propos the Russian government's offer to relocate those fugitives elsewhere in the Russian Federation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 3 December 1998.