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Caucasus Report: April 27, 2007

Nagorno-Karabakh Gears Up For Presidential Election

By Liz Fuller

President Arkady Ghukasian has endorsed the head of the region's National Security Service (file photo)

April 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Two candidates have announced their intention to participate in the July 19 presidential elections in the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, and at least one more is expected to do so.

Baho Sahakian, who currently heads the republic's National Security Service, and Vanya Ovanesian, a professor at Artsakh State University, reportedly announced their candidacies on April 20, the first day of nominations. Deputy Foreign Minister Masis Mayilian, who in early April declared his readiness to participate in the ballot, has not yet been formally nominated.

Presidential Endorsement

Incumbent Arkady Ghukasian, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, on April 20 effectively endorsed Sahakian.

Sahakian also has the support of Ghukasian's Democratic Artsakh Movement (ZhAM), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on April 20. And, according to opinion polls cited by the daily "Azat Artsakh" on April 16, he enjoys greater popularity than other prospective candidates.

The ZhAM is reportedly trying to persuade three other parties to throw their weight behind Sahakian's candidacy -- the junior partner in the coalition government, Azat Hayrenik (Free Fatherland); and two opposition parties, the Karabakh chapter of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), and the Movement-88 party.

Those four parties have issued a statement positively assessing Ghukasian's track record since his election as president in September 1998 to succeed Robert Kocharian, who was elected Armenian president in March 1998, reported on April 19.

They further affirmed their readiness to back a single presidential candidate capable of tackling the problems the republic still faces; namely, achieving international recognition of the NKR as an independent sovereign state, rendering its leadership structure more democratic, and improving the socioeconomic and demographic situations.

The joint statement did not, however, identify any specific candidate as meeting those requirements. And Artur Mosiyan, a leading member of the Karabakh HHD chapter, declined on April 20 to confirm to RFE/RL that his party will support Sahakian.

Ballot Absentees

In February, it was rumored that former Armenian Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Artur Aghabekian would be the HHD candidate for Karabakh president, but Aghabekian subsequently registered as a party list candidate for the HHD in the May 12 Armenian parliamentary election.

Boris Arushanian, chairman of the small extra-parliamentary Armenakan party, told journalists in Stepanakert on April 10 that his party will not nominate its own candidate as it has neither the resource nor the influence to do so, but will support a "decent, strong-willed candidate with professional expertise" and whose election program is most compatible with his party's goals, reported.

Kosovo No Precedent
Azerbaijan has been active in Brussels making sure Europe sees the difference between Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh. more
Where Things Stand
OSCE Minsk Group negotiators fear elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan could endanger all hope of a Karabakh settlement. more

Is Putin's CFE Threat Aimed At Caucasus?

By Liz Fuller
April 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- On one level, President Vladimir Putin's announcement in his annual address to the nation on April 26 that Russia may suspend its compliance with the amended 1999 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) is nothing new, given that for the past two years, senior Russian diplomats have repeatedly threatened to withdraw from that treaty completely.

The 1999 revised version of the treaty imposes strict limitations on the quantities of combat helicopters, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery that signatories may deploy on their territory, and specifically in the sensitive so-called "flank" zones, which in the case of Russia are the North Caucasus and Pskov and Kaliningrad oblasts.

A buildup of tanks and artillery in the North Caucasus (where Russia is already suspected of having exceeded its allowed CFE limits by virtue of the deployment of armor and artillery in Chechnya and neighboring republics since 1999) could, however, pose a threat to Georgia.

Timed For Impact?

It may be significant that Putin's announcement was made at a time when both Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli are abroad, and shortly after Saakashvili unveiled plans for "resolving" the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia by offering terms that both sides are almost certain to reject.

Such a rejection could in turn be adduced as fueling the Georgian argument that as diplomatic means have failed, the only way to bring those regions back under the control of the central Georgian government is by force. Putin's April 26 statement could herald a Russian military buildup in the North Caucasus intended to deter Tbilisi from any such military incursion.

The United States and other NATO members have declined to ratify the amended CFE Treaty until Russia complies, first, with its commitments (as set out in Paragraph 19 of the Istanbul Summit Declaration adopted at the OSCE summit in November 1999) to "complete withdrawal of Russian forces from the territory of Moldova by the end of 2002," and second, with the bilateral agreement appended as an annex to the Final Act of the November Istanbul Conference, and which sets a timetable for the closure (now close to completion) of the four Russian military bases in Georgia.

The signatories to the Final Act pledge to "move forward expeditiously to facilitate completion of national ratification procedures, so that the Agreement on Adaptation can enter into force as soon as possible," but they do not explicitly peg ratification to Russian compliance with its commitments to either Georgia or Moldova.

Possible Precedent

New NATO members that were not signatories to the original 1990 CFE Treaty (the Baltic states and Slovenia) will eventually be required to accede to the revised treaty, but may not do so until all 30 original signatories have ratified it. To date, only four of those 30, including the Russian Federation, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, have done so.

No other signatories have yet hinted that they might follow Russia's example and impose a "moratorium" on their compliance with their respective CFE commitments. But Armenia and Azerbaijan have engaged in mutual accusations that the other has violated the "ceiling" on certain categories of weaponry imposed under the 1999 amendments, and might for that reason welcome the precedent Putin has set, even if they do not immediately follow suit.

Former Presidential Adviser Discusses Regionalism In Azerbaijani Politics

By Liz Fuller

Eldar Namazov (file photo)

April 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition politician Eldar Namazov, who resigned in October 1999 as an adviser to Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev, published a three-part article in February-March 2007 in successive issues of the opposition weekly "Realny Azerbaijan" focusing on the relative strength of regional political groupings in Azerbaijan and the role they have played in national politics both before and since independence.

Rizvan Talybov, the leader of one such group uniting Azeris expelled from the Armenian SSR in the 1950s or late 1980s, was arrested last week, days before a planned mass protest in support of former Health Minister Ali Insanov, also a member of that grouping.

Namazov began by affirming that both ruling elite and opposition were established largely on regional lines and by questioning the widely observed taboo on any public discussions of regionalism. He argued that there is nothing shameful in identifying with the geographical region from which one's family originates, but at the same time he conceded that some people seek to capitalize on their origin to further their personal ends.

Grouping The Groupings

Namazov divided the various regional groupings into three categories, of which the first and largest comprises those Azerbaijanis who resettled in the present-day Azerbaijan Republic from what is now Armenia.

He estimated in the first installment of his three-part article that they account for some 40 percent of Azerbaijan's present population of 8.4 million, but in the second installment quoted feedback he received suggesting the true figure could be either higher -- up to 50 percent -- or lower -- between 25-30 percent.

In second place, each accounting for 8-10 percent of the population, are four groups: those from Baku-Shirvan, Karabakh, Gyanja, and Lenkoran (in the far south, bordering on Iran). Two groups representing ethnic minorities, the Kurds on the one hand and the Avars and Lezgins on the other, each account for less than 5 percent, as do the natives of Quba/Khachmas and Sheki.

Finally, the third and numerically smallest groups are the Azeris from Borchalo (southeastern Georgia) and from the Naxicevan Autonomous Republic. The latter two groups, according to Namazov, exercise disproportionate influence. He characterizes the Borchalo group as being particularly mobilized and active and as controlling media outlets that portray it in a sympathetic light. The Naxicevan "clan" has been at the forefront of Azerbaijani politics for almost three decades by virtue of the key role played by its most illustrious scion, former Communist Party of Azerbaijan first secretary and later President Heydar Aliyev.

Interaction Key

In the second section of his analysis, Namazov focuses on the interaction between the various groups enumerated above. He argues that the widely held perception that Aliyev's regime rested on a coalition between the "Armenian" and Naxicevan groups, to which a parallel alliance between the Baku-Shirvan group and the Karabakh group served as a counterweight, with the other, smaller groups occupying a more or less neutral position, is an oversimplification. Aliyev, who succeeded Veli Akhundov, a representative of the Baku group, as Azerbaijan CP first secretary in 1969, was constrained to seek the backing of the more numerous "Armenian" group, Namazov suggested.

On his return to power as head of an independent state in June 1993, Aliyev presided over a division of leading posts that reserved for his own Naxicevan group the plum posts of president, prime minister and presidential apparatus, giving the Armenian group the post of parliament speaker, together with control over the economic and security ministries, and several other ministerial portfolios. Namazov attributed the "disproportionately large share of the pie" granted to the Naxicevan group to Aliyev's capacity for identifying and neutralizing potential threats to his power. When the "Armenian" group created a formal organization -- Agrydag -- in the mid-1990s, Aliyev did all in his power to undermine and neutralize it.

Rising Influence

The "Armenian" grouping appears to have seized on Aliyev's death in 2003 as an opportunity to revise the status quo and strengthen its political influence -- even though the Naxicevan clan retained its virtual monopoly on power thanks to the election as president in October 2003 of Heydar Aliyev's son Ilham, who retained fellow Naxicevani Ramiz Meehtyev as head of the presidential administration. In May 2005, the "Armenian" grouping founded a new, quasi-irredentist group, Return to Western Azerbaijan (meaning those regions of present day Armenia that during the 18th-19th century were part of the Erivan khanate). As of October 2006, the organization still had not been formally registered with the Justice Ministry, but despite its ambiguous legal status its leader, Rizvan Talybov, announced that it would lobby for the creation of an autonomous republic on Armenian territory, according to on October 31. In January, 2007, Talybov announced plans for the creation of a government in exile, reported on January 17.

But the "Armenian" grouping was seriously weakened by the arrest in October 2005 on charges of corruption and of plotting a coup d'etat of two of its most prominent members, Health Minister Insanov and presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev. Both have men since been tried and sentenced, and their property confiscated. And the authorities have already moved to co-opt, or at least spilt, the "Armenian" grouping: on April 7, the online daily reported the creation two months earlier of a new movement to represent the interests of that group.

Named Public Union of Compatriots Deported from Western Azerbaijan, that organization has formally pledged its support for the current Azerbaijani leadership and its policies. And in an appeal adopted in early April, it called on the authorities and law enforcement bodies to take all appropriate measures to curtail the "provocative" activities of such "destructive" organizations as Talybov's.