on the silk road

Nagorno-Karabakh: The Risk of a Thaw
November 30, 2007, 6:30 pm
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(Editors Note–I hate these son’s of bitches)

Nov 29th 2007 | YEREVAN

From The Economist print edition

Another dangerous conflict zone in the Caucasus

IT MAY be the most combustible place in Europe. Were it to reignite, the effects could be dire. Yet the world takes little interest in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave disputed by Armenians and Azerbaijanis, preferring to see it as just another “frozen conflict”. The fear is that it may be thawing.

A war that killed 25,000 people ended in a ceasefire in 1994, leaving Armenians in possession of the province (which already had an Armenian majority in Soviet times, but was part of Azerbaijan), plus a long ribbon of Azerbaijani territory that the Armenians treat as a “buffer zone”. The trenches across the ceasefire line have moved closer, and shots are often exchanged; 30 soldiers have been killed this year. There are no peacekeepers, only a tiny unarmed group of international observers. Even they are no longer monitoring the ceasefire after a diplomatic dispute.

Suspicions in both countries have stymied any peace talks. Both are expanding defence spending. Oil-rich Azerbaijan takes in as much as $20 billion a year in oil revenues. President Ilham Aliev has promised that his military budget, now $1 billion a year, will overtake Armenia’s total public spending. On October 30th he said, “We should be ready at any moment to liberate the occupied territories by military means.”

A meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers this week offered only a fading chance for an agreement on a framework peace deal. The hope had been that the two presidents might accept a statement of basic principles that postpones final decisions on sovereignty, while Armenians withdraw from occupied territory and the borders reopen. Unfortunately both countries face presidential elections next year, so their political leaders prefer not to risk accusations of making deals with the enemy.

A full-blown war may still be unlikely in the immediate future. But as a recent report from the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, “Risking War”, points out, the most dangerous moment may come in 2012, when Azerbaijani oil revenues start falling and Mr Aliev’s government may feel the country’s military edge over Armenia is at its greatest.

Nagorno-Karabakh sits in a strategically vital region, surrounded by Georgia, Russia, Iran and Turkey. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs close to the ceasefire line. It would be easy for even a small clash to get out of hand. An official who has dealt with the dispute for years quotes Anton Chekhov’s maxim that, if a gun is hanging on the wall in the first act, it will always go off by the play’s end.


ARF Nominates Vahan Hovannesian for President
November 30, 2007, 5:37 pm
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YEREVAN (Asbarez)–The Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Armenia organization Friday held a special convention, during which ARF Bureau member and Vice Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Vahan Hovanessian was nominated as the party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential elections set for February 19.

      In a secret ballot vote, Hovannesian received 60 votes, and Armen Rustamian received 16 votes.

      Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and other officials were present at the convention.

      ARF Supreme Body of Armenia said in a statement that 288,697 people participated in a public vote to gauge the public’s opinion on the ARF nominee. During the five-day vote, Hovannesian received 53 percent and Rustamian received 47 percent.

      Rustamian said that while the public vote results were non-binding, the people’s opinion was important.

      “We are sure that people today do not trust a regime change that leads only to change of individuals. The people are also tired of keeping the power as an end to itself that leads to merger of a party and the government or the government and the rulers,” Rustamian said. “People do not want either, because the choice would be between the bad and the worse.”

      In his acceptance speech Hovanessian raised problems existing in the system, but said solutions must not be expected from the former authorities that have been showing signs of activity lately.

      “We know them well and we haven’t forgotten anything. Having been in cooperation with the current authorities, we still feel we have enough experience and are ready to carry out these systemic changes ourselves,” Hovanessian said. “Why should the choice be made between the past and the present? We choose the future.”

      “We have been waiting for this election for years and decades,” said Hovanessian in his remarks. “We have fought for the day that we can fight as a nation and society.”

      He pointed to the importance of the rule of law in society. He said that this balance is upset in Armenia today, noting that it never existed here; neither in the past, nor during the Soviet rule or even during the Levon Ter-Petrosian period. He said it is important to form a political struggle because only that can help create a government based on the rule of law and morality.

      According to him, power has become superior to law in the country and “is so connected to the criminal world that it is now associated with meaningless faces, who have declared themselves the ‘authorities’ and try to use the state’s sponsorship to strengthen their positions.” The reason for this development, Havhanessian remarked, is that society has become accustomed to the idea that authority rests only on force and money rather than morality, knowledge and talent.

      False authority that exists today does not have an ideological goal and struggles only for power. In such a struggle only the bureaucratic machinery can win, he warned. This is especially dangerous if Armenia becomes an autocracy, because the bureaucratic machinery will merge with the ruling elite.

Since early 1990, the country has been governed by oligarchic clans, accumulating power and monopolizing the most profitable sectors of the economy, Hovanessian charged. This situation, has formed an environment almost devoid of competition.

These clans stopped being just an economic phenomenon a long time ago, he noted. Now, they have a decisive influence on all aspects of society. Spending considerable resources and using the huge administrative resources at their disposal, this stratum of society reproduces itself regularly, hindering the development of a just political system, Hovanessian added.

      In his opinion, neither the previous authorities nor the current ones can make changes in this system since it does not have roots in the country. The ARF, Hovanessian noted, is able and ready to make such changes and for this reason it is taking part in the presidential elections by nominating its own candidate.

      “This is the reason why the ARF is participating in the presidential elections with its own candidate,” Hovanessian said.

      “We are not alone in our determination. There are political forces and individuals who adhere to these principles. Together we can reach our goals,” Hovannesian added.

      “It turns out they did the good things in this country and bad things are ascribed to the rest,” Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Republican Party Serzh Sarkisian commented during the dinner break, but added: “Everything is normal, it is a political struggle.”

      “The most important thing is freedom. If there is freedom, we will lose everything,” said National-Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukian, who was also among those attending, “I urge the ARF to go shoulder to shoulder and try to make changes in the country so that our people feel proud.”

      “Old friends must reunite,” he concluded, referring to the historic role of the ARF in the Armenian nation.

ARF Inaugurates Droshak as its Official Publication
November 29, 2007, 9:01 pm
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YEREVAN (Yerkir)—The Armenian Revolutionary Federation unveiled Thursday its official publication Droshak during a ceremony at the party’s Bureau offices, where noted activist and academician Rouben Hovsepyan was introduced as the publication’s new editor.
Droshak, which began publication in 1891 in Geneva, has begun republishing with the aim of addressing the most crucial national and state issues, explained Hovsepyan.
“The ARF Publication, Droshak, will attempt to draw attention to the most critical issues facing our nation and our statehood. It will also attempt to create the arena where public and political opinions are formed and solutions to critical challenges are addressed,” Hovsepyan said during the inaugural ceremony.
The editor explained that the re-publication of Droshak, which has already published five issues, was a clear manifestation of freedoms of speech and expression.
Present at the event were noted literary figures, party leaders, representatives of organizations, as well as Armenia’s press corps.
Hovsepyan also took the opportunity to explain that historically economic and social circumstances had prevented Droshak from consistent publication, adding that the republication came at an historic turning point for Armenians around the world and for the ARF.
Echoing the same sentiment was ARF Bureau member and Vice-Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Vahan Hovannesian, who said that Droshak, as the official publication of the ARF, compiles and disseminates the ARF’s political ideology and thought.
Subscriptions to the newly re-published Droshak are available at the ARF Western US Public Affairs office 818.243.7059.



Dashink Party of Armenia Merges with Ramkavar’s
November 26, 2007, 9:45 pm
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YEREVAN (ArmeniaNow)–A young national-liberal party led by a Karabakh war hero dissolved itself almost unanimously during its second and last congress at the weekend to complete a long-expected merger with the Diaspora-linked “bearer of shared ideology”. The move by the two-year-old 20,000-strong Dashink party of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ex-defense minister Samvel Babayan will thus increase more than threefold the membership of the Armenian branch of the Ramkavar-Azatakan Party, which has only about 9,000 members but boasts a history of 122 years.


Babayan, however, said the merger did not target the forthcoming presidential elections but would rather be instrumental in “rallying national-liberal forces” ahead of next parliamentary elections (due in 2012).

Addressing scores of delegates on Saturday, Babayan said: “If the national-liberal forces are to have their say in the political life of the homeland and the world-wide Diaspora, then they must put aside their ambitions and start a process of consolidation.”

“If we understand the importance of all that today, we will have a parliament representing ideological currents in the future. If we don’t, we won’t have the shortage of ‘guided’ button-pushers among us,” added Babayan, whose Dashink party failed to clear the five-percent hurdle in the May parliamentary elections.

Ramkavar-Azatakan Party of Armenia leader Harutyun Arakelyan, who also attended the Dashink congress, hailed the move and welcomed the newcomers.

He urged everyone to treat the merger “tender-heartedly”.

“We were not the only ones who have waited for this with throbbing hearts. Since the morning we’ve been receiving phone calls from the Diaspora, and they’ve also waited for this merger with heartthrobs,” Arakelyan told reporters.

The 2,000-member National Rebirth party led by Yerevan’s former mayor Albert Bazeyan, which has also been planning on a similar merger but is said to have differences on the matter inside, is due to meet on December 5 to vote on a similar decision.

Despite wielding considerable influence in the Armenian Diaspora, the Ramkavar-Azatakan Party has not had any major impact on politics in Armenia despite reestablishing its presence here after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The party plans, though, to relocate its central headquarters to Yerevan in the future, its senior member said earlier this month.

The Armenia affiliate of the traditional party has not yet expressed its support to any of the political parties or candidates that are expected to contest next year’s presidential election.

However, in an interview with RFE/RL following a historic meeting of Ramkavars with their old rival Dashnaktsutyun on November 6, Vice-Chairman of the Ramkavar-Azatakan Party Asatur Devletian did not exclude a scenario in which “the emerging cooperation with Dashnaktsutyun would lead to their support for the Dashnak candidate at the presidential election.”

“It is not ruled out, but there has been no discussion and there is no decision on that yet,” he said then.

ARF to Hold Nationwide Plebiscite on its Election Candidate
November 21, 2007, 7:15 pm
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YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian Revolutionary Federation will hold a non-binding nationwide plebiscite to ascertain the popularity of its two potential presidential candidates, Spartak Seyranian, a senior party spokesman, told RFE/RL on Wednesday.

      Seyranian said voters across Armenia will be offered the chance to go to the polls from next Saturday through Wednesday to choose between Armen Rustamian and Vahan Hovannisian, two of the top ARF leaders.

      The two men, who hold senior positions in parliament, were shortlisted as potential presidential candidates during a party congress last September. The ARF is scheduled to hold another congress on November 30 to nominate one of them to be the party’s candidate for the Armenian presidency.

      “Naturally, [the plebiscite] will have no legal force,” he said. “But it will be important for the party to present its candidates and to ascertain the public’s attitude to towards them.”

      According to Seyranian, polling stations for the consultative vote will be located in special tents to be pitched in Yerevan and other parts of the country. There will be at least ten such tents in the Armenian capital, he said.

      The ARF did not endorse Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and decided to contest the February 19 elections with its own candidate despite being a member of the ruling three-party coalition. The nationalist party is increasingly distancing itself from Sarkisian’s cabinet, which it has three ministers serving.

      Seyranian dismissed speculation that ARF may still endorse Sarkisian if the presidential ballot requires a second round of voting. He said a run-off vote would most probably pit Sarkisian against the ARF candidate.

      “I strongly believe that Armenia’s political system is not bipolar. I think the public is sick and tired of seeing things painted only in black and white colors,” he said, referring to bitter recriminations traded by Armenia’s current and former leaders.

      Seyranian insisted that former President Levon Ter-Petrosian will not be Sarkisian’s main challenger.


Erdogan Proposes Union of Turkish-Speaking States
November 20, 2007, 5:39 pm
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ANKARA–Calling on the leaders of Turkic-speaking Central Asian nations to join forces, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested establishing a union of Turkish-speaking States as a primary tool for coordinating joint moves in the foreign policy arena.

The prime minister also urged a common stance on regional issues, such as Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and warned that a lack of cooperation in the face of these problems could prove costly. “What will our state of affairs be if we do not cooperate? The way to success passes through full cooperation and solidarity in today’s world. If we don’t cooperate, then they will tear us to shreds. It is not possible for us to reach the level we deserve by isolating ourselves from the world.”

Erdogan made his call for a union of Turkic-speaking states and political unity among these states on Saturday, when he was delivering a keynote speech at the 11th Congress of Friendship, Brotherhood and Cooperation of Turkic-speaking Countries and Communities held in Baku. Foundations of brotherhood in the Turkic world are based on its ancient values and its strong historical, cultural and humanitarian ties, Erdogan told the gathering, which was attended by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Mehmet Ali Talat.

The union is a project the Turkish government has long been working on remarks, a senior government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Today’s Zaman on Sunday. The idea was originally introduced by Turkey back in September 2006, at the 10th Congress of Friendship, Brotherhood and Cooperation of Turkic-speaking Countries and Communities held in Turkey’s Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya, the same source said, adding that the idea was taken one step further in Baku.

” Erdogan has in mind a dream of a Turkic world that moves together particularly in the foreign policy field and which protects the rights of one another in every issue,” the source said. Bringing to mind the fact that neither Turkmenistan nor Uzbekistan participated in the gathering in Baku, he added that Erdogan will pay visits to both of these countries in the near future as well as to other Turkic-speaking countries to promote the idea.

Before the establishment of such a union, Erdogan will make an effort to resolve disputed issues among the Turkic republics. The prime minister in particular aims to help resolve border disputes between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The Turkish government, for now, doesn’t envision the planned union serving as a mechanism of economic cooperation, however, it believes that economic cooperation may become one of the key aspects of the union, especially if full harmony is achieved.

“We should well know that there is no barrier before us preventing us from burning a torch of revival via resurrecting opportunities that we have missed, and we should make sure that this historical opportunity is realized,” Erdogan said in Baku. “As the English-speaking, French-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries come together around the same language and culture, we can also constitute such a structure which will allow coordination among us concerning foreign policy issues,” he said, noting that it was time for institutionalizing the summit of the heads of state of Turkic-speaking countries via establishing a permanent secretariat.

UCLA Joins Campain for the ‘Education of Jane Harman,’ Hundreds Protest Visit to Campus
November 12, 2007, 9:45 am
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LOS ANGELES—More than 150 students from the University of California, Los Angeles rallied at the universities Bradley International Hall Saturday night to protest a visit to the campus by Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA). Outraged by the congresswoman’s attempts to secretly undermine House Resolution 106, which affirms the United States’ record on the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian Student Association and Armenian Graduate Student Association at UCLA organized the evening’s event.

            Joining the ASA and AGSA in support of their protest was the Armenian Youth Federation, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Shant Student Association and a number of student activists from the Armenian National Committee. The event also featured speakers from the campus student undergraduate and graduate student governments as well as the Darfur Action Committee.

            “While endorsing House Resolution 106, the Congresswoman secretly authored a letter, released publicly on October 3, in which she urged the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to prevent consideration of the legislation,” Arek Santikian a member of the ASA at UCLA said during his speech at the protest. “When confronted by members of her constituency led by the Armenian Youth Federation and the Armenian National Committee, Harman responded by saying that now is not the right time to vote on this resolution.” 

            On October 10, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted H.Res.106. Prior to the vote, it was revealed that Congresswoman Harman was secretly urging the committee leadership to avoid considering the resolution, while publicly proclaiming to be supportive of the resolution. In a letter to the committee chairman, Congresswoman Harman suggested that given circumstances in Iraq and Turkey’s role in the region, it was not the right time to consider a resolution regarding the Armenian Genocide–a position often espoused by the Turkish government and its lobbyists to push for an indefinite shelving of the legislation.

            “Saying that it is not the right time is an extremely dangerous argument to make,” said Raffi Kassabian, an executive officer of the AGSA at UCLA and one of the organizer of the event. “It gives inconsistent allies like Turkey the political muscle to bully the United States in both the domestic and international arena.”

            “Our representatives need to have the courage to do the right thing by voting on this resolution now and not allowing threats to get in the way of upholding American Values and taking a stand against genocide,” remarked Nurit Katz, president of the UCLA Graduate Students Association, as she echoed the concerns of Representative James McGovern’s (D-MA) who, a week after the committee vote voiced concerns that Turkey was threatening and blackmailing the United States into silence on the resolution.

            “What Jane Harman has done is a disservice to those who are trying to end to the Genocide in Darfur and we will hold her accountable,” said Karina Garcia, former president of the Darfur Action Committee at UCLA. “We will continue to stand in solidarity with the Armenian community against denial because recognition of the Armenian Genocide is crucial to ending the genocide in Darfur.”

            Dozens of high school students from Ferhaian Armenian School also joined the protest.

            “As students participating in the UCLA Model UN, we spend hours researching, learning and writing about a variety of international issues. We discuss the problems and try and come up with solutions, said Aida Siyahian, a senior at Ferhaian and an ANC activist. “What Jane Harman did runs counter to everything we have learned about sound international policy so we felt that it was our duty to express our utter disappointment with Jane Harman and her actions.”

            Earlier in the week, Harman, who was being given an award for exhibiting enhanced international and intercultural understanding in her volunteer and professional endeavors, expressed dissatisfaction when she discovered the UCLA community would be protesting her visit. Unable to persuade the school administration to prevent the demonstration, Harman offered to meet with the leaders of UCLA’s Armenian student community an hour before the event.

            However, because none of her statements or actions to date–from previous meetings with other community organizations to statements of hers issued through various press outlets–have indicated that she is prepared to unequivocally support the passage of H.Res. 106, the Student’s declined, replying that they would be happy to meet with the Congresswoman when she is ready to support the passage of H.Res. 106.

            Congresswoman Harman has repeatedly referred to a causal relationship between the resolution and mounting tensions in Iraq, read an open letter submitted to the UCLA Daily Bruin by the AGSA and ASA. The letter conveyed concerns over the Congresswoman’s previous statements and explanations for her opposition to the resolution’s passage at this time.

            Turkey has always acted in accord with its own interests, the letter continued, referring to Turkish Ambassador to the United States Nabi Sensoy’s recent interview with Wolf Blitzer where he said there was no linkage between H.Res.106 and any current or future tensions between Turkey, the U.S. and Iraq. 

            “In 2003 when there was no Armenian Genocide Resolution pending in Congress, Turkey prohibited the United States from opening a northern front into Iraq through Turkey, said Babken DerGrigorian, a member of Students for a Democratic Society at UCLA. “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself said that Turkey’s betrayal was a key factor to coalition losses, heavily damaging our strategic positioning in Iraq and further destabilizing the country.”

            This resolution is the easiest thing we can do to help put an end to genocide and representative Harman’s going back on her word is bad leadership in this regard said Michelle Lyon, the general representative of the Undergraduate Students Association Council (UCLA’s student Government) as she stood in solidarity alongside members of the ASA and AGSA and called for unequivocal support by Harman for the passage of the Genocide Resolution. 

            Harman, who has now been confronted by demonstrators on this issue for the third time, continues to maintain her position despite the opposition of many of her constituents and colleagues. Her refusal to support the truth, however, has only invigorated Armenian-American’s and human rights activists throughout California, who are committing themselves to a long-term campaign for “the Education of Jane Harman.”