AAA: Armenia This Week – 03/26/2004

Friday, March 26, 2004

President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met with
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage this Friday to discuss bilateral
relations and regional concerns. Armitage was in Armenia as part of a
regional tour that also included Ukraine and Azerbaijan. At a press
conference following the meetings, Armitage stressed the continued
importance the U.S. puts on relations with Armenia and the region, which he
said were in recent years impacted by U.S. preoccupation with Afghanistan
and Iraq.

Armitage noted a “very high degree of cooperation” that already exists
between Armenia and the United States, specifically noting Armenia’s
readiness to contribute to the stabilization of post-war Iraq. The Armenian
President’s press service quoted Kocharian as also expressing satisfaction
with bilateral relations and readiness to expand areas of cooperation.

The U.S. provided significant economic assistance to Armenia, helping the
country overcome the energy and humanitarian crises in the early 1990s and
playing an important role in the ongoing economic recovery. Next month, the
two governments are expected to sign an agreement to boost security at
Armenia’s nuclear power plant in view of international terrorist threats.

Turning to regional issues, Armitage said that some progress on opening of
the Armenian-Turkish border might be made after Turkish concerns regarding
northern Iraq and Cyprus are “ameliorated.” Armitage said that “I think, to
be fair, Turkish friends have had their hands full recently.”

Ignoring U.S. and European Union calls, Turkey has refused to establish
diplomatic relations with Armenia and closed the border in 1993 to support
Azerbaijan’s effort to blockade Armenia. Following meetings between Armenian
and Turkish officials last year, it appeared that some progress could be
made. But last January, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul denied any
plans to change Turkish policies. Pressure from Azerbaijan and its allies in
the Turkish military and political elite reportedly account for the
continuation of the blockade.

This week, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed that a peaceful
resolution to the Karabakh conflict would become impossible, should Turkey
open the border. Armitage, while refusing to directly qualify Aliyev’s
comments, in effect disagreed, maintaining the U.S. line that the opening
would be mutually beneficial.

Armitage did not sound too optimistic about progress in the Karabakh peace
process, saying only that “there is a possibility eventually of a
resolution.” He noted that the sides were close to an agreement in 2001, but
the late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev in the end had “great
difficulty with the proposal at home.” His son and successor Ilham Aliyev
has since indicated that he was not in a hurry to settle the problem. This
week, Aliyev cancelled a meeting between Oskanian and the Azeri Foreign
Minister planned by French, Russian and U.S. mediators for next Monday,
saying that the meeting’s agenda was not “precise enough.” (Sources: Armenia
This Week 1-16, 2-13; AP 3-22; Arminfo 3-26; RFE/RL Armenia Report 3-26)

Trade links between Armenia and the United States, while still modest in
overall terms, continued to expand last year, the U.S. Census Bureau
reported. The bilateral turnover stood at over $140 million, slightly less
than $143 million in 2002, but more than twice as high as in 1998. Purchase
and leasing of civilian aircraft by Armenia’s private carriers from U.S.
companies amounted to $108 million in 2002-2003.

Jewelry, meanwhile, accounted for fully one-half of Armenia’s export to the
U.S., which stood at $68 million in 2002-2003. Other major Armenian exports
for the same period included textile and apparel ($20 million) and
agribusiness products ($3.4 million).

By contrast, Georgia’s exports to the U.S. were at $17 million in 2002 and
$56 million in 2003, with most of the difference accounted for by a re-sale
of $30 million worth of petroleum products. Azerbaijan’s exports were at $26
million in 2002 and under $10 million in 2003, with petroleum products
accounting for most of the value. (Source: )

The Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security (MNS), a successor to the
Soviet-era KGB, this week issued awards of up to $2,000 for the “best”
propaganda works targeting Armenians. The first prize in the books category
went to the Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences’ Human Rights Institute
for an “encyclopedia” entitled “Crimes against humanity perpetrated by
Armenian terrorist and bandit formations (19th-20th centuries).”
Incidentally, the hard-line National Security Minister Namik Abbasov was
also honored for personally funding the publication of the same book.

The MNS granted other top money prizes to films entitled “Bloody terror” and
“Plague” (in apparent references to Armenians). And a Diploma was granted to
Tomris Azeri, a New Jersey-based President of the Azerbaijani Society of

Meanwhile, the campaign in support of an Azeri accused of brutally murdering
an Armenian officer during NATO-sponsored English-language courses in
Hungary, continued with fundraising, public meetings, a web site and stipend
granted to Safarov’s family for the duration of his imprisonment. (Sources:
Arm. This Week 1-30, 2-20, 27; Zerkalo 3-19, 24; 3-26)

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