AAA: Armenia This Week – 04/09/2004

ARMENIA THIS WEEK
Friday, April 9, 2004

U.S. SELECTS NEW KARABAKH ENVOY
Ambassador Steven Mann will shortly replace Ambassador Rudolf Perina as the
American mediator for the Karabakh conflict, U.S. officials said this week.
Perina has been in the post since 2001. Mann will become the seventh U.S.
diplomat to serve as the State Department’s Special Negotiator for Nagorno
Karabakh and co-chair of the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which also includes French and
Russian envoys.

The group is expected to meet with Foreign Ministers from Armenia and
Azerbaijan in Prague next Friday. The meeting was earlier postponed by
Azerbaijan, whose officials claimed that the agenda was not “precise
enough.” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has since sacked his
tough-talking Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev, appointing a cadre diplomat
Elmar Mamedyarov in his place. Mamedyarov was Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to
Italy since last December, and had previously served as Deputy Chief of
Mission with the Embassy in Washington.

The new U.S. envoy is a 28-year veteran of the foreign service, who was
charged with opening the U.S. embassy in Armenia in 1992. Mann later served
as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan (1998-2001), and for the past three
years as the Secretary of State’s Senior Adviser for Caspian Basin Energy
Diplomacy. In the latter capacity, Mann helped facilitate international
funding for the “Heydar Aliyev” oil pipeline, which is expected to bring
Caspian oil to the Turkish port of Ceyhan via Georgia starting next year.

Mann’s appointment was first announced by the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan
Reno Harnish during his meeting with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar
Abiyev. Harnish observed that the appointment will serve as an impetus for
progress in negotiations and questioned Abiyev on his recent statement that
“war in Karabakh could resume at any moment.” Abiyev has been one of the
chief war-mongers in the Azerbaijani government, making threats to that
effect in nearly every public venue for the past several years.

One of the leading Azeri columnists, Rauf Mirkadyrov, noting the timing and
circumstances of the announcement, argued that the appointment of a diplomat
who has worked closely with Azerbaijan on oil projects, is designed to
placate Azerbaijan which has long been dissatisfied with prior mediators’
allegedly “pro-Armenian” proposals. He also asserted that the mediators may
even push for a “step-by-step” proposal requiring some Armenian withdrawal
prior to status talks, as favored by Azerbaijan. But Mirkadyrov believes
that actual implementation of such a proposal is impossible as long as
President Robert Kocharian remains in power in Armenia, and that Mann’s
priority mission is to prevent the resumption of fighting.

Finally, according to Mirkadyrov, the U.S. is genuinely worried that
President Aliyev may lose control over the army, leading to resumption of
fighting in Karabakh. An Azeri opposition daily reported last month on
disarray within the Azeri military. According to its sources, shortly after
the brutal murder of an Armenian officer in Budapest, an Azeri army post
close to the Line of Contact was raided by Armenian forces and destroyed.
The fallout from the incident resulted in a conflict between commanding
generals and the Defense Minister, with an Army Corps commander Gabil
Mamedov at one point drawing a gun on Abiyev. The conflict was defused
temporarily, with Mamedov arrested, and another senior General, chief of
military intelligence Talyb Mamedov dismissed. (Sources: U.S. State
Department; Azadlyg 3-15, 30; Azertag 4-6; Zerkalo 4-7; Arminfo 4-9)

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION RALLIES SUPPORTERS
Leaders of the parliamentary opposition began a series of public protests
this week calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. The
protests are led by last year’s presidential candidates Stepan Demirchian
and Artashes Geghamian, as well as former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, and
involve nearly all of Armenia’s opposition parties. The opposition continues
to refuse to recognize Kocharian’s victory in elections a year ago.

News agencies estimated that between ten and twenty-five thousand people
attended the opposition rally in Yerevan’s Opera Square this Friday, the
largest opposition-organized protest since the elections. Following the
rally, about one hundred hardcore opposition supporters began a sit-in at
the square. The opposition leaders promised to continue protests until
Kocharian resigns or faces a “referendum of confidence.”

Following last year’s elections, the Demirchian campaign, citing electoral
irregularities, sought the annulment of the vote by the Constitutional
Court. While the Court ruled that the extent of irregularities did not
affect the election outcome, it suggested holding a “referendum of
confidence” as a way to diffuse political tension in the country, but did
not make the suggestion binding. Kocharian and his allies dismissed the
suggestion as contrary to the Constitution and amounting to new elections.
But the opposition seized on the ruling to continue to put pressure on
Kocharian.

In February, the National Assembly, dominated by the three-party coalition
allied with Kocharian, turned down the opposition proposal to amend the
Referendum Law to allow for holding a presidential referendum. The
opposition has since been planning street protests, holding meetings in the
provinces and threatening to topple Kocharian in a “popular revolution.”

Kocharian has firmly rejected resignation, dismissing the opposition as an
“aggressive minority.” In a television interview this week, Kocharian said
the opposition was trying to copy last November’s events in Georgia that led
to the resignation of the long-time President Eduard Shevardnadze. But
Kocharian stressed that the situation was qualitatively different in
Armenia, and that his government would resist what it considers to be an
attempt at sedition.

In the past two weeks, the law-enforcement agencies launched an
investigation against opposition leaders on charges that they have publicly
called for the overthrow of the government, violence against officials and
several dozen opposition activists have been detained for alleged
“hooliganism.” Meanwhile, individuals whom the opposition media identified
as security guards for big businessmen loyal to the government, have
attempted to disrupt opposition rallies by throwing eggs at speakers and
intimidating protestors. During a protest earlier this week they attacked
journalists covering the event, smashing several cameras. That incident was
denounced by the entire political establishment, including the ruling
coalition, and Kocharian called on his supporters to exercise restraint.
(Sources: Armenia This Week 3-12; Arminfo 2-3/9; Noyan Tapan 2-3/9; Public
TV 2-8)

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