AAA: Armenia This Week – 06/18/2004

Friday, June 18, 2004

The United States expects to see greater Caucasus involvement by the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a result of the upcoming NATO Summit
in Turkey, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway said this Thursday.
According to Ordway, as part of its stepped up role, the alliance and its
individual members are set to cooperate more closely with the Caucasus
states on issues such as peacekeeping operations and military reform.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in
Washington earlier this week, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian noted that
Armenia’s cooperation with NATO “is increasing and deepening every day,
every month.” Oskanian said that Armenia’s ties with NATO are now on par
with those of Georgia and Azerbaijan and that they should continue to
develop “in tandem” so as to avoid creation of Cold War-like dividing lines
in the region. Oskanian also noted that Armenia’s security cooperation with
Russia did not preclude his country from developing complementary security
relationships in the West.

NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Affairs Jean Fournet similarly
told the Azeri press this week that he saw no differences in NATO’s
partnership with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. “Each of these states have
some links with Russia that could cause potential difficulties,” Fournet
said. “However, it is also a fact that we have close relations with
[Armenia]… and good, developing relations with Russia.”

The NATO official further cautioned against exaggerated optimism for
alliance membership. “Our doors are open. But joining NATO is a long
process… requiring significant reforms,” he said. In addition, “the South
Caucasus has a reputation of a problematic region with unsettled
conflicts… While NATO does not intend to become involved in conflict
resolution, the alliance can provide post-settlement aid.” (Sources:
6-14; 525ci Gazet 6-17; Arminfo 6-17)

While Armenia and its neighbors do not fully comply with U.S.’ minimum
standards on fighting trafficking in persons, their governments “are making
significant efforts to do so,” says the U.S. State Department report
released this week. The annual report ranks countries on a three-tier system
from full compliance (Tier 1) to no efforts to comply (Tier 3). The State
Department established a special office on trafficking based on the 2001
Trafficking Victims Protection Act, championed by Congressmen Chris Smith
(R-NJ) and Sam Gejdenson (D-CT). The Act mandates U.S. aid sanctions to
countries repeatedly placed in the Tier 3 category.

Armenia, along with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey, are listed in
Tier 2. But Armenia, unlike these states, is not included in the Tier 2
Watch List and appears to have a comparatively less serious trafficking
problem. Of all Eastern European and former Soviet states, only the Czech
Republic, Lithuania and Macedonia are ranked in Tier 1.

As Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told the Washington Times this
week, there have been some unintended benefits for Armenia due to blockades
by Azerbaijan and Turkey. While causing economic difficulties and inflating
transportation costs, the blockades also kept Armenia off the major routes
for organized crime groups involved in trafficking in persons and narcotics.
As another State Department report issued last March suggested, drug
trafficking is a significantly smaller problem in Armenia than in its
neighboring states, but could potentially exacerbate should borders with
Turkey and Azerbaijan open.

According to earlier reports by the Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues
(OGD), a Paris-based monitoring group, past and present government officials
in Turkey and Azerbaijan have had long-standing links to Europe-bound opium
and heroine trade from Afghanistan and Pakistan. This month Indian press
claimed that Azerbaijan might even be willing to host Dawood Ibrahim, one of
the top Indian crime bosses living in Pakistan and under U.S. pressure to
leave. Last October, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated Ibrahim, a
major narcotics dealer, a “terrorist supporter” for his reported funding of
Islamic radicals such as al Qaida. (Sources: OGD Annual Report Oct. 98;
Armenia This Week 6-20-03, 3-5; The Telegraph of India 6-4; U.S. State
Department Trafficking in Persons Report 6-14; Washington Times 6-17)

A ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
held this week in Turkey made another blanket endorsement of the Azerbaijani
position in the Karabakh conflict. OIC is the world’s only major
intergovernmental organization that has for years succumbed to Azerbaijani
lobbying on the issue. OIC countries, led particularly by Turkey and
Pakistan, also have endorsed similar Azeri efforts at the UN. Both Turkey
and Pakistan have provided military support to Azerbaijan.

The Azeri officials have succeeded in including its ostensibly non-religious
conflict with Armenia and NKR into the “Islamic agenda” at the OIC’s Summit
in Malaysia last October. In return for support against the purported
“Armenian aggression,” Azeri leaders have endorsed such “Islamic causes” as
Turkish-occupied Cyprus and Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. Earlier this year,
Azerbaijan’s religious leader Allahshukur Pashazade also condemned the
Israeli assassination of the leader of the Hamas terrorist organization.

Starting in the early 1990s, the Azeri government forged ties with Islamic
radicals from throughout the Middle East, including some 2,000 recruits from
Afghanistan, to fight against Armenians in Karabakh. Following the war, many
of them stayed in Azerbaijan forming a basis for creation of local al Qaida
cells. By late 1990s, according to a U.S. indictment, al Qaida operatives
were sufficiently entrenched in Azerbaijan to coordinate terrorist bombings
against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. While in recent years, Azeri
security agencies have cracked down on groups tied to al Qaida, their
elements are believed to have remained in the country. (Sources: R&I Issue
Brief “Azerbaijan and Islamic Terrorism” 9-10-01; Dawn (Pakistan) 1-14-02; 10-17-03; Azertaj 10-21-03; Zerkalo 3-23; Arminfo 12-23-02, 3-24;
Anadolu 6-16)

The Armenian opposition leaders wrapped up for the summer their efforts to
oust President Robert Kocharian after holding last Wednesday their smallest
yet public demonstration in Yerevan. Unlike past opposition protests, the
city government sanctioned this week’s rally. Also, by last week,
law-enforcement agencies dropped charges against most of about fifteen
opposition activists prosecuted for their alleged efforts to overthrow the
government through popular protests. The protests have been diminishing in
size and regularity since April.

Last year’s presidential candidates Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian
and former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, who led the protests, promised to
“regroup” and to continue their efforts later this year. They gave no
indication they would return to talks with the three-party coalition
government, which broke down last month. The talks began following the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution calling on
both the government and opposition to make compromises and begin dialogue.
The PACE Rapporteur for Armenia Jerzy Jaskiernia (Poland) noted last week
that the government has implemented some of the PACE recommendations and
urged it to continue reforms.

Last month, Armenia’s coalition government offered the opposition minority
in parliament veto rights over election legislation, constitutional reform
and anti-corruption efforts. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS) in Washington last Monday, Foreign Minister
Vartan Oskanian said that the coalition’s offer remains on the table.
Oskanian further expressed hope that the opposition will take up this offer
in the next several months and that “eventually [the opposition leaders]
will realize that they need to be engaged for the sake of the country.”
(Sources: Armenia This Week 3-12; 4-9, 23, 30; 5-14; 6-9;
6-14; RFE/RL Armenia Report 6-14, 16; 6-16)

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Armenia to help in Iraq reconstruction
Published 6/18/2004 3:35 PM

WASHINGTON, June 18 (UPI) — Armenia is the latest country to join President
Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing,” in rebuilding Iraq.

In an interview with UPI earlier this week, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan
Oskanian said his country would contribute, albeit in “a very symbolic” way.

“We are ready to become engaged in rebuilding Iraq, but our resources are
very modest, so it’s going to be a very modest contribution, nevertheless,
the willingness is there.”

Armenia, Oskanian said, will be contributing doctors, medical personnel and
experts to help clear mines, as well as trucks, drivers and technicians. The
force amounts to about 100 people.

The minister said he believes all neighboring countries in the region should
contribute to the normalization of Iraq. Iraq’s Armenian community is
comprised of roughly 25,000 people.

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