AAA: Armenia This Week – 08/30/2004

Monday, August 30, 2004

Six Armenian nationals working on contract in West Africa appear to have
been caught up in an attempted coup. Pilot Ashot Karapetian, co-pilot Samvel
Darbinian, aeronautical engineer Ashot Simonian, navigator Samvel
Matchkalian, flight engineer Razmik Khachatrian and technician Suren
Muradian flew an Antonov-12, a Soviet-made cargo plane for Armenia-based
Tiga Air company. The six were arrested last March in Equatorial Guinea,
along with their client Gerhard Eugen Merz of Germany (who had since died in
prison), several South Africans and Guineans.

Ambassador Sergei Manaserian and other officials are currently in Equatorial
Guinea for the trial, and had visited the aviators twice before. They met
with local leaders to request that the Armenians be released and that their
detention conditions be improved in the meantime. The Armenians did not
report being ill-treated in custody and have been able to telephone their
relatives in Yerevan on at least one occasion.

The Armenians have pled “not guilty” to charges of coup plotting, which
according to the governments of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea
as well as confessions of would-be participants, involved dozens of South
African and Angolan mercenaries led by British ex-Special Forces soldier
Simon Mann, and was allegedly financed by Mark Thatcher, son of the former
British Prime Minister. They are said to have sought to overthrow President
Teodoro Obiang Nguema and install his Spain-based opponent in this oil-rich

According to Armenian pilots and their lawyer, they arrived in Equatorial
Guinea last January to fly freight between that country and two other
African nations, and until last week were unaware on what charges they were
held. Local prosecutors, however, have alleged that the Armenians were to
fly in mercenaries for the would be coup and demanded they be sentenced to
at least 26 years in prison.

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian described the
accusations as “nonsensical, absurd.. and groundless.” According to
Gasparian, South African suspects in the case have denied that the Armenians
were involved in coup preparations. A release of some of the alleged
mercenaries following a separate, but related trial in Zimbabwe, may augur
well for the Armenians. But Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian argued against
a rush to optimism. The verdict is expected on September 1. (Sources: RFE/RL
Arm. Report 3-10, 23, 31, 7-13, 8-23, 26; Arminfo 3-18, 23, 5-21, 6-21,
7-16; 8-24, 30; ArmeniaNow 3-26; AFP 8-24, 26, 27)

Georgia pulled out most of the forces it introduced in South Ossetia earlier
this summer, heeding calls by the United States to de-militarize the region
and resume peace talks. Some of the Georgian forces involved were trained by
the U.S. The province lies in proximity to the Russia-Georgia gas pipeline
and highway, both of key economic significance to Armenia. Armenian
officials have expressed concern over recent fighting in the area, which
Armenian observers see as setting a potentially negative precedent for the
Karabakh peace process.

The new cease-fire took hold last week, as President Mikhail Saakashvili
sacked his Armed Forces’ chief of staff, whom other Georgian officials
accused of failing to achieve military objectives and losing at least 16
Georgian soldiers in the process. The Ossetian side reported at least
several police and civilians killed, mostly from Georgian shelling of the
regional center of Tskhinvali. Saakashvili says he is committed to a
peaceful settlement. Georgia is now seeking to replace Russian peacekeepers
in the region with a Western force. (Sources: Arm. This Week 7-12; New York
Times 8-5; RFE/RL Newsline 8-23, 25, 27; 8-26, 27)

Armenia’s 18-person team won no medals, as the 2004 Summer Olympics in
Greece concluded over the weekend. Diaspora Armenians fared better winning
at least one gold, one silver and several bronze medals.

Armen Ghazaryan placed fourth in weightlifting, shy of a medal by only about
a pound of his own weight, and Norair Bakhtamyan also placed fourth in
shooting. Four wrestlers, two weightlifters and one boxer from the Armenia
team finished in the top ten of their respective competitions. Armenia won
one gold and one silver medal in 1996 and one bronze in the 2000 Olympics.

Baku-born Karina Aznavourian won a team fencing gold for Russia, her second
in as many Olympics. Three Gyumri natives, Ara Abrahamian, Artiom Kiureghian
and Mkhitar Manukian, won silver and bronze medals in wrestling for Sweden,
Greece and Kazakhstan, respectively. Another wrestler, Masis-born Armen
Nazarian secured a bronze medal for Bulgaria. (Sources: ;
Arm. This Week 8-16)

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Armenian Assembly of America
Research and Information Office

August 24, 2004

In the years since the outbreak of the Karabakh conflict in the 1980s, the
Azerbaijani government and entities sponsored by it have hurled a litany of
threats, hate-mongering, complaints, accusations and abuse at the Armenians
of Karabakh, Armenia and Armenians around the world. Such rhetoric continued
unabated despite the establishment of a cease-fire in Karabakh in May 1994
and the ongoing peace process, and has intensified in recent years.
Egregious examples of this rhetoric follow:

路 President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly told his nation that
Azerbaijan could launch a new war in Karabakh: “At any moment we must be
able to liberate our territories by military means. To achieve this we have
everything.” Aliyev predicts that Azerbaijan will soon become an
economically strong state, while its military “superiority” will increase
further. “Under these circumstances we cannot react positively to those
calling us to compromise.” (Source: Zerkalo 7/23/04) Azerbaijan has been
increasing its military spending to more than $217 million (Source: IISS
Military Balance) and buying more tanks, artillery and aircraft (Source: UN
Directory of Conventional Arms). Aliyev warned that unless Armenians
capitulate “we will all smash the heads of the Armenians.” (Source: Turan
via BBC Monitoring 10/27/00)

路 The Azerbaijani Defense Minister Gen. Safar Abiyev says that
occasional violations of the 1994 cease-fire are “natural” since Azerbaijan
is still “at war.” (Source: Sarg via BBC Monitoring 8/14/03) Abiyev makes
claims on Armenia’s territory: “Armenia must always remember that what
Azerbaijan accepted yesterday will not be accepted today and tomorrow.
Azerbaijan will not want to have a separated state – meaning Nakhichevan,
cut from the mainland Azerbaijan. This issue will be raised tomorrow.”
(Source: Ekho 5/16/03). Asked if the Azeri army is ready “to go to Yerevan,”
Abiyev answers: “We can go even farther.” (Source: ANS via BBC Monitoring
3/22/02) Abiyev claims that “The Armenian state was created on the occupied
Azeri lands with the area of 29,000 square kilometers.” (Source:

路 The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Ramiz Melikov: “In
the next 25-30 years there will be no Armenian state in the South Caucasus.
This nation has been a nuisance for its neighbors and has no right to live
in this region. Present-day Armenia was built on historical Azerbaijani
lands. I believe that in 25 to 30 years these territories will once again
come under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction.” (Source: Zerkalo 8/4/04) Following
the brutal murder of an Armenian student of NATO English language courses in
Hungary last February, Melikov qualified the confessed murderer Ramil
Safarov as a “talented and disciplined officer.” Melikov added that, “as an
Azeri, I understand and support Safarov’s actions.” Melikov did not exclude
similar attacks on Armenians in the future. (Source: Regnum 2/25/04)

路 Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the Council of Europe Agshin Mekhtiyev
warned of more attacks on individual Armenians, adding that he “would not
advise Armenians to sleep easy in their beds.” (Source: Zerkalo 2/24/04)
Parliament member and former Heydar Aliyev bodyguard Siyavush Novruzov told
Terry Davis, envoy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,
that “similar incidents” could occur in PACE as well, unless the Karabakh
conflict is settled in Baku’s favor. (Source: Ekho 2/27/04) Azerbaijan’s
Human Rights Ombudsman Elmira Suleimanova said that Safarov should serve as
“an example for Azerbaijani youth.” (Source: Zerkalo 2/28/04)

路 The Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security (MNS) has publicly
and, according to media reports, clandestinely sponsored rhetoric and
activities directed against Karabakh peace efforts. In 2004, this successor
to the Soviet-era KGB held a public competition for the “best” films and
books targeting Armenians, with Minister Namik Abbasov giving financial
awards of up to $2,000 to the winners. (Source: 3/26/04) Azeri
officials have condemned Track II peace-building contacts with Armenians,
and groups linked to MNS have attacked Azeri peace activists. (Sources: ANS
via BBC Monitoring 11/3/01, 4/16/02; 525ci Gazet 5/11/02; Zerkalo via BBC
Monitoring 4/30/03; IWPR Caucasus Report 5/1/03)

路 Heydar Aliyev’s National Security Advisor Vafa Gulizade demanded
that “Armenians should be driven out of Azerbaijan forever.” Unless
Azerbaijan fights and drives all Armenians out, Gulizade believes that
“Armenians would [eventually] buy up real estate in Baku… They will try to
take Azerbaijan into their hands in this way.” (Source: Azadlyq via BBC
Monitoring 10/10/01) “The entire Armenian population of Nagornyy Karabakh
should be moved from there…This problem will not be resolved as long as
Armenians are in Nagornyy Karabakh.” (Source: Yeni Azerbaycan via BBC
Monitoring 11/14/01) “If they want autonomy on our land, let us have
autonomy in Zangazur and Goyca [southern and eastern Armenia] which will
enable Azerbaijan to reach Turkey by land.” (Source: ANS via BBC Monitoring

路 The Azerbaijani Parliament member from ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party
Asia Manafova: “Our people must repay the debt it owes to [the late
President] Heydar Aliyev and free Karabakh from Armenian occupiers. To
achieve this goal we are ready… undertake acts of suicide bombing.”
Manafova called on other Parliament members to also become suicide bombers.
(Source: 12/15/03) The pro-government Azerbaijan News Service
(ANS) has been the most active Azeri TV channel opposing any contacts with
Armenians and arguing for war, suggesting, among other things, to recruit
suicide bombers from among thousands of orphaned and homeless children in
Azerbaijan. (Source: ANS via BBC Monitoring 10/13/02).

As one of the leading mediators in the Karabakh peace process and Co-Chair
of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as a nation with deep bilateral ties with
both Armenia and Azerbaijan, the United States needs to be much more active
in securing an end to such irresponsible and bellicose high-level
Azerbaijani statements. Clearly these officials envision another military
offensive against NKR and Armenia, ethnic cleansing and in the case of Col.
Melikov, Armenia’s demise and genocide against its population. Silence in
the face of such threats only emboldens the would-be aggressors.