AAA: Armenia This Week – 02/07/2005


Monday, February 7, 2005

In this issue:

Armenian Assembly sends condolences to Georgia’s leader

Armenia expresses condolences, anxiety over Zhvania’s death

U.S., Armenia cooperate in the Embassy briber investigation

Senior Azeri officials linked to terrorism, drug smuggling

February 3, 2005

His Excellency Mikheil Saakashvili

President, Republic of Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

Dear President Saakashvili,

It was with great sadness that we learned of the tragic and untimely
death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. We extend our heartfelt
condolences to Prime Minister Zhvania’s family, to the Georgian people
and to you and your colleagues.

The entire world has taken notice of the sweeping reforms you, the Prime
Minister and your colleagues have initiated throughout Georgia. During
meetings with Prime Minister Zhvania, we had discussed ways in which the
Georgian-American community and the Armenian Assembly of America could
work together to improve the lives of the Georgian and Armenian peoples,
thereby contributing to a stable and flourishing region. We remain
committed to this.

Mr. Zhvania’s legacy will live on as you continue building a strong and
prosperous Republic of Georgia.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Board of Directors, members and
staff of the Armenian Assembly of America, we extend our deep
condolences to the Georgian people.

With compassion,

Hirair Hovnanian Anthony

Chairman, Board of Trustees Chairman,
Board of Directors

[AAA Note: Chairman of the Assembly Board of Directors Anthony Barsamian
and Armenia Director Arpi Vartanian visited Georgia and met its leaders
last June.]


President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders have expressed
shock and grief over the sudden death of Georgia’s Prime Minister Zurab
Zhvania last week. According to the official report, Zhvania, 41 and a
close friend and colleague 25-year-old Raul Yusupov, were found dead of
carbon monoxide poisoning at a Tbilisi apartment. Georgian police said
that deaths were accidental and no foul play was involved.

Kocharian’s message said the news was received “with pain in Armenia. We
share the grief of this loss with you.” He further noted Zhvania’s role
in strengthening Georgian-Armenian relations. There is also anxiety in
Armenia that the death may bring back instability to Georgia. The
Georgian government appointed over a year ago and led by Zhvania has
cracked down on rampant corruption, reducing the barriers to travel and
trade with and through Georgia, on which Armenia depends. Reflecting
these changes, Armenia’s trade with Georgia grew by 50 percent last
year, faster than with any other country. Zhvania also made a personal
contribution to the bilateral relationship, admonishing Georgian
politicians who in the past frequently engaged in xenophobic,
anti-Armenian rhetoric and declaring to the Georgian Parliament that he
was proud that his mother, accomplished physicist Mariam
Antonova-Zhvania, is an ethnic Armenian.

Zhvania had the most political experience of the leaders of the Georgian
opposition movement that forced out President Eduard Shevardnadze in
November 2003. Long seen as a political successor to Shevardnadze,
Zhvania for six years served as Parliament Speaker before breaking ranks
with Shevardnadze in 2001. While at the helm of the Parliament, he is
credited with attracting young, Western-educated cadres, such as the
future President Mikhail Saakashvili, to serve in the government.
Zhvania played a key role in what became known as Georgia’s “revolution
of the roses,” the subsequent anti-corruption drive and diffusing
tensions in Ajaria and South Ossetia last year.

Many Georgian commentators have questioned the official version of the
Prime Minister’s death. Some pointed to the deadly bomb blast earlier
last week outside the police station in the town of Gori near the South
Ossetia region, which saw renewed fighting last year, as somehow
connected. Others have linked an apparent suicide by the Georgian
President’s staff member 32-year-old Giorgi Khelashvili and murder of a
Russia-based Georgian businessman Mamuka Jincharadze, just days after
Zhvania’s death, as possibly linked. According to the U.S. Ambassador to
Georgia Richard Miles, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will
send a special team of experts to study the circumstances of Zhvania’s
death, as well as the recent blast in Gori. (Sources: Armenia This Week
4-2-04, 1-24; Noyan Tapan 2-3; Regnum 6-10-04, 2-4, 5, 6, 7;
2-4, 5, 6, 7; BBC News 2-5; Daily Telegraph 2-6)


A former U.S. consular official in Armenia has been charged with bribery
and visa fraud, an indictment jointly released by the Departments of
Justice and State said last week. Piotr Zdzislaw Parlej, who pleaded
guilty, faces between 5 and 15 years in prison for bribes he allegedly
took from visa applicants while working at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan
until last month. The case was jointly investigated by the U.S. State
Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Embassy in Yerevan and
Armenia’s law-enforcement authorities. In a statement issued last week,
the U.S. Embassy in Armenia praised Armenia’s National Security Service
“for their invaluable assistance” in the case. (Sources: Mediamax 2-4;
Noyan Tapan 2-4)


Recent publications in Azerbaijan’s opposition-leaning press have
renewed accusations that senior government officials are linked to
terror groups and drug trafficking. A publication last week said that an
unnamed “head of a state committee and a patron of various sports” had a
private army, elements of which have fought against the U.S. in
Afghanistan and Iraq to “gain experience.” Another publication alleged
that the head of the State Customs Committee Gen. Kamaleddin Heydarov
and Border Guards commander Gen. Elchin Guliyev are complicit in
narcotics trafficking.

Azerbaijan reportedly lies at the crossroads of the opium and heroin
trade stretching from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Russia and Western
Europe. A State Department report issued last March suggested that while
drug trafficking is a significantly smaller problem in Armenia than in
the neighboring states, it could potentially exacerbate should borders
with either Turkey or Azerbaijan open. (Sources: Armenia This Week 6-18,
10-4, 25; Monitor 12-25; Azadliq 2-1)


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