Armenian, Georgian presidents pleased with first meeting

Armenian, Georgian presidents pleased with first meeting

Mediamax news agency
12 Mar 04

YEREVAN

The presidents of Armenia and Georgia, Robert Kocharyan and Mikheil
Saakashvili, are pleased with their first meeting that took place in
Yerevan today.

Speaking at a briefing in Yerevan, the Armenian and Georgian leaders
said that they had discussed mutual relations, regional and
international problems.

Armenian President Robert Kocharyan said that he and Mikheil
Saakashvili had agreed that the leaders of the two countries would
meet often, moreover not only in the course of visits or within the
framework of international forums. “We have also decided to have
informal contact,” Robert Kocharyan said.

Saakashvili said that his “impression was exclusively positive” of
Robert Kocharyan. “Armenia is fortunate to have such a president,”
Saakashvili said. He believes that Robert Kocharyan is “an ideal
partner” for Georgia.

Saakashvili hopes for greater integration on eve of Armenian visit

Georgian leader hopes for greater integration on eve of Armenian visit

Azg, Yerevan
12 Mar 04

Georgia is pursuing bilateral integration with Armenia and Azerbaijan
respectively, as a way to integrate all three countries, Georgian
President Mikheil Saakashvili has said. Interviewed by an Armenian
newspaper on the eve of his visit to Yerevan, Saakashvili advocated
freedom of movement across borders and the removal of customs
barriers. Describing the emotional tenor of relations as important, he
said that he hoped to learn as much as possible from President Robert
Kocharyan. Saakashvili said that he would take “daring” steps to
reopen the rail link through Abkhazia. He also said that Georgia was
ready to help establish relations between Armenia and Turkey. The
following is the text of Tatul Akopyan and Agavni Arutyunyan’s
interview with Saakashvili, as published in Armenian newspaper Azg on
12 March and headlined “I expect fair and natural talks with my
Armenian counterpart. Mikheil Saakashvili’s exclusive interview with
Azg and Armenian TV’s second channel”; subheadings inserted
editorially:

Yesterday at a little past eight in the evening Azg reporters Tatul
Akopyan and Agavni Arutyunyan sat down for a conversation with the new
president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, in Tbilisi, an exclusive
opportunity to hear the views of our neighbouring country’s leading
figure on issues of mutual concern on the very eve of his visit to
Armenia. (Saakashvili arrives in Yerevan today, 12 March, on a two-day
official visit at the invitation of his Armenian counterpart, Robert
Kocharyan.) Greeting the Armenian journalists, Saakashvili said the
following:

[Mikheil Saakashvili] I always talk to Armenian reporters with
pleasure. It is as precious for me as to talk to local reporters. I
think that these obstacles are unnecessary, Armenia is not a foreign
land, but a part of our region, our close neighbour, our friend,
that’s why every word uttered in Armenia finds its response in Georgia
proper.

Georgia wants common legal system with Azerbaijan, Armenia

[Azg correspondent] Mr President, what are Georgia’s political and
economic priorities as regards Armenia?

[Saakashvili] Everything is very simple. Armenia is our friend, our
neighbour, a brotherly state. And there is no need to talk about
certain pragmatic priorities. Our relations should first of all come
from the heart. If they don’t come from the heart, there can’t be a
big friendship. I keep reiterating that we are Caucasians and the
Caucasus is a single whole. We should adopt the path of political and
economic integration of the South Caucasus. Naturally it is not
working out for all three countries at this stage, because of past
conflicts, that is why it is necessary to choose a bilateral
integration path. It is the way both for Armenia and Georgia, and for
Azerbaijan and Georgia. In this way we can achieve a point where our
people will live better. What does integration mean? It is the
exemption of all customs obstacles, setting common tariffs, reducing
them and in certain cases cancelling them fully. Integration is also
the freedom of people’s movement. The people do move (from one country
to another), but they are stopped at the borders. It is funny that
people have to wait 40-60 minutes at the border to cross from Armenia
to Georgia. It is unacceptable, not serious; it is a leftover of a
feudalistic regime. We need the free transit of both people and
goods. For this we need a common legal system. I mean that a person
who is registered as a Georgian [citizen] should have the same status
in Armenia, and vice versa. Any Armenian juridical person should not
need to pass all kinds of legal red tape or registration [in
Georgia]. I think when these obstacles are dealt with, we will have a
totally different situation.

Today each one of our countries, taken separately, is weak, for the
market needs expansion, a larger space. Moreover, as regards relations
with Europe, the USA and Russia, it’s better for us to have a joint
and (consequently) stronger position. I am confident that this is not
a Utopia, I have concrete deadlines, and in a year and half to two
years we will achieve results similar to those of Europe.

Georgia and Armenia should share experience

[Correspondent] Mr Saakashvili, you earlier stated that you intend to
break the formal barrier of relations between Georgia and Armenia
during Shevardnadze’s reign. What steps exactly does Georgia expect
Armenia to undertake, and what can promote the escalation and
expansion of bilateral ties?

[Saakashvili] Before it was like this: as far as we promoted friendly
relations with Azerbaijan and had many economic and political ties, we
were to have friendly relations with Armenia as well, but only because
we had good relations with Azerbaijan. It is absurd. We do have
friendly relations with Azerbaijan, and will have friendly ties with
Armenia, too. This is not just an “obligation”, but because Armenia is
a close neighbour, a country with which we have past and current ties,
common history, cultural and human relations. Besides, Armenia is a
country that has the largest recognition among the countries of this
region. Naturally, the other countries of the region are also known,
but still, Armenia maintains its attraction, and has a long history of
friendship and integration with the West and Russia. This experience
should be used for the benefit of the entire region. So, what I expect
from Armenia: firstly I hope we will unify our economic and legal
systems. Second, we should foster contacts between our nations’
representatives on the level of associations, cultural unions and
educational institutions.

This may be viewed as a lyrical detail, but I attach great importance
to the emotional degree of our relations. I want us to share our
experience. For instance, we are now trying to regulate ties with
Russia, and in this respect Armenia can seriously help us, for it has
close and friendly relations with Russia. I am eager to learn many
things on my visit to Armenia, so it is not only a visit to become a
friend of Mr Kocharyan. I can learn from him and practise whatever is
possible to practise. I would want to visit Armenia not for two days,
but for a couple of weeks. But presidency is like a prison, the
timetable is very tense and you have to absorb everything like a
sponge. Therefore, the fact-finding aspect of every visit is very
important to me. I am to meet different people in Armenia, and this is
a heartfelt visit for me, and you know that the heart has emotions,
there is no mere pragmatism here.

More integration into Georgia for region with ethnic Armenian
population

[Correspondent] The former Georgian ambassador to Armenia, Nikoloz
Nikolozishvili, was recently appointed your authorized representative
in Samtskhe-Javakheti Region [a part of Georgia with a mainly ethnic
Armenian population]. Nikolozishvili talked about the social and
economic problems in the region at a recent meeting with President
Kocharyan. What actual steps will be taken in this direction?

[Saakashvili] This issue is important to me, for first of all the
ex-ambassador loves Armenia. He has not been a mere ambassador. He is
in love with Armenian culture, and speaks Armenian. Secondly, this
region is in a difficult, social situation, not because it is
populated with Armenians, but because the whole of Georgia is in a
poor situation. Moreover, the region “boasts” a difficult climate, as
well as some serious problems. A major problem is the roads. One of my
major tasks is going to be building normal roads in Akhalkalaki, so
that the region integrates into Georgia’s economic life. Also we will
ensure that red tape and other bureaucratic mechanisms are cut at the
root there, so that all problems are solved quickly. And we shall set
up local programmes for social and economic development. The main
employer in Akhalkalaki is the Russian military base. But this is
temporary, and not normal. At present we are discussing with European
and other agencies ways of setting up agricultural and industrial
enterprises that will be financed by European money, and will be able
to pay for themselves in two to four years. Armenians are talented
people and they will succeed if they are given the minimum conditions.

Saakashvili to be “daring” in reopening Abkhaz railway

[Correspondent] Mr Saakashvili, the importance of the Abkhaz railway
for Armenia is apparent. How do you see integration when the railway
does not function?

[Saakashvili] This is an important issue for me. And this concerns not
only Armenia, but Georgia as well. Here everything depends upon the
progress reported in Gali District. We have set up a trilateral
commission together with the Russian and Abkhaz de facto
authorities. This commission now works, and its initial concern is the
economic infrastructure. Russia displays eagerness. I believe there
are many Abkhaz who realize the importance of economic
infrastructure. At this stage we need good will, of which we have more
than enough. The deadlock concerns not only Armenia, but Georgia,
too. I am going to take daring steps to open the railway.

[Correspondent] What do you mean by “daring steps”?

[Saakashvili] The former Georgian authorities said that as long as
Abkhazia’s status is undecided, we should not start economic
relations. I am of a different opinion: I think that this is a
parallel process. One should start with economic cooperation, but not
vice versa.

Georgia ready to help advance Turkish-Armenian relations

[Correspondent] Mr Saakashvili, what role can Georgia possibly play in
Turkish-Armenian relations?

[Saakashvili] Georgia is ready to have the utmost participation in
constructive relations between Armenia and Turkey. I am of the opinion
that Turkey is more than ready for this. Of course, Turkey has close
partner relations with Azerbaijan. This fact is worth considering, we
should also see that Turkey well realizes the need to develop ties
with Armenia to achieve peace in the region. For this purpose we will
be glad to assist. It is very important to us, it is a factor of
stability and development for Georgia. Turkey has played a positive
role in Georgia up to now. I think whatever Armenia can do to help us
in our relations with Russia, Georgia is able to do as regards
Turkish-Armenian contacts.

NATO chief hopes officer’s killing not to threaten coop with Armenia

NATO chief hopes officer’s killing not to threaten cooperation with Armenia

Mediamax news agency
10 Mar 04

YEREVAN

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has sent a letter to
Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan in connection with the
killing of Armenian Lt Gurgen Markaryan by an Azerbaijani serviceman
in Budapest on 19 February.

The press service of the Armenian Foreign Ministry quotes the NATO
secretary-general as saying in the letter that he was “deeply shocked
by the brutal killing of the Armenian officer” and asked to pass his
sympathy to his family, Mediamax reports.

“As you know, relevant Hungarian agencies are conducting a detailed
investigation into the incident and I am convinced that they will do
their best to find out all the circumstances of the killing and to
make sure that justice is administered. I myself will follow the
course of the investigation and the subsequent trial,” Jaap de Hoop
Scheffer said.

The NATO secretary-general expressed the hope that this crime would
not pose a threat to the development of cooperation between Armenia
and the alliance and said that NATO appreciated Armenia’s contribution
to the Partnership for Peace programme. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer added
that the further expansion of regional cooperation in the South
Caucasus is one of the key components of the programme.

On 23 February, the Armenian ambassador to NATO, Vigen Chitechyan,
forwarded Vardan Oskanyan’s letter to Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The
Armenian foreign minister says in the letter that the Azerbaijani
officer’s action “was somewhat expected because it was a logical
consequence of bellicose statements by the previous and new
Azerbaijani authorities”.

[Passage omitted: Known details of the Budapest incident]

Georgian president arrives in Armenia “with love”

Georgian president arrives in Armenia “with love”

Public Television of Armenia, Yerevan
12 Mar 04

[Presenter over video of meeting] Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili has arrived in Armenia on an official visit for the first
time. Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan, the chairman of the
standing parliamentary commission for foreign relations, Armen
Rustamyan, and other officials met Saakashvili at the airport. Foreign
Minister Vardan Oskanyan said that our neighbour Georgia is one of the
regional countries with which we have no problems. The Georgian
president stressed the importance of relations with our country. He
noted that Armenia has a sufficiently kind and wise president who can
give serious advice during discussion of serious problems.

[Mikheil Saakashvili at airport, voice-over in Armenian] I do not
think of this as an official visit. I came to Armenia with love. Our
countries are historical neighbours. We cannot exist and develop
separately. Armenia and Georgia must act and cooperate jointly.

[Vardan Oskanyan] Following Mr Saakashvili’s recent visit to France,
where he made some proposals to start cooperation on integration
between the three countries in the Caucasus – I think that this is an
interesting proposal. But Azerbaijan has always hindered this. He also
visited Baku. We are very interested in Azerbaijan’s position
regarding this proposal.

The second interesting proposal made by Mr Saakashvili was to approach
settling conflicts through economic cooperation. He is preparing to
present such proposals to Abkhazia. We hope that it will be catching
for Azerbaijan too. We must settle conflicts by creating the most
favourable atmosphere through economic cooperation and cooperation in
other spheres. These two main issues are on the agenda. I hope that
there will be interesting talks between the two presidents.

Saakashvili links Moscow-Yerevan rail to return of Abkhaz refugees

Georgian leader links opening of Moscow-Yerevan railway to return of Abkhaz
refugees

Imedi TV, Tbilisi
12 Mar 04

[Presenter] The restoration of the Abkhaz section of the railway
connecting Russia with Armenia is the main issue for the official
Yerevan. Not a single train has arrived in Yerevan from Moscow since
the Abkhaz war.

Today Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that the railway
link would be restored if refugees [from Abkhazia] returned to their
homes and political issues were resolved. Saakashvili intends to use
Armenia’s good relations with Russia in settling Georgian-Russian
relations. The president has already met his Armenian colleague
[President Robert Kocharyan]. Now he is at Echmiadzin where he is
meeting Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II.

[Saakashvili, video starts in mid-sentence] – especially in
[Abkhazia’s] Gali District, connected with the creation of security
guarantees for people who return [to their home], as well as with
general economic restoration in the whole region. Naturally, all of
this will facilitate economic development, including the restoration
of the transport infrastructure.

We are working within a trilateral commission, with Russia and
Abkhazia’s de-facto authorities. We think that Russia could play a
constructive role in this issue. There is the Geneva process, as well
as the group of the UN secretary-general’s friends in Georgia. They
are addressing [inaudible] issues there.

I think that now the Georgian side is ready to pursue a peaceful
course in a much stronger manner. After the [presidential] election in
Russia – we have already found a common language with Russia – I think
that Russia will spend more time on this issue. As regards the Abkhaz
authorities, there too a change of leadership is planned this year. I
think that with the change of leadership, problems will start to be
resolved within a much shorter time.

In principle, we realize the importance of this railway for
Armenia. It is important for Georgia as well. Of course, it is linked
to the general security climate and the peaceful resolution of the
problem. All of this cannot be resolved by a one-sided approach. This
issue has several aspects. Of course, we are ready – I repeat once
again – to make bold decision in the interests of the entire region.

[Kocharyan] I will simply add the following. You know that this
situation has been continuing for a long time. In such situations,
normally, people get used to the status quo. Changing the situation
requires, of course, political efforts and will on the part of all
participating sides.

Submitted by Janoyan Ana

Armenian Opp. demands government’s resignation in regional rally

Armenian opposition demands government’s resignation in regional rally

Arminfo
10 Mar 04

YEREVAN

Representatives of the opposition’s Justice bloc today staged a rally
in the town of Alaverdi, Lori Region.

It must be remembered that unlike the previous events arranged by the
opposition bloc in the regions of the republic, the turnout at today’s
rally was poor. In his speech, the head of the newly-formed
headquarters to save the fatherland under the Justice bloc, MP Viktor
Dallakyan, said that the illegitimate authorities were relying on
criminal local administration whose staunchest supporter is the
governor of Lori Region, Genrik Kochinyan. “Therefore, we warn all the
local underlings that they will soon end up behind bars, and we
promise this to them,” Dallakyan said.

The rally spoke about extremely low pensions and allowances, high
water prices and the political coalition’s promises to return
citizens’ savings accounts. The leader of the Union of Constitutional
Law and a member of the Justice bloc, MP Grant Khachatryan, said that
the coalition was not able to adopt any law of vital importance to the
people. All the problems facing Armenia will be resolved only after
the government is changed, and this process has already started, the
members of the Justice bloc think.

The resignation of the current administration is a requirement of the
day, the leader of the Justice bloc, Stepan Demirchyan, said.

The members of the Justice bloc promised to inform the public about
their next measures “to topple the authorities”.

Saakashvili warns Russian troops against interference in affairs

President warns Russian troops against interference in Georgian affairs

Imedi TV, Tbilisi
12 Mar 04

[Presenter] It was reported in Ajaria this morning that the centre was
planning to deploy the Commando Battalion in Batumi [Ajarian capital]
to establish control there.

The Ajarian interior minister [Jemal Gogitidze] said in a telephone
conversation with us that official Batumi had received this
information a long time ago. He said that Ajarian law enforcers had
been mobilized in this connection. Also, today Jemal Gogitidze denied
the information that a 60-strong group from the Netkachovi [as heard]
unit had abandoned [Ajarian leader] Aslan Abashidze.

Before flying to Yerevan, President [Mikheil] Saakashvili said once
again that the attention to Ajaria would not be lessened.

Saakashvili commented on today’s reports that the transfer of Russian
servicemen to Ajaria was continuing. It has been reported that 79 new
recruits were transferred to Batumi from the Armenian town of Gyumri
this morning. The servicemen were brought there by a special
train. The Russian side has been carrying out a rotation of its
servicemen at the military base in Ajaria for a month.

[Saakashvili, speaking to journalists at Tbilisi airport. Video starts
in mid-sentence] – they want to divert attention from Ajaria.

We will respond to the extremists in Tbilisi and we will detain those
who violate human rights in Batumi as well. Their hope that we will
give up Ajaria are in vain. This will not happen.

[Russian] bases is a separate issue. I constantly raise the issue of
bases at all levels. However, whatever forces they bring in, or take
out, let nobody have a hope that those forces will intervene in
Georgia’s domestic affairs. And may God forbid anyone to intervene [in
Georgia’s domestic affairs] without the Russian president’s
knowledge. They will receive such an answer that they will never be
able to stand on their feet again. We are no longer the Georgia of
1992. I do not advise [changes tack] – I am ready to stand in front of
any tank for Georgia.

Azeri official plays down Armenian leader’s Karabakh remarks

Azeri official plays down Armenian leader’s Karabakh remarks

Azad Azarbaycan TV, Baku
12 Mar 04

[Presenter] Baku believes that Armenian President Robert Kocharyan’s
statement that Nagornyy Karabakh can never become part of Azerbaijan
again is intended to cast a shadow on our country.

Saying this, the head of the Presidential Executive Staff, Ramiz
Mehdiyev, added that Kocharyan’s mythical remarks that if Nagornyy
Karabakh is returned to Azerbaijan, hundreds of thousands of axes
would be hanging over the Karabakh Armenians show that he is not
faring well in his country.

Mehdiyev also stressed that while the Armenian president is saying
that there is no political crisis in Armenia, his attempts to foment
tensions around the Nagornyy Karabakh issue testify to the opposite
and show that there is a deep political crisis in Armenia.

The head of the Presidential Executive Staff also pointed to the fact
that 30,000 Armenians still live in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, he said,
is demonstrating to the whole world that the Armenians can live in
peace among the Azerbaijanis and there is no threat to their
lives. This is the result of the security guarantees that we have been
providing for the Armenians for years.

At the same time, Mehdiyev said that Armenia cannot conceal its
aggressive anti-Azerbaijani policy, as a result of which there are no
Azerbaijanis on Armenian territory. He added that the Azerbaijanis
were driven out of Armenia even more cruelly than with axes. Today
Armenian snipers are targeting peaceful Azerbaijanis. But they can
only do that in borderline areas.

Georgia, Armenian presidents pledge close cooperation

Georgia, Armenian presidents pledge close cooperation

AP Worldstream
Mar 12, 2004

Leaders of Caucasus neighbors Georgia and Armenia pledged close
cooperation Friday as Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili met his
Armenian counterpart for the first time.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian said the two agreed at the talks
to meet often, both formally and informally.

Saaskashvili, who won elections in January to replace former President
Eduard Shevardnadze after leading protests to oust him from power,
praised Kocharian as an “ideal partner” for Georgia.

The Georgian leader said Armenia could also help Georgia to normalize
its relations with Russia, which have been complicated by the
continued presence of Russian troops and Moscow’s support of
separatist regions. On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry harshly
warned Georgia against trying to rein in the independent-minded region
of Adzharia, whose leader has maintained close ties with Russia.

Kocharian expressed support for new railroad lines to be built from
Russia through the Georgia’s separatist Abkhazia region, which would
also link Armenia to Russia.

Georgian leader hopes Armenia to help normalize ties with Russia

Georgian leader hopes Armenia to help normalize ties with Russia

Mediamax news agency
12 Mar 04

YEREVAN

The presidents of Armenia and Georgia, Robert Kocharyan and Mikheil
Saakashvili, focused on issues of improving Georgian-Russian relations
during their talks in Yerevan today, Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili told a briefing in Yerevan today, Mediamax news agency
reports.

He said that he was decisive to normalize his country’s relations with
Russia, which “had considerably worsened under the previous Georgian
president”, according to Saakashvili.

Saakashvili said that many countries which maintain good relations
with Russia could contribute to the process of normalizing
Georgian-Russian relations. In particular, Saakashvili said that he
discussed this issue with French President Jacques Chirac several days
ago.

“However, we believe that Armenia, which maintains special relations
with Russia, could play a special role in normalizing Georgian-Russian
ties,” Saakashvili said.