BAKU: The law ”On freedom of information” democratic externally

Central Asian and Southern Caucasus Freedom of Expression Network
(CASCFEN), Azerbaijan
March 22 2004

The law ”On freedom of information” is democratic only externally – The law “On freedom of information” of the Republic
of Armenia is democratic only externally, actually there are no some
important elements in it necessary for development of democracy. On
March 20 at the session of the round table on the theme “Reforms of
the legislation on mass media of Armenia and its conformity to the
European standards” has declared about this the Minister of Justice
of Armenia David Arutyunyan.

As he said, the law “On freedom of information” is imperfect, as it
has many contradictions, including the name of the document. It is
natural, that the law has caused negative reaction of a society. As
minister has explained, the right of citizens of Armenia on getting
and distribution of the information is fixed in the article 24 of the
Constitution of Armenia. Meanwhile the name of the new law “On
freedom of information” assumes only freedom of reception of the
information, and is spoken nothing about its distribution. “The
discussed question is not deprived political nuances, therefore
arrival to the certain result for us is especially important”, has
noted D.Arutyunyan.

As minister assures, the purpose of the state is maintenance of
original freedom of information. “The law should be finished, that it
would not be only declarative, but also working”, David Arutyunyan
has noted. With this purpose the Ministry of Justice of Armenia has
addressed in the Armenian representations of OSCE and USAID with the
request for granting the help as an expert for studying the
legislation of mass media of Armenia.

D.Arutyunyan does not deny that the legislative field of Armenia is
rather inconsistent. After declaration the independence of the
country in the legislation of Armenia it was totaled by 70 thousand
legal acts semi-centennial and more prescription. After clarification
of a legislative field from 70 thousand remained only 30 legal acts
which demand additional study.

Translated from Russian by CASCFEN.

Duma int’l committee Head believes in close resz of Adzhar conflict

RIA Novosti, Russia
March 22 2004


MOSCOW, March 22, 2004 – RIA Novosti. The conflict around Adzharia
(autonomy within Georgia) is probably close to resolution, Konstantin
Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma international committee, told
journalists on Monday.

“One cannot but feel satisfied with the conflict around Adzharia
returning from the hot stage to a cold one,” Kosachev noted.

At the same time he recalled that the only document regulating the
status of Adzharia as autonomy within Georgia is the Treaty of Kars
of 1921, which remains valid up to this day.

According to Kosachev, the recent statements by some representatives
of Georgia and Turkey that a number of the Treaty’s provisions have
become invalid due to the changed international situation are
“juridically incorrect”.

“The basic documents of the Potsdam Conference, as well as the Vienna
Convention of 1969 “About the Right of International Treaties” have a
reference to this document as a treaty regulating the borders of the
autonomy, and this allows to speak that the Treaty of Kars keeps its
legal force,” the deputy said.

In accordance with the Treaty of Kars signed in 1921 between Turkey,
on the one side, and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, on the other
with Russia’s participation, Turkey waived its claims to Adzharia,
which was again becoming part of Georgia.

In line with this treaty, Georgia was to ensure autonomy to Adzharia
to the greatest possible extent – cultural, religious and national up
to the granting to it the right of adopting its own laws.

Under this Treaty Georgia also undertook to ensure free transit of
cargoes via Adzharia’s Black Sea port of Batumi.

Japan provides Armenia with another agricultural grant

March 22 2004


YEREVAN, MARCH 22, ARMENPRESS: Armenian agriculture minister David
Lokian and a senior official of the Japanese embassy in Moscow,
Masataka Yosidzava, signed today an agreement according to which the
Japanese government will provide Armenia with another, the seven
consecutive grant of 200 million Yens.
Japan has given Armenia already 2.13 billion Yens in the form of
grants since 1997 for agricultural development to buy 70,000 tons of
fertilizers, 53 harvest combines and 226 tractors, which were sold to
farmers at privileged terms.
Lokian said today that part of the grant, which is also made
available for purchase of agricultural machines and fertilizers, will
be used for restoration of Armenian forests and building dams to
protect lands against floods.
Yosidzava said his government has decided to cut aid to emerging
countries, reducing the list from 70 to 14, “but basing on
transparent and effective utilization of previous grants by the
government of Armenia, it has decided to keep Armenia on the list.”

More signs of increased seismic activity in Armenia

March 22 2004


GYUMRI, MARCH 22, ARMENPRESS: The northern branch of the National
Survey for Seismic Protection (NSSP), situated in the town of Gyumri,
said there are indications of increased seismic activity in Armenia’s
northern regions.
Since the start of 2004 it has registered around 200 tremors
against last year’s 30 minor tremors. Slight tremors are still being
registered following a January 16 earthquake ranging from 3-4 on the
Richter Scale in the Armenian marzes of Lori, Shirak and Tavush.
These tremors though being of small size, are registered several
times a day. The epicenter is north-west of Spitak, the scene of a
destructive earthquake in 1988 that razed to ground the north of
Armenia killing at least 25,000 people. Another hub of the increased
seismic activity is near the resort town of Jermuk, some 150 km south
of Yerevan. however, experts claim these tremors are only of
discharging nature posing no threat.
In the wake of a powerful earthquake that hit the Iranian city of
Bam killing thousands of people the chairman of the Armenian
Association of Seismologists and Earth Physics, Sergey Balasanian,
warned that the earthquake in Iran would cause a high seismic
activity in the next 12 months in the whole region including Armenia.
“There is a clear indication of a new wave of seismic activity
traveling across the region,” Sergey Balasanian announced, however
his warnings were turned down by NSSP specialists, who cautioned that
such announcements have to be done very careful not to spread a panic
among the population.

Chess: Interview with B. Djobava

Azat Artsakh – Republic of Nagorno Karabakh
March 19 2004


Among the guests of the International Chess Tournament held in
Stepanakert was young chess-player from Georgia, grand master Bahadur
– What did you know about Nagorni Karabakh?
– I heard about the territorial and political conflict between
Azerbaijan and Nagorni Karabakh 12 years ago, when I was a child. And
today it is painful that the historically attached neighbour nations
solve their problems in military ways.
– We knew that you would participate in the tournament.
– When I learned about my possible participation in the international
tournament to be held in Stepanakert I was glad because the
competition was going to be serious and besides I had many
acquaintances among the participants and organizers. I hoped that the
tournament would also favour the friendly and cultural relationships
between the chess-players from different countries and would become a
festivity for the lovers of chess. Unfortunately, I could not take
part in the tournament because of the decision of the administration
of the Georgian Federation of Chess. As a chess-player I felt
humiliated; we always thought that we must contribute to the
development of chess in the world. Therefore I accepted the
invitation of the organizer of the tournament Smbat Lpoutian to take
part in the tournament as a guest. On these days the chess school of
Stepanakert was opened. I met with the children, delivered a lecture
for them.
– What is your impression from the tournament?
– I was especially impressed by the meeting with the guest of honour
of the tournament, former champion of the world Boris Spassky. His
presence imparted friendliness to the atmosphere. The tournament was
marked for strong participants and interesting and tense competition.
The hall was always full of audience. I would like such tournaments
to be organized more frequently in all the countries of the world,
especially in Transcaucasia: Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
– Certain Azerbaijani mass media gave a negative reaction in your
– In the web site of FIDE I was blamed that the flag of Georgia was
raised for my participation. I want to assure that the flag of
Georgia was not raised although it should have been as Tigran
Petrossian was born in Tbilisi. I do not want my name to be
circulated in the political and chess intrigues. I only did my duty
of a professional chess-player to make our favourite game more famous
and popular.


Early to build a Babel tower

Azat Artsakh – Republic of Nagorno Karabakh
March 19 2004


The opposition of Armenia was too much inspired by the `rose
revolution’ in Georgia and even took `independent’ steps in the form
of addresses deviating from the official position at the PACE
meeting. Paying attention to the words of George Bush after his
meeting with the current president of Georgia, who has carried out
the `rose revolution’, Sahakashvili that they discussed the
possibility of spreading the revolution in other countries, we have
to state that the protests of the Armenian opposition are fertile
ground for this. Apparently the interest of the USA to spread the
rose revolution depends on the disappointment with the foreign
political position of official Yerevan. And although the opposition
tries to find the cause in the non-democratic presidential election
from which a year has passed already, the election in Baku which is
unanimously criticized by all the observers, makes to search for
other reasons. And as it is known to everybody that at all times the
mediation missions were an active mechanism of putting pressure on
the conflict parties, as well as a desire of the states which were
not conflict parties to solve their strategic and geopolitical
problems in the given country or region, we have to confess that we
are in a greater dependence on the countries which did not
participate in the conflict than we would like to be, countries the
number of which is growing and consequently the settlement becoming
more complicated. Naturally, at the beginning of the conflict we
depended on the USSR and its heir Russia whose strategic interests in
the Caucasus coincided with those of Armenia and Nagorni Karabakh, by
the way the final settlement of the Karabakh conflict and especially
its unification with Armenia is out of the circle of their interests
(there will be no other circumstance for putting pressure on
Azerbaijan). The other non-participant interested party, the USA
whose colonial pretensions have no limits, cherishes the desire of
ousting Russia from the region, as this country has still many levers
to put pressure on Armenia as the latter is in an unfavourable
condition, surrounded by hostile countries. And again we appear in
the focus of the collision of the interests of great powers because
of our geopolitical position, and it is very important to pay
attention at last to this factor using it in favour of our country.
In such difficult conditions it is not proper for the government and
the opposition to enter a conflict. We do not even have the right to
dream of a `rose revolution’. It is not accidental that at all times
the words of the great poet remain actual, `Armenian nation, your
only salvation is your united power.’ For if we are united, the
inventors of the American machine of revolutions would have no
support and would have to take into consideration the interests of
the given nation. And finally, how is it possible to keep silent
about the murder of the Armenian army officer during the NATO program
`Partnership for Peace’? The cruelty of the incident unexpected for
Europe should be used by the RA government and the Armenian Diaspora
to show that the line of globalization adopted by America and Europe
is not always adequate in reference to denying national borders, and
the nation which during the 20th century resorted to a genocide and
other cruel revenges does not recognize any rule. For they were not
able to protect the Armenian officer from the Azerbaijani murderer in
a neutral country and especially within the framework of such a
strong military alliance as NATO. So, it is still early to pretend to
the role of builder of the tower of Babel; the consequences will be
all the same.


Classical Score; In Armenia, discovering the past and the present

BPI Entertainment News Wire
March 22, 2004, Monday 01:18 PM Eastern Time

Classical Score ;
In Armenia, discovering the past and the present


Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian is a man of passion and intensity.

Whether discussing his friendship with Dmitri Shostakovich,
describing his childhood in Beirut, Lebanon, or recounting the
influence of William Faulkner’s writings on his work, Mansurian
punctuates his reflections with sweeping hand motions and piercing

Yet the 65-year-old’s own music exemplifies the power and pungency of
the small and subtle gesture. Renowned violist Kim Kashkashian —
herself Armenian-American — explains the appeal of Mansurian’s music
this way: “His writing is very distilled, very concentrated. The
intensity is extreme.”

Mansurian says his music is steeped not just in Armenian music and
history but is also influenced by a Japanese artist he observed some
30 years ago.

“I saw an ikebana artist creating a composition from flowers,” he
says, “and the theory behind this art is to reveal beauty through
simplicity. When they cut off leaves, you can see the childhood of
the plant. From that emptiness, you imagine and create life

Despite his renown at home and his friendships with such colleagues
as Arvo Part, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Valentin
Silvestrov and others, Mansurian is not well-known internationally.
However, that is rapidly changing.

Since their first meeting several years ago, Kashkashian has become a
champion of Mansurian’s work, and the composer has written several
works for her. Kashkashian’s advocacy has blossomed into a long-term
commitment to Mansurian from producer/ECM label head Manfred Eicher.

The first fruit of that relationship arrived last July, when the
Munich-based ECM released “Hayren,” a disc that included Mansurian’s
piece “Havik” as well as songs by the revered Armenian
composer/ethnomusicologist Komitas (1869-1935), arranged by

On March 30, ECM continues to explore Mansurian’s exceptional work
with a two-CD set titled “Monodia.” Two compositions on the new disc
were written expressly for Kashkashian: the 1995 viola concerto “And
Then I Was in Time Again …” and “Confessing With Faith” for viola
and voices (in which Kashkashian is joined by the Hilliard Ensemble).

“Lachrymae,” a piece for viola and saxophone, is played here by its
dedicatees, Kashkashian and Jan Garbarek (who makes his instrument
sound remarkably like the traditional Armenian duduk). Rounding out
the collection is 1981’s Violin Concerto, played by Leonidas Kavakos.

WHO’S FIT TO BE ARIADNE? The brouhaha stemming from Covent Garden’s
decision to drop Deborah Voigt from this June’s production of
Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” because of her weight shows no signs of
abating, despite the outpouring of support for Voigt.

You know the opera-sized wars have hit the big time when the fury
elicits outraged comment from The New York Times’ editorial board, as
it did March 10.

Asuggestion for the beleaguered Voigt: Perhaps a suitable venue in
London would be pleased to present you in a solo recital on the same
night that “Ariadne” opens?

Insider notes from United Press International for March 22

United Press International
March 22, 2004 Monday 13:11 PM Eastern Time

UPI Hears …


Insider notes from United Press International for March 22,


An increasing issue for the Pentagon as it extends its global
military presence is its “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) with the
host country. SOFA agreements are frequently seen as shielding U.S.
servicemen committing criminal acts from local justice, as the
agreements provide for trial by the U.S. military rather than local
jurisdictions. Japan, host to U.S. forces since 1945, is particularly
concerned about modifying its SOFA agreement with Washington. SOFA
currently does not require the United States to hand over military
suspects alleged to have committed crimes until Japanese prosecutors
indict them. The two countries are expected shortly to agree to a
compromise allowing U.S. officials to attend interrogations of U.S.
military personnel suspected of such serious crimes as murder or
rape. Washington and Tokyo are expected to resume official
negotiations later this month and formally agree on changes in
implementing SOFA.

As Turkey holds its breath over its possible accession to European
Union membership, the EU is casting its eyes even further afield. The
EU’s special envoy on South Caucasus, Heike Talvitie, told a meeting
of Azerbaijan’s permanent parliamentary commission on human rights in
Baku that a special project was being developed to admit Georgia,
Azerbaijan and Armenia to the EU and that the dates and condition for
admission of the three countries will be made public after the
project is developed. In broadening the EU’s contacts with the
country’s political opposition, Talvitie met with MP Ali Karimli,
chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, Musavat Party
leader Isa Gambar and Etibar Mammadov, chairman of the Party for
National Independence of Azerbaijan. Before flying to Yerevan,
Talvitie stressed that he would make every effort to settle the Upper
Karabakh conflict and take advantage of all opportunities to reach
peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

One of the few certainties in the wake of Israel’s “targeted
assassination” of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is that
in the short-term the Middle East is likely to become an even more
dangerous place as Hamas militants seek to avenge their fallen
leader. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s counter-terrorism adviser Avi
Arditi has underlined that the Israeli government’s recent travel
advisory warning citizens against visiting Sinai is based on hard
intelligence and not just general information. Among other areas
Israeli travel advisories warn Israelis to avoid visiting are
Istanbul, Bangkok, northern India, and Philippine islands that have
been the site of Muslim insurgent activity. Insurance companies use
travel advisory lists to determine whether to issue life insurance
policies to travelers putting themselves in harm’s way. All the
countries covered by the Israeli advisory — Egypt, Turkey, Thailand,
India and the Philippines — are heavily dependent on tourism
revenues, and inclusion in advisories frequently has a devastating
economic impact.

Qatar’s feisty satellite television channel al-Jazeera has annoyed
governments from Washington to Baghdad, with Riyadh recently claiming
that their broadcasts incite terrorism. Now Saudi Arabian Imam
Al-Hushan has taken the Western route, suing the channel in the
courts over a documentary that a film crew shot in his mosque in
Asir. The Western reporters in the broadcast version of the film
described the mosque as a base for terrorism, adding that four of the
9/11 suspects regularly attended prayer services there. Al-Hushan
claims that the broadcast ruined the mosque’s reputation, and is
seeking unspecified damages. Perhaps the filmmakers were onto
something; Asir province abuts Yemen, ancestral homeland of Osama bin
Laden, while nearly one-third of the Guantanamo detainees are Saudi
or Yemeni.

It might just be coincidence, but as U.S. troops prepare for
Operation Mountain Storm in Afghanistan, Russian and Tajik troops
across the border today began three days of joint command and staff
exercises in southern Tajikistan. The exercises are designed to
improve the country’s ability to interdict the flow of terrorists the
border. Motor-rifle regiments of the Russian 201st division and the
Tajik Armed Forces will be practicing joint maneuvers with armored
vehicles and attack aircraft. Chief of the army staff of the Volga
region-Urals Military District Col. Gen. Nikolai Tkachev and Maj.
Gen. Abdulnazar Abulasanov, commander of Tajikistan’s land forces are
overseeing the exercises. In case any Taliban or al-Qaida fighters
still in Afghanistan miss the point, joint artillery exercises will
be held at the Mumirak range along the southern Tajik-Afghan border
on March 24.

Round table on problems of Radio & TV

Azat Artsakh – Republic of Nagorno Karabakh
March 19 2004


Within the framework of the program `Maintenance of Democracy in the
South Caucasus through Freedom of Speech’ Stepanakert Press Club and
the international organization `Article 19′ organized a round table
on March 16 on the topic `Public Radio and Television: Problems and
Prospects’. To the round table were invited the member of the board
of directors of the association of journalists of Poland, freelance
reporter of the newspaper `Recpospolita’ Agneska Romashevska (Poland)
and the coordinator of the European program of the international
organization `Article 19′ Irina Smolina (Great Britain). At the round
table were also present representatives of the Karabakh mass media
and students. The aim was one – to find out what changes have taken
place in the Artsakh radio and television after giving it a public
status. The executive director of Artsakh radio and television Garik
Grigorian informed that recently the public television has been
provided with new equipment. Investments of 25 thousand dollars have
been made. However, the new equipment, according to TV reporter
Narine Aghabalian, is neither due to the council, nor the fact of
changing the status of the television to public. According to her,
soon or late those changes were to be made in the television, which
was dictated by the time. Garik Grigorian mentioned about the
drawbacks in the legislative sphere. `The reason is the RA law `About
the Mass Media’ adopted under the obligation of the Council of
Europe, which was introduced in NKR without any changes. Today there
is a necessity to make changes into this law.’ G.Grigorian also
touched upon the activity of the council of radio and television. `In
the Republic of Armenia the members of the council are paid, whereas
here it is not so unfortunately. The members of the council, except
the chairman of the council, work according to public principles and
their activity is brought to a level of formality. In Armenia the
council directs the public television, radio and the studio of
documentary films `Yerevan’ and carries out gigantic work. Here the
council meets once a month.’ According to G. Grigorian, we are at
martial law therefore we should realize the value of word. `The
notion of full freedom or independence is unintelligible for me,’
mentioned the executive director. In her greeting Irina Smolina
mentioned that in all the post-Soviet countries the problem of truly
independent mass media persists. In many countries, according to her,
only the signs are changed, whereas the activity remains the same.
She said that everything should be done to found a truly public
television for which it is absolutely necessary to be independent of
the government, first of all, financially. According to her, it is
the viewers and the listeners that should implement financing. In the
name of the council Naira Hayrumian summed up the results of the work
done in the past year. According to her, much cannot be done within
an hour of broadcasting, especially that the television of Artsakh
does not have its own broadcasting frequency but is transmitted by
others’ channels. And the solution of this problem, according to
Naira Hayrumian, requires about 100-150 thousand dollars. She also
mentioned the question of increasing the salaries in the radio and TV
for which 17 million AM drams were provided from the state budget.
Besides, according to her, two new programs have been broadcast, the
transmission of the parliamentary hour has been resumed, as well as
the projects of two new talk shows are with the chairman of the
council Maxim Hovhannissian which are still to be discussed. Naira
Hayrumian mentioned that there is need for entertainment shows.
According to her, it is also very important to decide the rating of
this or that program and to have the web site of the television. The
editor-in-chief of the public radio Vilen Bakhshiyan commented on the
idea of Gegham Baghdassarian, the head of the press club that in the
recent 30 years no changes took place in the radio. According to him,
changes were made in the 70’s and 80’s. `Only in these recent years
they were not significant.’ Vilen Bakhshiyan sees their solution in
acquirement of new equipment. Although there were also suggestions to
make changes in the staff. The head of the permanent committee of the
National assembly for foreign relationships and information Vahram
Atanessian touched upon the changes provided in the legislation about
the council of radio and television. According to him, the
legislative field has drawbacks. Besides, the attitude of the
authorities towards the radio and television when transforming from
state to public was not always positive. `It is wrong to unite the
radio and television. One of the serious steps would be separating
them. Moreover, they both must be funded equally.’ According to V.
Atanessian, it is necessary to constitute a special commission which
will deal with providing broadcasting frequencies and licensing. He
also emphasized the importance of overcoming the inertness of the
society, journalists and the political sphere. `Is there demand for
information? It seems that the society is satisfied with the
information it receives (the sources of which are not always
official) whereas the mass media are for educating taste and not for
providing mere information,’ he said. According to the head of the
main department of information under the NKR president Alexander
Grigorian, a public television does not mean a multi-party television
and radio. And in answer to the opinions about becoming financially
independent of the state, A. Grigorian said, `Who in that case will
finance it if not the state? Is our society ready to finance the
public radio and television?’ Agneska Romashevska spoke on the topics
of standards of public TV broadcasting, difficulties in transforming
from state to public radio and television, the tactics of the public
radio and television in the absence of an alternative television. She
presented in detail how this process took place in her home country,
Poland. She mentioned that the journalists are the eyes and ears of
the society and therefore have an important role in building society.
The participants of the round table unanimously characterized the
activity of the public radio as `not excellent’. As to the reasons,
the opinions were different. Some think that technical supply will
help to raise the quality of programs, others think that technical
support is not enough and changes in the staff are also necessary.
Radio reporter Seyran Karapetian supported the first idea. A.
Romashevska added that it will not be possible to attract young
audience unless the time of radio broadcasting is not prolonged.
According to her, the best hours for radio programs are morning
hours, and this gap should also be filled. Member of the Stepanakert
Press Club Karine Ohanian presented the results of the public opinion
poll held among 50 journalists, aiming to find out their opinion what
changes took place in the public radio and television after changing
it into public. Thirty of the questioned fifty were workers of the
radio and television. Thus, in reference to radio 28 answered that no
changes were made (of them 17 working in the radio or television).
Nine people think that certain changes were made. In reference to the
television 19 people think that the appearance changed, but the
contents remained the same. 16 think that certain changes took place.
29 said they prefer the news and analytical programs of the public
television, 10 watch mainly social and political programs, 9 people
watch all the programs, 5 people do not watch any programs, 3 found
it difficult to answer and 5 gave different answers. In reference to
the public radio 19 said they prefer information and analytical
programs, 20 people do not listen to any programs (of them 12 work in
the radio or television), 5 prefer social-political, 4 cultural,
sport and entertainment programs, 4 listen to all the programs, 2
people prefer popular scientific programs and 2 people Russian
programs. 4 of the questioned found it difficult to answer. `Does the
staff of the public television correspond to the present standards?’
This was the next question to which 18 people said that mainly yes
(15 working in the television or the radio), and 15 said mainly no. 7
people gave a negative answer. 2 people gave a positive answer, 4
people found it difficult to answer and 4 gave other variants. In
answer to the same question referring to the public radio 15 people
said that mainly yes, 13 gave a negative answer. 9 think that mainly
yes, 1 gave a positive answer, 11 people found it difficult to answer
and 1 gave a different variant of answer. The question `What changes
would you like to see in the public television and radio?’ was
interesting in the sense that there were no fixed variants of answer
and the questioned had to give their opinions. Thus, 46 people think
that the public television needs new programs, freedom, actuality,
independence from the authorities. 15 people think that there is need
for greater responsibility and professionalism. 12 are for staff and
structural changes. 12 (all of them working in the radio and
television) think there is need for improvement of technical
conditions, 6 mentioned the need of increasing the hours of
broadcasting. As to the radio, the picture is the following: 26 think
there is a need for new programs, freedom, actuality, independence
from the authorities, 16 (all of them working in the radio r the
television) mention the need for improvement of technical conditions,
13 are for staff and structural changes, 8 are for increasing the
hours of broadcasting, and 5 would like to see fundamental changes in
the radio.


Adzharia: All Quiet for Now

Moscow Times, Russia
March 23 2004

Adzharia: All Quiet for Now

By Pavel Felgenhauer

After six days of high tension, the confrontation between the
authorities in Tbilisi and the autonomous republic of Adzharia ended
after face-to-face talks in Batumi between Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili and Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze.

The settlement involved an apparent climb down by Abashidze, who
pledged to allow opposition political activity in his strictly
controlled fiefdom, as well as a possible sharing of control of
Batumi port and its customs revenues with Tbilisi. In return,
Saakashvili announced the lifting of an economic blockade imposed on
Adzharia last week.

As Georgia’s biggest seaport, Batumi is also used by landlocked
Armenia, whose borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey have been closed to
any traffic since 1991, as one of its main outlets to the outside
world. During his years as the sole, absolute ruler of Adzharia,
Abashidze has privatized the Batumi port and its customs service.

The income from the Batumi port and customs has allowed Abashidze to
equip a large private army — and to wine, dine and pay bribes to
various Russian military and civilian officials.

During the rule of Saakashvili’s predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze,
Abashidze formed a political party called “Vozrozhdenie,” and clearly
harbored ambitions to eventually take over in Tbilisi. But the fall
of Shevardnadze in November’s “Rose Revolution” catapulted
Saakashvili to power in Tbilisi and dashed Abashidze’s hopes. Since
then, the Adzharian leader has openly opposed Saakashvili, obviously
worried that he might lose control of his fiefdom.

Russia has maintained a military garrison in Batumi since Soviet
times and the port has been used to supply other Russian bases in
Georgia and Armenia. In 1999, during an OSCE summit in Istanbul,
Russia promised to close its bases in Georgia by January 2004. This
deadline has passed and now Russia says it needs 11 more years and
some half a billion dollars to complete withdrawal.

Courtesy of Abashidze, Russia for the past decade could move men and
military equipment through Batumi without asking Tbilisi. The
Adzharian tangle involves the military, political and economic
interests of Russia, Turkey and the West (as a major oil pipeline is
being built in the region to bring Caspian oil to the world market).

Last week, Abashidze’s gunmen prevented Saakashvili from entering
Adzharian territory. Later Abashidze announced that Georgian
government forces were planning the imminent invasion of Adzharia and
demanded the Russian military’s help.

It soon transpired that Tbilisi was not actually planning an
immediate invasion and that there were in fact no forces amassed on
the Adzharian border. Apparently Abashidze hoped to provoke
Saakashvili into military action by personally insulting him. But
Saakashvili, after some tough talk, under diplomatic pressure from
Washington and Moscow, decided to use economic pressure instead. The
Georgian navy began stopping foreign ships from reaching Batumi. A
blockade of Adzharia, if strictly imposed, could cause economic
disaster in the entire region.

Last week, the crisis in Adzharia also caused a commotion in and
around the Kremlin. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov went to Batumi to
“defend his brother” Abashidze. A foreign policy official close to
Vladimir Putin told me that Luzhkov’s move was not viewed favorably
in the Kremlin, though it was decided not to publicly disavow him.

I was told that Abashidze was influenced by a group of aggressive
generals, led by a former Russian defense minister. But by last
Friday a decision was taken in the Kremlin to put serious pressure on
Abashidze to stop causing trouble. I was also told that during the
crisis Saakashvili had behaved well, in line with his promises to
Putin during their recent meeting in the Kremlin.

It all ended well: Saakashvili finally visited Adzharia and displayed
personal valor in facing crowds of Abashidze gunmen. It was proven
that a large part of the Adzharian population in fact support
Saakashvili. But if Saakashvili, in the future, actually tries to
oust the Abashidze clan, an armed conflict may still unfold.

What is even more troubling is the incoherence of our policy in the
Caucasus (and in many other places). Putin, receiving advice from
different factions, constantly changes his opinion. Strange groups of
corrupt adventurers often succeed in hijacking foreign, defense and
national security decision-making to meet their specific needs, while
Russia’s true national interests are ignored.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.