Karabakh negotiations. What happened in Moscow?

High level talks on Karabakh conflict resolution concluded on July 17th and July 18th in Moscow. Armenian and Azerbaijani sides didn’t comment much. The OSCE Minsk group mediators sounded disappointed, even if they tried to accurately conceal that with phrases like “very open discussion took place” and “there was no progress, but there was not step back either”.
It seems like the reason for failure in progress was Armenia’s stance. There was a serious backlash in Armenia following the release of Madrid principles by the Presidents of OSCE Minsk group co-chairing countries at the G8 meeting in Italy.
Calls demanding resignation of Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and reversal of policy on Karabakh by ARF-Dashnaktsutyuniun, criticism from Karabakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were followed by Nalbandian’s statement, which made clear, that there is hardly any point in the upcoming negotiations in Moscow.
Interestingly, it seemed from the side, that much of this halabaloo on the Armenian side was carefully staged by the authorities ahead of the negotiations. It seems there was pressure on them and they needed this backlash to adopt a more hardline stance.
The question than remains – why all this circus? Why don’t they just say – we don’t need no negotiations?

Podcast: Armenian blogosphere talks Turkey

Podcast“Armenia and Turkey have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations,” is said in the joint statement disseminated by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries. Hot discussions around the statement have started in the Armenian blogs.
“Today, a day before the commemoration of the genocide victims, we have learnt that Armenia and Turkey had signed an official joint document on normalizing bilateral relations and identifying a road-map,” Ogostos writes. “I would like to a) know what that bloody road-map contains; b) hear what Dashnaks will say before their torchlight procession; c) read “Golos Armenii” and other similar newspapers. Actually, I would like normal relations to be established between Armenia and Turkey. However, I am concerned about the price we will have to pay for it,” Ogostos concludes.

Continue reading “Podcast: Armenian blogosphere talks Turkey”

Isolated Armenia leans on Iran

BBC has a very interesting article on Armenia-Iran relations. A highly recommended read. Here are a couple of interesting points:

Iran does not have too many friends these days, but in a far corner of the Caucasus, on the edge of Europe, it is forming a special relationship.

The story further goes on to tell about Omid Mojahed, a 28-year-old student and entrepreneur, who has started tourism business working in the Iranian market, as well as a restaurant. Omid speaks about attractiveness of Armenia for Iranian tourists and businessmen, and the freedom enjoyed by them:

“In summer I think that 90% of tourists are Iranian. Armenia is so close by and has attractive things – cafes and nightclubs, and beautiful Lake Sevan.”
Omid has also just opened a Persian restaurant, catering for locals as well as Iranian expats, keen for some home cuisine.
Part of that freedom includes an increasingly liberalised economy, and that makes Armenia attractive to foreign investment.
The Armenian capital is hardly an international economic powerhouse, but there are signs that Iranian investors sense an opportunity.

Interestingly, The Armenian Economist has covered the unsatisfactory level of trade turnover between Armenia and Iran, given the huge potential.
The story also explores US discontent with warm Armenia-Iran relations, and explains the situation of blockade the country is in.
PS: My special thanks to Patrik for always sending very interesting info and links to my email address. Duly appreciated!

First two appointments to key posts: Foreign Ministery and Ministery of Defense

President Serzh Sargsyan is forming a new government following the April 9 inauguration ceremony held behind the police wall, that separated him from the citizens of the country, which he will try to rule, following disputed elections on February 19th, which resulted in violent clashes between opposition supporters and security forces. Following the appointment of Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, President Sargsyan held consultations with representatives of the 4 party coalition, and today two key ministerial appointments were announced.

The current ambassador to France Eduard Nalbandian, a career diplomat who also served as the country’s ambassador to Israel, Andorra and the Vatican, will replace Vardan Oskanian on the post of foreign minister, AFP reports.

President Sargsyan has also appointed the chief of Armenia’s armed forces, Seiran Oganian, as the country’s new defence minister, according to presidential website news bulletin.

ENP report positive for Armenia, despite concerns over March 2008 developments

The progress report on implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan by Armenia has been released. The document has a generally positive assessement of Armenia’s performance. The memo released on this occasion lists the following major points:

In general, Armenia has demonstrated a strong commitment towards the implementation of the ENP Action Plan, despite some initial delays caused by Parliamentary elections in May 2007 and internal coordination issues.

Good progress was achieved in particular in the areas of judiciary reform , the administration of elections and the Ombudsman institution. Of key importance for 2008 will be proper implementation of recently adopted legislation.

International observers have concluded that the conduct of the February 2008 Presidential elections was mostly in line with international standards. There are however concerns with regard to the declaration of the state of emergency in the aftermath of the elections and related to clashes between police and opposition protesters. The situation has shown that – despite progress achieved in 2007 regarding respect for human rights and rule of law – there is a necessity for further improvement.

Continue reading “ENP report positive for Armenia, despite concerns over March 2008 developments”

International Media Neglecting Armenian Election?

With only six hours to go till the polling stations close in Armenia, the international media seem to be largely uninterested in the developments here, with very basic coverage of the elections only available from major international news agencies, as well as the BBC and Euronews.
The elections are largely described as a transfer of power from outgoing leader Robert Kocharyan to his ally and prime minister Serzh Sarksyan. All international media reports point to economic growth, as the main factor in favor of Serzh Sargsyan – described as the clear frontrunner, although some point to doubts about the validity of the polls indicating Prime Minister’s high rating.
The BBC describes the Armenian elections as “fiercely-contested”, resulting from the dramatic comeback of Armenia’s former President Levon Ter-Petrosian as an opposition candidate.
Bloomberg is mostly concentrating on the possibility of street protests by the opposition over raising concerns that the vote may be rigged.  The information service points to the fact, that Armenia is under pressure from U.S. and the European Union to strengthen its democracy at a time when it is receiving hundred of millions of dollars in aid, indicating, that there have already been charges against the authorities by the main opposition challenger Levon Ter-Petrossian of government attempts to control the vote and ensure Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s victory.
Reuters also notes, the opposition claims, that the campaign has been unfair, and predicts street protests, as in the case of previous elections in Armenia which “have been followed by mass opposition protests alleging ballot fraud. However, the news service notes the polls, which “give Sarksyan a lead over the rest of the field, led by former former speaker of parliament Artur Baghdasaryan and Levon Ter-Petrosyan, a former president who was forced to resign in 1998 but is now seeking a comeback, and quotes Sarksyan saying:”
If there is a second round I would prefer to fight against Levon Ter-Petrosyan”.
Euronews is highlighting the fact, that “failure of the opposition to unite around a single candidate has boosted Sarksyan’s chances”, and predicting, that upon election “Sarksyan will have to deal with the so-called “frozen” conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh”.
The “Nagorno-Karabakh” perspective is also covered by Agence France-Presse, which also indicates, that Serzh Sarkisian, seen as the fruntrunner, is likely to  follow in Kocharian’s footsteps if elected — pursuing close ties with Moscow and maintaining a hawkish stance in relations with neighbouring Azerbaijan and Turkey.

in Armenian

"There'r no military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue": Armenian Foreign Minister

“Russia Today” satelite and internet channel has broadcast an exclusive interview with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on December 6-th, at 20:30 and December 7th, at 00:30. The interview, where minister Oskanian stresses, that the conflicting sides are very close to finding a solution to the issue, and that a military solution is not possible at this point, is available in a streaming video format from Russia Today’s website.

ICG: Nagorno-Karabakh: Risking War

The International Crises Group have published a report on Nagorno-Karabakh, where they warn Azerbaijan and Armenia to “halt their dangerous arms race and restrain their belligerent rhetoric and instead renew efforts to find a negotiated settlement for the Nagorno-Karabakh region”.
While I have serious reservations as to on what authority does this international NGO find it suitable to come in with its advice on a tangled issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, especially as from the media release referenced above one get’s the opinion, that it is a pure territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the issue of self-determination by the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians has nothing to do here, demonstrating either a deliberately anti-Armenian position by the ICG or else – a gross misunderstanding of the situation. Continue reading “ICG: Nagorno-Karabakh: Risking War”

Politics of The Armenian Nuclear Power Plant

The Republic of Armenia identifies the need to implement reforms focused on individual branches of industry and sets the following priorities:
– to pursue greater energy independence through a diversification of energy supplies and production, the creation of new sources of energy, including nuclear energy, and to develop a stable and reliable export-oriented energy system;
National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia
National Security Strategy
of the Republic of Armenia

Fear of the return of dark years in 90’s, when there was no electricity in the country in many ways defines the domestic and foreign politics in Armenia today.
The dark days, conditioned by war, economic collapse and severe blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey as well as lack of infrastructures to compensate the negative consequences of the blockage via energy import routes through Iran and Russia (through Georgia), followed the closure of the Soviet-build Metsamor nuclear reactor, located about 30 kilometers west of capital Yerevan and taken out of operation after the devastating earthquake of 1988. The Nuclear Power Plant returned to service in 1995, and although it currently supplies only 40 percent of the country’s power, for many people its possible closure is directly associated with the darkest days in Modern Armenian history. It won’t be an exaggeration to state, that there is no single politician who would risk bringing up the issue of shutting down the Metsamor NPP without being thrown out of politics altogether.
Having this background it is not much of a surprise to hear, that Armenia has refused 200 million Euro EU loan for shutting atomic plant (Yahoo! Finance, AP| Sep 25, 2007). PanARMENIAN.Net reports: “The European Union’s stand on the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant is clear: it should be closed, European Commission’s Acting Director for Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia, Mr Gunnar Wiegand told a news conference in Yerevan.” Even if the amount were twice as big, it would be hard to explain to Mr Gunnar Wiegand and the EU just how much the NPP means to Armenia, and why no alternative energy sources can compensate the political significance of the Metsamor reactor at this point.
And it is not just the dark years and energy security behind the reluctance to give up the NPP – it is a major strategic resource. A simple look at what Iran is suffering to establish its right for possessing nuclear technology would have been enough for Armenians to stand up and say – no way, we are not giving up our Nuclear Power Station!

Photo by PanARMENIAN.Net

EU: Neighborhood Policy Focuses On Economics, Not Membership

The EU/Armenia action plan document, accessible from this ENP page, states, that by joining the ENP “Armenia is invited to enter into intensified political, security, economic and cultural relations with the EU, enhanced regional and cross border co-operation and shared responsibility in conflict prevention and conflict resolution.”
Politicians from a lot of ENP countries, especially from Ukraine and Georgia, but also from Armenia as well, have been quite apt on selling the idea of ENP as a first step to EU membership, and promising economic benefits, Shengen visa and work permits in Europe for everyone, etc.
However, the message delivered to the ENP countries at the September 3, 2007 conference in Brussels was clear: economic cooperation — yes; membership — no.
This RFE/RL article has an interesting coverage of the high-level conference on the EU’s Neighborhood Policy, bringing together ministers and senior officials from all 27 EU member states and the 16 ENP countries.
Economic Focus of cooperation has dominated the agenda at the conference, along with clear signals, that ‘All Neighbors are Equal’ and that EU membership aspirations of the neighbors especially from the European parts of the Former Soviet Union are groundless.

Instead, the EU is keen to capitalize on practical matters of mutual interest. Its current priorities for cooperation with the neighbors are economic integration, energy cooperation, increased travel and work opportunities, and increased financial and technical assistance. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner underlined the bloc’s economic ambitions. “Our vision is of an economically integrated area, which spans the whole of the European Union and its closest European and Mediterranean partners,” she said. “An area where goods, services, and capital move freely.

Armenia has been taking an eagerly reserved attitude towards the ENP from the start. We’ve been a motivated partner for the EU so far, but I haven’t seen any Armenian official declaring about Armenia’s ambitions to become an EU member in the near future. We know, however, that our “more democratic” and “more European” peers: Ukraine and Georgia, have been daydreaming about Europe, and shouting about it on every occasion. As Mr Rasmus Wiinstedt Tscherning, Senior Consultant from the Centre for Experience Economy, Business & Market Development told us during his presentation at the European Commission in Brussels this March, the attitude of Armenia towards the EU, and the expectations from the ENP displayed by Armenian officials, is more acceptable for the EU, compared to the blind rush towards the EU Membership, that Ukraine or Georgia are displaying. The RFE / RL has an interesting paragraph, dealing with the issue:

Barroso explained that without regional distinctions, the ENP remains free from the vagaries of the “special interests” of different EU members as they rotate the bloc’s presidency among them.The evolving consensus within the EU is clearly skewed against further accessions, partly as a result of previous enlargements. Correspondingly, the EU is now putting less emphasis on political reforms and rights standards, which are crucial for candidate countries. Political standards were not raised by any of the EU headline speakers today.

This is indeed something new in EU’s approach to the post-soviet ENP members, Armenia among them. It is no secret, that a large section of priorities and responsibilities assumed by Armenia in the EU / Armenia action plan deal with democratic reforms and human rights. The Action plan has so far served as a serious tool in the hands of both the Civil Society in Armenia and the International Community to advocate democratic development in the country. It remains to be seen what will the consequences of this new signal – economic cooperation and development, instead of democracy and future political integration with the EU mean for Armenia. I wonder, will the promise of only economic cooperation be enough to drive further democratic change in Armenia, or does it mean the end of it?

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