Saakashvili's miscalculations and war in Ossetia

Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili thought he had picked the perfect time to launch a massive attack against the peaceful population of its breakaway region of South Ossetia and Russian peacekeeping forces last night – the world would be preoccupied with the grand opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, he thought, who would care about the Georgian attempts at Genocide in it’s own territory, right? Need I remind everyone, that even in old Greece wars were halted for the duration of the Olympic games not to overshadow the sacred meaning of the grand tournament? Need I qualify Saakashvili’s ‘Blitz Krig’ immoral, to say the least? And will this dumb macho ever understand, that being the president of Georgia is serious business, not games? I mean – one has to be a complete idiot to think, that:

  • an outgoing US President, a Republican facing a democratic majority in US Parliament will have the political resources to risk a new war after horrors of Iraq;
  • NATO – alliance of countries with stagnating and fuel hungry economies, who have just started to breathe freely because the oil prices have gone down a little bit, will engage in anything against the world’s largest oil and gas exporter, which will surely kick up the energy prices once again and finally kill their economies;
  • that if Russia gets really angry and decides to declare South Ossetia an independent country, UN will be able to do anything, given the Kosovo precedent and the fact that Russia is already quite sick and tired of UN trying to dictate things to it.

Now we have what we have – 1400 reported (unconfirmed) civilian deaths, 10 Russian peacekeepers killed and 30 wounded, heavy fighting on the territory of South Ossetia, Russian tanks and jets entering Georgian territory and according to Georgian claims bombing their military and civilian targets. There are no figures of losses from the Georgian side, but clearly, such an operation will cost them dearly. Saakashvili has already called back the Georgian contingent of 2000 from Iraq and has announced plans of declaring martial law and calling reserves to arms. A full scale war is looming and it doesn’t look like Georgia’s getting any help from anywhere. US President spoke of supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity – but will he dare to translate words into action, given the points I highlighted above? Hardly.
The UN Security Council met late last night only to reveal one more miscalculation of Mr. Saakashvili – with wourld leaders away in Beijing, away from their consultants and intelligence reports, the accusations of Georgian envoy were counterbalanced by the Russian envoy’s equally valid points and counteraccusations, so the Council broke on promise to meet again this morning, not that any results are to be expected anyway.
Meanwhile, we – Armenians have Azerbaijan to worry about – Ilham Aliyev might just decide to take advantage of general disorder in South Caucasus and attempt an attack on Nagorno Karabakh. Armenia’s defence Minister Seyran Ohanyan was in Artaskh yesterday – clearly not a simple sightseeing mission.

Photo: BBC NEWS

Armenia Improved its Rating in Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007

Mark Grigoryan reports, that the “Reporters sans frontiers” annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index has been released, and brings the places occupied by the countries of post-soviet space, contesting them with the ratings of UK and USA:

Estonia – 3-4
Latvia – 12
Lithuenia – 23
UK – 24
USA – 48
Georgia – 66
Armenia – 77
Moldova – 81
Ukraine – 92-93
Kyrgyzstan – 110
Tajikistan – 115
Kazakhstan – 125
Azerbaijan – 139
Russia – 144
Belarus – 151
Uzbekistan – 160
Turkmenistan – 167

There is a total of 169 countries in the list. The full list can be found here (on the organization’s site).

Uzogh has done some research on the subject and come up with an interesting question: “With Azerbaijan everything is clear – they just like to put journalists to jail. With Georgia everything is clear too. What I don’t understand is our rating – we have jumped from 101st place to 77th. How did that happen?” There are some really interesting speculations in the comments section of Uzogh’s blog around the subject, but I suggest you go take a look at them there (if you know Russian of course).
Here are also a couple of links for your convenience:
Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007, Questionnaire for compiling a 2007 world press freedom index, Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006, Questionnaire for compiling a 2006 world press freedom index

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?

Armenia-Turkey Relations: is there anything to be done?

While the lingering bitterness of the 1915 Armenian Genocide underlies much of the tension between the modern states of Armenia and Turkey, several key factors have served to exacerbate relations between the nations over the course of the ensuing century[1]. Throughout the Cold War the Armenia – Turkey border has been the meeting point of Soviet and NATO forces and the fact that it must be closed forever has become a fact of life for both societies throughout the past century. The fact that it was open for a short while only to close again in 1993[2] as part of Turkish sanctions[3] against Armenia and its continuous support of Turkish ally Azerbaijan, with which Armenia is engaged in what seems like an endless conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh independence, has further strengthened the perception that the border will never be opened again among Armenians. In fact, not only Armenian observers, but also official Baku, Heydar Aliyev in particular have claimed more then once, that Baku holds the key to Turkish-Armenia relations[4].

From the Turkish perception on the other hand, it must be noted, that in the 1970s, a guerrilla organization, calling itself the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia[5], took to assassinating Turkish diplomats in several European countries. These killings contributed to stoking resentment of ethnic Armenians among Turks, while inciting nationalistic sentiment in Turkey, a feature of the state reflected today in its persistent campaign to deny or rationalize the 1915 massacres of Armenians. The 2007 assassination of Armenian intellectual Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist, and the ensuing scandal in which his killer was exalted as a hero by some government officials while in police custody[6], served as a stark reminder of just how egregious the historical-political tensions remain even today.

Generations after generations have grown with the mentality that the two nations are the deadliest of enemies, and nothing has been undertaken to update the mindsets of the two nations and bring them in sync with the current realities, which are: Armenia and Turkey are neighbor states, and will remain so for the centuries to come. In the Globalized world, where international efforts to face the Millennium Challenges are atop political agenda of most powerful states; where human value and democracy have been declared as the leading principles not only by the international community, but also and especially by the Modern Turkish and Modern Armenian states; the only way forward for all the states in the South Caucasus, the gateway to the island of peace, democracy and prosperity – the European Union, is cooperation, dialog and mutual understanding. Recent EU accession talks with Turkey[7] have highlighted the need for improved relations between Turkey and Armenia and a variety of recent geopolitical developments have put pressure on the two countries to resolve their differences[8]. Official efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey have not resulted in any significant progress towards a border re-opening[9].

It is mostly businessmen on both sides of the border, especially in the regions of Kars in Turkey and Shirak in Armenia, who speak about the importance of border opening, plus some NGOs, who are inspired by a recent round of grants from the Eurasia Foundation(which is naturally pushing for US interests in the region). On the whole however, we have been seeing the negative attitudes grow in both societies especially since the assassination of Hrant Dink. Today more and more often we are seeing publications about the dangers Turkey represents for Armenia, like the one about Dr Khachik Ter-Ghukassian, where in an interview with the PanARMENIAN.Net the Professor of International relations and politics of the Universidad de San Andrés in Buenos Aires is looking at the military-strategic partnerships Turkey is developing with Georgia and Azerbaijan and shifting the focus in its foreign policy to Northern Iraq.

If Turkey’s succeeds in realizing its plans Armenia will be isolated from the world, according to him. “Curiously enough, such state of things is not convenient for the U.S. which insists on opening of the Armenian-Turkish border. However, normalization of relations without preconditions is a dangerous tendency. Turkey doesn’t open the border proceeding from political reasons: the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the Armenian Genocide and absence of fixed border with Armenia. The only legal basis for demarcation of borders is the Sevr Treaty. No agreement signed after Sevr, namely the Kars and Moscow treaties, do not have juridical effect, since the signatory powers stopped their existence as elements of international law. The Sevr Treaty was signed August 10, 1920. Borders with independent Armenia had to be marked by a neutral mediator, namely the United States, according to it,” he said.

“At that we should not forget that Turkey has always been the biggest danger for the Armenian people. This opinion should be shared by the whole nation, both in Armenia and Diaspora. On the other hand, opening of borders can tell on Armenia’s economy. Georgia, where the local industry was destroyed because of the abundant flow of cheap Turkish goods, can serve as an example. Certainly, Armenian economy can’t compete with the Turkish, but we will have an outlet to the world, at least. Although, we are not ready to make a reality of the scenario we will be offered,” he said.

Casting a sober view on the latest developments, I have to acknowledge, that all the beautiful talk about neighborhood, EU integration, possibility to coexist peacefully together and to mutually benefit from bilateral trade seem to fly out of the window once you consider all the latest developments in the region and growing tension not only between the main Caucasian states: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, but also big boys like US, Russia, EU, NATO, Turkey and Iran. So is there anything to be done? Or do we really need to do anything? Today, as I’m writing these lines, I am becoming more and more pessimistic. Turkey indeed represents the greatest danger for Armenia, and even my open-mindedness and unbreakable belief in the importance of Western vector of development in Armenian foreign policy and support for growing EU/NATO integration don’t seem to help here.

 

Bibliography


[1]Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 302-303

[2] http://www.globalheritagefund.org/news/GHF_in_the_news/economist_ties_that_divide_june_17_06.asp

[3] “Central Asia and the Caucasus: transnationalism and diaspora” By Touraj. Atabaki, Published 2005 Routledge, ISBN 0415332605, Page 89

[4] “Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 304

[5] Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression, By Mordechai Nisan, Published 2002, McFarland & Company, ISBN 0786413751, Page 177

[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6335633.stm

[7] “Turkey and the Eu: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership?”, By Harun Arikan, Published 2003, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., ISBN 0754634337, Page 122

[8] “Turkish Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty”, By F. Stephen Larrabee, Ian O. Lesser, Published 2003, Rand Corporation, ISBN 083303281X, Page 106

[9] “Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 304

2007 Quality of Life Index: Armenia 84th, Georgia 84th, Azerbaijan 130

Via Sticky Artz I came across the The Quality of Life Index 2007 by InternationalLiving.com according to which the following 10 countries are the best places to live in considering Cost of Living, Leisure & Culture, Economy, Environment, Freedom, Health, Infrastructure, Risk & Safety, Climate indicators. Continue reading “2007 Quality of Life Index: Armenia 84th, Georgia 84th, Azerbaijan 130”

U.S. Concerned About Armenia's Ties With Iran

“Iran is planning massive investments into the economies of Georgia and Armenia. We’re talkingof 1 billion dollars for Tbilissi and a analogous offer to Yerevan. For your consideration: the total amount of Russian investments in Georgia in 2006 did not exceed 30 million dollars, as to Armenia, after arrangements made by Vladimir Putin will total to 1,5 billion dollars. In case this plan of capital expansion is put to action Iran may become the most influential actor in the region[i.e. South Caucasus] ” writes Kornelij Glas (ru) following reports about US Concerns by Armenia’s energy ties with Iran.
Elaborating on the situation, whereby a senior American diplomat has voiced concerns, that Armenia’s deepening economic relations with neighboring Iran might run counter to international sanctions imposed on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program Armenia blog comments:

Iran has always been our neighbor and if the U.S. wants greater support for its actions, perhaps it can only be warranted by further aid to Armenia to help offset the natural losses that would occur by turning against our friend. Then again, should a conflict arise in the future, Russia and Iran are Armenia’s two true allies and the United States could not be counted upon, in my opinion, to help matters in our favor.

The world is flat, reiterates Thomas Friedman’s concept Nazarian, looking for Armenia’s place in the Globalized world.

I am still unsure of Armenia’s role and contribution to the global economy. It’s a tiny market. Yerevan is a small city of 1 million people; there are dime a dozen of such cities around the world. Add to that the middle class is a small segment of the population that can afford a lifestyle of a Western citizen, and you see why a foreign corporation may not be interested to have an official presence in Armenia let alone have manufacturing operations.

Notes from Hairenik is even more concerned about Armenia’s economy, despite continuous growth rates recorded here, ensuring annual average real GDP growth rates of more than 10% since the late 90’s, quoting the June 19 edition of ArmeniaLiberty.org about statements by the European Bank for Reconstruciton and Development (EBRD) on continued appreciation of the Armenian national currency (dram) and the dire consequences it will have on the economy sooner or later:

I have concluded, although I do not claim to be an economist by any means, that Armenia’s economy is dollar based and probably always has been. Even though dram is being exchanged on the street people still think in dollars and even quote figures keeping the US currency in mind. In the meantime, money I suppose will keep pouring in from foreign remittances but it won’t circulate here. The continued shortage of dollars on the market is a clear indication that something is dreadfully wrong somewhere. And I would not be surprised if Armenia sees a depression in its “booming” economy in the short-term, God forbid. In fact I am expecting it.

Not all Armenian bloggers are pessimistic however. Levon who has just arrived in Armenia after a couple of years of absence, is deeply impressed upon arrival with rapid changes at the aiport as well as in the center of capital Yerevan.
Narjan has reposted extracts from the Reuters article: “The world leader in natural gas vehicles: tiny Armenia”:

The tiny country of 3 million people in the Caucasus mountains has a strong claim to be a world leader in running vehicles on natural gas: a fuel that produces fewer harmful greenhouse gases than gasoline or diesel.
The transport ministry estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of vehicles in Armenia run on gas. That compares to just over 3 percent in the Netherlands, a front-runner in natural gas-powered transport, according to the World LP Gas Association.

Well, even in a “tiny” country people want to live well, and with all these international pressures on Armenia, when all the big guys, including US, Russia, EU and Iran are too much interested in strengthening their influence in this highly strategic location, all we can do is sit and watch our country being tossed about… or is there something we can actually do?

Democracy Degrading in Armenia in 2006 According to The Freedom House

“Freedom House” international human rights organization released its annual “Nations in Transit” report this week. The title of the report is somewhat misleading however, as the figures and data are all about the 2006. But anyway, here’s a link to the Country Summaries(pdf) and Armenia – Country Report section(pdf).
We can see from the first document, that while Georgia has improved its score from 4.86 to 4.68 (the smaller the figure, the better it is for democracy), Armenia and Azerbaijan have both degraded instead. The democracy score of Armenia has gone down from 5.14 to 5.21, and for Azerbaijan it has moved from 5.93 down to 6.00. Here’s the short summary for Armenia:

Little progress was made on redistributing power amongst government branches. Rather, consolidation of political power in the ruling party and elites paved the way for a continued grip on political and economic power during 2007 parliamentary elections. The government’s failure to investigate allegations of fraud during the 2005 referendum, and its inability to produce legislation putting into effect approved amendments, demonstrated the lack of political will to improve governance in Armenia. While media organizations were partially successful in influencing a change in Armenia’s licensing regime and a new regulatory body, accelerated attacks on journalists suggested an increasingly difficult media environment in the run up to 2007 elections.

Of course we have yet to see what the report will say about the Parliamentary Elections 2007 in Armenia, which were recognized as Free and Fair by a number of observation missions. I guess we will see some positive changes in the figures in Freedom House’s report next year. Let’s prey, that its not just the figures improving, but lives of people here in Armenia. So far I’m rather skeptical…

South-Caucasus: an artificial and unnecessary construct

Wikipedia defines South Caucasus (also referred to as Transcaucasia or Transcaucasus) as the southern portion of the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia, extending from the Greater Caucasus to the Turkish and Iranian borders, between the Black and Caspian Seas. All of Armenia is in Transcaucasia; the majority of Georgia and Azerbaijan, including the exclave of Naxçivan, fall within this area.
Reading a rather boring article on Hetq today about the future of Armenia, I couldn’t help but single out this really interesting paragraph:

Many people speak today about how the South Caucasus is an artificially created region, where the member countries have differing (and sometimes opposing) interests and wishes. Will it unite in the wake of other countries’ entry into the region, or the region’s desire to be part of broader international bodies? Or will it break down as a result of centrifugal forces?

As someone heavily involved in regional media projects over the past 4-5 years I know just how artificial and sometimes challenging it is to try and put the three countries + the bulk of unrecognized countries of this region into one bowl and make sense of it.
We know from history, that the territories described as South Caucasus have been unified as a single political entity twice – during the Russian Civil War (Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic) from 9 April 1918 to 26 May 1918, and under the Soviet rule (Transcaucasian SFSR) from 12 March 1922 to 5 December 1936 (Wikipedia). But as everything artificial, it has twice fallen apart, and I don’t see why and how they could be united again.
Thinking of why this region has come to being a region at all I can only conclude, that as a meeting point between 3 main powers since the 17th century: Russia, Turkey, Iran, this region has acquired a common identity of being a battleground. Today even this reality has changed (although today the region is a battleground of many more interests, including those of Russia, US, UK, Turkey, Iran, British Petrolium, Islam and Christianity…), and looking from a fresh new perspective I don’t see any reason, why these 3 recognized and at least as many unrecognized states should be tied together under the common name.
I hereby state, that we have nothing in common: geographically we are on different continents (Georgia – mostly Europe, Armenia – Asia, Azerbaijan – both Asia and Europe), different ethnicities, different languages, religions, identities, cultures and policies. The world however, continues to refer to us as a common region, perhaps looking at the common history of the people living here, although that history does more to pull us apart, then bring together.
And so we are all stuck together, in this endless marriage of hate and the common label “Faces of Caucasian Nationality”(лица Кавказкой национальности) made by our “big friends” or rather “big enemies” – the Russians.

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