Friday, June 27, 2008

Markarian, Defense Attaché in Pentagon; US-Azeri consultations; Gul renominated

This was originally published in August 18, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

From Washington, in brief
by Emil Sanamyan

More than 400 believed killed in attack on Iraqi Yezidis

Four trucks packed with explosives and fuel detonated in a Yezidi-populated area in northern Iraq on August 15, killing at least 400 people and wounding hundreds more. The
Sinjar district where the attack occurred is 75 miles west of Mosul, the area that is home to most of the world’s half a million Yezidis and a stronghold of Sunni Muslim militants.

While the bulk of the Yezidis reside in northern Iraq, they are also the biggest minority group in Armenia, where most of them fled in the early 20th century due to persecution in Ottoman Turkey. The group, which is considered to be ethnically Kurdish, follows a pre-Muslim faith that is typically described as a mix of Zoroastrianism and Manichean beliefs. Yezidis have been persecuted both under Saddam Hussein and since his overthrow. Last April, gunmen shot 23 Yezidis in Mosul.

The Sinjar district massacre, centered on villages of Kahtaniya, al-Jazeera, and Tal Uzair, became the deadliest single incident since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Guardian newspaper reported that “the Islamic State in Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, warned residents last week that an attack on Yezidis was imminent,” and the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said he believed the group carried out the attack. According to Kurdish intelligence officials, cited by the newspaper, Sunni extremists have become more active in northern Iraq following the “surge” in U.S. military presence in Baghdad, as well as in Anbar and Diyala provinces to the south of Mosul.

Armenia’s Ambassador, Defense Attaché meet top Pentagon official

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England met with Armenia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Tatoul Markarian and Defense Attaché Col. Armen Sargsyan on August 14, the Armenian Embassy reported. Secretary England is the second most senior official in the Pentagon hierarchy.

According to the Embassy release, the meeting focused on “bilateral military cooperation and regional security issues.” Since 2002 the U.S. has provided the Armenian army with more than $10 million in aid and the two countries have stepped up security cooperation.

Amb. Markarian also relayed the Armenian government’s gratitude for “organizing the full medical treatment and rehabilitation of Lt. Georgi Nalbandian at Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center.” The Armenian officer was seriously wounded in action last November and was first evacuated to a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Following eight months of treatment and rehabilitation there and at Walter Reed, Capt. Nalbandian just returned to active duty in the Armenian Army.

The Armenian contingent of military engineers, medical and logistics personnel have been in Iraq since January 2005. Armenians are part of the Polish-led Multi-National Division Central South, and they are based near Iraq’s border with Iran.

Foreign Minister Gul to be re-nominated for Turkish presidency

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will re-nominate Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as its candidate for president. The Turkish parliament is set to elect a president in three rounds of voting between August 20 and 28. Mr. Gul’s previous bid for the presidency was blocked by the military and secular nationalist opposition last May, forcing an early general election.

While prime ministers have greater political clout in Turkey (AKP’s Recep Tayyib Erdogan has been in that job since 2003), presidents have key influence onthe judiciary and the military. The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal argued that if Mr. Gul is elected, “Turkey’s political balances will change [and it] will be transformed into a country with an overbearing religious and Middle Eastern identity,” the Radikal newspaper reported.

But AKP’s strong electoral performance on July 22 is expected to make Mr. Gul’s election this time around more likely, with smaller opposition groups pledging to participate in the vote and thus securing the required two-thirds quorum.

On August 9, Koksal Toptan, a secular AKP member and former minister in pre-AKP governments, was elected Parliament chairman, the New Anatolian reported. In that vote CHP as well as independent Kurdish parliamentarians voted for the AKP nominee, with opposition coming only from the right-wing National Action Party (MHP).

U.S. continues consultations with Azerbaijan

Assistant Secretary of State Dan Sullivan became the third State Department official of that rank to hold consultations with Azerbaijan so far this month. On August 15 and 16, he discussed economic and security issues with Azerbaijani officials in Baku, according to APA news agency.

Mr. Sullivan, who heads the State Department’s Bureau for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, co-chairs the U.S.-Azerbaijan Economic Partnership Commission first launched last February in place of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Task Force on Economic Issues, which had not met since 2005.

On August 3 and 4, Assistant Secretaries Barry Lowenkron and Dan Fried, who respectively head the Democracy and European bureaus, together with Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mamediyarov held the “third round of their bilateral dialogue on democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan” – first initiated by the U.S. last December. That consultation was held via a video link.

Serbia, Kosovo oppose partition, remain deadlocked on status

Leaders of Serbia and its internationally-administered breakaway province of Kosovo ruled out the region’s division as part of a settlement, international news agencies reported this week. Serbia has proposed granting ethnically Albanian-majority Kosovo a high-level of autonomy within Serbia, but Kosovo insists on independence, a stance also supported by the United States.

In an August 13 interview with the BBC, Amb. Wolfgang Ischinger, the European envoy to the contact “troika” – which also includes U.S. and Russian representatives and coordinates an international effort to reach an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo – said that mediators might support a territorial division of Kosovo along ethnic lines, if the two sides agree to it. “We are urging parties to think outside the box,” he said.

A division that would leave Kosovo’s ethnically Serb-populated northern part within Serbia has been supported by some influential but unofficial circles in Belgrade, but Kosovars have ruled it out. Last month, Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu promised to declare independence on November 28, which is also Albania’s independence day.

A United Nations Security Council resolution that would bring Kosovo closer to international recognition was withdrawn by the United States last month, after Russia threatened to veto it. Officials suggested that the U.S. may break the impasse by recognizing Kosovo unilaterally before the end of the year, unless another accommodation is reached through ongoing talks or at the UN.

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic was in Washington last month and according to a Scripps Howard July 27 report, he lobbied for the U.S. to drop its support for Kosovo’s independence, or at least to extend the ongoing negotiations beyond this year. But following that visit the State Department spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated, most recently on August 14, that the U.S. continues to support “independence for Kosovo.”

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