Friday, June 27, 2008

Senior Turkish diplomat in Washington, Kurdistan stand-off

This was originally published in August 11, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

From Washington, in brief
by Emil Sanamyan

Senior Turkish diplomat to visit Washington as Kurdistan stand-off drags on

Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ertugrul Apakan will visit the U.S. capital during the week of August 20, the Turkish Daily News reported on August 8. Mr. Apakan is the second most senior official in the ministry after Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Mr. Gul himself visited Washington last February to lobby against the congressional resolutions affirming the Armenian Genocide. The Congress will still be in recess, Mr. Apakan may be unable to meet senior lawmakers, the newspaper suggests.

The diplomat is expected to prepare the agenda for visits by Turkish leaders, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, expected this fall. Mr. Apakan’s talks are also expected to focus on Turkey’s concerns over Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey has threatened to invade the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan unless U.S. or local forces take action against anti-Turkey Kurdish rebels referred to as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara has for the past several months been building up forces along the border with Iraq, just as PKK attacks deep inside Turkey continued. The U.S. has warned against an invasion, and the State Department this week again urged Turkey to address the issue together with Iraqi authorities. Head of the Iraqi Kurdistan administration Massoud Barzani, however, has so far rejected calls to crack down on fellow Kurds.

Meantime, the Washington Times reported on August 4 that the leader of the PKK’s Iranian Kurdish sister organization Rahman Haj-Ahmadi was visiting D.C. to drum up U.S. support against Tehran. Haj- Ahmadi’s group, Kurdistan Free Life Park (PJAK), and the PKK are neighbors in Iraqi Kurdistan – with both organizations’ camps located on the slopes of Mt. Qandil. Over the past year, Turkey and Iran have cooperated to target the two groups militarily.

Congressional human rights commission focuses on Azerbaijan.

The most recent government crackdown on media in Azerbaijan made it a subject of three congressional hearings in the span of three weeks. The congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (known also as the Helsinki Commission) held two of these discussions on July 23 and again on August 2. (See the July 14 Armenian Reporter to read about the first of the three.) In a hearing dedicated to human rights violations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, the Helsinki Commission chair Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) called developments in Azerbaijan “particularly disturbing,” with “journalists in jail and a series of physical attacks and fines on journalists.” Testifying at the August 2 hearing, Paula Schrieferof the Washington-based Freedom House singled out the case of Eynullah Fatullayev, “ceased the publication of Realny Azerbaijan[the newspaper he edited] to secure the release of his kidnapped father.” Mr. Fatullayev was imprisoned on charges of “insulting” Azerbaijani refugees by visiting and writing an article from Karabakh.

In Turkey, Ms. Schriefer noted continued persecutions on “denigrating Turkishness” charges for such offenses “as stating that genocide was committed against Armenians in 1915, discussing the division of Cyprus, or writing critically on the security forces.” Also testifying, Nina Ognianova the Committee to Protect Journalists argued that U.S. “should take a firm stand against the repressive actions” by relevant governments, and that U.S. inaction “sends a dangerous message to the world.”

Interviewed by the Azerbaijani Service of Radio Liberty on August 9, Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried claimed that the oft-repeated charge that the U.S. overlooks human rights violations in Azerbaijan because of its security and energy interests there “just isn’t true.” Mr. Fried said that the U.S. has continued to raise relevant concerns with Azerbaijani officials, calling such violations a “constant drag” on bilateral relations which, all the same, should not “paralyze” cooperation in other areas. He also blamed individual cases, such as the imprisonment of the government’s media critics, on the absence of relevant institutions rather than on the actions of Azerbaijan’s ruling family.

Incident sparks fresh Russian-Georgian tensions.

A missile that landed without exploding near Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia on August 6 has led to renewed recriminations between Tbilisi and Moscow, a condemnation by Washington, and calls for restraint and investigation from European officials.

Georgian authorities claimed that a Russian jet fired the missile after intruding into Georgian airspace from Russia’s North Caucasus, calling it “undisguised aggression and a gross violation of the sovereignty of the country.” Russian officials denied this, however, and called for a thorough investigation of the incident. They further alleged that a Georgian plane may have been involved.

On August 8, the Reuters news agency cited a Georgian source close to the investigation of the incident as claiming that the missile was not fired, but inadvertently dropped as the jet in question came under fire from the ground, reported the same day. According to the same source, the missile was not armed by the pilot and therefore did not explode.

Russian-Georgian relations have been volatile for years, escalating markedly last year after Georgia detained several Russian diplomats on charges of espionage, and Russia retaliated by severing all transport links with Georgia and expelling hundreds of its citizens. The move left Armenia without a ground communication link to Russia, as well.

Last March, Georgia claimed that Russian helicopters attacked its forces in Abkhazia, an incident also denied by Russia. A UN investigation of that incident was inconclusive. Since then tensions have eased somewhat, and the Russian and Georgian presidents were expected to meet later this month to try to patch up relations. Georgian media speculated this week that the missile incident was possibly intended to scuttle that anticipated summit.

At the core of the bilateral tensions is Tbilisi’s effort to regain control over its former provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which have been de-facto separate from Georgia since the early 1990s and have relied on Russia for support. Georgia has in turn sought Western support to constrain Russia.

Studies measure happiness and wealth.

A recent Gallup poll of 130 countries found a correlation between wealth and happiness in most of the world, reported on July 12. There were a few exceptions. “Mid-income Costa Ricans and Venezuelans are among the happiest on the planet. Georgians and Armenians, although not terribly poor, are among the glummest,” the newspaper writes.

For the latter two, the trend is regional. The Economist notes that “more than half the 20 countries with the lowest level of satisfaction with health are in the ex-Soviet Union or eastern Europe though in statistical terms they seem relatively well off.”

There are also big differences in attitudes of the elite and general public, as determined by Ipsos and Pew Global Research polling. In Russia, for example, 43 percent of the elite are satisfied with their life, versus just 20 percent of the general public.

A recent study by the Asian Development Bank, meanwhile, identified Armenia as one of the few countries where the income gap between rich and poor is narrowing, the BBC reported on August 8. It is unclear whether that is having any impact on how happy Armenians feel.

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