Friday, July 18, 2008

Briefly: U.S. vs. Iran in the "broken region" (Caucasus), Russian and Georgian politics plus Iraqi Armenians

First published in the October 13, 2008 Armenian Reporter:

From Washington, in Brief
by Emil Sanamyan

U.S. security officials flock to the Caucasus

America’s preoccupation with Iran continues to contribute to a steady stream of security officials visiting the Caucasus, particularly Azerbaijan, which shares both a land and maritime borders with the Islamic republic.

On October 11 one of the coordinators of America’s Iran policy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Debra Cagan was in Armenia, where she thanked its leaders for the country’s contribution to the U.S. effort in Iraq and praised Armenian soldiers that she met there as “brave and courageous.”

Ten days earlier, on October 1, Ms. Cagan was in Azerbaijan to discuss military cooperation, Interfax reported. And during a September 11 meeting, Ms. Cagan reportedly “intimidated” a group of British parliamentarians with her rhetoric on
Iran, London’s Daily Mail claimed on September 29.

On September 27 CIA Director Michael Hayden made a stopover in Baku while on a regional tour, to discuss, as Azerbaijani news agencies reported, a possible exchange
of intelligence information and regional developments. Two House Intelligence Committee members visited Azerbaijan earlier this year.

In mid-September deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly together with Russian security officials visited the Gabala early warning radar in Azerbaijan.

Russia offered U.S. to use the Russian facility at Gabala as an alternative to building facilities in central Europe, which Moscow argues can be used against its interests (see this column in July 7 Armenian Reporter).

While U.S. officials have declined the trade off, they did not rule out other forms of missile defense cooperation with Russia.

Meantime, a senior Azerbaijani official warned that possible U.S. use of the Gabala radar would pose a threat to Azerbaijan, RFE/RL reported on September 20 citing Turan and The AP. Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said that in such an event his country would need “security guarantees” from the United States.

Fearing Iranian retaliation, Azeri officials have repeatedly said they would not allow U.S. to launch attacks from its territory.

Europe’s Caucasus envoy speaks of “broken region”

In October 2 testimony to the European Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, the European Union’s envoy for the Caucasus Peter Semneby said that “old-fashioned, ethnically exclusive” nationalism remains dominant in the region, RFE/RL reported the next day.

Amb. Semneby said that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia lack a common identity. “Given the rivalries between and inside the countries, this identity has to be larger than the region itself,” he said. “An additional layer of identity, a European identity, is what comes to mind here.”

The European envoy said that such an identity could bring the region together based both on shared interests and common values.

In Amb. Semneby’s assessment Georgia was most advanced along the European path, but also the most vulnerable due to its conflicts with Russia. The EU, he said, had no intention of siding with Georgia in these conflicts and would continue to work with governments of Russian-backed South Ossetia and Abkhazia and in conjunction with
Russia itself.

In the Karabakh conflict, EU will focus on confidence-building measures to overcome the existing isolation between Armenians and Azeris. On domestic issues, Amb. Semneby noted that Armenia’s May parliamentary elections marked an improvement on previous polls, while in Azerbaijan the human rights situation continued to deteriorate.


In recent weeks, the European Parliament Foreign Relations Committee has also been discussing an annual report on EU’s relations with Turkey. The European Armenian Federation (EAF) criticized the removal of a passage on the Armenian Genocide from the draft report prepared by a Dutch Christian Democratic MEP and has advocated a reinstatement of the reference.

EAF also reported on October 3 that the same Dutch party decided to withdraw a nominee for the European Parliament over his denial of the Armenian Genocide. Mr.
Osman Elmaci, a Dutch citizen of Turkish descent, had already been disqualified to run in national elections for the same reason.

Russia’s Putin hints at staying in power beyond 2008

President Vladimir Putin said on October 1 that he would lead the list of the ruling United Russia Party in December parliamentary elections and may subsequently become prime minister, although, he has yet to make a final decision, Russian and international news media reported.

Mr. Putin is completing his second four-year presidential term in March and is not eligible to run in that election. However, commentators in Russia and abroad have
speculated that Mr. Putin could work to amend the constitution, shifting power to the post of prime minister, which he would assume.

Or, alternatively, he could temporarily hand presidential power over to a loyalist only to run for the presidency again in an early election, thus obviating the ban on serving more than two successive terms.

In a surprise move last month, Mr. Putin named a largely unknown bureaucrat Viktor Zubkov as prime minister (see this column in September 15 Armenian Reporter).

In another surprise move he appointed the outgoing Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov as director of foreign intelligence.

For now, with a high public approval rating and unrivaled influence, future developments in Russia appear to be fully up to Mr. Putin.

Georgian president’s challenger recants, leaves politics

A former ally of the Georgian president who just days ago accused him of a slew of crimes and was subsequently arrested has now recanted and reportedly decided to leave politics, Georgian and international media reported.

Irakly Okruashvili, a former influential member of President Mikhail Saakashvili’s government, also posted a more than $6 million in bail money to be released from prison before his trial on corruption charges, to which he pled guilty. Georgian television showed an irritated Mr. Okruashvili as he said his allegations against the
president were not true and that he himself was involved in criminal activity.

Upon his release Mr. Okruashvili decided to leave politics, reported on October 11, having just set up an opposition political party.

Still, political parties in opposition to the president said they would go ahead with the protests, claiming that Mr. Okruashvili gave his testimony under duress.

The president’s allies, meantime, claimed that the allegations against the president were part of a “conspiracy” against the country involving an influential businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili who has been at odds with the government for some time.

Two Iraqi Armenians killed by security guards
by Emil Sanamyan

WASHINGTON – The Armenian community suffered another loss as two women were shot and killed amid continuing violence in Iraq this week.

The victims, identified as Marou Awanis and Geneva Jalal, were in a car traveling next to a convoy protected by Unity Resources Group, an Australian security firm contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The group’s representative claimed that its guards opened fire when the car failed to slow down after several warnings. The incident occurred on October 9 along the main street in central Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood.

According to www.Iraqbodycount. org, riding in the car with the women were two children, one of whom was shot in the arm.

According to the site, 76 other civilians were confirmed killed on the same day in various circumstances around Iraq. The total death toll since the U.S. invasion in 2003 is estimated at nearly 80,000.

Private security companies which protect U.S. and other foreign personnel working in Iraq have been criticized for excessive use of force, particularly after guards working for Blackwater USA were blamed for the deaths of 17 civilians in a single incident last month.

Unity provides services for RTI International, a governance development consultant based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and contracted by USAID for projects around the world.

Rev. Narek Ishkhanian, a priest at Baghdad’s Virgin Mary Armenian church, who officiated at the women’s funeral, told the Times of London that the shooting was “another crime against the citizens in Iraq. Every day civilians are being killed and no one is trying to stop it from happening.”

An Iraqi police official told The Associated Press that the security company apologized for the deaths and “was ready to meet all legal commitments.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, 49-year-old Basra native Mrs. Awanis was previously a scientist for Iraq’s Agriculture Ministry and after the death of her husband two years ago took up chauffeuring to make ends meet. She is survived by three daughters, aged 12, 20, and 21.

No further information on Ms. Jelal, born in 1977, was available.

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