Thursday, July 31, 2008

Briefly: Freedom House report; Senator, Congressmen in Baku; Turkish nationalist violence and Sudan-Turkey bonding

This was originally published in January 19, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

by Emil Sanamyan

Armenia’s Freedom House score unchanged
Two Washington think tanks, whose findings form part of the eligibility criteria for U.S. Millennium Challenge Assistance (MCA) programs issued their ratings this week. Implementation of a $235 million MCA program in Armenia began in December 2006.

Armenia’s economy is 28th freest worldwide, according to the annual Index of Economic Freedom released on January 15. (See story on page A1.) Meantime, a report issued by the Freedom House on January 16 again described both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh as partly free” and found no changes in levels of political rights and civil liberties there.

The think tank did not release country-by-country reports at press to explain its determinations. But overall, the “Freedom in the World 2008” report found “a notable setback for global freedom” in 2007. Among countries where the study registered such setbacks were Georgia (which remained “partly free”), Azerbaijan, and Russia (both “not free”). On the other hand, freedoms are said to have improved in Turkey (still rated “partly free”).

Senior U.S. senator, Azerbaijani Caucus co-chairs make trips to Baku
Senator Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, met with the Azerbaijani president and other officials on January 13 and 14, local media reported. The veteran U.S. senator reportedly predicted that there would be no resolution to the Karabakh conflict any time soon. He also encouraged continued U.S.–Azerbaijani security cooperation and warned of threats from Iran.

Sen. Lugar’s visit to Baku, his fifth there, was part of a regional tour that focused on promoting trans-Caspian routes for Central Asian energy exports to Europe. It also included stops in Ukraine, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

Mr. Lugar said that he would urge President Bush to appoint a new special envoy on Caspian energy issues to promote non-Russian export routes. Russia recently signed agreements with Central Asian states on natural gas transportation to Europe.

In an October 4, 2007, letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sen. Lugar together with Committee chair Joe Biden (D.- Del.) noted that the United States has a “long-term interest in preventing Russian domination of energy in the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia.”

Co-chairs of Congressional Caucuses on Azerbaijan - Rep. Bill Shuster (R.-Penn.) and Turkey - Reps Robert Wexler (D.- Fla.) were in Azerbaijan on January 9–11. In addition to meeting the President, Defense Minister, and other officials, the two members of Congress also visited with the First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, who combines duties of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation president, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and chair of the U.S.–Azerbaijan Inter-Parliamentary Relations Committee.

In recent years, there has been a steady stream of congressional delegations to Azerbaijan, including two members of the House Intelligence Committee who visited in 2007. By contrast, no member of the U.S. Congress has visited Armenia since the November 2005 regional tour by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D.-Fla.), who chairs the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

Scholars highlight nationalist violence in Turkey
On the first anniversary of Hrant Dink’s murder, scholars speaking in Washington this week noted lack of any tangible progress in the Turkish government’s policy toward dissidents and the continued threat of ultranationalist violence. Mr. Dink, editor of the Turkish Armenian newspaper Agos, was tried in a Turkish court and targeted for assassination for speaking out on the Armenian Genocide.

Dr. Taner Akçam of the University of Minnesota, who has also been a target of the Turkish government for speaking out on the Genocide, argued at the National Press Club (NPC) on January 17 that Mr. Dink’s case demonstrates that there exists an “unwritten code” between the Turkish media, justice officials, and government in which they work together to silence any public dissent.

“To prosecute intellectuals is considered a patriotic act in Turkey,” Mr. Akçam said. He also cited the need for an organized domestic civil rights movement as the necessary prerequisite for reform as Turkey continues to seek entry into the European Union (EU).
“Turkey cannot be a member of the EU as long as they criminalize the discussion of history,” Mr. Akçam said, referring to the denial of the Armenian Genocide.

Joining Prof. Akcam at NPC was Payam Akhavan, international law professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and former United Nations war crimes prosecutor. “It seems as if nothing has been learned from [Hrant Dink’s] murder and Article 301 is still being used to prosecute those who counter the government,” said Mr. Akhavan.

He acknowledged that in addition to 301 there are other provisions of the Turkish penal code that also prohibit free speech. However, he said that, “the symbolic importance of repealing Article 301 cannot be underestimated.” The Turkish government has considered revising 301, but refuses to repeal it outright.

Yektan Turkyilmaz, a doctoral student at Duke University who has researched Armenian-Turkish relations in both Yerevan and Istanbul, told the Armenian Reporter on January 14 that Mr. Dink’s case “was not just another ‘deep state’ murder,” of which there have been many in Turkish history.

He stressed that Mr. Dink’s assassination should be treated as part of a pattern that also included murders of a Catholic priest in Trabzon in 2006 and Christian missionaries in Malatya in 2007 and reflects “a new trend” and “scary” new face of Turkish nationalism. Two other priests were targeted in Izmir and Antalya last month.

While Mr. Turkyilmaz noted that “good things are also happening,” there are “even more reactionary currents” in Turkey today than at any time in recent past, and that there is “little cause to be optimistic” that things would improve in near future.

Turkey to host Sudanese leader accused of genocide
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is held responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Darfur, will visit Ankara next week on invitation from Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Turkish media reported on January 16.

The United States and much of the international community have charged Sudan with genocide, but Turkish government sided with Mr. al-Bashir and when visiting Sudan in March 2006 Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he believed that “no assimilation or genocide was committed in Darfur.”

Mr. al-Bashir is due to be received with full honors at Turkey’s Presidential Palace on January 21. Sudan and Turkey signed a military cooperation agreement in July 2007, and a Turkish military delegation visited Khartoum earlier this month, reportedly to study ways to assist the Sudanese military.

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