Saturday, August 2, 2008

Briefly: NATO Summit, Azer. vs. U.S. over UN GA, Russia vs. Georgia; Cheney in Turkey; AKP vs. military; Knesset discusses Armenian Genocide

This was first published in the March 29, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

NATO summit to discuss enlargement plans


Leaders of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member and partner countries will gather in the Romanian capital April 2 and 4 to discuss the organization’s future. President George W. Bush will attend the biennial summit after a visit to Ukraine and before a trip to Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, according to the summit agenda and wire reports.

Armenia’s President-elect Serge Sargsian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev are due to attend, although no bilateral meeting is expected. Both countries cooperate with NATO through individual partnership action plans (IPAP) and have contributed modest contingents to NATO- and U.S.-led operations, although neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan is formally seeking membership.

Neighboring Georgia, on the other hand, has lobbied feverishly, with U.S. backing, to launch a membership action plan (MAP) with NATO, which could become a last stage before full membership.

But opposition from several members, particularly Germany, which is wary of antagonizing Russia, means that neither Georgia not Ukraine, another potential aspirant, are likely to secure a MAP at the summit. But NATO is expected to issue a statement assuring the two countries that their membership is possible in the future.

For now, NATO is expected to expand into the Balkans, formally inviting Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia to join. Member and partner states are also expected to pledge to send additional forces to Afghanistan, where NATO-led forces have come under increased attacks from resurgent Taliban forces. Separate sessions will be dedicated to NATO’s relations with Ukraine and Russia. connect: http://www.summitbucharest.ro/en/1.html

Azerbaijan spars with U.S. over UN vote; launches Washington conference

The Azerbaijani Embassy held on March 25 what it promised will become an annual academic conference at Georgetown University in Washington, the embassy newsletter reported.

Georgetown professors Charles King and Angela Stent served as moderators, and speakers included U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza and several Azerbaijani officials. The latter mostly focused on their country’s concerns with Armenians and the oil business.

According to the Georgetown University schedule of events, Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov was initially listed among the speakers, but he was on the amended list of speakers.

Mr. Azimov on March 26 confirmed reports that Azerbaijan was inquiring with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe regarding a mechanism for replacing members of the organization’s Minsk Group, which has led mediation efforts in Karabakh since 1992. That move came after the group’s co-chairs, France, Russia, and the United States, voted against an Azerbaijan-drafted resolution on Karabakh at the United Nations General Assembly on March 14.

Asked about these developments by the Azerbaijan Press Agency this week, Mr. Bryza expressed hope that “the deputy minister will remain serious [about] the negotiations,” adding that it was “time for serious diplomats to do serious work and playing around with gestures was not constructive.”

Mr. Bryza also revealed that the United States had asked Azerbaijan for time to revise the General Assembly resolution draft, but Azerbaijan refused, which resulted in a “no” vote by the United States.

At the same time, Mr. Bryza said that he “agonized” over this “very difficult decision” and that he had instructed the U.S. Mission to United Nation not to encourage other countries to vote in opposition.

Mr. Bryza also confirmed that Nagorno-Karabakh’s status remains a central issue in the negotiations, adding that if Azerbaijan “does not want to negotiate about this point then there is no sense for negotiations to be continued at all.”

Russia begins to lift Georgia embargo

Direct flights between the Georgian and Russian capitals resumed on March 25 and passenger and cargo traffic connections through the Black Sea began operating two days later, as Russia began to lift its 18-month-long embargo on Georgia, news agencies reported.

In October 2006, Moscow cut off transport and postal links and imposed visa restrictions on Georgian citizens, when Georgia appeared to be on the verge of attacking the Russia-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia and after Georgia arrested several Russian diplomats, accusing them of espionage.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze told Agence France Presse that Russia should also drop sanctions on Georgian-made goods, open the overland border checkpoints, and lift the visa regime for Georgian citizens.

Russian and Georgian officials are expected to meet next month to discuss Tbilisi’s opposition to Russia’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the past, Georgian officials pledged to block Russian membership unless Moscow closes its borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the other breakaway region.

On March 21, the Russian government-controlled parliament passed a resolution suggesting that Moscow should “consider the expediency of recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” Russian officials have hinted that such recognition would become more likely should NATO agree to Georgian membership in the alliance.

Cheney concludes Middle East tour in Turkey

Vice President Dick Cheney visited Ankara on March 24 as part of a 10-day tour of the Middle East that has focused on U.S. concerns with Iran and included a visit with U.S. forces in Iraq, news agencies reported.

Meeting with Turkish civilian and military leaders, Mr. Cheney discussed Turkey’s recent military incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan, for which the United States provided intelligence, and failed to secure a fresh deployment of Turkish forces to assist with the NATO-led stabilization effort in Afghanistan, Turkish media reported.

According to The Associated Press, the visit to Ankara was accompanied by street protests, in which demonstrators burned Mr. Cheney in effigy and chanted anti- American slogans.

In days prior to the vice president’s visit, Turkey was shaken by Kurdish demonstrations to mark Newroz, the Iranian New Year celebrated in much of the Middle East and previously banned in Turkey.

In Turkey’s southeast, demonstrators clashed with security forces, resulting in two deaths and several hundred injured. Several hundred demonstrators were reported to have been detained.

Turkey arrests ultranationalists on conspiracy charges

Turkish police have arrested ultranationalist activist Dogu Perincek along with a former Istanbul University rector and several others on March 21 in a case that Turkish media linked to an alleged plot to kill writer Orhan Pamuk, according to Agence France Presse.

Mr. Perincek was charged on March 24 with “being a senior official of a terrorist organization and obtaining and possessing classified documents,” The Associated Press reported.

Earlier this year, Turkish police arrested nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, retired general Veli Kucuk, and dozens of others who were reportedly plotting to kill Mr. Pamuk as well as Kurdish leaders.

The pro-government newspaper Zaman reported on March 24 that the arrested were part of a “criminal gang called Ergenekon with alleged links to power centers in the bureaucracy and the military” and that they were “attempting to prepare the way for a coup d’├ętat in Turkey in 2009.”

In recent years, Mr. Kerincsiz repeatedly sued Turkish intellectuals, including Mr. Pamuk and the assassinated Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink over their comments and articles that allegedly insulted “Turkishness.” Last year, Mr. Perincek was found guilty of Armenian Genocide denial in Switzerland.

The recent arrests are seen as part of a continuing tug of war between the military secularist establishment, which includes the minority parties in parliament, and the mildly Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s top business group, the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TUSIAD), issued a statement warning of rising tension and polarization in the country and urging all sides to act with common sense and within rule of law, the Turkish Daily News reported on March 25.

***

Israel’s Knesset to consider Armenian Genocide recognition

Israel’s Knesset has decided to consider recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian National Committee of Jerusalem reported on March 26.

Haim Auron, chair of the socialist party Meretz introduced the proposal in the Knesset. (Mr. Auron’s brother is historian Yair Auron, who has written two books on the Armenian Genocide: The Banality of Indifference and The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide). All twelve members of the Knesset present voted in favor of the proposal.

The representative of the government present in the Knesset, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon also voted in favor. Although he refrained from using the word genocide, he said, “We all know the history.” He went on to say that they have to put this issue on the agenda and that in the past he has tried to mediate between Turkey and Armenia but was unsuccessful. “It is necessary to begin a dialogue,” said the minister.

According to the Israeli press, the Knesset House Committee will now have to decide which committee will be responsible for discussing the issue. Haim Auron wants the issue handed over to the Knesset Education Committee.

However another member of the Knesset Yosef Shagal, previously from Azerbaijan, wants the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – which usually hold hearings behind closed doors – to discuss the issue.

According to an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Haim Oron said, “It is appropriate that the Israeli Knesset, which represents the Jewish people, recognize the Armenian Genocide. It is unacceptable that the Jewish people is not making itself heard.” Mr. Oron also said that he raises the issue of the Armenian Genocide every year.

In fact last year at about the same time, a similar proposal presented by Haim Auron was rejected by the Knesset.

Minister Simhon said that although the government is not opposed to sending the issue to a Knesset committee, the question of the Genocide remains a politically charged issue between Armenia and Turkey and Israel “is not interested in taking a side.”

Mr. Shagal warned that this step could negatively impact Turkey-Israel relations and the fate of tens of thousands of Jews who live in Azerbaijan.

Present for the session of the Knesset were representatives of the Armenian National Committee, members of the Armenian community, three Armenian priests, and Armenia’s Honorary Consul.

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