First published in April 5, 2008 Armenian Reporter.
by Emil Sanamyan
Bush nominates ambassador to Armenia, designates new Eurasia energy envoy
On March 28, the White House formally announced President George Bush’s intention to nominate Marie Yovanovitch, current the U.S. ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia. (See the March 29, 2008, Armenian Reporter for background on Amb. Yovanovitch).
Upon receipt of the formal nomination, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), will schedule a hearing on the candidacy.
The president has also satisfied a request by Sen. Biden and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Dick Lugar (R.-Ind.), made last October, to appoint a “special representative” dedicated to Caspian energy issues. On March 31, President Bush announced that the special envoy for the European Union, Boyden Gray, will also serve as special envoy for Eurasian energy to promote the U.S.-led efforts to channel Central Asian oil and gas to Europe while bypassing Russia and Iran.
Previously, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Steve Mann held that responsibility.
NATO allies stall U.S. push for Georgia, Ukraine membership
In spite of public lobbying by President Bush for NATO to begin immediate membership talks with Ukraine and Georgia, opposition from Germany and France effectively stalled the effort at the alliance summit held in Romania April 2–4, U.S. media reported.
The U.S. position that NATO should offer membership action plans (MAPs) to the two countries was backed by the United Kingdom, and Canada as well as new NATO members of Eastern Europe, but it was opposed by most Western European countries, with senior German and French officials citing their reluctance to aggravate relations with Russia.
However, in a compromise decision on April 3, NATO promised eventual membership for Georgia and Ukraine and said that it would review their applications for MAPs again in December.
Greece in turn had delayed a formal invitation to the Balkan state of Macedonia, in a long-running dispute over the country’s name, which is identical to that of one of the northern Greek provinces.
NATO countries agreed without controversy to invite Croatia and Albania to join the alliance. European countries also agreed to bolster the NATO forces in Afghanistan and endorse the U.S.-proposed European missile defense system to preempt a potential threat from Iran.
The missile defense issue is expected to be the focus of President Bush’s discussion in Russia, where he will meet President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Dmitry Medvedev this weekend.
Turkey’s high court to consider ban on ruling party
In a politically charged decision, the Turkish Constitutional Court agreed unanimously on March 31 to consider a ban on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
If agreed to, the ban would also bar 71 of AKP’s senior members, including the country’s president and prime minister, from politics for a period of five years. Turkish analyst Cengiz Candar told the New York Times that the court’s decision was “not a legal act; it’s political.”
The case is likely to drag on for many months, and is expected to be used as a political leverage by the AKP government’s opponents.
The proposal was brought by the public prosecutor’s office, which along with the judiciary remain some of the last bastions of the secular-military establishment after the Islamist-leaning AKP swept the parliament last year and succeeded in getting one of its own elected as Turkey’s president.
The opponents argue that AKP is steering the country away from constitutionally mandated secularism and wants to impose Islamic laws; they particularly cite AKP’s effort to lift a ban on women wearing headscarves in universities. The indictment alleged in part that the ruling party was part of a U.S. conspiracy to install “moderate Islamic regimes.”
The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, meantime, decided to delist PKK – the Kurdish rebel group – from the European Union (EU) list of terrorist organization, citing lack of proper justification, Radio Netherlands reported on April 3. The EU is expected to appeal that decision.
Intermittent clashes between Turkish armed forces and the Kurdish rebels continue, with deadly fighting reported in the southeastern Sirnak province reported by Turkish officials on April 2.
Knesset committee sends Armenian Genocide motion to a closed-door committee over sponsors’ objections
The Rules Committee of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted 11 to 7 on April 1 to submit a motion on the discussion of the Armenian Genocide to the Knesset’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, the Russian-language Israeli news agency newsru.il reported.
According to Knesset member Ze’ev Elkin, who is with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party, a Rules Committee member Zahava Gal-On of the leftist Meretz party requested a revision of the ruling, which will be considered after the Knesset returns from recess on May 19.
The proponents of the discussion, including Mr. Elkin and the motion’s original sponsor Chaim Oron (also with Meretz), have called for the issue to be considered by the Education and Culture Committee, which holds open hearings.
The opponents prefer the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, since its hearings are typically held behind closed doors.
Knesset member Yosef Shagal, who led the opposition to the discussion, told the Azerbaijani Trend news agency that he expects the latter committee to “close this problem.” A native of Soviet Azerbaijan, Mr. Shagal is with Yisrael Beitanu party of Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The April 1 debate included a sharp polemic between Mr. Shagal and Mr. Elkin, himself an immigrant from Soviet Ukraine. Mr. Shagal called the measure “populist.” Mr. Elkin responded that Mr. Shagal’s late party colleague Yuri Shtern was also one of the measure’s proponents. In a followup Russian language response Mr. Shagal reportedly called Mr. Elkin a “goat” and threatened physical violence against him.
Mr. Elkin later said that he regretted that the debate turned ugly.
In a comment for newsru.il, Mr. Shagal argued that the Jewish community in “hot-headed” Azerbaijan may be threatened should the discussion on the Armenian Genocide
proceed any further. Citing the importance of the relationship with Turkey, successive Israeli governments have sought to avoid discussion of the issue.
On March 26, the Israeli Knesset voted for the first time in its history to discuss the Armenian Genocide, in a decision its proponents called “historic.” Following the vote, senior Israeli officials told the local daily Yediot Aharanot that the decision was “out of place and undesired.”
Meantime, an Azerbaijani Parliament member Fazil Gazanfaroglu drafted a resolution on “Israeli genocide policy against Palestinians since 1967” and threatened that it would be adopted should the Knesset recognize the Armenian genocide, the Azerbaijan Press Agency reported on April 2.
Anonymous Turkish officials appeared confident that there is not sufficient support in the Knesset for the measure to be adopted, Zaman newspaper reported on March 28.