Monday, September 1, 2008

Briefly: Bush, Obama, freemasons mark 4/24; State Dept. terror and FH press reports; Burns on Turkey; U.S. buying Azeri oil; more Abkhazia tension

First published in May 3 and 10, 2008 Armenian Reporter, respectively.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Bush, Obama issue April 24 statements

President George W. Bush issued a traditional statement on “Armenian Remembrance Day” to “honor the memory of the victims of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, the mass killings and forced exile of as many as 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire.”

As in years past, Mr. Bush failed to uphold his pre-election pledge to properly refer to the Armenian experience as Genocide and again welcomed efforts in Armenia and Turkey of “open examination of the past in search of a shared understanding of these tragic events.”

Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) said in a statement that the current U.S. position on the issue is “untenable.”

“It is imperative that we recognize the horrific acts carried out against the Armenian people as genocide,” Mr. Obama said in a statement submitted into the Congressional Record on his behalf by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.).

President Bush’s statement also called on the Armenian government “to take decisive steps to promote democracy” and reiterated the U.S. commitment “to a strong relationship with Armenia based on shared values.”

French freemasons call for genocide recognition by Turkey

France’s largest freemason organization, the Grand Orient de France, has pledged to promote Armenian Genocide affirmation, according to reports in Turkey’s Zaman newspaper.

The lodge Grand Master Jean-Michel Quillardet made the pledge at the commemorative event in Paris on April 24. A delegation from Grand Orient also attended commemorations in Yerevan.

Unlike most of its Masonic counterparts in other countries, the Grand Orient frequently takes public positions on social and political issues. Established in 1733, the lodge counts many historical French figures as its members and remains an influential organization.

During a meeting with the Association of European Journalists last February Mr. Quillardet said he has encouraged Turkish freemasons to promote genocide recognition. “I told my Turkish brothers to work on the Armenian genocide. They will make necessary preparations to make Turkey recognize it through democratic means,” Zaman quoted him as saying.

Mr. Quillardet reportedly also raised the issue with the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in a meeting on April 8, prior to Mr. Barroso’s trip
to Turkey.

U.S. report notes problems with “war on terrorism”

2007 saw another increase in terrorism-related fatalities around the world, according to the State Department’s annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report released on April 30. More than 22,000 people died in terrorism-related incidents worldwide, an 8-percent increase over 2006.

Sixty percent of all deaths occurred in Iraq, and Afghanistan and Pakistan came second and third in the grim statistic, with the two countries together accounting for 13 percent of the fatalities.

The report said that Armenia “strengthen[ed] its counterterrorism capabilities and enhanced its counterterrorism cooperation with U.S.,” singling out Armenia’s contribution to U.S.-led military operations, including in Iraq, and efforts to prevent cross-border smuggling and terrorism financing.

At the same time, report noted that “endemic government corruption, a significant organized crime presence, and a large shadow economy” as well as Armenia’s “geographic location, porous borders, and loose visa regime still provided ample opportunities for traffickers of illicit materials, persons, and finances.” It also noted Armenia’s reluctance to “criticize publicly objectionable Iranian conduct.”

The report expressed no such concerns in reference to neighboring Azerbaijan or Georgia, citing instead their government efforts to crackdown on Islamic radical groups. No such groups are known to operate on Armenia’s territory.

Freedom House: 2007 Armenia press freedom two points worse

The world’s press freedom continued to decline, according to findings of the Washington-based Freedom House think tank released on April 29. It found the largest setbacks in the former Soviet republics, particularly in Russia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan.

The report concluded that Armenia’s press remained “not free” and observed one point setbacks in the media’s political and legal environment, giving the country a score of 66 instead of 64. The report cited pressure on Gala TV in Gyumri and incidents with two Yerevan newspaper editors who were active in the opposition preelection campaign to substantiate its conclusions.

(In an editorial on May 12, 2007, the Armenian Reporter took issue with the quality of Freedom House’s earlier findings.)

Neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan got scores of 60 (partly free) and 77 (not free), respectively.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Former senior U.S. official: If Turkey opens to Armenia, Armenians will respond

“If the Turkish government makes a historic opening, reaches out to Armenia, I believe the Armenians will respond,” former Undersecretary of State Nick Burns said on May 8. The comment was part of Mr. Burns’ proposals to Turkey, which included a call to settle “historic animosities” and “sensitive subjects” with its neighbors, and echoed what Mr. Burns said in his official capacity last September (see this page in the September 22, 2007, issue).

Turkish president Abdullah Gül became one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate President Serge Sargsian on his election in February, and senior officials from two countries have since exchanged other correspondence, but there has been no indication yet that Turkey would reconsider its preconditions to relations with Armenia.

Mr. Burns, who left the Bush Administration in March, made the remarks in an annual lecture sponsored by one of Turkey’s largest business groups, Sabanci Holding, at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. The former State Department number-three agreed that Turkey remains a “vital” country for the United States, and noted that bilateral relations have improved over the last year.

U.S. emerges as major buyer of Azerbaijani oil

Since the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in June 2006, the United States has emerged as one of the largest single importers of oil from Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea deposits developed by BP (formerly known as British Petroleum), according to statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The United States began to purchase Azerbaijani oil in September 2006, with $688 million worth of crude imported in 2006 and $1.75 billion in 2007; $500 million worth was imported in January and February of this year. While the Azerbaijani crude comprised only about 0.5% of all such U.S. imports in 2007, it made up a substantial portion of total Azerbaijani oil exports, valued at about $18 billion last year (of which about $3 billion were Azerbaijan’s and the rest that of the BP-led consortium).

Increased oil production, which is expected to peak in 2012, has allowed the Azerbaijani government to beef up spending, with military spending specifically due to reach $2 billion in 2008, according to the recent declaration by the country’s president.

Georgia pushes for international condemnation of Russia

Tensions over Abkhazia persisted in recent weeks, as local officials claimed to have shot down two more of Georgia’s spy drones and Tbilisi condemned Moscow for sending additional peacekeeping forces into the province that has been de facto independent from Georgia since the war of 1992–93.

Georgia meanwhile has pressed for a more robust international reaction to credible reports that Russian forces in Abkhazia, there under a United Nations mandate to promote peace, have increasingly targeted Georgian forces, and as Russia moved closer to effectively annexing Abkhazia.

Georgia has for years pushed for withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers and their replacement with other forces, but has again failed to win international support for such a move following a special UN Security Council meeting on Abkhazia on April 23. Still, U.S. and European officials and legislators have continued to express overall support for Georgia.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed on May 7 a nonbinding measure, H. Res. 1166, that backed peaceful restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity and condemned the Russian government’s moves over Abkhazia and another breakaway province, South Ossetia. Congress also reiterated support for Georgia’s accession into U.S.-led NATO alliance.

Also this week, the European Parliament members blasted Russian moves over Abkhazia, but will not vote on a resolution on the subject until next month. Some European politicians have linked Russia’s moves over Georgia to the West’s unilateral recognition of Kosovo earlier this year.

Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh told Russia’s RIA Novosti, “We do not want Moscow to recognize us in defiance of the United States in order to take revenge for Kosovo. We want independence because we have a right to it.”

—Haik Gugarats contributed to this week’s Briefing.

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