Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On Armenians for Obama, Iraqi Christians, Turkey's UN and nuclear plans

First published in October 18, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Armenian activists meet Barack Obama’s advisor, confidante


Nora Keomurjian and Karine Birazian with Barack Obama's senior campaign advisor Valerie Jarrett, in Philadelphia on October 13, 2008. ANCA

"Armenians for Obama" activists Nora Keomurjian and Karine Birazian met with Sen. Barack Obama's senior campaign advisor Valerie Jarrett to update her on the group's activities on behalf of the presidential campaign.

During a "Pennsylvania Women for Obama" event held in Philadelphia on October 13, Ms. Jarrett expressed "deep interest in [the Armenian] community's efforts to elect Senator Obama our next president," according to Ms. Keomurjian.

Described as Mr. Obama's "big sister" and "fixer" by the New Republic, Ms. Jarrett is a Chicago lawyer and businessperson. The Wall Street Journal described her as an "insider widely tipped for a top position in an Obama administration."

Ms. Birazian is Eastern U.S. director for the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and Ms. Keomurjian is also an activist for ANCA, which endorsed Mr. Obama.

"Armenians for Obama" is a nationwide Los Angeles-based voter registration, education, and mobilization effort dedicated to electing Barack Obama president. connect: www.ArmeniansforObama.com

Iraqi Armenians killed, wounded in attacks

An ethnic Armenian music-store owner, Farques Batool, was killed, and his nephew was wounded in attacks in Iraq's northern city of Mosul on October 13, news agencies reported. The attacks were apparently religiously motivated.

Since the surge in violence, ethnic Armenians and other Christians who had remained in Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities, more than 4,000 people in all, have fled, most for the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.

In all, at least ten people have been killed in fresh attacks blamed on Sunni radicals linked with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Associated Press linked the attacks to calls by Iraqi Christians for restoration of Saddam Hussein-era quotas that would give them seats in provincial councils. The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government sent police reinforcements to try to stabilize the situation in Mosul.

"Thousands of people fled virtually overnight, many with only the clothes on their back," said Jamil Abdul-Ahad, the head of an interfaith Christian council in Mosul that has been distributing aid to the displaced, The AP reported.

"Our situation needs active work, not just media propaganda from government officials," Mr. Abdul-Ahad said. "The government should protect Christians in Mosul and safeguard their rights."

Sunni extremists have regularly targeted Iraqi Christians since the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. In addition to Armenians, Iraqi Christians include Syrian Orthodox and Catholics.

Turkey poised to win UN Security Council seat

After years of lobbying and courting countries worldwide, Turkey appeared poised to win a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, in an election set for October 17.

All 192 UN member states were to participate in a vote in which Turkey, Austria, and Iceland would compete for two seats reserved for the Western European group of countries. In the absence of progress in its European Union bid, the Turkish government has made winning the Security Council seat a foreign policy priority.

Turkey has raised its international profile in recent years, distancing itself from U.S. policies in Iraq and Iran, mediating talks between Syria and Israel, and most recently suggesting a Caucasus regional pact with Russia. Turkey has also offered financial support to island nations and pledged to open embassies in a number of remote countries. Turkey was previously a Security Council member twice, in the 1950s and in 1961.

According to an October 16 report in Zaman newspaper, Turkey's bid for the 2009-10 Security Council term is backed by most Muslim countries, as well as a number of countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. In all, Turkey needs support from 128 countries to win the seat.

In addition to five veto-holding permanent members - France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, ten other states are elected for two-year terms.

Three of the ten come from the Africa group; two each from Latin America/Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, and Western Europe; and one from Eastern Europe. One of the members is an Arab country, alternately from the Asia or Africa bloc.

In the contest for the Asia seat, Iran is expected to lose to Japan; Iran had previously served on the Security Council in 1955-56. Mexico and Uganda are expected to be elected without opposition in their respective groups. Libya, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, and Vietnam will continue to serve out their terms, which end next year.

The Security Council is authorized to approve military action, peacekeeping operations, and international sanctions.

Turkey still weighing nuclear power plans

The Turkish government is seeking to build two nuclear power plants - a long-delayed one at Akkuyu near the Mediterranean port of Mersin, and another near the Black Sea port of Sinop, the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor (EDM) reported on October 10, citing Turkish media.

Although 13 consortia expressed interest in Akkuyu as the tender was announced earlier this year, only one - a joint venture between the Russian state-owned Atomstroyexport and the Turkish Ciner Group - submitted a formal bid before the deadline last month. Other companies have expressed reservations about the project's conditions, which the Turkish government has declined to renegotiate.

The Turkish government will decide whether to accept the sole Russian bid before the end of October. Russia currently supplies two-thirds of the natural gas and one-third of the oil consumed by Turkey.

According to EDM, "the general consensus in Turkey is that the AKP will eventually have to cancel the nuclear power tender" in part over concerns that the United States will perceive the project's award to Russia as another sign of Turkey distancing from the West. AKP is the abbreviation by which Turkey's governing party is known.

Turkish officials have for now pledged to continue with the tender process. Energy Minister Hilmi Guler conceded, however, that "the global financial crisis will affect large investments," including possibly nuclear plant plans.

Ilham Aliyev claims less than 90 percent of vote in re-election

Azerbaijan's incumbent president Ilham Aliyev won just over 89 percent of the votes cast on October 15 and will remain president at least until 2013; his "main rival," Milli Majlis member Iqbal Agazade was second, with 2.78 percent, according to official returns cited by RFE/RL.

Officials also claimed a voter turnout of 75 percent in an election that saw very little public interest or campaigning; the turnout in the significantly more competitive 2003 election was put at 71 percent.

Kenan Aliyev, the director of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, said "a lot of voters were basically forced to go to the polling stations."

Western observers working under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe umbrella released a statement on October 16 saying Azerbaijan's presidential elections showed "considerable progress" compared to previous votes but did not meet all international commitments on democracy.

The poll "was characterized by a lack of robust competition and vibrant political discourse" and "did not reflect all the principles of a meaningful, pluralistic, democratic election," they said.

RFE/RL reported that government celebrations in Baku began before results were announced.

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