Monday, February 2, 2009

Gaza, Gazprom and Turkish broadcasts

This was first published in January 10, 2009 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

World reacts to Israel’s attack on Gaza

A firefighter rinsing blood off Gaza street. Reuters photo

Foreign governments issued a mixed reaction Israel's massive assault on the Palestinian-populated Gaza Strip on December 27. More than ten days into the fighting an estimated 660 Palestinians and at least 10 Israelis died in the war.

While the United States endorsed Israel's actions as "defensive," European Union members struggled to present a unified position. French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in the region to seek an end to violence in an effort reminiscent to his diplomacy between Russia and Georgia last August.

In Armenia's neighborhood, only Georgia openly sided with Israel, blaming the violence on the Palestinians. Azerbaijan said it backed "Palestinians' aspirations" but stopped short of criticizing Israel; there were a number of anti-Israeli protests in Baku, some broken up by police.

Armenia limited itself to an expression of "concern" over the "tragic events" and a call for an end to violence. According to Armenian media reports, several dozen families from Armenia now living in southern Israeli, particularly the town of Beer Sheba, were affected by the conflict.

Russia called the fighting a "dangerous escalation" and demanded a halt to Israel's offensive.

Turkey's leaders condemned Israeli actions as a "crime against humanity" and there were numerous anti-Israeli protests throughout the country.

Iran threatened to retaliate and Iranian-backed Hezballah forces in Lebanon, which bloodied Israeli forces in the 2006 war, launched several rockets into northern Israel.

Israeli officials said the operation targeted the infrastructure of Gaza's Islamist governing party, which is blamed for attacks launched on Israel from Gaza. Palestinian militant groups say the attacks are in response to continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

The attack, which according to Israeli media has been planned for months, came shortly before a general election in Israel in which the ruling moderate coalition is facing a strong challenge from a more hawkish opposition. The Tel Aviv stock market initially gained more than 10 percent on news of war.

In 2005, Israeli forces pulled out from Gaza after a 38-year occupation. Since then the tempo of attacks on Israel from Gaza - mostly by means of rocket launchers and mortars - increased significantly, although a six-month cease-fire from June to December 2008 brought a temporary respite.

According to figures compiled by Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, 13 Israeli civilians died in rocket attacks from Gaza between 2004 and 2008 (none of the fatalities occurred during the cease-fire). In the same period, and before launching the current campaign, Israeli military strikes killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

Russia, Ukraine in fresh row over natural gas supplies

Charging Ukraine with siphoning off supplies transited through the country to European markets and leaving bills unpaid, the Russian government began to cut off supplies to the former Soviet republic.

The new dispute became public just days after Ukraine signed a charter on strategic partnership with the United States.

Georgia was due to sign a similar agreement with U.S. on January 9. Russian officials already criticized Tbilisi for halting the transit pipeline that supplies the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

While Georgia began to switch to Azerbaijan-supplied gas, it still relies on Russian supplies. A potential cut in Russian supplies to Georgia would also threaten Armenia, which has relied on its gas reservoir to ride out past interruptions.

By January 7, countries without gas reservoirs or alternative sources of fuel, including Bosnia, Serbia, and Bulgaria, began to experience heating shortages. Other large recipients of Russian gas, including Germany and Turkey, were not immediately affected as Russia increased supplies to them via pipelines that bypass Ukraine.

European Union leaders met and demanded that Russia and Ukraine resolve their disputes to allow the resumption of supplies. Gazprom said on January 8 that it would resume supplies once international observers are deployed to monitor the supplies.

Turkey launches Kurdish-language TV station, plans one in Armenian

Kurdish women listed to shortwave radion near Turkish-Iranian border. AP

In a new public relations push targeting its largest ethnic minority, Turkish state television launched a 24-hour Kurdish-language station on January 1, Turkish and international news agencies reported.

The station TRT-6 is intended to compete with Denmark-based Roj TV, which can be viewed in Turkey via satellite and is sympathetic to Kurdish rebel forces known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Prior to the rise of satellite television, Turkey's Kurds relied on Armenia-based Kurdish-language radio.

For decades, Turkey refused to recognize Kurds as an ethnic group and prohibited public use of the Kurdish language. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began to change that with TRT launching its first 30-minute Kurdish-language broadcasts in 2004.

Ahmet Turk, leader of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party which boycotted TRT-6's launch, suggested that the move intended to strengthen the ruling party's electoral appeal among ethnic Kurds.

According to Turkish press reports carried by Regnum news agency, TRT will begin radio broadcasts in the Armenian language in February and is looking into launching an Armenian-language TV station by late 2009. Turkey would in turn permit TV broadcasts from Armenia.

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