Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reaction to protocols, NK anniversary, Caspian and Abkhazia disputes

This was first published in the September 5, 2009 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Congressional, Armenian-American reaction to protocols is mixed

The announcement by Armenia and Turkey of their intention to sign protocols that could pave the way for diplomatic relations have elicited a slew of reactions from members of Congress and Armenian-American organizations.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), who represents the congressional district with the largest number of Armenian-Americans, initially issued a statement "welcoming what may be an important step between Armenia and Turkey."

The statement issued on the morning of September 1 also expressed hope for the full normalization of relations, including lifting of Turkey's blockade, but stressed that "true reconciliation" would only come when Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide.

But less than four hours later, Mr. Schiff issued an expanded statement that sounded more skeptical of the development.

"While I welcome what may be an important step in the rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey," Mr. Schiff wrote, "I have serious concerns about some provisions of the protocols accompanying the announcement."

The Representative specifically suggested that "the protocols call for the creation of an historical commission to review the events of 1915-23."

Although the protocols do not actually refer to the events of 1915-23, they do cite a need to "restore mutual confidence" via a dialogue on the "historical dimension" of relations that would involve "impartial scientific examination of the historical records."

In between the two statements by Rep. Schiff, the Armenian National Committee of America issued a statement titled, "ANCA Warns Capitol Hill about Dangers of Turkey-Armenia Protocols."

The statement included a memo by ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian expressing "serious concern" that the protocols "prejudice the security of Armenia and the rights of all Armenians."

Mr. Hamparian claimed that Armenia was forced into agreeing to the protocols "under intense economic and diplomatic pressure." He expressed particular concern about what he called the "historical commission."

The ANCA also noted that immediately after the release of the protocols, senior Turkish officials indicated they intended to continue to stall the normalization process.

The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) also expressed concerns with Turkey's "track record of broken promises" with regard to relations with Armenia.

But unlike the ANCA, the AAA appeared satisfied with the content of the protocols. The AAA release, dated September 2, said that the group "supports normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey without preconditions" and viewed the release of the protocols as an "important step" toward that aim.

On September 3, the co-chairs of the Armenian Congressional Caucus, Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) issued a statement on the protocols.

The co-chairs said they were "concerned with Turkey's willingness to cooperate in the matter" of normalizing relations, and added, "Any attempt to include a review of historical fact, such as the Armenian Genocide, or to include the ongoing Nagorno Karabakh peace process into these negotiations stands in direct opposition to the intent of these talks."

Caucus co-chairs reiterate call for “international recognition” on Karabakh jubilee

"We continue to join you in the call for formal international recognition of your independence," Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R,-Ill.) declared in a September 2 letter addressed to Nagorno-Karabakh's President Bako Sahakian on the republic's Independence Day.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was declared on September 2, 1991, with its independence receiving overwhelming support in a referendum held in subsequent December.

In a recent interview with the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Pallone had expressed his willingness to work toward U.S. recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, as he also acknowledged the task would be difficult to accomplish.

The U.S. government "has to realize that according to the Soviet legal framework, Nagorno-Karabakh had self-government and certain rights, including holding a referendum and becoming an independent country, which is what had happened," Mr. Pallone noted in the interview.

Turkmenistan ratchets up rhetoric in Caspian dispute with Azerbaijan

Turkmenistan will build up its naval forces in the Caspian, its President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov declared on August 31, RFE/RL and other media reported. The buildup would include a new naval base and the purchase of missile-armed vessels.

The two countries have failed to agree on their maritime affairs after years of intermittent talks. The recent pronouncements come following several high-level summits between Azerbaijani and Turkmenistani leaders that seemed to indicate a warming in relations.

But in a surprise development last month, Turkmenistan said it would launch a legal case against Azerbaijan in an international court over several disputed offshore oilfields.

The disputed area includes the Azeri and Chirag oilfields that have accounted for the bulk of Azerbaijan's oil production in the last decade, which has already brought it billions of dollars in revenue.

The reignited Azerbaijani-Turkmenistani disagreements may also have been the reason for a recently aborted NATO deployment into Afghanistan.

The Russian-language service of Deutsche Welle reported on August 26 that a German air force AWACS plane was forced to abort its Afghanistan deployment after three weeks of waiting at a Turkish airbase because of a lack of overflight permission from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

The United States and its European allies have used the Caucasus-Central Asia corridor to resupply their forces in Afghanistan. The route supplements the main supply lines through Pakistan and the recently agreed route via Russia and Central Asia.

Russia, Georgia square off over Black Sea shipping to Abkhazia

Georgia sparked a fresh bout of tensions with Russia after its coast guard boats detained a cargo ship carrying fuel from Turkey to Abkhazia, RFE/RL and other media reported this week.

On September 1 a Georgian court sentenced the Turkish captain of the ship to 24 years in prison on charges of "illegal border crossing" and "smuggling." The ship's operator claimed it was seized at gunpoint in international waters.

In response, Russia pledged to provide naval protection to merchant vessels going to and from Abkhazia to prevent what it called acts of "piracy" by Georgia. And on September 2, the Abkhaz leadership ordered its military to attack Georgian vessels that enter its waters.

Tbilisi considers Abkhazia to be its territory and has detained four other Abkhazia-bound ships in the last year. The Russian-Georgia war fought in August 2008 resulted in the destruction of most of Georgia's naval ships and was followed by Russia's recognition of Abkhazia as an independent country.

Russia has since deployed its forces to guard the de-facto border between Abkhazia and Georgia, and announced plans to build new bases for its air and naval forces in Abkhazia, investing up to $500 million in the new infrastructure.

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