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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 240, 99-12-13

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 3, No. 240, 13 December 1999


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH PARLIAMENT LEADERS
  • [02] OSCE MINSK GROUP CHAIRMEN IN ARMENIA...
  • [03] ...AS ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SAY KARABAKH'S INTERESTS ARE BEING
  • [04] KARABAKH ARMY COMMANDER RESPONDS TO PRESIDENT'S ATTACK
  • [05] AZERBAIJAN HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS
  • [06] GEORGIA CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL MONITORING OF BORDER WITH
  • [07] GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES HE WILL RESIGN
  • [08] GEORGIA'S STUDENTS DEMAND ALLOWANCES
  • [09] KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT DECLARES WAR ON SEPARATISM,
  • [10] LEADER OF KAZAKHSTAN'S CHECHENS DENIES DANGER OF
  • [11] TAJIK PRESIDENT SETS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION DATE
  • [12] TURKMENISTAN CLAIMS HIGH TURNOUT IN CONTROVERSIAL ELECTIONS
  • [13] RUSSIAN PREMIER TERMS UZBEKISTAN 'STRATEGIC PARTNER'
  • [14] UZBEKISTAN SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY RUNOFF

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [15] CROATIA'S TUDJMAN BURIED IN STATE FUNERAL...
  • [16] ...WITH LOW-KEY FOREIGN PRESENCE...
  • [17] ...AS DOMESTIC QUESTIONS TOP AGENDA
  • [18] ALBANIA ABOLISHES DEATH PENALTY
  • [19] KOSOVARS DEMAND RELEASE OF PRISONERS
  • [20] ANOTHER AIRPORT INCIDENT IN MONTENEGRO
  • [21] ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT SUSPENDS RAILWAY WORKERS' STRIKE
  • [22] ROMANIAN POLITICIANS HAIL EU DECISION
  • [23] OUTGOING PREMIER SAYS MOLDOVA TOO POOR TO PAY BACK DEBTS
  • [24] BULGARIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ABOUT EU DECISION
  • [25] BULGARIA TO SEEK LOANS TO MODERNIZE NUCLEAR REACTORS

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [26] ARMENIAN POLITICS IN UNIFORM

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH PARLIAMENT LEADERS

    Robert

    Kocharian held talks on 10 December with parliamentary

    speaker Armen Khachatrian, his deputies, and the chairmen of

    parliamentary committees, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported.

    Deputy speaker Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL after the meeting

    that all parties expressed concern at the "atmosphere of

    mistrust" between the president and the parliament and tried

    to identify measures to overcome it. Torosian also denied

    that most members of the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the

    Karabakh war endorse the demand for Kocharian's resignation,

    which was made at that organization's congress in early

    December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 1999 and

    also "End Note" below). Kocharian, for his part, denied that

    he plans to dissolve the parliament on 30 May 2000, one year

    after its election, which is the earliest date he is

    constitutionally empowered to do so. LF

    [02] OSCE MINSK GROUP CHAIRMEN IN ARMENIA...

    The French, Russian,

    and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group arrived in

    Yerevan on 10 December and held talks the following day with

    President Kocharian, Premier Aram Sargsian, Foreign Minister

    Vartan Oskanian, and Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian,

    RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. French representative Jean-

    Jacques Gaillard said after the talks with Oskanian that the

    aim of the co-chairmen's visit was to collect information

    about the current situation. He added that the peace process

    in general, but no specific proposal, was discussed. He added

    that the co-chairmen are not proposing any new initiatives

    during their current visit to Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Baku.

    Turan on 11 December quoted former Russian representative to

    the Minsk Group Vladimir Kazimirov, who is accompanying the

    co-chairmen, as denying that he will replace the present

    Russian representative, Nikolai Gribkov. LF

    [03] ...AS ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SAY KARABAKH'S INTERESTS ARE BEING

    IGNORED

    Eight Armenian opposition parties and groups--the

    21st Century, Liberal-Democratic, Azatutiun, Christian-

    Democratic, Conservative, Nor Ughi parties as well as

    Shamiram and the Armat organization--issued a statement on 9

    December accusing the Armenian leadership of lacking a

    concept for resolving the Karabakh conflict and of failing to

    defend the interests of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh

    Republic at the OSCE Istanbul summit in November, Noyan Tapan

    reported. They claimed that the Karabakh leadership has been

    excluded from talks on resolving the conflict. They also

    argued that the signing at the summit of agreements on the

    use of the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline will lead to

    Armenia's isolation from regional economic integration and

    preclude it playing a stabilizing role in the region. LF

    [04] KARABAKH ARMY COMMANDER RESPONDS TO PRESIDENT'S ATTACK

    In a

    faxed response to questions from RFE/RL's Stepanakert

    correspondent, former Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Minister

    Samvel Babayan on 11 December criticized remarks by the

    enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, who, Babayan said,

    does not behave as a head of state should. Ghukasian had told

    journalists in Stepanakert on 7 December that Babayan should

    concentrate his attention on the enclave's armed forces as he

    is not qualified to engage in politics (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 8 December 1999). Also on 11 December, 13 deputies

    to the Karabakh parliament issued a joint statement accusing

    Ghukasian of "destabilizing" the political situation. LF

    [05] AZERBAIJAN HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS

    A Central Election

    Commission official said that 52.6 percent of Azerbaijan's

    4.3 million electorate cast their votes in the 12 December

    municipal elections, according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani

    Service the next day, citing the Independent Center for Local

    Elections. Those elections should have been held in 1997. The

    minimum required turnout was 25 percent. More than 36,000

    candidates, half of them nominally independent, were

    contesting 22,000 seats on local councils. Thousands of

    domestic observers as well as contingents from the OSCE and

    the Council of Europe monitored the poll. Two of the

    country's three main opposition parties, the Azerbaijan

    Popular Front and the Musavat Party, fielded candidates,

    while the Azerbaijan National Independence Party boycotted

    the poll to protest procedural violations during the election

    campaign. LF

    [06] GEORGIA CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL MONITORING OF BORDER WITH

    CHECHNYA

    Levan Mikeladze, who is Georgia's envoy to the

    OSCE, proposed to that body's Permanent Council on 9 December

    that international monitors be dispatched to patrol Georgia's

    frontier with Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported the following

    day. Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili has made a

    similar request to the UN Security Council, according to

    Georgian Foreign Ministry official Avtandil Napetvaridze.

    Georgian officials on 11 December again rejected Russian

    charges that arms and mercenaries are entering Chechnya from

    Georgian territory or that Chechen militants plan to

    establish a base in Georgia. LF

    [07] GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES HE WILL RESIGN

    Defense

    Ministry spokesman Koba Liklikadze told Caucasus Press on 11

    December that there is no truth to rumors circulating in

    Tbilisi that Defense Minister David Tevzadze intends to step

    down. Tevzadze has been accused of financial mismanagement

    within the ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1999).

    LF

    [08] GEORGIA'S STUDENTS DEMAND ALLOWANCES

    Students and faculty

    members at Tbilisi State University and the city's Technical

    University staged a demonstration on 10 December outside the

    finance ministry to demand payment of wages and grants for

    the past seven months, Caucasus Press reported. They were

    promised that the monies would be made available beginning

    the following day. On 9 December, Minister for Refugees

    Valeri Vashakidze warned that displaced persons from Abkhazia

    have not received their allowances for the past three months

    and may not do so this year. He added that the Ministry of

    Finance owes his ministry a total of 14.5 million lari (about

    $7.5 million). The state budget owes a further 100 million

    lari in pensions and state sector wages, Caucasus Press

    reported on 9 December. LF

    [09] KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT DECLARES WAR ON SEPARATISM,

    'EXTREMISM'

    Addressing representatives of Kazakhstan's

    various ethnic groups on 10 December, Nursultan Nazarbaev

    warned that the country's leadership will move swiftly to

    curtail the activities of separatist and extremist religious

    organizations, Russian agencies reported. He blamed the

    spread of extremism on globalization and condemned the

    recently thwarted attempt to establish a separate Russian

    republic on the territory of eastern Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 23 and 29 November 1999). LF

    [10] LEADER OF KAZAKHSTAN'S CHECHENS DENIES DANGER OF

    INFILTRATION

    Akhmed Muradov, chairman of the Vainakh

    Association of Chechen and Ingush Centers of Kazakhstan, told

    journalists in Almaty on 11 December that official reports of

    Chechen militants trying to infiltrate Kazakhstan are

    unfounded, Interfax reported. He said some 5,000 refugees

    from Chechnya are currently in Kazakhstan but have not been

    formally granted refugee status because Kazakhstan "lacks the

    appropriate legal base." Kazakhstan's Interior Minister

    Kairbek Sulaimanov said last month that screening at points

    of entry to the country has been intensified. Ferry services

    between Aktau and Baku were subsequently suspended to prevent

    an influx of Chechens via Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"

    24 and 30 November 1999). LF

    [11] TAJIK PRESIDENT SETS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION DATE

    Imomali

    Rakhmonov on 11 December scheduled the elections to the lower

    and upper houses of the new bicameral parliament for 27

    February and 25 March, respectively, ITAR-TASS reported.

    Addressing parliamentary deputies the previous day after the

    passing of the new election law, Rakhmonov said "we must do

    everything possible" to ensure that the poll is free and

    democratic and a model for other countries." Khalifabobo

    Khamidov, who is Rakhmonov's adviser on parliamentary

    affairs, termed the election of the new legislature "an

    important and conclusive step" toward peace, according to

    Reuters. On 11 December, the parliament also named a 15-

    member Central Electoral Commission. LF

    [12] TURKMENISTAN CLAIMS HIGH TURNOUT IN CONTROVERSIAL ELECTIONS

    One hour before polling stations closed in the 12 December

    parliamentary elections, Turkmen officials claimed that

    turnout was 98.9 percent of the country's 2.2 million

    electorate. Free watches were distributed to first-time

    voters. A total of 104 candidates, almost all of them members

    of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which is the only

    legally functioning party in the country, contested the 50

    seats in the new legislature. The OSCE declined to send any

    monitors on the grounds that "the legislative framework is

    inadequate for even a minimally democratic election" (see

    "RFE/TRL Newsline," 10 December 1999). President Saparmurat

    Niyazov on 9 December termed the poll "an important step in

    the history of Turkmenistan," according to Reuters. LF

    [13] RUSSIAN PREMIER TERMS UZBEKISTAN 'STRATEGIC PARTNER'

    Vladimir Putin and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov

    signed a military cooperation agreement in Tashkent on 11

    December, Russian agencies reported. Putin described that

    document as marking "a qualitatively new level of relations

    in security matters" and Uzbekistan as "Russia's strategic

    partner for many, many years." He added that "Russia has its

    interests in Central Asia" and that Russia is soliciting

    Uzbekistan's help in maintaining peace and stability in the

    region. Putin also discussed with Karimov preparations for

    the latter's summit in Moscow next year with Russian

    President Boris Yeltsin. LF

    [14] UZBEKISTAN SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY RUNOFF

    A second round of

    voting will take place on 19 December in 66 constituencies

    where no candidate won a majority in the 5 December

    parliamentary poll, Reuters reported on 10 December. Of the

    184 candidates elected during the first round, 32 represent

    the People's Democratic Party, 19 the Fidokorlar National

    Democratic Party, nine each the Adolat (Justice) and Vatan

    Tarikietti (Fatherland Progress Party) and six the Milli

    Tiklanish Party. Another 11 deputies represent citizens'

    groups. Central Electoral Commission head Nazhmiddin Komilov

    rejected Western criticism of the ban on opposition parties

    and of restrictions enshrined in the election law, Reuters

    reported. He argued that the fact that each seat was

    contested by five or six candidates proves that the poll was

    democratic. LF


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [15] CROATIA'S TUDJMAN BURIED IN STATE FUNERAL...

    Several tens of

    thousands of people have turned out in Zagreb on 13 December

    for the funeral of President Franjo Tudjman, who died late on

    10 December after a long battle with cancer. Archbishop Josip

    Bozanic of Zagreb is presiding over the funeral ceremony.

    Over the weekend, some 15,000 people paid their last respects

    to Tudjman at the presidential palace. Messages of condolence

    arrived for his family and acting President Vlatko Pavletic

    from around Croatia. Some 15 Croatian prisoners at the Hague

    war crimes tribunal also sent their condolences, the state-

    run Hina news agency reported. PM

    [16] ...WITH LOW-KEY FOREIGN PRESENCE...

    Messages of condolence

    also arrived over the weekend from several world leaders,

    including Pope John Paul II. Among the leaders in the region,

    Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, Macedonia's President-

    elect Boris Trajkovski, Yugoslav President Slobodan

    Milosevic, and the former Kosova Liberation Army's Hashim

    Thaci also sent messages to Pavletic or to the Tudjman

    family. The only important foreign head-of-state to attend

    the funeral on 13 December, however, is Turkey's Suleyman

    Demirel. Slovenia, Hungary, and Macedonia are represented by

    their respective prime ministers. The U.S. and Germany, which

    are Croatia's most important allies, are represented by their

    respective ambassadors. Former German Foreign Minister Hans-

    Dietrich Genscher is present as a private citizen, as is

    former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith. The former

    U.S. envoy told the BBC that he expects that the end of

    Tudjman's authoritarian rule will lead to a rapid integration

    of Croatia into Euro-Atlantic structures. PM

    [17] ...AS DOMESTIC QUESTIONS TOP AGENDA

    Political analysts in

    Croatia and abroad noted that two questions top the agenda

    following Tudjman's death (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16

    November 1999). The first is what effect his passing will

    have on the 3 January parliamentary elections. Polls prior to

    his death indicated that his Croatian Democratic Community

    (HDZ) will trail behind six opposition parties. Opposition

    spokesman Tihomir Ladisic told Reuters on 12 December,

    however, that "one funeral is worth 1,000 election rallies,"

    and many observers expect that Tudjman's death will lead to a

    "sympathy vote" for the HDZ. The second question is who will

    succeed Tudjman. Polls suggest that Social Democrat Ivica

    Racan is the front-runner but that Foreign Minister Mate

    Granic, who is the leader of the HDZ's moderate wing, is also

    a strong contender. According to law, presidential elections

    must be held within 60 days of a president's death. PM

    [18] ALBANIA ABOLISHES DEATH PENALTY

    The Constitutional Court

    ruled on 9 December to abolish the death penalty, dpa

    reported. The Council of Europe threatened to expel Albania

    unless it ends capital punishment. The legal status of the

    death penalty has been ambiguous for some time. The 1998

    constitution forbids it, but the Criminal Code provides for

    it for 15 crimes, including murder. Supporters of the death

    penalty claim that it is necessary because of the high crime

    rate. They also argue that abolition of capital punishment

    would encourage families of murder victims to take matters

    into their own hands in a country where the traditional code

    of honor demands blood for blood. In Rome on 11 December,

    supporters of a Vatican-backed, world-wide movement to

    abolish the death penalty turned on a special set of lights

    at the Coliseum to mark Tirana's abolition of capital

    punishment. PM

    [19] KOSOVARS DEMAND RELEASE OF PRISONERS

    Several tens of

    thousands of mainly ethnic Albanians demonstrated in

    Prishtina on 10 December to demand that the Serbian

    authorities free the 3,000 or so Kosovars they are holding in

    various prisons in Serbia. The OSCE's Daan Everts told a

    conference on human rights in the Kosovar capital that

    international opinion should condemn the Serbian authorities'

    recent sentencing of Kosovar human rights activist Flora

    Brovina to 12 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10

    December 1999). PM

    [20] ANOTHER AIRPORT INCIDENT IN MONTENEGRO

    RFE/RL's South Slavic

    Service reported on 11 December that "strong contingents of

    Montenegrin police" deployed at Tivat airport after a brief

    confrontation there between police and "several vehicles"

    belonging to the Yugoslav army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9

    December 1999). During a similar incident the previous week

    at Podgorica airport, army forces were placed on full alert

    and issued live ammunition. A paratroop unit in Nis was also

    placed on full alert, the broadcast added. Shortly after the

    Podgorica incident, army General Spasoje Similjanovic arrived

    at that airport from Belgrade to inspect federal troops

    there. In Niksic on 11 December, Yugoslav Prime Minister

    Momir Bulatovic warned that if NATO troops try to occupy

    Podgorica airport, "they will meet with the armed resistance

    of the army and the people." Bulatovic is the arch-rival of

    President Djukanovic. PM

    [21] ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT SUSPENDS RAILWAY WORKERS' STRIKE

    The

    Romanian Supreme Court on 10 December ordered the country's

    striking railway workers to suspend their strike for 45 days.

    The government had asked for a 90-day suspension. Union

    leader Gheorghe Sultana said the workers would respect the

    ruling, but he added that the unions "reserve our right to go

    on strike again if our pay demands are not settled during

    talks in over the coming days." The Supreme Court said the

    ruling was designed to prevent any further losses to the

    country's economy owing to the strike. The workers are

    demanding a 70 percent wage increase (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"

    10 December 1999). VG

    [22] ROMANIAN POLITICIANS HAIL EU DECISION

    President Emil

    Constantinescu on 10 December said that by securing an EU

    invitation to entry talks, the country has "fulfilled the

    ideal which had claimed the lives of the heroes of the 1989

    December revolution." The president also thanked the Romanian

    people for expressing a willingness to integrate into the EU.

    Adrian Nastase, vice president of the opposition Party of

    Social Democracy in Romania, also welcomed the EU decision,

    describing it as a "landmark in Romania's foreign policy

    strategy for many years." In a televised address on 12

    December, Constantinescu called for better coordination among

    government ministries as a key pre-requisite to successful EU

    membership negotiations. VG

    [23] OUTGOING PREMIER SAYS MOLDOVA TOO POOR TO PAY BACK DEBTS

    Outgoing Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza said on state

    television on 10 December that the country will default on

    $95 million worth of debt payments next year owing to a lack

    of hard currency, Infotag reported. He said the default could

    come in the first or second quarter of next year. Meanwhile,

    Democratic Convention of Moldovan leader and former President

    Mircea Snegur on 11 December said he believes early elections

    are inevitable following the failure of two cabinets to

    secure a parliamentary vote of confidence, (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 10 December 1999). BASA-Press reported. Communist

    deputy chairman Victor Stepaniuc said early elections are a

    possibility but added that his party would prefer to avoid

    them. VG

    [24] BULGARIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ABOUT EU DECISION

    Ivan Kostov on 10

    December said the EU's decision to invite his country to EU

    entry talks was a reward for the country's "European

    solidarity." Kostov said he brought up the issue of visa

    restrictions on Bulgarians in many EU member states, saying

    his country's citizens want to be "treated on the same

    footing as the citizens of the other countries the EU is

    holding accession negotiations with," according to an 11

    December BTA report cited by the BBC. Kostov also said the

    EU's decision to formally recognize Turkey as a membership

    candidate will lay "new tracks for the development of

    bilateral relations" between Sofia and Ankara. National

    Assembly Chairman Yordan Sokolov noted that as part of its

    efforts to get into the EU, Bulgaria will probably have to

    amend its constitution to allow foreigners to own land, BTA

    reported. The leader of the opposition Euroleft Party,

    Alexander Tomov, said the EU invitation is an "important test

    and a serious challenge for Bulgaria." VG

    [25] BULGARIA TO SEEK LOANS TO MODERNIZE NUCLEAR REACTORS

    The

    Bulgarian National Assembly voted to authorize the government

    to sign agreements on loans to finance the modernization of

    two reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, Bulgarian

    Radio reported on 10 December. Some 362 million euros ($367

    million) in loans will be provided by the U.S. City Bank and

    Exim Bank, the Russian Export-Import Bank, and the European

    Nuclear Energy Community. The modernization program includes

    measures to improve the safety of the two reactors. VG


    [C] END NOTE

    [26] ARMENIAN POLITICS IN UNIFORM

    By Richard Giragosian

    Recent developments in Armenia following the attack on

    the parliament have highlighted an increasingly assertive

    military and a widening split between the president and

    elements of the Unity bloc, the dominant group in the

    parliament.

    The killings of the two leaders of the Unity bloc,

    parliamentary chairman Karen Demirchian and Prime Minister

    Vazgen Sargsian, have led to a serious reconfiguration of the

    balance of political power in the country. This shift first

    became apparent in the negotiations between President Robert

    Kocharian and his newly appointed prime minister, the brother

    of the late premier, Aram Sargsian, on the lineup of a new

    cabinet. The military reportedly submitted a list of

    preferred appointments to the president during the

    negotiations and was the driving force behind the appointment

    of the new prime minister. Moreover, the deepening internal

    tension has been exacerbated by Kocharian's recent moves

    promising a possible settlement of the long-standing Nagorno-

    Karabakh conflict.

    This political confrontation was most evident at the

    early December party congress of the Yerkrapah Union of

    veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Having formed the

    Republican Party, a key partner of the People's Party in the

    Unity Bloc, the Yerkrapah organization is led by several

    senior military figures aspiring to exert political leverage.

    Although the Yerkrapah group backed the new premier, it

    remains to be seen to what degree Sargsian will serve as a

    Yerkrapah figurehead or if he will attempt to distance

    himself from the group.

    Within Yerkrapah, a new core leadership has emerged that

    is strongly critical of the president, even threatening to

    force new presidential elections. The party congress elected

    Major General Manvel Grigorian as its chairman, signaling a

    step toward "politics in uniform." This assertive and

    military-affiliated Yerkrapah leadership promises a looming

    confrontation with the Kocharian camp and has already

    fostered a growing split with its own Republican Party

    supporters.

    Moreover, the appointment of Vahan Shirkhanian as

    minister of industrial infrastructure constitutes a

    concession by the president that demonstrates his tenuous

    position in resisting the Yerkrapah leadership directly.

    Shirkhanian is former deputy defense minister and the

    military's initial choice for new premier. And it was he who

    led the military's very vocal demands calling for the

    dismissal of the power ministers in the wake of the attack on

    the parliament.

    The military boldly asserted itself immediately

    following that attack, responding to the crisis with a

    demonstrable show of force. Although the Armenian military

    had been engaged in political affairs with President Levon

    Ter-Petrossian government's deployment of the army in

    response to an opposition demonstration in Yerevan, this new

    trend of politics in uniform poses the threat of a "creeping

    coup." Following the success in forcing the resignations of

    the interior and national security ministers and the

    prosecutor-general, the military has now entered the

    political arena through the Yerkrapah organization.

    The ominous trend of a politically assertive military

    has roots in Armenia's body politic. The use of the military

    as a springboard to political power was evident in both

    Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia with the rise of the powerful

    former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan and late

    Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian.

    Now, politics in uniform has emerged as an alternative

    avenue to power, offering a new source of political

    legitimacy for ambitious elements of the military as the

    traditional path to political power has become discredited by

    rampant corruption and feuding political elites. Armenia's

    political landscape is somewhat similar to Russia's in that

    rival factions within the government are struggling for

    control over the key economic sectors. These feuding

    political elites are committed to democracy in varying

    degrees, casting the competition not as a battle for

    maintaining democratic and economic reforms but as a struggle

    over who controls reform.

    As the military-influenced leadership of the Yerkrapah

    organization escalate a confrontation with the Kocharian

    government, it will be interesting to see what role the

    defense minister will play. Widely respected as a

    professional military officer with a disdain for partisan

    politics, the defense minister may well hold the key for

    ensuring the stability of the Kocharian government. The most

    likely scenario is a confrontation between the Yerkrapah-

    dominated parliament and the presidency, with the defense

    minister preventing the military establishment from directly

    engaging the government in open political combat. But the

    military is an essential element in the long-term necessity

    of securing the peace after a negotiated peace agreement over

    Nagorno-Karabakh.

    A more fundamental element common to all the players is

    the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. It was, in fact, the Karabakh

    conflict that brought Robert Kocharian to power in Armenia,

    first as prime minister and then as president. Karabakh also

    heralded the rise of Vazgen Sarkisian and provided the

    pivotal political legitimacy for the Yerkrapah movement. It

    also hastened the demise of former President Ter-Petrossian,

    forced into resignation by the Kocharian camp.

    Most significantly, the future course of both Armenia

    and Nagorno-Karabakh rests on the looming Karabakh

    settlement. It remains to be seen whether the increasing

    pressure on President Kocharian will mean a lost opportunity

    for peace or just another obstacle on the path toward

    consolidating democracy in Armenia.

    The author is the editor of the monthly newsletter

    "TransCaucasus: A Chronology."

    13-12-99


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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