By Erik Davtyan (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 10, a trilateral meeting took place between the presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the Kazan meeting in 2011, this was the first such meeting hosted by a Russian president. On August 8, Presidents Sargsyan and Aliyev had both paid a working visit to Sochi in order to discuss a wide range of issues, concerning Armenian-Russian and Azerbaijani-Russian relations respectively. Since both parties had expressed their willingness to hold a trilateral meeting, their official visits to Sochi presented a good opportunity for the dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The last meeting of the two presidents took place on November 19, 2013, in Vienna and was conducted with the participation of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk.
The meeting focused on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the recent clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the line of contact. While the working visit also pursued some other important issues (e.g. Armenian-Russian relations), the concerns among Armenia’s population over the events on the borderline and the possibility of a state-level discussion of that situation became the main point of interest during the trilateral meeting. Many Armenians attached great importance to the Sochi meeting due to the tense situation on the line of contact, which has since early August caused the deaths of over 20 soldiers. The recent skirmishes were the bloodiest fighting in two decades, and the proceedings at Sochi were therefore followed closely in Armenia.
In the first week of August, the developing situation on the frontline raised concerns among the Armenian public, fearing a possible escalation of the conflict. While clashes on the line of contact have occurred from time to time in past years, the massive breach of the cease-fire for a relatively long period of time, and the everyday news on the tense situation triggered perceptions that a return to large-scale military operations could be imminent. The death of 18 20-year-old soldiers in a week raised deep concerns among almost all Armenians, in Armenia as well as in the diaspora.
On August 7, President Aliyev’s military rhetoric on Twitter raised additional concerns in Armenia. Aliyev stated that Azerbaijanis “have beaten the Armenians on the political and economic fronts,” hence they “are able to defeat them on the battlefield.” These statements, which were actually made on the level of president, where received with a deep anger among Armenia’s population.
Both the borderline situation and Aliyev’s statements received reactions from Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and were widely covered in Armenian mass media. Moreover, the international reactions to the events served to further underline the seriousness of the situation. The U.S. Department of State and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs both expressed their stances towards the situation on the line of contact, which was one of the rare cases when the co-chairing states expressed their opinion not on the level of co-chairs, but foreign offices.
Russia’s mediation attempt was largely in line with the expectations of the Armenian public. Hence, most Armenians welcomed the chance for a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. Despite the fact that Armenian society has an ambiguous attitude towards Russia and its relationship with Armenia, there was a relative unanimity towards the necessity of the Sochi meeting. Russia is considered to be Armenia’s strategic partner, and to secure part of Armenia’s state borders. Besides, Russia is one of the three members of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as Armenia’s most significant arms supplier.
As the working visits of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents started on August 8, some Armenian experts are inclined to link that circumstance with the 6th anniversary of the August war between Russia and Georgia, thereby implying that there is an indirect message to Georgia’s neighboring states, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, the Sochi meeting drew the attention of Armenia’s population primarily due to its consequences for the acute situation on the frontline, rather than the prospects for approaching solutions to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict itself. Therefore, this meeting, followed by a 10-month pause, largely satisfied the expectations of the Armenian public.
By Armen Grigoryan (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
After the recent clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, Russia’s leadership attempts to act more decisively in order to compromise the OSCE Minsk Group mediation efforts and to compel Armenia and Azerbaijan to accept Russia’s special role in the region. Russia’s proximity and strong influence over political elites and societies gives it an advantage over other Minsk Group co-chairs – the U.S. and France. However, the lack of security guarantees and economic perspectives may induce Armenia to start reviewing its attitudes concerning relations with different international actors and regional integration frameworks.
By Haroutiun Khachatrian (05/21/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In April-May, 2014, a new government was formed in Armenia and about half of the former ministers lost their posts. However, the principal targets of the new government, headed by the new Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, seem identical to those of its predecessor. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia declared its ambition to remain the leading political force at least until 2025.
On April 3, 2014, Tigran Sargsyan, the 12th Prime Minister of post-Soviet Armenia, resigned after six years in office. According to the official statement, he resigned due to personal reasons but several observers believe that the true reason was the decision of the Armenian Constitutional Court, according to which many articles of the Law on cumulative pension system presented by Sargsyan’s government contradict Armenia’s Constitution. Meanwhile, President Serzh Sargsyan is greatly interested in introducing this system and the Court’s decision was made public one day before the PM’s resignation.
On April 13, Abrahamyan, the 56 year-old Chairman of the National Assembly and a member of the Republican Party, was appointed the new PM by a presidential decree. Whereas the previous PM is a well-educated economist – Sargsyan was the chairman of Armenia’s Central Bank for ten years – Abrahamyan is a political leader. His previous carrier includes posts such as city mayor and governor, and he was a minister of territorial governance and deputy PM in a previous government.
Although nothing was formally changed as Sargsyan, a vice-president of the ruling Republican Party, was replaced by another vice-president, Abrahamyan, the events will have political implications. Most prominently, the Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party, which has partnered with the Republican Party during the last six years, decided to leave the government. The official reason was that the candidacy of the party’s leader, Artur Baghdasaryan, was not even considered when choosing the new PM. Baghdasaryan who, in his own words, is a good friend of President Sargsyan, resigned as Secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council on April 25 and said he would likely take up a post as Board Chairman of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Academy.
All three ministers belonging to Orinats Yerkir, including the ministers of Agriculture, Sergo Karapetian, Emergency Situations, Armen Yeritsyan, and Urban Development, Samvel Tadevosyan, preferred to remain in the new government and were immediately excluded from the party. Whereas the former two became members of Abrahamyan’s government, Tadevosyan subsequently had to leave his ministerial seat.
Due to its prevalence in the National Assembly, the Republican Party was indifferent to the loss of its partner. It has formed the entire government of its own members or of non-partisans. Observers have expressed various opinions on why Orinats Yerkir decided to go into opposition, yet it was probably a strategic move ahead of the general elections in 2017.
Another political event occurring in parallel with the formation of a new government was President Sargsyan’s statement that he will not seek a third presidency, as he was certain that no person can lead Armenia more than twice. In his April 10 statement, Sargsyan also said, “I am the leader of the largest political force of the country, the Republican Party and it will continue … playing an important role … in the country”. In addition, the Republican Party spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov made a comment on April 30, indicating that although Sargsyan will no longer run for a top office, he will remain highly influential in Armenian politics since he is the leader of the strongest political party. The Republican Party expects this situation to continue at least until 2025. This is not unlikely, given the weakness of other parties.
The Republican Party suggested the head and spokesman of its parliamentary faction, Galust Sahakyan, to replace Abrahamyan as chairman of the National Assembly. Sahakyan, 66, will soon occupy this post. In accordance with the legislation, the formation of a new government under Abrahamyan was completed by May 3. Ten out of eighteen ministers working in former PM Sargsyan’s cabinet retained their posts, including Defense Minister Seiran Ohanyan and Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandyan. New ministers appeared in the ministries of finance, economy, healthcare and some others. The most unexpected appointment was that of Gagik Khachatryan, the former head of the State Revenue Committee, to Minister of Finance. He thereby becomes the fifth person on that post since 2008, and his former Committee has been included into the ministry. Armen Muradyan, the head of a private hospital, became the Minister of Healthcare to replace Derenik Dumanyan, a recently appointed friend of President Sargsyan.
As indicated by President Sargsyan, the priorities of the new government include efforts to join the Customs Union, the introduction of a compulsory accumulative pension system, to continue educational reforms, and to improve the tax and customs duty systems, among others. The new PM Abrahamyan said he would work to complete the implementation of the cumulative pension system, which the former cabinet under PM Sargsyan failed to do – another indication of the urgency that President Sargsyan attaches to this reform.
By Armen Grigoryan (05/07/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Armenia’s Russia-imposed self-isolation from the democratic international community continues and threatens to have economic and social consequences for the country. Russia is increasing its pressure in the South Caucasus, raising the specter of regional destabilization. While Russia already controls the most important sectors of Armenia’s economy, it seems set to reinforce its interests in the country so as to ensure that a fully dependent, loyal Armenia can constitute a tool for the projection of Russia’s political and military influence in the region. Russia’s overt attempt to fulfill its expansionist ambitions endangers the sovereignty of its neighbors, as well as regional stability and energy security.
By Mina Muradova (05/07/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The arrest of an Azerbaijani journalist and political analyst involved in public dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia could endanger people’s diplomacy within the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process.
Rauf Mirgadirov has been a correspondent in Ankara for the Baku-based newspaper Zerkalo (Mirror) for the last three years. His press accreditation was suddenly cancelled and he was asked to leave Turkey immediately. Mirgadirov arranged to leave Turkey by bus for Georgia, but was forced off the bus and deported to Baku, where he was arrested upon arrival. He is now under investigation by the Ministry of National Security.
According to Rachel Denber, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, “The possible coordination between Turkey and Azerbaijan to return Mirgadirov to Azerbaijan without due process should be immediately and thoroughly investigated … Turkish officials brazenly snatched Mirgadirov up without cause and unlawfully returned him to Azerbaijan. These shameless violations should be investigated and those responsible should be held to account.”
Mirkadirov’s arrest three days after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Baku raised suspicions among many in Azerbaijan that the journalist’s arrest was the result of an agreement between Ankara and Baku. Some analysts believe the action is part of Erdogan’s campaign against the leader of the Islamic Hizmet movement, Fethullah Gülen. In early 2014, another Azerbaijani journalist of Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, Mahir Zeynalov, was deported from Turkey.
Yet, the difference between two cases is that Mirgadirov is suspected of spying for Armenia and the charges brought against him are high treason and espionage, which envisages a punishment from 10 years in prison to a life term sentence.
Mehman Aliyev, Director of the Turan news agency, said that Mirgadirov was forced to leave the country because of his government-critical articles. “Recently, he has criticized both Azerbaijani authorities and Erdoğan’s government for violations of human rights and democratic freedoms,” Aliyev said.
Mirgadirov promoted public dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have not had diplomatic relations since the early 1990s due to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijani prosecutors state that Mirgadirov is suspected of having transferred classified information about Azerbaijan’s political and military sectors to Armenian intelligence between 2008 and 2009, “including photos and schemes to be used against Azerbaijan.” They claim that these supposed meetings occurred in Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.
Prosecutors pointed out Laura Bagdasarian, an Armenian journalist who is known for her cooperation with the well-known Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus, as an Armenian “intelligence agent.” Mirgadirov's lawyer, Fuad Agayev, predicted that “other local journalists and civil society activists who cooperated within the Bagdasarian-Yunus joint project could also be prosecuted.” On April 30, prosecutors began questioning journalists with connections to Mirgadirov as well as the Institute for Peace and Democracy led by Yunus.
A few days after Mirgadirov’s arrest, Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were stopped at the airport when they were departing for an international conference in Brussels. The prosecutor-general’s office said the Yunus couple was detained on April 28 because they “tried to flee the country” after being summoned as witnesses in a criminal case. Yunus was released from detention after questioning by investigators and the office of her institute was searched. The prosecutor-general’s April 30 statement did not elaborate on the criminal case, but it said the criminal investigation would continue. Yunus says investigators asked her about her ties with Mirgadirov.
She noted that Mirgadirov took part in projects that were supported by Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the British and Polish embassies, the EU and other international organizations and foundations and that were aimed at encouraging the peace process between two countries.
Yunus said, “I do not accept any charges against Mirgadirov and if he was arrested for contacts with Armenians within our projects, then let the government arrest me … The treason and espionage charges brought against Mirgadirov, an active participant of conferences and the projects implemented jointly with Armenian NGOs, are putting an end to visits of civil society activists of Azerbaijan to Armenia and to the enhancement of public diplomacy and civil society in Azerbaijan … It makes participation in ‘citizen diplomacy’ dangerous.”
The Azerbaijani government is deeply skeptical about the possible contribution of citizen diplomacy to resolving the long-lasting conflict. “People’s diplomacy is an important but not decisive element of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov remarked on the sidelines of the Second Global Forum of open societies in Baku. “That is, if the people’s diplomacy plays the role of an impulse, then it will be possible to speak about the importance of its role in resolving the conflict. However, at the moment, we do not see any steps in this direction.”
Agayev, Mirgadirov's lawyer, stated that his client did not have access to classified information and that the charges are therefore groundless. “Maybe investigators have some photos or videos where Rauf sits with Armenians at one table. But it is not serious to arrest a prominent journalist based on that,” the lawyer said. Mirgadirov acknowledged his participation in various conferences hosted by international organizations in Armenia and other countries, where he represented Azerbaijani civil society groups and presented the interests of his country, but he said that his participation was legitimate. Agayev noted that Mirgadirov considered the charges to be bogus and intended to intimidate other human rights activists and journalists in the country.
The arrest comes just weeks before Azerbaijan assumes the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. According to CPJ research, Mirgadirov is the ninth journalist behind bars in Azerbaijan.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.