By Erik Davtyan (04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 9, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid an official visit to Italy and the Vatican City, which was remarkable not only in the context of Armenia-Italy or Armenia-EU relations, but also for Armenia’s policy towards the Armenian Genocide Centennial. During the visit, Sargsyan met with his counterpart Sergio Mattarella and discussed a wide range of issues concerning Armenian-Italian relations. Armenia’s President expressed confidence that his busy official visit will give new impetus to the friendly relationship between Armenia and Italy. The Presidents stressed that in recent years cooperation between the two countries has intensified, both bilaterally and in the frame of the EU, and underlined that the history of nearly 20 years of diplomatic relations have already resulted in more than 30 legal documents, signed at different levels. The Italian President welcomed the fact that “after joining the EEU, Armenia continues to take steps aimed at developing relations with the European Union and added that the membership also opens up new horizons for the development of Armenia-Italy relations”.
Sargsyan also met with Pietro Grasso, President of Italy’s Senate, and Laura Boldrini, President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, as well as Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti. Sargsyan and Pinotti mentioned that Armenia and Italy successfully cooperate in the military field, especially in peacekeeping operations. In November 2014, more than 30 Armenian soldiers were engaged in the mission of maintaining the military base in Shama, Lebanon, which was carried out under the Italian command of the UN Peacekeeping Forces. Furthermore, the two states successfully collaborate in the area of military education. In his interview to Corriere Della Sera, President Sargsyan mentioned that Italian merchants have since the middle ages used Armenian commercial networks, therefore Armenia and Italy will currently seek to “re-operate that ancient habit,” and concluded that the bilateral trade turnover will definitely increase quickly.
At the end of the visit, Sargsyan visited the Vatican on April 12 and took part in a liturgy devoted to the Armenian Genocide Centennial, performed personally by Pope Francis at the Saint Peter’s Basilica. The ceremony was also attended by Garegin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, and Aram I, the Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians, as well as Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandian. During his speech, Pope Francis termed the Armenian Genocide the “first genocide of the XX century.” The Pope’s speech received considerable attention in Armenia, Turkey, and many other countries. In his interview to the Italian website Adnkronos.com, Foreign Minister Nalbandian stated that Pope Francis’ speech “was an important message of solidarity with the Armenian people, it was also a message of support to the efforts of the international community for the prevention of new crimes against humanity, new genocides.”
The Mass service in the Vatican and Pope Francis’ speech were widely commented both in Armenia and Turkey and in international media. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian said that “Turkey underestimates, at its own risk, the power of the Armenian worldwide movement – a profoundly moral movement inspired by truth and driven by shared hope for a fair and enduring peace based on a just international resolution of the Armenian Genocide.” As to the Turkish reaction, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “an evil front is being formed before Turkey … now the Pope has joined it and these plots.” Reacting to Davutoglu’s comment, Foreign Minister Nalbandian mentioned that Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people, so if Turkey does not agree with that approach, then it opposes the position of many countries. On April 12, immediately after the Mass service, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations.
The Pope’s speech served as a unique message to the entire world, and the event drew diverse reactions. On April 15, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide and urging Turkey to recognize it. A week later, on April 22, the Genocide was officially recognized by the Austrian Parliament. Above all, it can be inferred that President Sargsyan’s visit to Italy and especially the Holy See may serve as a new impetus for a wider recognition of the Armenian Genocide, one of Armenia’s most important foreign policy objectives.
By Mina Muradova (04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In mid-April, Azerbaijan was sanctioned by the International Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) meeting in Brazzaville, Congo, for crackdowns on civil society. EITI is a global partnership supported by a coalition of governments, companies and civil society working to promote open and accountable management of natural resources. Azerbaijan committed to EITI in 2003, became a candidate country in 2007, and was the first country to become compliant in 2009.
Having been the first state to join the 48 country transparency initiative, Azerbaijan has now been demoted back to candidate status. Brendan O’Donnell, civil society representative to the EITI International Board and leader of the Global Witness oil campaign said, “Accountability to citizens is the professed essence of the EITI and while citizen groups involved are gagged or controlled by the state in a member country the initiative has no credibility.” The closed meeting in Brazzaville considered the situation for civil society organizations (CSOs) in Azerbaijan “unacceptable” and that EITI could not be properly implemented given the current circumstances for CSOs.
The EITI Board called on the government of Azerbaijan to reaffirm its commitment to work with CSOs and ensure an enabling participative environment. Specifically, the Board called on the government to ensure that NGO Coalition members could resume their role within EITI and be allowed to: 1) access their bank accounts and register new grants for EITI implementation activities; 2) speak freely about the EITI process and express views without fear of reprisal or harassment; 3) organize training, meetings and events related to the EITI process.
The decision followed a recently published EITI Validation report. Validation is EITI’s independent evaluation mechanism and Azerbaijan is the first country to be validated against EITI standards. The October EITI Board meeting in Myanmar agreed that “the situation facing civil society in Azerbaijan is clearly problematic” and called for early validation expressing concern for the ability of civil society to engage with the EITI process in Azerbaijan.
The EITI has thereby become the first international body to reprimand Azerbaijan. “This is long overdue,” said O’Donnell. “This has long been a crisis for the EITI Board and things have only worsened, with continued intimidation, funding streams outlawed and the state taking over coordination of the coalition of citizens groups. These issues must be reversed to prevent Azerbaijan being thrown out of the initiative.” According to EITI’s Chair Clare Short, Azerbaijan can regain compliant status if it implements “corrective” actions after 12 months or face suspension. To have its membership restored, Baku needs to “ensure that civil society in Azerbaijan can participate in the EITI in a meaningful way.”
Human Rights Watch welcomed EITI’s decision and called it as “unprecedented.” Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division, said “Finally one of [Azerbaijan’s] international partners has made the government bear some consequences for its conduct … It’s the first time EITI has taken this step against any country, and it was richly deserved.”
Since 2013, the Azerbaijani government’s concerted efforts to silence the country’s independent civil society has undermined its ability to effectively participate in EITI and compromised the initiative’s standards. The government has arrested and imprisoned dozens of activists, frozen the bank accounts of dozens of groups, and adopted new, highly restrictive laws on funding of independent groups.
Denber noted that in fact the government had made it so difficult to operate that many independent organizations involved in EITI had to suspend their activities, some closed down altogether, and some activists had to leave the country: “In the wake of its EITI downgrade, the government can no longer claim to be a global leader on transparency.”
According to the Validation report, in 2014 about 40 local and international companies and 109 NGOs were members of the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) on the implementation of EITI in Azerbaijan, although numbers of participating NGOs has fluctuated significantly, with 158 NGOs listed in the 2012 Activity Report.
Azerbaijani authorities have not yet reacted to the news. However, Shahmar Movsumov, Executive Director of State Oil Foundation of Azerbaijan and Chair of the MSG, expressed his indignation following the EITI Board’s decision: “The major goal of the Azerbaijani government has been to ensure full transparency of revenues from extractive industries for the citizens when it joined the Initiative in 2003. However, today Azerbaijan is criticized by organizations with double standards. It is unacceptable that EITI is becoming such an organization … Azerbaijan has not joined this Initiative to be accountable before any organization outside the country and listen to any critics not related to the mandate of EITI. Azerbaijan is not going to tolerate pressures with regard to this matter. Given all this, the government of Azerbaijan will consider whether to leave the EITI.”
A week after the EITI decision, a Baku court sentenced Intigam Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s leading human rights lawyer, to seven years and six months in prison. One of the country’s most well-known human rights lawyers and head of the Legal Education Society, Aliyev worked extensively to promote the rule of law in Azerbaijan and defend peaceful activists. He submitted hundreds of cases to the European Court of Human Rights, winning a number of them.
Baku’s Grave Crimes Court convicted Aliyev on charges of tax evasion, illegal business activities, embezzlement, and abuse of authority. On April 16, 2015, the same court sentenced Rasul Jafarov, another human rights defender, to six-and-a-half years on the same charges.
Human-rights activists called the conviction “politically motivated,” while a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry Hikmet Hajiyev rejected it and said: “It has nothing to do with the human rights activity. No one is prosecuted for professional activity and political affiliation in Azerbaijan.”
By Eka Janashia (04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 3, former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania claimed that Georgia’s government thwarted a crucially important defense deal with France likely due to Russia’s objection to Georgia’s enhanced defensive capabilities.
According to Alasania, French President François Hollande agreed during his visit to Tbilisi last year to sell air defense capabilities to Georgia. The move marked the end of an arms embargo informally imposed against Georgia after the 2008 August war as western partners hesitated to sell defensive weapons to the country.
The government worked out subsequent proposals and tasked Alasania with striking an initial deal – a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) – with the French side. He arrived in Paris in late October, but was just before the signing of the document deprived of his mandate to do so. Alasania asserts that Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili decided to prevent the deal under pressure from the Kremlin.
The MoU envisaged the conclusion of a final agreement at the end of March, which would aim to reinforce Georgia’s air defense system and shield the country from attacks of fighter aircraft and even short and medium-range ballistic missiles. The deal also foresaw specific training to familiarize the Georgian servicemen with the system. Importantly, the deal would be paid for through a long-term loan, which would not have been painfully reflected in the state budged, the former minister said.
As Alasania refused to comply with the “illegal instruction,” of the “informal ruler [Ivanishvili],” the ministry’s general staff officials were arrested to raise the pressure on him. Nevertheless, Alasania signed the document in order not to lose the chance that “opened up for Georgia after many years of embargo.”
Shortly thereafter, he was sacked from the post of Defense Minister and his Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) party left the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition. Yet Alasania has not disclosed the MoU-related sensitive details until now (see the 11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst).
The government made efforts to reject Alasania’s allegations. On the same day, PM Irakli Gharibashvili indicted him for exposing state secrets and the Ministry of Defense released an interview with the French ambassador saying that discussions on military cooperation between Georgia and France military, which started last year, were still underway.
However, it remains a fact that the final agreement, allegedly envisaged in the MoU, was not signed at the end of March, 2015. OGFD requests the formation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission with access to classified information to cast light on the issue and confirm or deny the assertions that Alasania made on April 3.
It seems that Alasania has been awaiting the government’s failure to meet the deadline to raise the matter. However, there could be another reason why he raised the criticism at this time.
On April 1, the U.S. NGO International Republican Institute (IRI) published the results of public opinion research conducted throughout Georgia on February 3-28, 2015. The survey mapped the foreign and domestic policy preferences as well as the ratings of political parties and their leaders.
A clear trend unveiled by the polls is the waning popularity of GD. In local elections held in June 2014, the coalition garnered just over 50 percent of the votes, while according to IRI research, the likely number of GD voters has dropped to 36 percent. It is followed by United National Movement (UNM) with 14 percent, OGFD with 10 percent, Labor Party with 6 percent, Alliance of Patriots of Georgia and Democratic Movement–United Georgia with 5 percent each. Alasania’s favorability rating is 57 percent, with a disapproval rating at 34 percent, while the corresponding figures for PM Gharibashvili are 56/39 percent respectively. Alasania is the most favored candidate among the opposition leaders.
In terms of foreign policy priorities, the poll showed that Georgians strongly support their country’s integration with Euro-Atlantic structures. 85 percent of the respondents favor Georgia’s membership in the EU and 78 percent support its accession to NATO. 76 percent of Georgians deem the Russian Federation as a threat to the country while 88 percent think Russian aggression toward Georgia is ongoing or likely to resume.
Another striking trend disclosed by the survey is the apathy and skepticism that has been growing among the population since 2014. People are less optimistic about the future than a year ago. 55 percent of the respondents think Georgia is on the wrong track, and only 25 percent approve the country’s current trajectory.
Although GD, as well as some experts and politicians, expressed skepticism regarding the polls, it might be a mistake to ignore the overall context that the survey has outlined. What is a warning for the ruling coalition might be an opportunity for the opposition parties. Talking about the air defense affair, while most Georgians fear continued Russian aggression, is beneficial to Alasania and OGFD. This shift in opinion is also reflected in the declining support for GD and the growing popularity of Alasania.
By Erik Davtyan (04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The second half of March saw several high level meetings and agreements signed between EU representatives and Armenian authorities. On March 16, the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Wilhelm Molterer and Armenia’s Minister of Finances Gagik Khachatryan signed an agreement, according to which the EIB will lend EUR 10 million to finance the construction of an electricity transmission line and a high voltage direct current station to develop a link between Armenia and Georgia. Georgia plays a crucial role in Armenia’s energy security system; a fact emphasized both by Khachatryan and Molterer. Commenting on new cooperation in the energy sphere, EU Ambassador Traian Hristea said the EU confirms its “willingness … to support the basic needs of Armenian citizens and in particular their access to sustainable energy through efficient electrical networks.” In turn, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian also welcomed the signing of the agreement.
The next important event in EU-Armenia relations was the 4th session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly (EPA) that took place in Yerevan. On March 18, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Though the representatives of Belarus and Azerbaijan were missing, the EPA “called on Turkey to reconcile with its past.” The Co-Chairperson of the EPA, Heidi Hautala, described the resolution as “a very important decision.” This resolution followed the European Parliament’s March 12 call on the EU states to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Regarding the future of Armenia-EU relations, Hautala stated that the parties are discussing a new bilateral agreement.
The fact that the EPA held its first session in Yerevan was of great importance for Armenia. At the opening ceremony of the EPA session, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan personally welcomed the parliamentary delegation and called that week a European one, reiterating that while being a part of the Eurasian Economic Union, Armenia will “accommodate the EU’s deep and comprehensive agenda.” The EPA session was attended by the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn. In his meetings with President Sargsyan, Prime Minister Abrahamian and Foreign Minister Nalbandian, Hahn welcomed the progress in Armenia-EU relations, especially in the context of the Mobility Partnership.
On March 18, President Sargsyan paid a working visit to Belgium, attending the summit of the European People’s Party (EPP). On March 3, the EPP had adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide. During the visit, Sargsyan held several meetings with EU high officials, including the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The third important event in EU-Armenia relations was the 15th session of the Commission for Armenia-European Union Parliamentary Cooperation, held on March 19-20 in Yerevan. On March 20, the Commission adopted a Final Statement, concerning the condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, the future of EU-Armenia relations, as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Commission expressed its strong support for the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs in the peace regulation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. During the session, a deputy of Armenia’s National Assembly, Stepan Margaryan said that there is no common position in the South Caucasus regarding international organizations, and that Armenia therefore needs a new agenda for its future relations with the EU. As to the economic aspect of relations, Armenia’s Minister of Economy Karen Chshmaritian emphasized the EU’s role in supporting Armenia’s budgetary and economic policy.
The fact that the Armenian Genocide was on the eve of its 100th anniversary recognized by various European institutions was highly appreciated by all political parties and scientific circles of Armenia. However, politicians and experts have different views regarding the future of Armenia-EU relations. According to the head of the European Integration NGO, Karen Bekaryan, “the stage of uncertainty in Armenia-EU relations is overcome.” He believes that a new agreement will be prepared at the threshold of the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga.
Summarizing the March negotiations, the director of the Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan believes that there is a great possibility that the parties will sign a new document at the Riga summit. According to Iskandaryan, the EU is Armenia’s biggest economic partner and, in any case, bilateral relations will continue. On the other hand, the head of the Modus Vivendi Center, Ara Papian, thinks that considering Armenia’s membership in the EEU, its recent activities towards the EU will not appear as credible to the EU.
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.