By Erik Davtyan (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On February 16, Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan addressed a letter to the Speaker of Armenia's National Assembly Galust Sahakyan, informing him about his decision to recall the Armenian-Turkish protocols from the National Assembly. In the letter, the President stated that "the absence of political will, distortions of the letter and spirit of the protocols by the Turkish authorities and continuous attempts to articulate preconditions." Sargsyan also reiterated that the Turkish policy of denial and history revision was intensified on the eve of the Armenian Genocide Centennial. In 2009, Armenia and Turkey signed two protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations and on the development of relations. However, the ratification process was halted and the prospect of new negotiations and agreements is negligible.
As Armenia prepares to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian genocide, contacts between Armenian and Turkish authorities are taking on highly negative overtones. On January 29, the State Commission on the Coordination of Events Dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide issued a pan-Armenian declaration calling upon Turkey and other states to recognize and condemn the genocide, and declares Armenia's intention to present a package of legal claims against Turkey.
The recall of the two protocols obtained reactions from Armenian as well as Turkish high officials. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic qualified this step as an "insincere and unstable position" towards the protocols. As for Armenia's official position, Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan explained in an interview to Armenia's Public Television that the recall was a clear message to the international community (including Turkey), aiming to stress the unacceptability of the Turkish policy of "denial and preconditions." Taking into consideration the fact that Turkey has recently launched new initiatives regarding the 100th anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli, Kocharyan believes that the recall of the protocols was quite logical.
On the eve of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, almost all steps taken by the Armenian authorities are highly welcomed among the Armenian public. Boris Navasardyan, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, said that the recall of the protocols is widely perceived as a "quite justified attitude." According to politologist Alexander Markarov, the protocols were de facto recalled much earlier, so this decision de jure put an end to the whole process that kicked off in 2008 in the framework of "football diplomacy".
When signing the protocols in Zürich, both Turkey and Armenia wanted to express their willingness to restore their diplomatic relations. However, after six years, the ambiguous future of the protocols does not play in Armenia's favor, especially after Sargsyan toughened Armenia's official position on the Armenian Genocide issue. The deputy director of the Caucasus Institute, Sergey Minasyan, thinks that in terms of both Armenia's foreign and domestic policy, there was no need to keeping the protocols in the National Assembly.
Experts and politicians believe that the protocols contradict the pan-Armenian declaration issued at the end of January. Edmon Marukyan, a deputy of Armenia's National Assembly, as well as the Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute Hayk Demoyan, say that the logic of the Zürich protocols did not correspond to that of the pan-Armenian declaration, so there was no doubt that President Sargsyan would take that step.
Though there are no contradictory opinions on this issue, some political parties call for a much tougher stance regarding the Zürich protocols. Giro Manoyan, a bureau member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), says that "this is a welcome step, but is not enough: it is necessary to completely neutralize and recall the signatures." Representatives of the Armenian Diaspora, which plays a key role in promoting Armenian national interests, including the international recognition of the Genocide, has always condemned any attempt to reconcile relations between Armenia and Turkey. According to the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Aram Hamparian, "Armenia should never have signed these one-sided agreements." As for the recall of the protocols, Hamparian believes that the withdrawal "represents a step in the right direction – one that needs to be followed immediately by the next logical step of withdrawing Armenia's signature from these Ankara-inspired accords".
By Tavus Rejepova (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Azerbaijan's, Turkey's, and Turkmenistan's Ministers of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Rashid Meredov gathered in Ashgabat on January 29 to discuss regional energy and transportation issues.
Cavusoglu, leading a big delegation, arrived in Ashgabat on January 28 to meet with President Berdimuhammedov and discuss the next day's trilateral meeting as well as Berdimuhammedov's expected visit to Turkey on March 3. Cavusoglu also met separately with his counterpart Meredov to discuss energy security, transportation and expansion of the current state of commercial ties. Turkey is Turkmenistan's main trade partner and Turkey represents the highest presence of foreign companies in Turkmenistan, at over 600 companies.
Mammadyarov met with President Berdimuhammedov on January 29 before the trilateral ministerial meeting and discussed enhancing commercial ties between the two countries. Referring to his last visit to Ashgabat five years ago, Mammadyarov expressed satisfaction with the current level of relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
During the trilateral meeting between the ministers of foreign affairs, the sides discussed cooperation in the areas of trade, energy, transportation and education. In particular, the ministers stressed the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey transportation link project aimed at increasing trade and reducing cargo transit expenses among these countries, as an important objective. Representatives of these five countries met in Ashgabat in November 2014 over the draft agreement of this transport corridor.
Following the talks, the sides also decided to create a trilateral format for the oil and gas company representatives of the three countries. The ministers of Turkey and Azerbaijan reportedly invited Turkmenistan to join the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) project, which envisages delivering gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field to Europe via Georgia and Turkey.
President Berdimuhammedov has stated earlier stated that the trans-Caspian pipeline, intended to bring Turkmen gas to Europe via TANAP, only requires the consent of two countries (Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan) whose seabed sectors these pipelines would cross. But Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov has stated that "the project of the trans-Caspian gas pipeline falls into the category of projects that affect the interests of countries that do not participate in it" expressing concern over the project. Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission's Vice President in charge of Energy Union, stressed the importance of addressing the technological and legal issues of transporting Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan in his address to reporters on February 12. Speaking at Turkmenistan's Oil & Gas Conference in Ashgabat in November 2014, Rovnaq Abdullayev, the CEO of Azerbaijan's energy company SOCAR, expressed readiness to provide Azerbaijan's developed infrastructure, diversified oil and gas pipeline network, warehouses and terminals, fleet of ships and other assets needed for implementing projects in the oil and gas industry to its neighbors in the region, primarily to Turkmenistan.
During the trilateral meeting in Ashgabat, Mammadyarov also met with Cavusoglu to discuss regional cooperation, highlighting President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Turkey on January 14-15, 2015.
The first trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan took place in Baku on May 26, 2014, when the "Baku Statement" was released, expressing the three countries' determination to develop trilateral relations in various fields, particularly in energy, trade, transportation, culture, tourism, education and environmental protection through joint projects and cooperation initiatives.
As a result of the Ashgabat meeting, the foreign ministers signed a joint declaration and adopted a trilateral framework cooperation program for 2015-17. The foreign ministers also agreed to organize a trilateral meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan in Ashgabat, planned for October of 2015, which is expected to expand the trilateral partnership in energy, transportation and communication sectors to new levels. The next trilateral meeting between foreign ministers is slated to be held in Turkey.
By Erik Davtyan (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On January 16, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan rejected his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invitation to take part in the events commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli. Earlier this month, Erdogan sent out invitation letters to 102 heads of state to attend the events. Every year, Turkey celebrates March 18 as the anniversary of the Gallipoli victory over the Allies, but this year Turkish authorities decided to celebrate it on April 24 when Armenians all over the world will commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, President Sargsyan in his response stressed that the invitation serves “a simple-minded goal to distract the attention of the international community from the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.”
Armenia’s president underlined that “it is not a common practice for Armenians to be hosted by the invitees, without receiving a response to our invitation.” This response was stipulated by the fact that Erdogan had not answered Sargsyan’s official invitation to commemorate the Centennial of the Genocide this year in Yerevan. During his visit to Ankara in August, 2014, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian had handed Sargsyan’s invitation to Erdogan, but no answer has been received till now. During the next two weeks, Sargsyan’s response to the invitation provoked some criticism in Turkey. On January 31, Ibrahim Kalın, a spokesperson of the Turkish president, said that “it is impossible to admit remarks by Sargsyan aiming at the Turkish president’s invitation to Armenia, which are against diplomatic practices.” The same opinion was shared by Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the 15th meeting of the Armenia-EU Cooperation Council in Brussels, Foreign Minister Nalbandian reaffirmed Sargsyan’s position, adding that it is inappropriate to organize such an event in Turkey on April 24 and that it is unbelievable that anybody can perceive this as a proper step. Nevertheless, the idea to commemorate the battle was welcomed by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. During his visit to Turkey, Aliyev said that “the choice of the date was very important.”
Erdogan’s invitation was unanimously criticized in Armenia. The head of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, turkologist Ruben Safrastyan believes that this step aims at undermining Armenia’s initiative to invite heads of states to Yerevan on April 24. According to the expert, the Turkish President wants to draw the international community’s attention to the Gallipoli victory, rather than the Armenian Genocide. The same view was shared by another turkologist, Ruben Melkonyan. In his interview to Armlur.am, he qualified Erdogan’s step as a falsification of history and a counter step against the events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Shortly after Erdogan’s statement, the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France made a respective statement, qualifying the step as a part of the Turkish policy of denial, aimed at diminishing the international resonance of the Centennial events in Yerevan.
Erdogan’s invitation was not the last message issued to Armenia. On January 20, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu made a statement on the commemoration of the 8th anniversary of the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. He hoped that Armenia and Turkey will begin addressing “the great trauma that froze time in 1915” and underlined that “Turkey has transcended this critical threshold and relinquished the generalizations and stereotypical assertions of the past.” Davutoglu ensured that the parties will manage to give “the due recognition to the Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey” and expressed hope that the two nations will be able to contribute to a new beginning, demonstrate the wisdom to understand each other and contemplate a future together.
This step by the Turkish authorities provoked a second wave of complaints in Armenia. In an interview to Armenpress news agency, turkologist Hakob Chakryan said that Davutoglu had previously used this approach many times, however this one was, in fact, stipulated by internal criticism in Turkey. Some experts, especially Safrastyan, qualified the statement as “the continuation of the official policy of Turkey regarding the Armenian Genocide.” On this occasion, the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Relations of the National Assembly of Armenia, Artak Zakaryan, blamed Turkey for continuing a policy of denial regarding the Genocide and mentioned that unlike Davutoglu’s statement, the first attempts to initiate the signing of an agreement were always carried out only by Armenia. Zakaryan believes that Turkey is not ready to bolster the mutual trust, to break the stereotypes and to hold a dialogue with Armenia.
By Eka Janashia (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On February 4, Tbilisi City Court ordered pre-trail detention for eleven former and incumbent police officers in connection with the death of two young men in the so called “tennis court special operation” taking place in 2006.
According to the then-official version, spread by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), on May 2, 2006, Zurab Vazagashvili, Aleksandre Khubulov and Bondo Puturidze were on their way to commit armed robbery in a Tbilisi district and the police prevented the crime through a special operation. When law enforcement officers tried to stop the suspects’ car nearby a tennis court in downtown Tbilisi, the suspects opened fire, which was returned by the police officers. Vazagashvili and Khubulov were shot dead whereas Puturidze was wounded.
The Public Defender’s Office commissioned an alternative ballistic investigation, detecting that no shots were fired from the car. Nevertheless, in 2007 the case was closed. Zurab’s father, Yuri Vazagashvili has accused the authorities of fabricating evidence to clear the offenders. The case was even brought to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.
After coming to power in 2012, Georgian Dream (GD) coalition reopened the investigation into the Vazagashvili case though could not reach any tangible results. Yuri Vazagashvili then asked former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to help in dismissing the suspected officials who were still working in law enforcement.
In a recent interview to newspaper Kviris Palitra, Vazagashvili criticized the lack of government efforts to determine the truth and accused the then interior minister Alexander Tchikaidze of protecting the culprits. On the next day, Vazagashvili was killed in an explosion at the grave of his son in the village of Karapila located near the South Ossetian conflict zone.
The murder gave rise to widespread speculation regarding the links between the explosion and Vazagashvili’s continued efforts to penalize his son’s murderers. PM Irakli Gharibashvili said the incident “shocked” him and urged the law enforcement agencies to investigate the case immediately, and to complete the investigation of the 2006 special operation “in the shortest period of time.” Almost immediately, Interior Minister Tchikaidze resigned. Tchikaidze’s written statement reads, “Though Yuri Vazagashvili’s allegations are far from reality, I feel the moral responsibility to quit the post.”
In two weeks, the Prosecutor’s office (PO) indicted Irakli Pirtskhalava, former deputy head of the Criminal Police Department, for the premeditated murder of Khubulov. The prosecutor’s motion states that Khubulov tipped off police regarding Pirtskhalava’s brother, Levan, drug-related crimes resulting in his arrest in April, 2006. Pirtskhalava then decided to take revenge on Khubulov, plotting a special operation by inventing the false story of a robbery, resulting in the shooting of Khubulov and Vazagashvili. By eliminating the witnesses, Pirtskhalava was able to avenge his brother while keeping his “official influence and reputation,” the PO’s motion said. The Tbilisi City Court rejected the defense lawyer’s petitions to release the former and active detained officers on bail.
On February 8, Gia Sosanashvili, another policeman and allegedly a friend of Pirtskhalava, was detained as a suspect of Yuri Vazagashvili’s murder. According to PO, he was identified through a DNA sample detected on part of a hand grenade that went off at the grave. The PO said that Sosanashvili installed the explosive device while someone else gave the order. The detained policeman denies guilt. His lawyer said that at the moment of the explosion, Sosanashvili was at a public place and that dozens of witnesses can prove it.
The recent developments taking place in about two weeks had an immense resonance among the public. From the very beginning, the “tennis court special operation” involved inconsistencies and controversies but the investigation has focused only on the possible use of excessive force by the police. The PO’s new charges, however, turned previous findings upside down and raised several additional questions. For example, how the deputy head of the department was able to mastermind a murder of this scale and involve so many subordinates in it. Moreover, if Pirtskhalava aimed to liquidate witnesses, why did Puturidze survive?
Another striking feature is the timing of the crimes’ resolution. After the investigation was idle for two years, the PO was able to solve both cases in two weeks, while other baffling murders occurring during the GD’s term in power remain unsolved. Most significantly, the assassination of the politician and media tycoon Erosi Kitsmarishvili and the murder of 10 month-old baby-girl Barbare Raphaliants, who was allegedly killed for political reasons.
GD supporters have welcomed the PO’s move, labeling it a “restoration of justice” – one of the prominent pre-election promises of the coalition. Others suspect political motives behind the events and perceive them as an attempt by the government to divert public attention from simmering social discontent.
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.