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Thursday, July 31, 2014
 

1997

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004

XII
May 2003
5

Republic of Armenia

Total area: 29,800 sq. km Slightly larger than Maryland Bordering states: Azerbaijan (east) 566 km Nakhichevan (south) 221 km Georgia 164 km Iran 35 km Turkey 268 km Population: 3.6 million 68% urban 110.5 persons/sq. km Ethnic composition: 93.3% Armenian 1.5% Russian 1.7% Kurdish 3.5% Assyrian, Greek, other

Leadership: Robert Kocharian, President; Andranik Markarian, Prime Minister; Vardan Oskanian, Foreign Minister; Armen Khachatrian, Parliamentary Chairman.

Independence: Armenia established its independence in September 1991.

CIS membership status: Armenia joined the CIS in March 1992 and CIS Defense Treaty in May 1992.

Constitution: A constitution was adopted by national referendum in July 1995.

Elections: Parliamentary elections were held in May 1999. A two-round presidential election was held in February and March 2003. The next election, for a new parliament, will be held in May 2003.

Diplomatic representation: The U.S. representative to Armenia is Ambassador John Ordway. The Armenian representative to the United States is Ambassador Arman Kirakossian. The Armenian representative to the United Nations is Ambassador Movses Abelian.


MONTHLY CHRONOLOGY

Opposition Boycott Halts Work of Parliament
11 April: Failing to secure a quorum of deputies because of an organized boycott of parliamentary sessions by the opposition, the Armenian parliament’s consideration of several pending bills is halted, preventing any official debate or votes on several priority legislative issues including the draft Criminal Code and a new law on the media. The delay essentially ends all legislative work for this parliament and puts off any votes on key bills until after the May 25th election of a new legislature. By failing to pass the draft Criminal Code, which would have replaced capital punishment with life sentences, the Armenian government is in violation of a obligation stemming from its membership in the Council of Europe. The draft law on the media, presented by the government after several revisions, was widely criticized as a threat to press freedom and led to a series of demonstrations in recent weeks. Although this draft media law would end a registration requirement for media outlets by the justice ministry, critics stress that the law would still contain several restrictions, including measures requiring media to fully disclose all sources of funding and allowing courts the right to legally demand the complete disclosure of journalists’ sources of information for the “protection of public interests.”

Government Approves Controversial Airport Development Plan
11 April: The Armenian government approves a controversial $59 million plan to modernize the Zvartnots international airport. The 8-year airport modernization and expansion project is to be carried out by Argentina’s “Corporacion America” group controlled by Eduardo Eurnekian, an Argentine billionaire of Armenian descent, and includes plans for the construction of two new flight terminals and the modernization of several other airport facilities at the Zvartnots airport in Yerevan. There is significant controversy over the project, mainly stemming from closed negotiations which led to a 30-year management deal in late 2001 that granted the company the right to create a tax-free economic zone inside the airport despite heated criticism from the opposition. The Armenian parliament adopted legislation in May 2002 which granted the company preferential treatment stipulating that a one square-kilometer area inside the airport could house businesses fully exempt from profit tax and other duties. The parliament also amended legislation to allow foreign investors the right to operate casinos inside the airport.

Opposition Justice Bloc to Pursue New Electoral Strategy
12 April: The opposition “Artarutiun” (Justice) bloc announced plans to pursue a new electoral strategy aimed at galvanizing support for defeated opposition presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian in order to win seats in the coming parliamentary elections and to escalate pressure on President Robert Kocharian to resign. Although the opposition continues to protest last month’s election results, the announcement reflects a deeper strategy to leverage the momentum of the opposition’s court challenges and public protests of the recent election as a means to garner a greater number of seats in the Armenian parliament. Justice bloc figure Albert Bazeyan explained that efforts to challenge the reelection of the Armenian president will continue because “the citizens of Armenia have the right to determine other ways of forming a legitimate government.” Reacting to the opposition’s strategy, Gagik Minasian, a senior member of the pro-government Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), dismissed the plan as a political ploy, contending that the opposition would to enter into a “dialogue” with the authorities immediately after the elections. Minasian further dismissed recent reports of a mounting divide between the HHK, led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and other pro-presidential parties that are contesting the May 25th parliamentary elections. The Republican Party (HHK) is widely viewed as the most influential pro-government party, with significantly elevated electoral appeal stemming from the recent addition of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian on the party list of candidates contesting the election within the system of proportional representation.

Armenian Airlines to Close, Leaving Russian Company as Largest Carrier in Armenia
12 April: Officials of the Armenian Airlines confirmed reports that the national carrier will be forced to end all flights as it faces bankruptcy. Traditionally the country’s largest air carrier, more than $20 million debt has contributed to the shut down of Armenian Airlines. The Russian Armavia company is now set to emerge as the country’s largest airline, with preparations in place for flights to seventeen foreign cities and plans to increase its transportation volume and modernize its fleet of planes. The Russian airline company is also considering the purchase of the remaining Armenian routes for some $15 million.

Armenian Economy Continues to Expand Although Trade Gap Widens
13-14 April: According to figures released by the National Statistical Agency, Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 7.5 percent in the first two months of the year. Over the same period last year, Armenian industrial production also rose by nearly 8 percent, although the country’s $83 million foreign trade deficit expanded by more than 49 percent.

Opposition Leader Vows to Reject Presidential Election Results “No Matter What”
14-15 April: Defeated in the 5 March presidential election, opposition leader Stepan Demirchian vowed on 14 April to withhold any recognition of the election results, contending that the reelection of President Robert Kocharian was illegitimate. The statement comes the day before the expected ruling by the Armenian Constitutional Court on Demirchian’s legal motion challenging the election. He added that “even assuming that my lawsuit will be turned down, the current president will not become legitimate in the eyes of the people.” Commenting on the 25 May parliamentary elections, Demirchian predicted that the recently formed opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance would win a substantial number of seats.

Yerevan City Bus Drivers Protest Increased Fuel Prices
14-15 April: A number of minibus drivers, well established as convenient transportation in the Armenian capital and cities, launch an organized protest over a recent increase in fuel prices. The more than 30 percent price rise, introduced by the government last week, stems from a decision to double the sales tax with the goal of raising $600,000 in revenue for the already tight state budget. The more than 3000 minibus drivers are particularly vulnerable to the price rise, as more than half of them pay monthly rental payments to state officials in control of the routes and ownership of the fleets of vehicles. Many drivers have also accused the government of waiting until after the president’s reelection before implementing the rise that was adopted last year.

Law Enforcement Officials in Armenia Welcome New U.S. Assistance
15-16 April: Armenian Prosecutor-General Aram Tamrazian and acting U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Vivian Walker formally sign an agreement in Yerevan for more than $730,000 in U.S. assistance for training and technical assistance for Armenian law enforcement personnel. The new assistance is aimed at bolstering the Armenian police (WHAT?) and will include special computer training and classroom projects, domestic violence seminars, and firearms safety training. A special project will also focus on new measures to combat the trafficking of women and children.

Constitutional Court Chairman Rejects Criticism of Election Ruling
16-18 April: Following a ruling by the Constitutional Court that rejected an appeal by defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian contesting the election results, Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian rejects criticism by the pro-government media over the ruling’s recognition that official returns from more than forty constituencies throughout the country are “not credible” due to ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities. The ruling also recommended holding a “referendum of confidence” in the country's leadership within a year. Harutiunian denied that the proposed referendum of confidence implies doubts that the election was legitimate, explaining that such a referendum is one of several initiatives proposed last year by the Council of Europe to resolve a standoff between the authorities and the public.

Parliament Adopts New Criminal Code
18 April: The Armenian Parliament votes to adopt a new Criminal Code, overcoming a failed vote on the draft bill the previous week. The new law abolishes capital punishment (except in time of war) but also contains a special provision allowing the death sentence to be imposed on the five men currently on trial for the October 1999 attack on parliament and subsequent killing of several senior government officials.

British Firm Cedes Control of Key Chemical Plant
18 April: In a surprise move, the British-registered Ransat group, which had signed a five-year agreement with the Armenian government in 2002 to take over management of the Nairit chemical plant in Yerevan, announces that it will cede control of that plant and of a second chemical complex in the northern town of Vanadzor back to the Armenian government. Armenian officials have criticized the British firm for failing to abide by its pledge to invest $25 million in the plant, the country’s largest such facility, and which has been idled since last fall after electricity supplies were cut off due to nonpayment of bills. Ransat also reportedly owes the plant's staff several months in back wages. Armenian Deputy Industry Minister Ashot Shahnazarian admits that the government is currently engaged in talks with several unnamed Russian companies that have expressed interest in acquiring the Nairit chemical plant.

Constitutional Court Staff Resign in Protest over Court Ruling
21 April: A small group of staff members of the Armenian Constitutional Court resign in protest over the court's “judicially illiterate” ruling on the disputed presidential ballot.

Parliamentary Election Campaign Underway
21 April: The official campaign season for the May 25th parliamentary election opens with the Central Election Commission reporting that it has registered 1,084 candidates representing 17 parties and four blocs to compete for the 75 mandates to be distributed under the proportional system. A further 406 candidates are competing for the remaining 56 single-mandate seats. Some 60 prospective candidates were denied registration, including Armen Sarkisian, who is currently in detention under suspicion of involvement in the assassination of State Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, Arshak Sadoyan, from the opposition National Democratic bloc, and Hayk Babukhanian.

Former Foreign Minister not to Run in Parliamentary Election
21 April: Former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian announces that the “Zharangutiun” (Heritage) bloc that he leads will not take part in the parliamentary elections, stating that the election is bound to be undemocratic and does not wish "to take part in a public performance.” Hovannisian was denied registration to contest the February presidential election on the grounds that he failed to meet the minimum ten-year residency requirement.


Armenians Worldwide Express Dismay over U.S. President’s Genocide Statement
24-25 April: In a statement timed with the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide which left over 1.5 million Armenians killed in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, U.S. President George W. Bush fails to categorize the mass killings as “genocide,” sparking significant criticism by Armenian groups on 25 April. The statement utilized lesser terms of “horrible tragedy” and “appalling events” in reference to the genocide, mainly to avoid angering Turkey. The move follows a statement by Armenian President Robert Kocharian on 24 April promising to pursue international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Leading Armenian groups in the Armenian Diaspora denounced the statement, with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) specifically criticizing Bush for breaking a “February 2000 campaign pledge to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide,” and all expressing disappointment with the Bush Administration failure to confront the Turkish denial of the genocide despite Turkey’s recent refusal to allow U.S. troops to use bases in Turkey for the war on Iraq.

Yerevan Court Ruling Rejects Opposition Challenge to Regional Election Commission
25 April: A Yerevan district court issues a ruling to dismiss a lawsuit brought by opposition Constitutional Rights Union head Hayk Babukhanian challenging the decision of the regional election commission denying him registration as a candidate in next month’s parliamentary election. Regional Election Commission head Levon Oghanganian defended their decision not to register Babukhanian’s candidacy, explaining that there were a number of discrepancies and omissions in the paperwork required to be filed for the candidate registration process.

Armenian Presidential Body Rejects Calls by Constitutional Court on Mass Arrests of Opposition Supporters
25 April: A special presidential judicial oversight body rejects the recommendations of Armenia’s highest court to investigate the judicial sanctioning of the mass arrest of opposition activist and supporters of recent months. The Constitutional Court’s recommendations stem from its recent ruling on a court challenge brought by failed opposition presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, calling on the presidential Justice Council to investigate the mass arrests of opposition supporters, which the court ruled as “contravening the European Convention on Human Rights,” and to “consider punishing judges that handed down rulings denounced as illegal by human rights groups.” The 16-member presidential Justice Council, empowered to both nominate and dismiss the vast majority of judges, rejected the Constitutional Court’s ruling and contended that it is acting outside its constitutionally defined powers. The Justice Council added that it is not subject to any orders or recommendations from the Constitutional Court. The defiance follows a similar incident last week with State prosecutors publicly rejected a Constitutional Court order to investigate reported instances of ballot box stuffing and other voter irregularities.

Russian and Armenian Presidents Meet
27 April: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Armenian President Robert Kocharian to review plans for the implementation of several bilateral accords reached during a visit by the Armenian president to Moscow early this year. The leaders discussed issues of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, with a specific focus on nuclear energy. The meeting follows a decision earlier in the day granting Armenia “observer status” in the Eurasian Economic Community. The Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc) consists of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Armenia has become the third country after Moldavia and Ukraine to receive the EurAsEc observer status.

OSCE Launches Preliminary Monitoring Effort for Upcoming Parliamentary Election
28 April: Officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announce that they have begun preparations for comprehensive monitoring of the Armenian parliamentary election scheduled for 25 May. The American head of the OSCE monitoring team, Ambassador Robert Barry, urged the Armenian government to ensure “greater transparency” in the election’s vote count and “more balanced” media coverage of the campaign, especially after the voting irregularities reported by the OSCE in the February presidential elections. The OSCE has deployed a preliminary team of 28 experts to monitor the election campaign and media coverage, with another 250 observers to be dispatched to Armenia as the 25 May election approaches.

Armenia Signs on to Expanded Russian-Led Regional Security Group
28 April: Armenia joins Russia and four other former Soviet states in agreeing to form a new joint military command for a rapid reaction force to manage security threats in Central Asia. The agreement, reached during a summit meeting of delegations from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, expands the security role of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a strategic grouping first formed in 1992 to combat shared threats of terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime. The planned creation of a new military rapid reaction force was welcomed by NATO officials as a supplementary effort to bolster regional security.

Armenian State Commission Report Reveals Monopoly Firm Linked to Defense Minister
29 April: Armenian state Commission to Protect Economic Competition releases its annual report on revealing the extent of several firms’ monopolistic hold over several sectors of the economy, many with strong ties to government officials. The report detailed several cases of corporate monopoly, most notably with the offshore Mika Limited company which accounts for 78 percent of all gasoline imported to Armenia for 2002. The firm’s owner, Russian-Armenian businessman Mikhail Baghdasarov, is widely held to be a close associate of Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian. The report also expressed concern over possible unfair business practices, noting that the number of firms engaged in importing gasoline has fallen sharply form 25 firms to 12 over the past three years. Another firm identified in the report, the Astghatsuyts group owned by Samvel Aleksanian, is also shown to hold a 96 percent share of all imports of sugar and a 78 percent hold over all alcohol and spirits imports for 2002. Aleksanian is currently running unopposed for a seat in the Armenian parliament.

NATO Official Arrives in Armenia to Review Preparations for Military Exercises
29 April: Arriving in Yerevan, NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, German Admiral Rainer Feist met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian to review final preparations for NATO military exercises scheduled to be held next month in Armenia. The NATO exercises, codenamed Cooperative Best Effort 2003, will involve units from 17 nations in a ten-day military exercise held within the NATO Partnership for Peace program. Armenian Army Chief of Staff General Mikael Harutiunian confirmed that a detachment of Turkish troops will also be participating in the NATO exercises, although they will be limited to observer status.

New Anti-Corruption Campaign Announced
29 April: The head of the Armenian office of the anti-corruption group Transparency International, Arevik Saribekian, announces that a new anti-corruption campaign will be launched in Armenia. The anti-corruption campaign is to include a nationwide public education effort, to be launched once a central information office is opened in Yerevan in June. The information campaign is also to focus on providing information to the public on measures to combat instances of petty corruption as well as assisting in the formulation of legislative measures designed to combat corruption.


New Draft Legislation on Armenian Women Issues Formulated
30 April: Deputy Social Security Minister Karine Hakobian announces that the ministry is preparing a package of new legislation to address several issues related to the state of women in Armenia. The new program will focus on developing an improved data collection system on incidents of domestic abuse of women and plans on forming a network of centers to provide social support to female victims of physical or sexual abuse. The deputy minister also announced that a related effort to tighten laws against the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and minors will be introduced shortly.

Republic of Georgia

Total area: 69,700 sq. km Slightly larger than S. Carolina Bordering states: Armenia 164 km Azerbaijan 322 km Russia 723 km Turkey 252 km Population: 5.57 million 56% urban 78 persons/sq. km Ethnic composition: 69% Georgian, 9% Armenian, 6% Russian, 6% Ajarian*, 5% Azerbaijani, 3% Ossetian, 2% Abkhazian. Georgia includes the autonomous republics of Abkhazia and Ajaria and the South Ossetian Autonomous Region. *- The Ajarians are a distinct ethnographic group of Georgians.

Leadership: Eduard Shevardnadze, President; Avtandil Jorbenadze, State Minister; Irakli Menagarishvili, Foreign Minister; Nino Burjanadze, Parliamentary Chairman.

Independence: Georgia established its independence in April 1991.

CIS membership status: The Georgian government joined the CIS in October 1993.

Constitution: A constitution was adopted in August 1995, which reinstated a presidential form of government and provides for a strong executive branch and a unicameral 235-seat parliament. The constitutional status of the regions and republics remains undetermined, stipulating an official clarification of their legal status only after the resolution of all internal conflicts.

Elections: Presidential elections were held in April 2000. Parliamentary elections were held in October 1999.

Diplomatic representation: The U.S. representative to Georgia is Ambassador Richard Miles. The Georgian representative to the United States, as well as to Canada and Mexico, is Ambassador Levan Mikeladze. The Georgian representative to the United Nations is Ambassador Revaz Adamia.


MONTHLY CHRONOLOGY

Georgian Official Responds to Russian Criticism of Georgian-U.S. Agreement
11 April:Georgian Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze defends the bilateral agreement on defense and military cooperation between Georgia and the United States as “timely and logical.” The statement was in response to the criticism of the Russian Foreign Ministry regarding the Georgian parliament’s ratification of the agreement on military cooperation with the U.S. last month. The deputy minister called the Russian State Duma's initiative to pass a statement concerning Georgia's military cooperation with the U.S. “an attempt to interfere in Georgia's internal affairs,” and added that “if this statement is issued, Tbilisi will consider it as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.” The American-Georgian agreement envisions visa-free entry for American military personnel and unimpeded deployment of their military hardware on its territory, with American servicemen holding the right to carry weapons, and in case of involvement in criminal cases in Georgia, subject to American criminal prosecution only.

Georgian Defense Minister Visits Ukraine
11-14 April: Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze holds a series of meetings during an official visit to Ukraine. The Georgian defense minister met with his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Skidchenko and Ukrainian National Security Council Secretary Yevgeni Marchuk to review plans to expand bilateral military cooperation between Georgia and Ukraine.

New Georgian State Commission to Study Federative Reforms
13-14 April: Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze confirms reports that he will head a new state commission empowered to examine several options to modify the country’s territorial composition. The move is related to the president’s suggestion that the introduction of federative reforms may be the best avenue toward securing stability and conflict resolution in Georgia.

Georgian Troops Expand Security along Borders with Ingushetia and Chechnya
14-15 April: In a joint operation launched by Georgian border guards and the defense ministry, troops expand security checkpoints along the northern Georgian border with Ingushetia and Chechnya. The expanded security operation seeks to prepare for the threat of a possible influx of gunmen and Chechen rebel units into the area once snow melts in the mountain passes.

Explosion Damages Abkhazian Organization’s Headquarters
18 April: The Sukhumi office of the “Amtsakhara” organization, the union of veterans of the 1992-93 war with Georgia, was damaged in an explosion that injured several people. Givi Agrba, who heads the Abkhazian State Security Service, states that the blast was carried out by an unnamed group trying to take advantage of the domestic political tensions in Abkhazia to restore central Georgian control over the unrecognized breakaway republic. The Amtsakhara group, which claims some 10,000 registered members, advocates independence for Abkhazia and the closest possible ties with Russia.

Turkish Military Pledges Increased Military Aid for Georgia
18 April: In Tbilisi on a one-day visit, Turkish Army Chief of General Staff General Hilmi Ozkok announces that the Turkish government will increase its military assistance to Georgia. Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili confirms that during talks with Ozkok, the Turkish military officials raised possibility of Turkey launching a training program for the Georgian military comparable to the U.S.-funded “Train and Equip” program. Bezhuashvili said Ankara will also assist with the creation of an antiterrorism battalion in the Georgian Navy.

Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Warns of Threat of Dictatorship
19 April: In comments at a press conference in Tbilisi, Parliamentary Chair Nino Burdjanadze compares the alignment of pro-presidential political parties in the “For New Georgia” electoral bloc with the forced collectivization campaign of the 1930s. The Parliamentary Speaker further warns that the policies of President Eduard Shevardnadze pose a retreat from democracy to dictatorship. Burdjanadze also urges opposition factions to align, arguing that if they fail to do so they will have no chance of winning the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2 November. She reveals that “serious consultations” are under way on creating an opposition election bloc.

Georgian Officials Report on Recent NATO Mission to Pankisi Gorge
28 April: Georgian interior ministry officials report on the recent fact-finding mission to the Pankisi Gorge by a delegation from NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly. The 27 April visit to the Pankisi Gorge reportedly inspected several refugee camps housing Chechens displaced form their homes in Chechnya and participated in a tour of several checkpoints established in the area set up as part of the Georgian government’s attempt to restore control over the gorge. The NATO delegation was accompanied by security forces from Georgia’s interior ministry. Georgian officials claimed that although there are still small groups of “criminals” operating in the Pankisi Gorge, their counter-terrorist operations have succeeded in eradicating any armed Chechen rebels in the area.

U.S. Ambassador Meets with Georgian Opposition Figure
28 April: the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, meets with former Parliamentary Speaker and prominent opposition figure Zurab Zhvania to discuss the upcoming parliamentary elections set for the fall and reviewed the current disagreement between the opposition and the government over the composition of national and regional electoral commissions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Arrives in Tbilisi
29 April: An Iranian delegation led by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi meets with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi after arriving from Baku. The Iranian foreign minister, on the second leg of a regional tour, reviewed plans for the expansion of bilateral political and economic cooperation and issues of regional energy and security. Several bilateral agreements on military and economic cooperation are to be signed when President Shevardnadze visits Tehran. The Iranian delegation is to go on to Armenia after the conclusion of their Georgian visit.

Regional Parliamentary Speakers Meet in Tbilisi
30 April: The Parliamentary Speakers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia hold a closed meeting in Tbilisi and discuss issues of regional security and multilateral cooperation. The Armenian delegation raised the issue of reestablishing the railway link from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, through Abkhazia and Tbilisi and on to Armenia, an issue of vital importance to blockaded Armenia. The four officials last convened a meeting in February which focused primarily on the Abkhaz conflict and the presence of Russian peacekeeping troops in the region.

Georgia Marks Anniversary of Armed Forces
30 April: Defense Minister David Tevzadze heads an official ceremony commemorating the 12th anniversary of the founding of the modern Georgian armed forces. The U.S.-trained defense minister notes the ongoing effort to modernize and Westernize the country’s military, stresses the strategic aim of joining the NATO alliance and praises the “sustained development” of the struggling armed forces. The Georgian military is beset by serious difficulties, compounded by severe budget shortfalls and widespread desertion among its conscripts. The U.S. launched a special $64 million “Train and Equip” (GTEP) program to bolster the army by focusing on developing four key battalions.

Republic of Azerbaijan

Total area:
81,800 sq. km
Slightly smaller than Maine

Bordering states:
Armenia (West) 566 km
Armenia (southwest) 221 km
Georgia 332 km
Iran (south) 432 km
Iran (southwest) 179 km
Russia 284 km
Turkey 9 km

Population:
7.3 million
54% urban
89 persons/sq. km

Ethnic composition: 71% Azerbaijani, 11% Talish, 6% Russian, 4% Lezgi, 3% Daghestani, 3% Kurdish.
The autonomous republic of Nakhichevan (pop. 350,000; 5,500 sq. km) was placed under Azerbaijani administration in 1921.

Leadership: Geidar Aliyev, President; Artur Rasizade, Prime Minister; Vilayet Guliev, Foreign Minister; Murtuz Aleskerov, Parliamentary Chairman; Shamshaddin Khanbabayev, Premier of
Nakhichevan (Azerbaijani exclave).

Independence: Azerbaijan established its independence in August 1991.

CIS membership status: Azerbaijan joined the CIS in September 1993.

Constitution: A new constitution was passed by referendum in November 1995.

Elections: Parliamentary elections were held in November 2000. Presidential elections were held in October 1998. Presidential elections are to be held in October 2003.

Diplomatic representation: The U.S. representative to Azerbaijan is Ambassador Ross Wilson. The Azerbaijani representative to the United States is Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev. The Azerbaijani representative to the United Nations is Yashar Aliyev.


MONTHLY CHRONOLOGY

Government Endorses Payments to Landowners along Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline Route
10 April: The Azerbaijani government issues a special directive to provide special financial compensation for individuals living on the route of the proposed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. The compensation is to be implemented through local branches of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, and will involve over 4300 land owners living in 13 districts of Azerbaijan and 131 specifically identified villages. Roughly 150 land owners are legal entities and include municipalities, state farms and the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, all of which have already received their compensation.

Opposition Holds Protest over Trial of Nardaran Villagers
10-11 April: Over fifty Azerbaijani opposition activists united in the Azerbaijani Forces' Union (AQB) stage an officially sanctioned demonstration in front of the supreme and appeal courts demanding the release of four Nardaran residents, who were tried and jailed for their involvement in the clash between the police and the villagers in June 2002. Addressing the demonstration, leaders of the opposition Islamic Party and the Social Democrat Party (ASDP) accused the Azerbaijani government of “provoking the June 2002 clash in Nardaran.”

Azerbaijani President Meets with Regional U.S. Ambassadors
11 April: Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliyev meets in Baku with the U.S. ambassadors to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. President Aliyev reminded the ambassadors of Azerbaijan’s support for the U.S. campaign in Iraq and stated that “Azerbaijan was right in joining the coalition.” According to U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson, the meeting focused on the issues of post-conflict Iraq, the global war on terrorism, and the overall state of aid and regional development in the Transcaucasus.

Railway Accident Demonstrates Unsafe State of National Railroads
11 April: A passenger train collides with a freighter train near the Govlar station in Azerbaijan’s Tovuz region, resulting in the overturning of the main locomotive and the derailment of five empty tanker cars, killing two train operators and injuring a dozen passengers. Initial findings of a special investigative commission revealed that the accident was linked to poor safety conditions and a serious deterioration of the railway line. With little or no investment in the past decade, the country’s national rail network has reached a state of dangerous disrepair with implications for passenger safety.

Opposition Holds Demonstrations in Baku
12-14 April: Members and supporters of several major opposition parties stage demonstrations in Baku. Demonstrators demand the resignation of the Aliyev government and call for free and fair elections. The action is the latest in a series of coordinated activities by the unified opposition, mainly comprising the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, the Civic Unity Party, the National Independence Party, the Musavat party, and the reform wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party.

Azerbaijan Pursues Agreements with Iran and Seeks Energy Deals with Greece
13-15 April: Meeting in Tehran with senior Iranian officials, Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov negotiates a new bilateral agreement to combat drug smuggling, improve border security and coordinate control over arms proliferation. Despite a heated dispute over the division of the Caspian Sea, Iran and Azerbaijan have improved relations in recent months, with new agreements for Iranian financing of several transportation projects and a $40 million Iranian credit package for a natural gas project in Azerbaijan. Also meeting in Baku, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos and Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliyev holds discussions on the latest attempt to further the international development of Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas reserves in the Caspian Sea. The meeting is also related to Greece’s position holding the current presidency of the European Union (EU), and includes a review of ongoing and planned EU aid packages for Azerbaijan. The state-owned Greek DEPA energy firm is also actively negotiating for a share in planned gas exports from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz offshore reserve.

Council of Europe Official Meets with Azerbaijani Leadership
14-15 April: Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) official Terry Davis arrives in Baku for meetings with a delegation of Azerbaijani parliamentarians and other senior leaders. Davis also met with Azerbaijani State Oil Company SOCAR Ilham Aliev and discussed the status of international mediation efforts seeking a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan has been at odds with the Council of Europe in recent months over the body’s criticism of the Azerbaijani government’s draft electoral law and over what Baku alleges is a pro-Armenian bias in the Council of Europe’s approach to the conflict.

Azerbaijani President Affirms Plan to Enter NATO Alliance
18 April: Meeting in Baku on 18 April with Bruce Jackson, chairman of the nongovernmental U.S. NATO Committee, President Aliyev unequivocally states publicly for the first time that, since entering NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1994, Azerbaijan has quietly been implementing all the measures necessary to qualify for membership in the NATO alliance. Jackson had hinted at a meeting with journalists the previous day that if Baku failed to clarify its intentions with regard to NATO, it could be passed over when the next formal invitations to join NATO are extended, possibly at the organization's 2004 summit.

Azerbaijan Promises to Send Troops to Iraq
19 April: The Azerbaijani leadership is holding consultations on dispatching a force of 150 troops to Iraq to guard Muslim holy sites in the cities of Karbala, Kirkuk, and Mosul, according to Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev.

Azerbaijani President Collapses Twice during Speech
21 April: Azerbaijan President Geidar Aliyev collapses twice while delivering a televised speech at the Palace of the Republic in Baku to mark the 30th anniversary of the Jamshid Nakhichevanskii Military College. Television viewers saw President Aliyev clutch at his heart and gasp “something has struck me,” before leaving the podium supported by aides. Aliyev returned to the podium fifteen minutes later to tumultuous applause and resumed his address, blaming his collapse on “the evil eye.” The president then collapsed again minutes later, striking his head against the podium and apparently losing consciousness. He later returned to the hall a second time to finish his address, and left the building, walking very slowly and looking pale, according to observers. An official medical bulletin attributed his incapacitation to low blood pressure, while media reports revealed that an unofficial state of emergency has been declared in Baku and that physicians have been hurriedly summoned from Turkey to examine the 79-year-old president, who underwent heart bypass surgery in 1999. Aliyev was said to be back at work the next day.

Azerbaijani Authorities Detain Journalist
21 April: Azerbaijani security officials arrest Rauf Arifoglu, the editor of the independent daily “Yeni Musavat,” at Baku's Bina Airport on his return from Turkey for allegedly attempting to smuggle religious literature into the country.

Azerbaijan Approves Russian LUKOIL Sale to Japanese Firm
24 April: Azerbaijani authorities approves plans for the Russian LUKOIL oil firm’s sale of its 10-percent interest in a consortium led by British Petroleum (BP) developing the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli offshore oil field. According to officials of the Azerbaijani State Oil Company SOCAR, LUKOIL is selling its share to the Inpex Japanese firm for $1.375 billion. LUKOIL first sought to sell the stake to Inpex at the end of 2002, but the Azerbaijan government demanded that the Russian company first pay the state taxes of up to $100 million. The sale was approved by Azerbaijan after LUKOIL executives agreed to modify the terms of another of its oil projects in Azerbaijan instead of paying taxes. That modification included a Russian payment for an increase from 60 to 80 percent LUKOIL share in the Yalama oil field in return for a $40 million exploration payment, including a $20 million disbursement this month.

Azerbaijani Human Rights Activist Assailed Following Visit to Nagorno Karabagh
24-25 April: The head of the Azerbaijani Human Rights Center, Eldar Zeynalov, is arrested and taken into police custody for questioning after returning from a visit to Nagorno Karabagh. The arrest follows a heated confrontation between Zeynalov and a group of between 50-60 demonstrators staging a picket outside of his Baku office to protest his trip to Nagorno Karabagh. The demonstrators pelted the office with eggs and trash after Azerbaijani state television aired accusations that the human rights activist was “of Armenian origin” and alleged that his acts were “treasonous.”

Health Officials Confirm Five Cases of Suspected SARS
25-26 April: Five people have been hospitalized in Azerbaijan with suspected Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, according to an unnamed Azerbaijan Health Ministry official in Baku. One of the five is a man who had worked in China, and recently returned to Azerbaijan via Turkey. Another Health Ministry official denies media reports that a passenger arriving the previous day in Baku has been diagnosed as suffering from SARS and hospitalized, together with his fellow passengers.

President Aliyev Misses Scheduled Meeting, Fueling Rumors over his Health
25-26 April: Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliyev fails to attend a scheduled meeting in Baku with Ambassador Christian Strohal, the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The Azerbaijani presidential press service reports the next day that President Aliyev suffered from a cracked rib and sustained bruises to his back when he passed out and fell several days earlier while delivering a speech. The press service adds that Aliyev “feels well,” and is undergoing medical treatment at his home for those injuries.

Survey Results Show Steep Decline in Popularity for Azerbaijani President
26 April: According to the results of a survey conducted by the independent “Bilik Dunyasi” agency, a poll of 1,500 people in Baku, Sumgait and the Gyanja and Lenkoran-Astara regions of Azerbaijan between 28 March and 6 April, only 34 percent of respondents considered that President Aliyev holds the best chance of victory in the presidential election due in October. Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov ranked in second place with 18.1 percent, followed by exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev (12.9 percent), President Aliyev's son Ilham (12.2 percent), Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar (10.1 percent), and Ali Kerimli, leader of the reform wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (5.2 percent). A presidential candidate is required to garner a minimum of 50 percent plus one of all votes cast to win in the first round. Asked to name a politician whom they consider enjoys a spotless political reputation and defends national interests, only 15.6 percent of respondents named President Aliyev, compared with 24.3 percent for Sabir Rustamkhanli, chairman of the small opposition Civic Solidarity Party.

Azerbaijan and Iran Reportedly “Close to Deal” on Dividing the Caspian
28 April: Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov announces that Azerbaijan and Iran are close to a final agreement on the division of the Caspian Sea, adding that “if our working groups manage to meet the deadline, an agreement will be signed during Iranian President Khatami’s visit to Baku.” The statement follows several high-level meetings between Azerbaijani officials and visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. A firm date has not yet been set for the Iranian president’s visit to Baku, however.

Opposition Leader Vows to Retake Nagorno Karabagh if Elected President
29 April: Azerbaijani opposition Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar promises that if elected as the next president, “within the first term of my presidency I will return Nagorno Karabagh to Azerbaijan.” The Musavat Party leader is actively campaigning as a candidate to oppose incumbent President Geidar Aliev in the fall’s presidential election. Gambar also vows to create a new “state with a powerful army, clear diplomacy and strong economy that could decide the issue of seized land without difficulty.”

Azerbaijani Presidential Spokesman Says Aliev to Run for Reelection
30 April: Azerbaijani Presidential Administration chief Ali Hassanov announces that President Geidar Aliyev still plans on running in the October 2003 presidential elections. The senior aide rejected rumors that the 79-year old president’s recent collapse while giving a televised speech and added that the president is in full control of state affairs.

Azerbaijani Human Rights Activist Threatens to Appeal to UN over Harassment
30 April: Prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov threatens to appeal to the United Nations in response to official intimidation and harassment by the Azerbaijani authorities. Zeynalov was detained by police and heated demonstrations were convened outside of his office after his return from a 22 April seminar on developing civil society held in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights issued a statement the previous day protesting Azerbaijan’s “orchestrated campaign of intimidation against a group of independent human rights organizations.”

Another Leading Human Rights Activist is Threatened
30 April: Joining the wave of public protest over the country’s few embattled human rights activists, demonstrators converged on the Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku, breaking the windows and throwing stones at the windows. Demonstrators demand that Institute Director Leyla Yunus be deported from Azerbaijan after accusing her of “treason and provocation.” The fury against Yunus intensifies after she states in a published interview with the “Zerkalo” newspaper that “all this recalls the events of 1990, when people close to Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliyev were telling us against whom to carry out programs, and how. They were organizing pogroms and beating up Armenians…”

Republic of Nagorno Karabagh

Total area:
4,800 sq. km
Slightly smaller than Delaware

Bordering states:
Azerbaijan

Population:
150,000
31 persons/sq. km

Ethnic composition:
95% Armenian
5% Assyrian, Greek,
Kurdish, other

Leadership: Gukasyan, President; Anushevan Danielian, Prime Minister; Ashot Ghulian, Foreign Minister; Oleg Yessayan, Parliamentary Chairman

Independence: The Republic of Nagorno Karabagh was established in September 1991 and declared its independence in January 1992.

CIS membership status: Nagorno Karabagh is not a member of the CIS.

Constitution: The Parliament approved a constitution in June 1992.

Elections: Parliamentary elections were held in June 2000. Presidential elections were held in August 2002.

Diplomatic representation: The Nagorno Karabagh representative to Armenia is Arman Melikian. Hovanes Guevorkian is the representative of Nagorno Karabagh in France. Vardan Barseghian is the representative of the Office of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic in the United States.


MONTHLY CHRONOLOGY

Australian Armenians Raise Money for Karabagh
2-7 April: The Armenian community of Australia, working through the Disaporan “Armenian Fund,” raises over $100,000 in donations for Karabagh. The money was raised in several days of radio and television telethon programs. The bulk of the donations are to be utilized by the Armenian Fund for the construction of the North-South highway in Karabagh. Last year, funds were also raised in this fashion for the construction of two new clinics and a kindergarten school in Armenia’s Vanadzor region. Donations were also raised for the building of a bridge spanning the Arax River, along Armenia’s southern border with Iran.

Karabagh Official reports on Influx of Armenian Refugees from Azerbaijan
22 April: Karabagh State Department for Migration and Refugees chief Serzh Amirkhanyan reports that a total of 18,900 Armenians resettled in Nagorno Karabagh after fleeing their homes in Azerbaijan during the worst of the conflict. The Karabagh officials went on to add that the Karabagh government is planning to expand its program of assistance for refugees and is studying measures to provide greater access to benefits, educational aid and housing.

Karabagh Foreign Minister Meets with OSCE Official
23 April: Nagorno Karabagh Foreign Minister Ashot Ghulian meets with a visiting official, Jan Repa of Slovakia, the personal representative of the Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Foreign Minister Ghulian briefs the OSCE official on the state of the ceasefire agreement in place since may 1994 and offers continued cooperation to facilitate the OSCE in its regular inspections of the region.

Karabagh Security Official Cites Karabagh’s Role to Stabilize the Region
24 April: In comments published in an interview with an Armenian newspaper, Nagorno Karabagh Security Council Secretary Garen Baburian cites the positive role that Karabagh will play in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, adding that only Karabagh can fully stabilize the region by halting any threat of a “spreading wave of Islamic fundamentalism.” The Karabagh security official also states that there is a danger, as “it can be undoubtedly not be fully ruled out that there may be external pressure on Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh towards settling the conflict in favor of Azerbaijan.”

State Energy Official Reports on Conditions in Karabagh
28-30 April: The director of the state-affiliated “ArtsakhGas” Corporation, Maxim Mirzoyan, reports that recent investment in the Karabagh energy sector has resulted in an impressive 95 percent of Stepanakert receiving regular supplies of natural gas. Mirzoyan added that the remaining 300 homes in Stepanakert without gas will be prioritized in the next few months. The overall plan for Karabagh includes additional expansion of the existing natural gas line with new improvements set to increase efficiency and output of the gas sector. Achieving the ambitious goal of providing reliable energy to all parts of Karabagh will take another 3-4 years, however, although several of the poorest regions have been identified as the neediest in the next stage of expansion. The forest-poor Martuni district is one such priority area, whereas the Lisagor and Shushi areas are now completely covered within the energy network. Mirzoyan also plans work in the Askeran district I the next year.

Karabagh Education Minister Details New Reforms
30 April: Nagorno Karabagh Minister for education, Culture and Sports Armen Sarkisian unveils a series of educational reforms that his ministry is preparing to introduce in cooperation with the government and parliament. The Karabagh education reform program is to focus on improving access to all levels of schools, reconstruct and modernize existing educational facilities and institute new comprehensive standards for teachers and students. The plan also seeks to provide a coordinated system of school lunches and limited breakfasts for primary schools students and will also pursue plans to establish a new innovative facility to house and educate disabled youngsters while also providing accommodations and social services.
For additional information, contact the:
Armenian National Committee of America
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