Sunday, March 27, 2011

Week 21-27 March: Wisdom or Mourning

I entered Liberty Square as a proud citizen to fulfill my political, civil, and constitutional rights […]” So Raffi Hovannissian, the charismatic, pragmatic, experienced chairman of Heritage Party (HP) explained why he had started a hunger strike in Liberty Square, in Yerevan.
What happened: on the 13th March, in the midst of the international storm, when already voices were whispering about the “Mubarakization” of Armenia, the HP, parliamentary firm but not radical opposition, convened a plenary session. The resolution adopted enlist an ambitious plan of State building to end oligarcs’ crystallizing power over society that is creeping in both socio-economic and political spheres and that may eventually lead to a point of polarization where only a sharp break is foreseeable. A brave act of wisdom versus tardy crocodile mourning?
(Full text of the HP resolution/13 March,

After the adoption of the resolution, Raffi Hovannisian started his hunger strike. At his tenth day of “civil fasting” or “political fasting” he received the visits of Hovik Abrahamyan, speaker of the National Assembly, the vice speaker Samvel Balasanyan, the head of the Republican faction Galust Sahakyan and others MPs.
Years ago I had a long and in depth exchange with Raffi Hovannisian about democracy and Armenian needs and priorities. I was positively impressed by his intellectual honesty, realism and uncompromising civil firm belief. Plus his political skills which are, by the way, broadly recognized: it should be recalled that recently Grigory Karazin has paid him a visit, and it doesn’t happen so frequently to see the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs sitting with opposition leaders in a friendly country.
He’s definitely a resource for Armenia, and hopefully a fruitful one.

On the other side of the forever-closed border it’s again time for mourning a soldier. On the 23rd the deputy head of the press service of Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported about a new cease fire violation which caused the death of Samir Agayev, born 1986, deployed near the village of Ashagi Abdulrahmanli, Fizuli region. There is indeed the need to replace the contact line between the two forces with a no-weapon zone. Otherwise there might be no way to prevent an escalation.

The Co-Chairs of the Minsk group released the “Executive Summary of the "Report of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs' Field Assessment Mission to the Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh", urging a much necessary improvement of the situation on the ground (full text,
Again, wisdom vs mourning?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Week 14-20 March: What’s new?

Once upon the time there were three Empires. One was ruled by the Ottoman Sultan, one by the Russian Czar, one by the Persian Shah. The three Empires had been regional powers for centuries, and they fought each other over the supremacy in the South Caucasus. Parallel powers with parallel problems of poor modernization and socio-political crystallization which eventually turned them from predators into preys.
At the beginning of the XX century they made their last effort of modernization through reforms, becoming constitutional monarchies: the Sultanate in 1908 reintroduce the Constitution, the then Petersburg court in 1905 adopted its first one, while the Peacock’s throne in 1906. In the 20ies and 30ies they carried out harsh processes of modernization, secularization, industrialization to catch up with those external actors that had threatened them seriously – in terms of statehood and sovereignty – during and after the First World War. Thus, again parallel but deeply divided, the backbone of Eurasia searched its new identity and world’s role as Republics.

At the beginning of the XXI century the three States heirs of the Empires found themselves in the backlash of some of the processes they had started during the XX century. Significantly, forced secularization was put at question, with different degrees.

As they still move on, their path may be a bit less parallel than before. Indeed, there seems to be room for cooperation, or tangential routes. Russia and Turkey may have buried the war axe, and –still pragmatically and cautiously – to have assessed each other as possibly reliable partners.

A big Turkish delegation headed by Prime Minister Erdoğan accompanied by seven members of the Government and 200 businessmen visited Moscow last week. Russia will build the first Turkish nuclear power plant, and discussions were held concerning South Stream and Samsun-Ceyan oil pipeline. For Ankara, Eurasia may be le plan B from 2013.

And for the South Caucasus? If the gear moves, the cogs must find a proper place, in order not to crash/not to make the rotating wheels crash.

This concerns Georgia, set between Black Sea Russia and Black Sea Turkey, with two of its Autonomous Republics -Ajara in the South and breakaway Abkhazia in the North- highly economically dependant of Turkey or Russia. Well, Abkhazia much more than just that…
While Baku welcomes the cooperation, Yerevan protested the gift presented during the meeting at the Kremlin: a copy of the Moscow Treaty that definitely harmed Armenian interests.

Armenian interests are a matter of dispute. In the midst of a new wave of political crisis/revolutions, Levon Ter Petrosyan brought again Yerevanits in the streets. Is he still a leader? He had his chance, used it and exhausted it. But he still looks visionary enough to be a leader, probably due to the lack of a new one, as well.
Do Armenians need a new leader? The square appeared ready for something more than Ter Petrosyan can give.

Still, a square never hosts an entire country.
So, no matter how many persons protest, they will never fully represent the whole people’s will and many Armenians may feel much more at ease with continuity than with change.

One wonders if the Government feels at ease, as well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Week 7-13 March: A question of time

An old dictum suggests that something works when the right person is in the right place at the right time.
It seems to be time again for revolutions (color/flower/colorless/flowerless), the place is the Arab Muslim world, and the persons, peoples. Or some of them. Perhaps, few of them, compared to the total population. But still, this new wave of anti-authoritarianism gave hope to some activists and observers that time has come to change what they feel needs to be changed in Azerbaijan as well.

It sounds very unlikely that a (color) revolution will take place in Azerbaijan. Albeit the Umma vibrates with some of the notes coming from North Africa, none of the Turkish Muslim countries seems deeply affected by what’s going on, apart from human sympathy. Azerbaijan in particular is already where the crowd prevented Egypt from going: in Azerbaijan the Republic has already been transformed into a kind of electoral monarchy. Not the right time, probably, for a rebellious contamination. Had this all happened in 2002, with a sick Heydar Aliev and a not yet popular Ilham waiting for succession, there would have been room for spreading the infection. Time expired for that.

The first victim of revolutions, coups, uprising is always rule of law. This makes all these phenomena, whenever, wherever, whoever, at least the very second best. Not to mention the human dramas they all imply. Every case is specific, and generalizations are really out of place. Still, rule of law is so difficult to be established, so important, that it is definitely one of the main pillar for any society to function properly. Once – or regularly – broken, societies become very unstable. A successful turn down of regime through the square may lead to the mis-perception that the square is indeed a proper place for political confrontation. And used again and again. Kyrgyzstan is trying to avoid this process. In Georgia, on the contrary, radical opposition is claiming revolution to be unavoidable.

Are the Azerbaijan government or the Georgian one really threatened by the young activists of the Great People’s day or by Nino Burjanadze and Levan Gachechiladze?
No. They are not.

Still, there’s something going on. Guys somewhere get shot, arms are spreading.
The international crisis hasn’t eased its grip, economic distribution is not working.
Powers crystallised, the ruling classes are turning into a reservoir, unable to react properly and to perform efficiently their mandates. Internal struggles mine their stability (in the end, where does Nino Burjanadze come from?)

So the light of the full moon that could shine in the darkness of the east (and not just South Caucasus) may not be the smiling faces of pro-democracy supporters holding roses in their hands, but “the third eye of Shiva the destroyer”.

It’ high time to be cautious, and still fast and reasonable.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Week 28 Feb.- 06 Mar.: To each his own

On the 4th the XV Session of the Geneva International Discussions (GD) took place, on the 5th President Medvedev dedicated the whole day to two guests who are not guesting each other… President Sargsyan and President Aliev.

In Geneva, Giedrius Čekuolis is the newly arrived co-Chair, representing OSCE now that Lithuania took over OSCE chairmanship from Kazakhstan. GD location and format are stable from more than two years, which can already be assessed as a success. The date for the next session is June, 7.
While in Geneva conflict solution (working group 1) and humanitarian issues (working group 2) are addressed, the grassroots problems, trans-administrative lines incidents find their proper fora in the IPRMs, the Incidents Prevention ans Response Mechanisms. Now that both IPRMs – in Gali and Ergneti – work, with the Ergneti one having resumed its activities after a long pause of more than one year, the GD can focus fully on the political aspects, just reviewing periodically the situation on the ground.

This division of work between GD and its own creatures, IPRMs, is well mirrored in the lines of the official press communiqué issued last Friday by the GD Co-Chairmanship:
In Working Group I, the participants reviewed the security situation on the ground, which remains relatively calm. They continued their discussions on the key issues of non-use of force and international security arrangements and on best practices and cooperation, in particular in the field of confidence-building.

In Working Group II, participants reviewed the issues related to the humanitarian situation, including the supply of water and gas, the facilitation of returns and other durable solutions, and property-related issues. Participants also took part in an information session dedicated to the “end of displacement”. "

This is exactly what is missing on the NK front line: a properly working IPRM. This is felt, needed, even evoked, somehow, in the joined statement of the three Presidents after their meeting in Sochi:

After the discussions on the practical implementation of the trilateral Declaration adopted on October 27, 2010 in Astrakhan, in addition to the steps specified in the above mentioned Declaration, the Presidents agreed to take the following confidence building measures:
1. To conclude in the shortest possible period of time the exchange of the prisoners of war,
2. To strive to solve all contentious issues through peaceful means and to conduct along the cease-fire line an investigation with the participation of the parties under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and with the assistance of the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office regarding probable incidents.” (

A hot line plus quick reaction teams with a mixed staff with an investigative/facilitating mandate, able to cross the cease fire line, plus a regular IPRM, would relieve the tripartite meetings (the last was the eighth one) from dealing with day-to-day minor violations and would allow the meeting, held at presidential level, to concentrate on the political settlement of the conflict. It is itself an extremely tough task.

A clear message was delivered by Russia with the choice of the location of the meeting: Sochi. Plus, during the day, the party was involved in skiing, enjoying the Sochi tourist resort. So, it sounds clear and in bold letters that the huge investment over there mustn’t be shadowed by wars around…