Sunday, August 27, 2006

China Joins Kars-Tbilisi-Baku Railway Project


Seen as an important bridge for the transfer of energy resources from Central Asia and the Caucuses to the rest of the world, Turkey is taking significant steps toward reinforcing its strategic position in the world.

With the construction of the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway, originally brought to the agenda in 1960, Turkey will become a major transfer route between Asia and Europe.

Regarding the project, scheduled for launch in 2007, Zaman conducted an interview with Turkish Minister of Transport Binali Yildirim, who revealed that Kazakhstan and China have also joined the project.

When completed, the project will be a modern version of the Silk Road, enabling a person in Kars to reach Shanghai or Hong Kong via Kazakhstan.

The project, which will be linked to the Marmaray Project, will permit trains departing from Britain to reach China via Turkey non-stop.

The railroad venture will be completed in two years time and will transport 20 million tons of cargo annually.

Indicating that the former controversy between Turkey and Armenia stalled the project for years, Yildirim predicted the project would change the face of the region to a great extent, as well as improving general conditions.

Yildirim stressed that Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey were working together to overcome the difficulties negatively affecting the region's economy.

"The project will establish a direct link between Turkey and Azerbaijan. It is crucial that all shipping in the region will reach Europe and Asia via Turkey," explained Yildirim.

Railway to Cost 0 million

The transport minister informed Zaman that Turkey would be responsible for the construction of the 76-kilometer branch that leads to the Georgian border, while Georgia will undertake the construction of 25 kilometers of track within its borders.

Turkey's portion of the total cost of the railway project is expected to total 0 million when completed.

The project was previously shelved due to former Treasury Minister Kemal Dervis's refusal to guarantee funding.

Source: Zaman

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


AZG Armenian Daily #161, 25/08/2006

Turkish officials fabricated a news story last week in order to create the false impression that their soldiers would be warmly welcome in Lebanon, even by the local Armenian community!

The widely circulated Turkish newspaper Hurriyet published a front-page story on August 18 claiming that the only Armenian Minister in the Lebanese Cabinet had agreed to the stationing of Turkish troops in Lebanon. The story, written by Hurriyet’s Chief Editor Ertugrul Ozkok, carried the following sensational title: "Even the Armenian Minister wants us in Lebanon."

Ozkok published the dramatic details of the dinner that was given in Beirut last week by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in honor of the Foreign Ministers of France, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey. In attendance were also 9 Lebanese Ministers, including Jean Oghassapian, the Minister of Administrative Reforms.

According Ozkok’s article, when Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul asked Prime Minister Siniora how the Lebanese people would react to the presence of Turkish soldiers in their country, Siniora responded to the great surprise of everyone at the dinner table: "Even the Armenian Minister in our Cabinet wants the Turkish soldiers to come." Ozkok wrote that Siniora then called over Minister Oghassapian from an adjacent table and "holding his arm," asked him: "You also want the Turkish soldiers to come, don’t you?" The Armenian Minister reportedly replied: "Yes, we want them." Ozkok reported that Turkish officials present at the dinner were utterly surprised "especially since only that same morning, the Lebanon-based Tashnak Party had issued a declaration," announcing its opposition to stationing Turkish troops in Lebanon. Ozkok gleefully concluded: "Clearly the Armenian Minister and the Tashnak declaration were at odds." Gul reportedly told the Turkish journalists at the dinner that Ankara was "not taking seriously" the efforts of the Armenian lobby in the U.S. to prevent Turkish soldiers from entering Lebanon.

Stretching the truth even further, Ozkok reported that the Shiite Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nebih Berri, told "Gul at the dinner: ‘I speak in the name of the Shiites in Lebanon. We want from our hearts that the Turkish soldiers participate in the peacekeeping force.’"

The Turkish press is notorious for publishing untrue and distorted reports. However, in this case, it appears that Mr. Ozkok, a distinguished journalist and a prominent media executive, may have been used by Turkish officials to disseminate a fabricated story. Ozkok, who was in Istanbul during last week’s dinner in Beirut, was fed this fictitious news by Turkish Foreign Ministry officials.

In order to verify what really took place at that dinner, I contacted Minister Oghassapian and spoke with him last Sunday. He was absolutely shocked to hear what Hurriyet had reported. He said that just about every item in that article was false! He said he did not walk over to the table where the Lebanese Prime Minister and the Turkish Foreign Minister were sitting and did not exchange any words with either one of them that night. He did not discuss with anyone the possible participation of Turkish troops in the peacekeeping force. He also said that the Speaker of the Parliament Nebih Berri was not present at the dinner at all. Furthermore, Minister Oghassapian said to this writer that in separate meetings with Prime Minister Siniora, he had told him of the strong opposition of the Armenian community to the stationing of Turkish troops in Lebanon.

It is clear that the Turkish Foreign Ministry, by fabricating this news report, is trying to create the false public perception that Turkish soldiers would be warmly welcome in Lebanon. This point was made more obvious in another Hurriyet story which reported that Gul was told during his visit to Lebanon: "All sides are waiting for the friendly Turkish soldiers" to take part in the peacekeeping force. The second Turkish intent in falsifying this report seems to be to split the Armenian community into two camps: for and against having Turkish troops in Lebanon.

Fortunately, this Turkish lie did not last very long. After I spoke with Minister Oghassapian, he issued a formal statement that was published in the Aug. 22 issue of Zartonk, the organ of the Ramgavar Party in Lebanon. He described the words attributed to him by Hurriyet as "imaginary and not corresponding to reality." He said that in private conversations with Prime Minister Siniora, he had indicated his reservations regarding the presence of Turkish troops in Lebanon. He concluded his published statement by drawing everyone’s attention to the standard practice of the Turkish media to distort the news.

Here is an update about the flurry of developments that have taken place since this writer first suggested earlier this month that Turkish troops should not be stationed in Lebanon:

-- All three Armenian political parties issued statements rejecting the participation of Turkish troops in the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The spiritual leaders of the three Armenian denominations in Lebanon (Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical) issued a similar joint statement.

-- An ARF delegation met with various Lebanese leaders as well as the Ambassadors of Russia, Japan, Great Britain, China, Italy, Iran and Egypt to impress upon them the unacceptability of Turkish troops in Lebanon. The Armenian delegation told the Lebanese Prime Minister that it would not accept even a single Turkish soldier on Lebanese soil!

-- The Armenian National Committee of America sent a letter to Pres. Bush objecting to the participation of Turkish troops in Lebanon. A similar statement was issued by the ANC office in Europe.

-- The American Hellenic Institute wrote a letter to Pres. Bush opposing the inclusion of Turkish soldiers in the peacekeeping force.

-- The Foreign Minister of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian, announced on August 21 that the Lebanese government should have the right to choose which country’s troops it wants on its soil. Regrettably, he did not offer a small contingent of troops to Lebanon, while Armenians are taking part in the international force in Iraq and Kosovo!

-- The President of Lebanon Emile Lahoud announced that countries that have a strategic alliance with Israel, a clear reference to Turkey, should not send troops to Lebanon, because they would not be non-partisan. It is to be noted that Israel rejected the participation of Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, on the ground that they have no diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, even though their troops would not be stationed in Israel. Lebanon then has even more of a right to reject the Turkish troops which would be stationed on its territory.

-- According to the Lebanese Al Nahar newspaper, Hezbollah would not accept the presence of Turkish troops in South Lebanon and considers them to be proxies for the United States and Israel. An early sign of a possible clash between the Sunni Turks and the Shia Hezbollah forces came last week when four Turkish reporters were detained by Hezbollah. After confiscating their films, the reporters were released.

-- The Prime Minister and the Defense Minister of Israel both warmly welcomed the stationing of Turkish troops in Lebanon!

-- Various American neo-con analysts supported the participation of the Turkish troops in Lebanon stating that this would enhance Turkey’s prestige in the Middle East and increase its chances of joining the European Union.

-- Turkish leaders are dragging their feet in making a final commitment of troops for Lebanon. Analysts believe that the Turks are trying to maximize the concessions they could milk from the West for their eventual participation. They also announced that the Turkish Parliament must first approve such a commitment. This is the same scenario that the Turks orchestrated on the eve of deciding whether or not to allow American troops to invade Iraq via Turkey. The Turkish leaders also stated that their troops would only engage in humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, not combat activities, thus contradicting UN’s announced intention of dispatching a robust military force. Maybe the Red Cross should replace the Turkish troops. It is better equipped to do relief work!

-- Onur Oymen, one of the leaders of CHP, the main opposition party in Turkey, said his group is against sending Turkish troops to "an uncertain adventure in Lebanon." In addition, a group of Turkish peace activists held a protest in Adana last Saturday. They said that Ankara had allowed the U.S. to use the Incirlik Airbase to supply bombs and ammunition to Israel. Meanwhile, a group of Turkish intellectuals started a petition against sending Turkish troops to Lebanon.

-- Robert Fisk, the prominent correspondent of the British newspaper, The Independent, warned that if the Turkish army is sent to Lebanon, "count the days – or hours – to the first attack upon it."

Turkey would save itself a lot of embarrassment if it would simply announce its own decision not to send troops to Lebanon, before being rejected by the Lebanese, particularly the Hezbollah!

By Harut Sassounian, Publisher, The California Courier

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Armenians Inured to Spiralling Crime


Two random killings of innocents fail to attract media or public attention.

By Tatul Hakobian in Yerevan (CRS No. 354, 25-August-06)

Sergey Safarian, 46, returned from Soviet military service many years ago an invalid. But his troubles worsened this summer when his wife Gulnara was killed, leaving him unable to look after their two daughters.

“I heard shots, ran out to the road, there were two people lying dead there, one of them my wife, the other - a man. My wife was hit by four bullets - in her hand, shoulder, stomach and forehead,” Safarian recalled in his home in the village of Agarak.

“All the villagers flocked to where the shots came from. I took my daughters and hurried home, so they didn’t see their mother covered in blood.”

The tragic incident occurred on August 8. Businessman Alexander Givoyev, who also headed the public organisation The Protection of Children’s Rights, was the assailants’ other victim.

The tragic death of Gulnara and that of another innocent woman in a similar contract-style shooting has highlighted a disturbing tendency - the media and the public’s seeming avoidance of any real discussion about spiralling violent crime.

Officials say serious crime is lower than in other CIS countries, but recently revealed that figures for the first half of 2006 show a 100 per cent increase over same period last year - and that 60 per cent of cases involved firearms.

According to preliminary findings, Givoev, who was heading with his family for the northern town of Gyumri, had stopped his Grand Cherokee jeep at a roadside fruit stall. A red unmarked vehicle pulled up beside him. Those inside it opened fire, killing him in front of his wife and children - as well as the unfortunate stallholder Gulnara Karapetian.

Now Gulnara’s mother Kalipse Karapetian is worried that there will be no one to support her granddaughters with their mother dead and their father an invalid. “Look, the grapes, pears in the garden are ripe now,” she told IWPR. “Their mother was going to pick them and sell in the roadside stall, in order to buy clothes for her student daughter.”

Gulnara was her family’s only breadwinner. Sergei Safarian’s pension is only 5,000 drams (11 US dollars) a month. His twenty-year-old daughter Narine, a deaf-mute from birth, gets the same allowance from the state. His other daughter Marine is a student at Yerevan’s medical college.

Grigor Zatikian, their neighbour and friend, said he was upset that the fate of the grief-struck family had appeared to move no one but neighbours and a few visiting journalists.

“Relatives and villagers helped organise Gulnara’s funeral and committed her body to the earth with honour,” he told IWPR. “Today two invalids and a student live in this house. It is sure to collapse. Come here next year and you’ll see! Gulnara shouldered all the household chores. She did the work a man is supposed to do - she pruned trees, dug the earth.”

On June 22, in another brazen daylight shooting, the son of a former parliamentary deputy, Vahan Zatikian Sedrak, 26, was shot dead in broad daylight in a crowded street in the Malatia district of Yerevan.

Twenty-four spent cartridges were found at the murder scene. One of the bullets killed passer-by Karine Sargsian, 37, hitting her in the heart.

Karine Sargsian, who had been shopping, had bags of bread and cabbage in her hands, when she was shot. She left behind three young daughters. Several days after the murder, her husband Garush Antonian published an article in the Azg newspaper, in which he said that Armenian society was living by the law of the jungle.

Nikol Pashinian, editor-in-chief of the Yerevan opposition newspaper Haikakan Zhamanak, wrote, “What was Karine Sargsian’s and her family’s fault? Can an average citizen in this country feel he is a person with rights, or is he just waiting to fall victim to criminals score settling?”

Sona Truzian, press secretary at the general prosecutor’s office, said the two murders were being investigated and she could not add any new information, “I cannot say that these were contract killings until the preliminary enquiry is completed.”

Contract killings are common in Armenia, but they get surprisingly little coverage on television and radio, which is mostly government controlled.

Gegham Manukyan, an adviser at the popular Yerkir Media TV Company and a parliamentary deputy, disagrees that serious crime is overlooked but admits that producers face problems airing such stories: getting timely information from the police and the reluctance of victims’ relatives to be interviewed.

Well-known Armenian actor Sos Sarkisian said it was time the public woke up to threat of violent crime. “ The people must stand up to protest. Our people have become inured to such murders,” he said.

Psychologist Karine Nalchajian said the public are concerned about gangsterism, but feel there’s nothing they can do.

“A family, people in a certain circle, may talk among themselves, express their outrage at what is going on, but our society at large is not responsive, it does not believe that it can achieve things by speaking out. The discussion of these matters generally does not go beyond the family circle or a group of friends,” he said.

Tatul Hakobian is a commentator for the Radiolur news programme on Armenia Public Radio.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Armenian political parties urge Lebanese government to deny Turkish participation in international forces

25.08.2006 13:38

YEREVAN (YERKIR) - At their August 24 meeting in Beirut, representatives of the three Armenian political parties of Lebanon – the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Social Democratic Hnchak Party and Liberal Democratic Party – issued a statement urging the Lebanese government to reject any participation of Turkish troops in the international forces to be deployed in Lebanon.

Below is the text of the statement.

We, the leaders of the three Armenian political parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Social Democratic Hnchak Party and Liberal Democratic Party, deeply appreciate the efforts of the Lebanese government to set a ceasefire, stop the war bloodshed, establish peace and stability and restore what has been destroyed in the recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon.

We also welcome the UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that intends to increase the number of the peacekeepers in South Lebanon. We, however, voice the Lebanese Armenian community’s rejection of the idea to include Turkish troops in the peacekeeping forces because:

a. Participation of Turkish troops in the international forces breaches the principle of impartiality for international forces and therefore would obstruct the efforts of establishing peace and stability in Lebanon. No country participating in the international forces should be an ally of a conflict party. Turkey, however, has a history of enmity with many countries and nations, and its history demonstrates the bloody core of its relations with those nations. In addition, Turkey has a military treaty with Israel which also includes a cooperation of special services. That treaty threatens the peace process in the region, and Turkey’s biased foreign policy makes us mistrust Turkey.

b. Turkey continues its occupation of Cyprus, blockade of Armenia and refuses to recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide it had perpetrated and apologize for that crime.

c. Turkey continues to violate human rights and rights of minorities making it ineligible for peacekeeping mission.

d. There is no doubt that any country participating in international forces should be accepted by the Lebanese public: Turkey’s history of violence in Lebanon does not help that country to deserve such acceptance considering that the Lebanese people in its collective memory still endures the consequences of the Turkish crimes and tyranny.

Taking into account these realities, we reaffirm our opposition and refusal to inclusion of Turkish troops in the peacekeeping forces to be deployed in South Lebanon and demand that the Lebanese government turn down the inclusion of the Turkish troops in those forces in support of the Lebanese Armenian community that is an important portion of the Lebanese society.

In this letter addressed to the Lebanese government, we demand that the Lebanese government include the Armenian position in its agenda, taking into account that all the communities in Lebanon should be respected.

Armenian Revolutionary Federation
Social Democratic Hnchak Party
Liberal Democratic Party

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Israeli Ambassador: Delivery of first Azeri oil load to Israel via BTC pipeline is important event

Israeli Ambassador: Delivery of first Azeri oil load to Israel via BTC pipeline is important event

Source: Trend
Author: А.Ismayilova


Trend ’s exclusive interview with Artur Lenk, Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan

- On August 25, Israel received the first Azeri oil load via Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline..

- Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is extending links between Azerbaijan and Israel. And the first oil delivery is an important event indeed. I think transportation of this oil to Mediterranean Sea I important as there are many countries and purchasers in there, especially in view of growth of demand for this fuel.

Our countries are good partners and we hope we can strengthen it. Taking into account that Israel is very close to Ceyhan Azeri oil is delivered to, official Baku says Israel is oen of the main exporters of Azeri oil.

– There is a group of Israeli businessmen in Baku now. Which spheres are especially interesting for your entrepreneurs here?

– Israeli businessmen come to Azerbaijan very often. Yesterday I also met with one group of businessmen. They are interested in such spheres as construction, agriculture, industry and so. They are not limited with some narrow niches, they are creative people and therefore consider the most promising prospects. Israel has a significant experience in the sphere of IT, telecommunications, infrastructure and is eager to cooperate in these spheres with Azerbaijan. I wouldn’t like to name any specific projects as they are still being developed.

This will influence the growth of goods turnover between Azerbaijan and Israel. I suggest the growth is primarily linked to the beginning of BTC pipeline operation and mutual contacts among businessmen. The number of Azeri companies willing to purchase Israeli technologies has also grown up.

– What are the plans at the official level between Israel and Azerbaijan?

– We are talking on some certain issues. For example, Azeri government is going to sign an agreement on culture. We constantly cooperate with your government in spheres of economy, foreign policy and so. Besides, a group of Israeli writes is coming to Azerbaijan in early September.

There is a big Azeri Diaspora residing in Israel. They are very fond of Azerbaijan. Alongside, a very active Jewish community is residing in Azerbaijan. Certainly, they consider themselves citizens of Azerbaijan. This, alongside cooperation among businessmen, makes Azeri-Israeli relations really outstanding.

– Can Azeri Diaspora in other countries rely on Jewish Diaspora support, for example regarding settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh problem?

– Azerbaijan has selected the way of conversations to solve this problem. OSCE, supported by Minsk Group, is seeking for agreement with Armenia. Israel and its people uphold the efforts President Ilham Aliyev makes to resolve the conflict peacefully. Wee suggest this agreement will match the interest of Azerbaijan and all the nations residing in South Caucasus region.

– Last time less and less Jews move from Azerbaijan to Israel. In your opinion, what is the reason for this?

– Israel is a historical motherland of all Jews. Jews lived in post-Soviet countries, including Azerbaijan, decided to come home but maintain relations with the country they were born in. Certainly, a part of Jews did not move anywhere and still form a part of Azerbaijan. Lat years several hundreds Jews have left Azerbaijan. But compared to previous years this number is no so big. The situation in Azerbaijan has utterly changed from the first years of independence. But even the fact of Jews moving to Israel should not be the matter of concern. Wherever they are, they represent Azerbaijan.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Necessity Mother Of Invention In Gas-Fuelled Armenia

Thursday 17, August 2006
ABC News
By Hasmik Mkrtchian, Reuters

Ex-Soviet state Armenia is blazing a trail in the global quest to move to cleaner fuels -- not by choice but out of necessity.

The tiny country of 3 million people in the Caucasus mountains has a strong claim to be a world leader in running vehicles on natural gas: a fuel that produces fewer harmful greenhouse gases than petrol or diesel. The transport ministry estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of vehicles in Armenia run on gas. That compares to just over 3 percent in the Netherlands, a front-runner in gas-powered transport, according to the World LP Gas Association.

Stop one of the creaking, Russian-made taxis plying their trade in Armenia's capital, Yerevan, and odds are it will have a gas canister strapped into the boot. Battered buses have rows of red canisters fastened onto their roof-racks.

In countries like the Netherlands, switching from petrol to gas is seen as a green option. In landlocked Armenia, it is not concerns over climate change or global warming that are driving growth in gas-powered vehicles. Instead, it is harsh necessity -- and an unresolved war with Azerbaijan, its neighbor to the east.

"In our taxi firm, we have 30 cars and all of them run on gas," said 45-year-old Seryozha Harutiunian, driver of a gas-powered Volga sedan. "And there are gas refueling stations on every corner in Yerevan," he said.

Richer countries offer tax incentives to make gas for use in vehicles -- known as autogas -- more attractive to motorists than traditional fuels. But they have had only limited success. "They are niche markets," said Yvon Sellier, director of business practices with the World LP Gas Association, a Geneva-based lobby group. "(Gas is a) small proportion of the fuel consumed by vehicles."

Crude oil and oil products used to be brought into Armenia by rail direct from Azerbaijan's oil fields and refineries. Since a territorial conflict between the two neighbors in the early 1990s, the border has been closed. Now, oil and oil products -- Armenian officials do not say where they come from -- have to be shipped in through Armenia's other neighbor Georgia, a long and tortuous journey through the Caucasus mountains. That creates an extra cost on top of the already high price for fuel on world markets.

In Georgia, a liter of the cheapest grade petrol costs consumers 82 U.S. cents. In Armenia, the same fuel costs 91 cents -- a significant difference in a country where the average monthly wage is about $140. Natural gas, meanwhile, is pumped to Armenia by pipeline from Russia.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom supplies the fuel at $110 per thousand cubic meters, a hefty discount on the price Gazprom customers in Europe pay. Armenia is one of several ex-Soviet states that enjoy favorable rates for Russian gas.

"Petrol is getting more expensive," said Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian. "Gas ... has not gone up by that much so it is preferable to use it."

Armenia has a tradition of resourcefulness in the face of adversity. In the 1990s, its Metsamor nuclear power station was shut down, leaving large parts of the country with no electricity. To keep warm, people welded together wood-burning stoves and rigged up flues in their high-rise apartments.

Armenia's remoteness and the border closure with Azerbaijan make it expensive to export many of its goods. So its growth industries are electronics and diamond-cutting, which produce small, high-value items that can be profitably exported by air.

Most of the world's gas-powered vehicles run on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), a by-product of crude oil and natural gas refining. Armenia uses the natural gas it has readily available. The state gas importer sells the fuel to wholesalers, who pressurize it and distribute it to the gas filling stations that have sprung up across the country.

"A lot of vehicles are switching to gas," said Grisha Davtian, manager of a Yerevan gas station. "The number of our clients is up 30 percent compared to last year."

Taxi driver Harutiunian said it cost between $800 and $1,000 to convert a vehicle from petrol to gas. After that outlay, running the car is three times cheaper. "I don't know who introduced this idea into Armenia, but it has really helped us escape the high petrol prices," he said.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Armenians may gain Senate power

Aug 16, 2006
Bubank Leader

Plan for caucus is long overdue, according to candidate for 43rd district seat.
By Vince Lovato

GLENDALE — A bipartisan group of legislators formed the Assembly Armenian American Legislative Caucus on Monday, which they hope will support and create legislation that benefits the state's 700,000 Armenian Americans.

Co-founders Dario Frommer, a Democrat who represents Burbank and Glendale, and Greg Aghazarian, a Republican who represents Stockton, hope the state Senate will soon recognize the bi-partisan group.

"Our intent is for it to be a working caucus and a group of folks who reach out and educate others," said Frommer, Assembly majority leader. "Here in California we have a large and vibrant Armenian community, not just in my district, but in Fresno and other places, and we want to bring those folks together."

The Assembly also passed a resolution on Monday designating Sept. 21, 2006, as Armenian Independence Day.

The group is modeled after the 11-year-old Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, which is 159 members strong, he said. The caucus has pushed for American recognition of the Armenian Genocide and free-trade issues with the 15-year-old former Soviet state, Frommer said.

Armenians have a century-old history in the state and they play a role in shaping public policy at every level of government, Frommer said. advertisement

California is the first state to form an Armenian caucus, said Savey Tufenkian, a 30-year Glendale resident and member of the Armenian Assembly of America.

"I think it's wonderful and it's about time," Tufenkian said. "We would like to be part of the whole community as Armenians. We want to be recognized as a country and that our genocide should be recognized.

Though California has a trade office in Armenia, Tufenkian would like to see an expansion of trade between the landlocked country and the state.

"We need to do whatever is needed to improve the lives of Armenians," she said.

Such a caucus is long overdue, said Burbank Unified School Board member Paul Krekorian, who won the Democrat primary for the 43rd District, which Frommer will vacate this year because of term limits.

"I've been a little surprised that legislators who consider themselves friends of the Armenian community did not create one like this years ago," he said. "But what matters to most to Armenians is the same that matters to all Americans: Excellent public schools, good jobs, health care for seniors and the opportunity to send their kids to college."

California is home to the largest Armenian community in the United States, Frommer said.

About 700,000 Armenian Americans — the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia — live in his district, Frommer said.

VINCE LOVATO covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Yerevan, August 15. ArmInfo. "The plans of the USA and Israel to unleash a large-scale war and involve Iran into it constitute a direct threat to Armenia, particularly, to the liberated regions of Nagorny Karabakh, which the USA tries to turn into a springboard to invade Iran," say the representatives of the International Committee of the Armenians Concerned over Lebanese Confrontation at a press conference in Yerevan, Wednesday.

The developments in Lebanon cannot be called a fight of one nation, one community, for survival. Such wars aim to break the national consciousness of peoples, said Secretary of the Committee, Raffi Papikyan. He said the Committee calls on Armenians world wide to raise a voice of protest against the military crimes, "in order that our people or other peoples avoid a situation when there is no one to rely on."

Political expert Levon Melik-Shahnazaryan drew the attention of those present at the fact that only three states rendered technical support to Israel: USA, Turkey and Azerbaijan. All the Iraeli equipment worked on fuel that Tel-Aviv received through oil pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. Israel received all the military supplies from the USA through Turkish military base Injirlik. L. Melik- Shahnazaryan assured those present that Israel's plans were a failure. It is for the first time that Israelis felt war aftermath in their territory. Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, known as the most perfect special service in the world, did not notice the colossal work carried out in Southern Lebanon: the construction of underground tunnels. "The military spirit of Israel is not like it was three dozens of years ago. Moreover, the fighting capability of Arab military formations has been improved," the political expert said.

The analyst Igor Muradyan said the military operation of Israel in Lebanon could be caused by the self-reformation of Hezbollah, which showed the Shiit organization how a fundamental Islamic grouping can make national-liberation ideas a corner stone, refuse from radical demands from its country, become an influential parliamentary force. "Hezbollah, Hamas, Muslim Brothers, turning into parliamentary forces have become much more dangerous for Israel," I. Muradyan said.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Some Armenian Jews afraid as country takes in hundreds of Lebanese refugees

By Yasha Levine
August 10, 2006

YEREVAN, Armenia, Aug. 10 (JTA) — Armenia’s Jewish community is bracing for a possible wave of anti-Semitism as hundreds of Lebanese Armenians taking refuge from the fighting in southern Lebanon stream into the former Soviet republic.

Weeks after Israel began its retaliation against Hezbollah forces, more than 500 Lebanese Armenians and Armenian nationals living in Lebanon had arrived in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, on chartered flights from Aleppo, Syria.

More are expected to arrive as the fighting continues and creeps closer to the Armenian quarter in eastern Beirut.

“I’m really scared. I think that politically motivated anti-Semitism is beginning to show itself,” Inna Astvatsatryan, a contributor to Magen David, the community’s newspaper, told JTA.

Astvatsatryan was vague about the details, but her fear is echoed by many in Armenia’s tiny Jewish community, which numbers anywhere from 100 to several hundred.

The Israeli army is not targeting Beirut’s Armenian quarter, nor are there reports of Armenians being killed by Israeli fire, but Lebanese Armenians feel affected by Israel’s war on Hezbollah.

“People talk about the fact that they are only bombing south Beirut, but they don’t realize that Beirut is a tiny city. If you’re bombing one part, you’re bombing the entire city,” said Shogher Margossian, 23, a Lebanese Armenian who flew to Yerevan from Beirut a few days after the conflict broke out.

Lebanese Armenians have close ties with Lebanon, as harbored Armenian refugees fleeing the Turkish massacre of Armenians in the early 20th century. An estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians live in a tight-knit community in Beirut.

On the streets of Yerevan, Lebanese Armenians are unanimous: They do not support Hezbollah’s military activity, but they consider Israel’s offensive unwarranted and counterproductive.

Some local Jews fear that anti-Israeli sentiments the displaced Lebanese Armenians are bringing with them may translate into anti-Semitic views that remain long after the rockets stop falling.

Other than the defacement of a Holocaust memorial stone in Yerevan two years ago in connection with the conviction of an extremist politician for inciting ethnic hatred, Armenian Jews are hard pressed to remember an anti-Semitic incident. Swastikas can be seen in graffiti around Yerevan, but they hardly seem fresh or connected to Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah.

Evgenia Kazaryan, editor of Magen David, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I think that it is only a matter of time for the effects to be seen,” she said.

According to Kazaryan, there have not been open cases of anti-Semitism because the Israel-Hezbollah conflict is too fresh.

“Not enough time has passed for the impression the Lebanese Armenians bring back with them to sink in,” she said.

The worry has prompted Rimma Varzhapetyan, chairwoman of the Jewish community of Armenia, to consider organizing an Armenian-Jewish roundtable to discuss Israel’s political motivation behind its conflict with Hezbollah, as well as Israel’s failure to officially recognize the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks almost a century ago.

Suren Gregoryan, an Armenian journalist, supports Varzhapetyan’s idea and believes disinformation and stereotypes about Jews flow into Armenia from the Armenian Diaspora in Syria and Iran. He insists there needs to be more freely available information in Armenia on Israel and Jewish culture.

Rabbi Gersh-Meir Burshtein remains skeptical about the possibility of anti-Semitism. Burshtein, who heads a small Chabad-sponsored community center, school and synagogue, rejects the idea that the Hezbollah-Israel conflict will cause a spike in anti-Semitic sentiment in Armenia.

Unlike Jewish communities in Georgia and Azerbaijan, which have long Jewish histories, Armenia’s current Jewish community is made up of Jews who began settling in the country from elsewhere in the Soviet Union during World War II.

Some came first as evacuees from the Nazi advance into Ukraine and, as word spread of the absence of anti-Semitism in Armenia, many other Jews came as professionals, Burshtein explains. He said he has walked the streets of Yerevan in Chasidic garb for more than 10 years without confronting bigotry.

Burshtein believes the fact that Israel does not recognize the Armenian genocide is not as important to the Armenian population as some think: Poverty, energy self-sufficiency and the possibility of conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan are more pressing issues.

For her part, Margossian doubts that the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel will affect Armenian Jews. She explained that her accounts of life under Israeli bombing make little impression on local Armenians because they have suffered so much: During the early 1990s, Azerbaijan imposed an energy and trade blockade that forced Armenia’s population to ration electricity and food.

Armenians do not feel sympathy for Lebanon because “most Armenians think of Lebanon as a Muslim country,” Margossian told JTA. “They view the conflict as a war between Israel and a terrorist organization in which civilian casualties are justified. And if Armenians viewed Lebanon as a Christian country, things would be much different for the Jews.”

© JTA. Reproduction of material without written permission is strictly prohibited.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

ARMENIAN FILM - Examining one nation's identity

Friday, Aug. 11, 2006
The Japan Times

Seven films by directors from Armenia and its diaspora will be screened as part of the "Armenian Film Selection," taking place Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 19 at two Tokyo venues, Athenee Francais Cultural Center in Chiyoda Ward and Uplink Factory in Shibuya. Four films -- Harutyun Khachatryan's "Return to the Promised Land" and "Documentarist," "Mariam" by Edgar Baghdasaryan and "Lord have Mercy" by Vigen Chaldranyan -- will screen with English subtitles. Atom Egoyan's "Calendar" is an English-language film.

Arsinee Khanjian in "Calendar," an Atom Egoyan-directed film showing as part of "Armenian Film Selection" (C) EGO FILM ARTS

The son of Armenian refugees, Cairo-born, Canada-raised Egoyan shot some of 1993's "Calendar" (Aug. 11, 7 p.m., Aug. 12, 7 p.m., Aug. 19, 2:30 p.m) in Armenia, and examines the question of Armenian identity through a man hired to photograph churches for a calendar. Egoyan would go on to gain acclaim for 2002's "Ararat."

Sergei Parajanov's experimental 1968 film "Color of Pomegranates" (Aug. 12, 1: 40 p.m., Armenian with Japanese subtitles only), is a unique work which has little dialogue and was filmed mostly using stationary cameras.

Born in 1924 in Tbilisi, Georgia, to Armenian parents, Parajanov lived an eventful life that included spells in gulags in the 1970s on charges of "homosexuality and illegal trafficking of religious icons" that were widely accepted as being trumped up by the Soviet authorities. Made at a time when most films coming out of the USSR were state propaganda, the dreamy "Color of Pomegranates" vividly explores the art and poetry of Armenia by looking at the life of a troubadour named Sayat Nova, played by Sofiko Chiareli, who also took on five other roles -- male and female -- in the film.

In addition to the screenings, Mitsuyoshi Numano, a professor at the University of Tokyo, will discuss Armenian literature and film after the screening of "Documentarist" (3:30 p.m., Aug. 12).

Tickets per screening are 1,000 yen at the door (800 yen in advance from Athenee Francais Cultural Center, near Ochanomizu Station on the JR Sobu Line and Marunouchi Subway Line, and Uplink Factory, a 10-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station).

For the complete schedule, visit

The Japan Times
(C) All rights reserved

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.


YEREVAN, August 11. /ARKA/. The newly appointed Canadian Ambassador to Armenia and Russia (residence in Moscow) Ralph Lysyshyn intends to contribute to the development of Canadian-Armenian cooperation.

The Congress of Canadian Armenians reports that at a meeting with the leaders of the Armenia,enian community in Outremont, Quebec, expressed his desire to see increased cooperation in many field between Canada and Armenia.

The discussions centered on improving cultural, educational, scientific and business exchanges between the two countries, on the possibility of obtaining Canadian aid to help realize specific projects in Armenia, on the need to improve consular services in Yerevan, and on having a more active Canadian role in supporting a lasting solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem based on its right to self-determination.

The meeting was organized by the Congress of Canadian Armenians and the Armenian National Committee Canada. It was attended by leaders of the AGBU, Armenian Apostolic Church in Canada, Armenian Catholic Church in Canada, Armenian Revolutionary Federation Canadian Region, S.D Hunchakian Party, Tekeyan Cultural Association and others. P.T.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sign the Ceasefire Petition

Tell our Leaders to ACT NOW in Lebanon!

Sign the petition below and your message will be delivered to the UN Security Council and publicized in newspapers in the US, Europe and the Middle East.

The world cannot allow the bloodshed in the Middle East to continue. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and wounded, almost 1 million made homeless, and a catastrophic larger conflict is possible. We call on US President Bush, UK Prime Minister Blair and the UN Security Council to support UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call for an immediate ceasefire and an international force to stabilize the situation.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Global Fund provided World Vision's Armenia branch with a $7.2 million grant

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - Page updated at 08:47 AM
Seattle Times
Gates Foundation giving $500 million to disease-fighting Global Fund
By Kristi Heim Seattle Times business reporter

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is accelerating its efforts to combat diseases that devastate poor countries by granting $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The grant, announced this morning, gives the Geneva-based Global Fund $100 million a year over the next five years for programs to prevent infection and provide treatment in 132 countries.

"The Global Fund is one of the most important health initiatives in the world today," Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said in a statement. "The Fund has an excellent track record, and we need to do everything we can to support its continued success, which will save millions of lives."

HIV/AIDS claims more than three million lives a year, while two million people die annually from tuberculosis and more than a million from malaria, according to the World Health Organization.

The Global Fund said it has provided 544,000 people with HIV/AIDS treatment, 1.4 million people with treatment for tuberculosis and distributed 11 million bed nets to protect children against mosquito-borne malaria.

The Gates Foundation contributed $100 million to the Global Fund in 2001 and $50 million in 2004.

That represents a multifaceted approach taken by the world's largest philanthropic organization, funding both treatment and research toward a vaccine. The foundation is also using grants to try to spur other donors into action and increase overall funding.

Three weeks ago, the Gates Foundation announced a $287 million cash infusion to speed development of AIDS vaccines and promote collaboration among researchers. After the Gates Foundation gave $1.5 billion in grants to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, including $750 million last year, five European countries contributed an additional $4 billion.

"This is a funding model that works, and the need is great," Melinda Gates said of the Global Fund. "We hope all donors – public and private, large and small – will step up their support and make long-term commitments."

In addition to funding government health programs in developing countries around the world, Global Fund also supports foundations such as World Vision, an international Christian relief organization with U.S. headquarters in Federal Way.

It provided World Vision's Armenia branch with a $7.2 million grant and World Vision Somalia with a $5.6 million grant.

The Gates Foundation's pledge to Global Fund comes days before the 16th International AIDS Conference begins in Toronto, a biennial meeting to assess the global situation and set priorities. Bill and Melinda Gates will speak at the opening ceremony of the conference Sunday.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Menendez Commends Passage of Legislation Commemorating Armenian Genocide

Posted on Monday, September 26 @ 11:05:02 EDT
by greek_news

Washington, D.C.- U.S. Representative Robert Menendez (D-NJ) made the following statement on passage by the House International Relations Committee of a bill to commemorate the Armenian genocide and urge Turkey to acknowledge the culpability of the Ottoman Empire in the genocide and separate legislation calling on the president to ensure that U.S. foreign policy reflects appropriate understanding of the Armenian genocide:on passage by the House International Relations Committee of a bill to commemorate the Armenian genocide and urge Turkey to acknowledge the culpability of the Ottoman Empire in the genocide and separate legislation calling on the president to ensure that U.S. foreign policy reflects appropriate understanding of the Armenian genocide:

Mr. Chairman, the resolutions on the Armenian Genocide that we are voting on today ask us to do just that - to remember. They simply ask that we remember that the Ottoman Empire brutally tortured and murdered 1.5 million Armenians 90 years ago and that half a million Armenians were forced to flee their country.

They ask us to honor those who survived the genocide. Although few survivors of the Armenian Genocide are still living today, those who endured the horrors of 1915 are heroes for all time. They ask that we honor those who died and call for recognition of the Genocide carried about by the Ottoman Turkish government. And they ask that we remember, so we don't repeat the same tragedy, anywhere, in any country of the world.

In my view, all Americans must recognize that the atrocities committed from 1915 to 1923 constitute genocide. We do not use that word lightly. But the word, itself, makes a powerful statement about the horrors suffered by the Armenian people. As Samantha Powers, a leading expert on genocide said in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, "The extermination of Armenians is recognized as genocide by the consensus of scholars of genocide and Holocaust worldwide. The failure to acknowledge this trivializes a human rights crime of enormous magnitude."

Today, the people of Armenia and her diaspora are proudly seeking to rebuild their country. From the ashes of despair born of the genocide, and from the ravages of seven decades of communist rule, Armenians the world over are striving to secure a safe and prosperous future for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh.

As Armenian-Americans join with Armenians from throughout the world to help to rebuild their homeland, and as they seek to secure an economically prosperous state founded on firm democratic principles, I will stand by them. Just as this Congress, and this country, should stand by them.

That is why I am proud to cosponsor both of the resolutions before us today. Both of these resolutions simply ask us to remember, and to acknowledge, the Genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire so that we may honor the victims.

I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of these resolutions, not only to remember the atrocities committed in the past and to honor the victims and survivors, but also to take fundamental steps towards ensuring that all people, whether they are Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Cambodian, or Rwandan, receive protection from policies of discrimination and hate that lead can lead to genocide.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

The Curious Case of Orhan Pamuk

Posted on Sunday, March 5, 2006
Harvard Political Review
Turkey learns a valuable lesson — but will its citizens get the message?

In September 2005, the Turkish government charged internationally renowned author Orhan Pamuk with “insulting Turkishness” when he called for Turkey to face up to a legacy of genocide. The charges carried a possible jail sentence of up to three years. Four months later, Turkey suddenly dropped the charges. The apparent about face has been interpreted by some as an attempt to evade international scrutiny of its less-than-democratic policies. Others see it is a true step forward in Turkey’s quest to adapt to the standards set forth by the European Union, whose ranks Ankara hopes to join.

Both views are right, to a point. Turkey is learning that it must uphold internationally recognized standards of freedom of the press, but it faces two internal obstacles to lasting change: a deep-seated custom of sweeping discomforting issues under the rug and citizens averse to European-style criticism of their nation.

Article 301: Democratic Censorship
Since 1999, when it officially became a candidate country for the EU, Turkey has been struggling to adapt its policies to Europe’s demands. Two issues have proven to be especially difficult Turkey’s attempted Europeanization: its refusal to discuss the alleged Armenian genocide of 1914-1915 and the killing of Kurdish separatists since 1984.

These sensitive subjects have led to a multitude of arrests under the country’s Article 301, which forbids insults against any branch of government. The law has been liberally applied, one of its many victims being Pamuk, who was charged after he told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger in February 2005 that “a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares talk about it.” The comments were taken by the government as insulting to the nation and to the character of Turks; Turkey maintains that neither the deaths of ethnic Armenians in the early twentieth century, nor the deaths of Kurdish separatists, qualifies as genocide.

The fact that relatively innocuous comments about decades-old conflicts led to such a high-profile author’s indictment shows just how much Turkey fears the consequences of a dialogue on its alleged atrocities. First, separatists could be emboldened by a perceived show of weakness if Turkey changes its stance. Second, it could weaken its position in relations with Armenia, whose border with Turkey has been shut down since 1993. Moreover, the idea of “national dignity” has retained a high place in the collective mind of the primarily Muslim nation.

But the West does not share such values. The widespread application of a law meant to apply to a narrow range of speech has become, from the point of view of many international eyes, a tool of oppression. Though the government does not directly censor the work of journalists and others within their borders, government retribution has bred a pervasive brand of self-censorship within the framework of democratic laws.

The Cost of Accession: Freedom, Not Lira
The EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, has made clear the costs of such a culture. In October, Turkey became a “negotiating country,” moving beyond the level of “candidate country.” In an article in the December 2005/January 2006 issue of Turkish Policy Quarterly, Rehn implored Turks to realize that “the negotiation process for Turkey means nothing more or less than Turkey adopting the values, rules and standards which are applied in today’s Europe.” On the issue of the Pamuk case—still impending at the time of the article’s publication—Rehn affirmed the liberal vision that “we must stand united in defending his fundamental democratic right to freely express himself.”

The backlash caused by Pamuk’s indictment was not always so kindly worded. Members of the European Parliament called the case “unfortunate” and “unacceptable” and the international press excoriated Turkey’s repressiveness. It was clear that the EU’s expectations were not being met. Soon, Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul acknowledged that the trial itself posed a threat to Turkey’s national image. That top-level officials spoke out on the danger of the prosecution testifies to the impact of international pressure.

So too did the events that followed: When the trial began December 5, the judge adjourned the proceedings pending the approval of the country’s ministry of justice. But before the trial could continue, the government reversed its position, dropping its charges completely on January 23.

The episode taught Turkey a valuable lesson: international eyes will stay focused on the nation for as long as it intends to join the European Community, at which point it will have all of Europe to report to.

Beyond Pamuk

But whether the lesson truly sunk in is another question entirely. Five other journalists charged under Article 301 for comments also relating to Turkey’s denial of genocide still face prison time. Their trials, which commenced February 8, have been delayed until April. Now that the international spotlight is off Turkey, there is a risk that the repression of journalists and others who speak out against the government will continue unnoticed.

But the repetition of events like the Pamuk scandal is unlikely. European Parliament monitors will be present at all further proceedings against the five journalists and the charges against them may even be dropped by then. What makes the future of censorship in Turkey unclear is that the Turkish government must report not only to the EU Enlargement Commission, but to its people, many of whom are fiercely nationalist and anti-European.

In an essay in the New Yorker in December 2005, Pamuk spoke of the seeming paradox in his country amongst a growing middle class whose economic position leads them to Western styles of life but who are loathe to be accused of abandoning tradition: “What am I to make of a country that insists that the Turks, unlike their Western neighbors, are a compassionate people, incapable of genocide, while nationalist political groups are pelting me with death threats?”

Beyond the death threats and calls from fellow journalists for Pamuk to be forever “silenced,” there were the demonstrators outside his trial — not protesting its undemocratic nature, but calling the defendant a “traitor.” When the other Article 301 trials began on February 7, nationalist lawyers nearly took over the courthouse, calling for a new judge and fighting with riot police. Outside, demonstrators reveled in a chorus of nationalist chants.

Ankara has learned that it must allow for free discourse if it intends to join Europe. Though the nation may fear for its image, a preoccupation with quelling “insults” would prove more damaging than letting those insults be aired in the open. As it makes strides toward EU admittance, the Turkish government will scale back the abuse of Article 301, if not drop it from the books altogether.

But even if journalists do not suffer the retribution of their government for unpopular comments, the imminent hatred from fellow citizens will continue to foster a culture of fear, meaning that self-censorship will persist. If Turkey wants its impending EU accession to be worthwhile, Ankara must teach the lesson about free speech that it has learned to its people.

Posted on Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 03:16PM by HPR Post a Comment
Copyright Harvard Political Review, 2006. All rights reserved.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


August 6, 2006
The Chrnical Herald

Azerbaijan gets a jump on its neighbours in developing Caspian Sea oil

BAKU, Azerbaijan— "It’s getting too bloody soft around here for my liking," says Terry, a 46-year-old ex-British paratrooper who now runs a bar in Baku. "It used to be the case that the sight of a foreigner in Azerbaijan was so rare that the locals would stop and gawk at you when you walked down the street."

Missing a front tooth and sporting a shaved head, the barrel-chested combat veteran would likely still create a stir in most civil societies. But over the past decade the renewed oil boom has brought a cast of such characters into this previously isolated former Soviet republic.

In 1994, the newly independent Azerbaijani government signed a deal with several Western companies to develop and export the vast, untapped offshore oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea. British Petroleum is the key player in this region, with established pipelines through neighbouring Kazakhstan. The experience gained in its North Sea oil projects has given BP a tremendous advantage in the international race to develop the Caspian Sea reserves. As a result, Azerbaijan has kept well ahead of the other four nations who share a border on this newly discovered wealth.

"The Russians, Iranians, Kazakhs and Turkmens have no idea how much oil we are already pumping through (BP’s) oil rigs," said Terry, who spent 10 years in the region as a BP employee before opening his pub, the Garage, which caters strictly to foreign oil workers. "Our gap on the competition in terms of technology would need to be measured in light-years."

The outer-space analogy is appropriate, as a patron in the Garage describes expatriate bars in Baku as being like the intergalactic nightclub in the Star Wars movies, "only instead of strange individuals from foreign planets, they are bizarre representatives from across the globe."

The original bars and clubs were deliberately rough around the edges to appeal to the mostly ex-military types who blazed the trail through this previously non-Westernized territory. For instance, at the Garage they serve bowls of free hot french fries at the bar instead of the traditional peanuts ("I’m an Englishman, not a monkey," says Terry when asked about this custom). But as the boom in the Azerbaijan economy — 25 per cent growth last year in GDP alone — spreads into sectors outside the oil industry, the hospitality business has begun to cater to a much greater variety of foreign tastes.

"First it was McDonald’s, then a whole bunch of fancy restaurants and now we’ve even got expensive wine bars," bemoaned the Garage’s owner. "Baku will never be the same."

This recent wave of change will not be the first time outside forces have left an indelible imprint on Azeri society and culture. As descendents of central Asian Turkic tribes, the Azeris are essentially Muslim Turkmen. But in 1920, Russian Bolsheviks occupied the oil-rich territory of the current Republic of Azerbaijan. The subsequent seven decades of communism and Russian influence drastically diminished the Islamic influence in this region.

Throughout my weeklong visit I spotted just one Azeri woman wearing a traditional hijab; most dressed in Western-style, MTV-inspired fashions. Although minarets and mosques still dot the cityscape, the call to prayers is not broadcast over loudspeakers five times a day.

Culturally, the long period of Soviet control has left an ongoing legacy of authoritarianism. Journalists are still escorted about the city by official handlers wearing dark suits and driving old black Volgas, once considered a "Mercedes equivalent" in the Soviet Union. On the plus side, many of the hosted luncheons were capped off by the Russian tradition of exchanging elaborate toasts with over-proof vodka — certainly not something one would expect from a member nation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The impact of the sudden economic boom in Azerbaijan is illustrated by the two separate currencies. The worn-out manats are valued at 4,800 US, while the crisp new (Yeni) mantas trade in at about $1.20 US. Of course, with such a tremendous influx of foreigners, a lot of international currency is also accepted in the marketplace, although Canadian dollars have yet to be introduced.

"It is regrettable that we have achieved the lowest of co-operation from Canada among all of the world’s developed nations," says Novruz Mammadov, special adviser to the president. "It is frustrating for us when we see so little interest in something which holds so much potential." Canada is alone among the G8 nations to have no diplomatic representation in Baku, and the nearest consular functions are conducted either in Ankara, Turkey or Moscow.

"In the 15 years since independence, Canada has sent just two official delegations to visit our country, one from your foreign ministry in 2005 and some members of Parliament back in 2003," says Mammadov

The Azeris, on the other hand, maintain a full embassy in Ottawa and are keen to encourage Canadian trade. After years of Soviet communism and post-collapse instability, the Azerbaijan infrastructure is in need of just about every commodity conceivable. Add to this the vast oil revenues and ongoing development in the region, and the Azeri government is in a cash-rich position to acquire its needs.

"You have to remember that we are starting from absolute zero — we need just about everything," said Mammadov. "There are still tremendous opportunities for international companies in the energy field, telecommunications, agriculture, electronics — the list is endless. And we have the revenue to pay for it."

One drawback to foreign investment is that in the immediate post-Soviet climate, corruption was rife. Every level of government — right down to the policeman on the street — wanted a piece of the huge windfall that was expected to follow development of the oil fields. But as the volume of foreign business increases, such practices are being more seriously challenged.

An ad in a Baku English-language daily newspaper calls upon foreign corporations to create an investor forum to fight corruption. It’s not easy doing business in Azerbaijan, reads the headline. Corruption? Unfair practices? Vague regulations? Unjust courts? Monopolies? Unseen traps for investors? Together, let’s try to change things!

Another sign that the flow of new money is having an impact is that the police are no longer as aggressive in their encounters with foreign nationals. "One night the local police stopped a BP employee on his way home from the bar. When he refused to pay them the usual ‘We’ll let you go this time’ bribe, they locked him in jail," said Hermann Lehmann, a six-year veteran on the Azerbaijan oil scene.

"The next day, when he informed his bosses at BP, they immediately demanded justice and heads rolled at the police station. Believe me, money talks in Baku."

A reputable free press has yet to be established in Azerbaijan. A recent report by the international watchdog agency Freedom House strongly criticized the ruling party (New Azerbaijan Party) for "eroding democracy" through media controls. The chairman of the Azerbaijan Press Council, Aflatun Amashov, admits journalism in his country has no credibility but says the problem is a lack of control.

"There are 3,000 registered newspapers in Azerbaijan, most funded by various political interests, and there is no control mechanism to challenge libellous statements," he said. "Everyone is free to publish what they want. You can even libel the president without real fear of recrimination. As a result, the media reports have become so contradictory and sprinkled with lies that no one knows what to believe."

Amashov and his council are lobbying the government for more money for independent media to diminish their vulnerability to political pressure. They are also working on initiatives such as freedom of information legislation to help build a legitimate news media. "These things will inevitably take some time," said Amashov. "You cannot create a climate for a western-style free press overnight."

Westernizing Azerbaijan seems to be the cornerstone of government policy. Virtually every official I interviewed proclaimed: "We are a European nation — our values are oriented toward the West." Given the country’s pivotal location in the Caucasus region, this shift in attitude threatens to alter the international trade balance.

When Alexander the Great conquered Baku in the third century BC, he proclaimed it to be "the gateway to China" — the vital link between eastern and western civilizations. In addition to development of the Caspian Sea oil reserves with western corporations, Azerbaijan is also the key link in the newly built Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline. The pipeline is already carrying vast amounts of oil through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean seaport of Ceyhan; within a few months, it is expected to deliver one million barrels of oil per day.

Tension between the U.S. and Iran also puts the Azeris in a very delicate situation. In addition to the 8.5 million people living in the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, about 17 million ethnic Azeris live within the borders of Iran. This division occurred in 1828, when Imperialist Russia and Iran divided the territory.

Azeris constitute about one-third of Iran’s population. Although until recently the nationalist sentiment of Azeri-Iranians has been tempered by their strict adherence to the Shiite fundamentalist movement, there are indications that a rift is developing between them and the Persian majority.

In May, Iranian newspapers published a controversial cartoon that depicted Azeri-Iranians as cockroaches too dumb to realize what they were. This prompted several days of violent protests throughout northern Iran, culminating in a riot in the town of Naghadeh that left four protesters dead and more than 70 injured. Iranian authorities were quick to respond by arresting the cartoonist and editor responsible for the offending graphic, and calls rang out for the impeachment of the interior minister for the mishandling of the crisis.

Naturally, Tehran blamed the U.S. State Department for trying to ignite the flames of Azeri nationalism. During the wave of demonstrations, U.S. agencies and nationalists in Azerbaijan used the Internet and radio broadcasts to whip up protesters. While the Azerbaijani government denies that any policy exists to establish stronger links to Azeri-Iranians, it does recognize there will only be an increase in such sentiments in the coming years.

"What do you think will happen when Azeri-Iranians look north of their border and see their brothers enjoying a prosperous democratic lifestyle with all the western amenities which they are denied?" asked Samad Seyidov, director of the foreign relations committee to the European Union.

Another concern for Tehran as the U.S. steps up the sabre-rattling is the ever-increasing military ties between Azerbaijan and NATO. Although officially denied, the presence of British and American forces along the Azerbaijan-Iran border is an open secret throughout Baku. More openly, the government proudly proclaims its contributions to the U.S.-led war against terrorism. "We have troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo; furthermore, as a secular Islamic nation that recognizes and has good relations with the state of Israel, I believe we are a key ally of the United States," said Seyidov

How deep that relationship has developed may soon be put to the test over the unresolved issue of the Armenian occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, now mainly under Armenian control.

The Azeri-Armenian conflict over Armenian separatist aspirations in Nagorno-Karabakh dates back more than a century. Although the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has recommended that inhabitants of the region, mostly of Armenian descent, be allowed to vote on their area’s fate, Azerbaijan has said it cannot agree to the region’s secession.

"With the completion of the B.T.C. pipeline, their increased military capability and key regional strategic significance, the Azerbaijanis have certainly increased their bargaining position (with regards to Nagorno-Karabakh)," said one Baku-based U.S. official. "However, you have to remember that there are 1.2 million Armenians residing in America and they are too powerful a lobby to ignore."

While Armenia cannot keep pace with Azerbaijan’s recent arms build-up, it can still count on potential political and possible military support from both Russia and Iran. Armenia’s tactical deterrent to any Azeri military offensive to retake the occupied territory is the threat of missile strikes against Azerbaijan’s oil infrastructure. The new pipeline tops the list of potential targets. For their part, Azeri military officials are coy about any possible time frame for an offensive, but they are convinced the disputed territory will one day be back under their control.

"Sooner or later we will come to terms with the Armenians, given the steady growth of (Azerbaijan’s) military strength," said Maj.-Gen. Ramiz Najafov. "Up until now we have shown patience in our resolve for a peaceful solution, but our patience is not endless."

For the foreign ex-pats in Baku, it is apparent that the Azeri government has very limited options in dealing with this conflict. "Before he died, the old man (Heydar Aliyev) promised that he would take (Nagorno-Karabakh) back," said Terry, the publican. (Aliyev was the former member of the Soviet politburo who led the country to independence from the Soviets in 1991.) "Now he is revered as a virtual saint and as president, his son (Ilham Aliyev) has inherited that legacy. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but rather when they try to settle this again."

In the meantime, the oil continues to flow, the revenue pours in and Azerbaijan sits at the vortex of what is a potential perfect storm of geopolitical, cultural and strategic interests.


Scott Taylor is a columnist for The Chronicle Herald and editor-in-chief of the military affairs magazine Esprit de Corps. Second of a two-part series by The Chronicle Herald’s military affairs columnist.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

"Israel and Azerbaijan's furtive embrace"

06 August 2006 [20:07]

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 changed the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

Within weeks, six predominantly Muslim countries along the southern rim of the Soviet Union gained independence. Israel, along with Turkey, Iran, and various Arab states, rushed to establish embassies in capitals ranging from Ashgabat to Tashkent.

While Jerusalem maintains good working relations with these newly independent states, few could have foreseen how Israel's relationship with Azerbaijan would blossom. The two countries formally established relations in April 1992, one year after Azerbaijan declared its independence. The idea that a country 93 percent Muslim would cooperate closely with Israeli intelligence, and even provide Israeli officials a defensive platform in such a volatile region, was hardly considered. Yet, Jerusalem and Baku have quietly become strategic partners - sharing intelligence, developing trade relations, and together building regional alliances. Although the Israel-Azerbaijan partnership has had important regional implications, uncertainty remains how far Azerbaijani elites are willing to pursue ties.

A Convergence of Interests

While the mutual relationship has not been a priority for either Israel or Azerbaijan, both Jerusalem and Baku have expanded their ties in response to the realization that policy coordination best protects Caspian security and counters Iranian expansionism. Both Israel and Azerbaijan face challenges to their legitimacy if not their very existence. Both share a sense of trial by fire after winning independence only after a territorial war with neighbors. While Israel had to face down five invading Arab armies upon its independence and remains in a technical state of war with Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, Azerbaijan remains embroiled in a decade-long military conflict with Armenia over the mountainous enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijani territory occupied by an Armenian army. Indeed, unproven rumors persist in the Arabic-language press and pro-Saudi journals suggesting Israeli arms exports to Azerbaijan may have even preceded formal Azerbaijani independence.

Insecurity complexes born of war and siege cause both Jerusalem and Baku to see the region through similar prisms. Both countries grapple with identity problems: how can Azerbaijan be "the Azeri state" when close to 20 million Azeris - almost twice its population - live in neighboring Iran? Indeed, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is an ethnic Azeri. Israel, meanwhile, grapples both to define its relationship to the Jewish diaspora and to its own sizable Arab minority.

The Israeli government reached out to Azerbaijan for a number of reasons. Israeli policymakers, like their Arab and Iranian counterparts, viewed Azerbaijan and the Caspian littoral as part of the "Greater Middle East." Expanding its influence into an area of the world heavily Muslim but not Arab has long been a strategic Israeli objective. After all, prior to the revolution in 1979, Israel had sold weapons to the Iranian army and considered the shah a friend. Similarly, since the early 1990s, Israel has reached out to Turkey. New allies could also lead to new economic opportunities, greater energy security, and, it was hoped, extra U.N. votes. Israel aimed to exploit the region's energy resources by lobbying for the development of gas and oil pipelines that would help its allies and circumvent its foes. Finally, Israeli officials hoped that direct ties would facilitate the immigration of Azerbaijan's 20,000-strong Jewish community to Israel.

The Azerbaijani government, meanwhile, found itself cooperating with Israel both out of respect for the Jewish state and because of lack of an alternative. In 1991, Azerbaijan was economically fragile, politically unstable, and militarily weak. Desperate for outside assistance, Baku turned to Israel to provide leverage against a much stronger Iran and a militarily superior Armenia. Israel promised to improve Azerbaijan's weak economy by developing trade ties. It purchased Azerbaijani oil and gas and sent medical, technological, and agricultural experts. Most importantly for Azerbaijan, Israel's foreign ministry vowed to lend its lobby's weight in Washington to improve Azeri-American relations, providing a counterweight to the influential Armenian lobby. According to Azerbaijan's first president, Abulfas Elchibey, "Israel could help Azerbaijan in [the] Karabakh problem by convincing the Americans to stop the Armenians." Azerbaijani diplomats recognized the need to diversify their contacts in Washington, especially after the U.S. Congress imposed sanctions on Azerbaijan at the behest of the Armenian lobby following the war in Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijani military officials also believed that Israeli firms could better equip the ragtag Azerbaijani army, which needed new weapons following its defeat in Nagorno Karabakh. On several occasions, Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan's president between 1993 and 2003, personally requested military assistance from Israeli prime ministers.

A Maturing Relationship

With Armenian troops and their proxies occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory, the influence of Moscow and Tehran growing, and Islamist groups gaining strength in the region, Israel and Azerbaijan built up their mutual defense capabilities.

Following its loss in Nagorno Karabakh, Baku reached out to Israel for help in rebuilding its military. Israeli defense firms obliged, selling Azerbaijan advanced aviation, antitank, artillery, and anti-infantry weapon systems. The arms trade has continued. In 2004, the Azerbaijani and Israeli press both reported that an undisclosed Israeli weapons system was being sent to Turkey where it would be assembled and then delivered to Azerbaijan. While Israeli, Turkish, and Azerbaijani officials denied the report - Israeli policy prohibits confirmation of such deals - an Azerbaijani military official defended the purchase, saying "our country's interest in Israeli weapons is natural as this country possesses up-to-date types of weapons, military hardware, and special equipment." Not every report is true, however. Seeking to exploit Islamist and anti-Israel sentiment among some segments of the population, neighboring states on occasion exaggerate the Israel-Azerbaijan arms trade.

Weapons sales and shared-threat perception have smoothed intelligence and security cooperation. Israeli firms built and guard the fence around Baku's international airport, monitor and help protect Azerbaijan's energy infrastructure, and even provide security for Azerbaijan's president on his foreign visits. Israeli intelligence operatives help collect human intelligence about extremist Islamist organizations in the region and monitor the troop deployments of Azerbaijan's neighbors - especially Iran. In a Washington Institute for Near East Policy analysis, analysts Soner Cagaptay and Alexander Murinson alluded to reports that Israeli intelligence maintains listening posts along the Azerbaijani border with Iran.

Both the Israeli and Azerbaijani governments fear the growth of radical Islam. Following an October 2001 meeting with Israeli ambassador Eitan Naeh, Azerbaijan's former president Heydar Aliyev declared their positions in the fight against international terrorism to be identical. While the terrorist threat to Israel is well known, Azerbaijan's terrorist challenge is also significant. Azerbaijan is in the cross hairs of both Sunni and Shi'ite Islamists. Among the Sunnis, there is the spillover from the Chechen and Daghestani conflicts. Since the 1994 signing of the "Genuine Islam for Brothers" agreement between regional Wahhabi organizations, and in the wake of a southern expansion by Wahhabi movements in the Russian Federation, Islamist cells have sprung up around the country.

According to Axis Information and Analysis, a watchdog of security developments in Eurasia, as of July 2005, roughly 15,000 Wahhabi activists were operating in Baku. Supporters of Chechen militants operate a lucrative arms trade along Azerbaijan's porous 175-mile (284 kilometer) border with Russia. Groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seek both Israel's annihilation and the replacement of regional nation-states with an Islamic caliphate, threaten both Jerusalem and Baku. Hizb ut-Tahrir is suspected of having several hundred members in Azerbaijan; dozens have been arrested.

Tadeusz Swietochowski, professor emeritus of history at Monmouth University and an expert on Azerbaijan, worries that Wahhabi organizations may find a breeding ground in Azerbaijan. "There is a vast potential for disaffection among the impoverished masses, including the Karabakh war refugees, to whom the benefits from oil wealth do not filter down through the more privileged elites, who are perceived as corrupt unbelievers," he argued. The sheer number of small terrorist networks setting up shop around Azerbaijan forced the Azerbaijan Ministry of National Security to respond in August 2005 by arresting suspects, placing mosques under direct government control, and banning extremist religious literature. Israeli officials, for their part, worry about the recent spike in violence by radical Islamists against Jewish communities in Azerbaijan.

Iran, the benefactor of numerous terrorist organizations operating in the region, has sought to promote its radical ideology by funding and building mosques and religious schools in the region. Thus far, Azerbaijani officials have responded to this encroachment of their space by outlawing radical imams and mosques. Indeed, while reports of Israeli intelligence presence remain shadowy and imprecise, failure of Baku and Jerusalem to work together to counter Iranian ideological expansionism would be irresponsible.


Economic cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan has grown significantly. As early as 1995, an Israeli journalist visiting Baku observed that Israeli goods were flooding the market. "Strauss ice cream, cell phones produced by Motorola's Israeli division, Maccabee beer, and other Israeli imports are ubiquitous," she wrote.

As Azerbaijan deregulated its industries and liberalized some markets, Israeli companies flocked to the country. Bezeq, a major telephone subsidiary, was one of the first to do so. Through a devalued contract bid in 1994, Bezeq bought a large share of the telephone operating system. Today it installs phone lines and operates regional services throughout much of the country. According to the president of the Azerbaijani-Israeli Business Forum, dozens of Israeli companies operate in Azerbaijan, especially within the energy sector. In 2000 for example, Modcon Systems Ltd., an Israel-based supplier of high technology to the oil and gas industries, opened shop in Azerbaijan. "The business," according to Modcon Systems CEO Gregory Shahnovsky, is "very important to company growth." He expects more Israeli companies to enter the market.

Statistics support the anecdotes. Between 2000 and 2005, Israel has gone from being Azerbaijan's tenth largest trading partner to its fifth. Azerbaijani industry has benefited tremendously. According to U.N. statistics, between 1997 and 2004, exports from Azerbaijan to Israel increased from barely over US$2 million to $323 million, fueled in recent years by the high price of oil. Indeed, Israeli-Azerbaijani trade now outweighs the trade relations Israel has developed with the countries of Central Asia by at least a factor of five.

Indirectly, Israeli businessmen have helped encourage Azerbaijan to pursue policies of strategic benefit to Jerusalem. Since 1993, major Israeli entrepreneurs such as Shoul Eisenberg have spearheaded large-scale energy projects in the Caspian region and Central Asia with government support. Israeli businessman Yossi Maimon, for example, was instrumental in brokering gas pipeline deals throughout Central Asia, such as the March 1999 $2.5 billion pipeline deal from Turkmenistan to Turkey. He boasted to The Wall Street Journal in 2001 that "this is the Great Game all over [again]š... we are doing what U.S. and Israeli policy could not achieve. Controlling the transport route is controlling the product."

Israeli strategic thinkers expected that establishing friendly ties to Azerbaijan would not only provide energy security but also allow Jerusalem to influence pipeline routes, a benefit both to Israeli political clout and a factor to strengthen Israel's allies at the expense of its adversaries. In 2002, Israel was Azerbaijan's largest importer of oil after Italy.

The ultimate route of the $3.2 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, for example, circumvents Iran and Russia and ties secular, pro-Western Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey together in a way that enhances Israel's strategic interests, an aspect acknowledged by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1997 and recognized in Azerbaijan as well.

Rafael Abbasov, former director of economic and trade development at the Israeli embassy in Baku and now an economics officer at the Asian Development Bank in Azerbaijan, believes that there is growing covert collaboration in the energy sector between Israel and Azerbaijan which does not show up on trade-balance sheets. "In terms of oil, Israeli firms are a lot more involved than at first meets the eye," Abbasov said. "Often they register as U.S. or U.K. branches and thus enter the Azerbaijani energy market and participate in bidding for tender contracts."

As the Indian and Chinese appetites for oil increase, so too does the possibility to expand cooperation further with the export of oil through the Ashqelon-Eilat pipeline which could provide an alternative to shipments through the Suez Canal and Persian Gulf.


While trade has increased steadily, political cooperation has ebbed and flowed. Mutual statements of diplomatic understanding have seldom been followed by decisive action. Little came from the April 1992 agreement to exchange ambassadors. For several years, Benny Haddad, a 24-year-old Israeli Defense Forces rifleman with no diplomatic experience represented Israeli interests in Azerbaijan. Only later was Eliezer Yotvat, Israel's first ambassador to Azerbaijan, formally appointed. Baku meanwhile made overtures toward Jerusalem by appealing to Jewish investors and publicly sending state foreign policy advisor Vafa Guluzade to Israel, but Baku did not nominate a permanent ambassador. To date, Azerbaijan has not yet fulfilled its promise to open an embassy in Israel. Likewise, nothing came of Azerbaijani secretary of state Ali Karimov's public attempt to organize a meeting between Elchibey and then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The only public embrace came in August 1997 when Israeli prime minister Netanyahu visited Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev in Baku. During their brief meeting, they discussed various issues ranging from new oil deals, to Iran's nuclear ambitions, to trilateral cooperation between Israel, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

While the meeting solidified strategic understanding and led to increased defense cooperation, it had few positive diplomatic consequences. After fifteen years of diplomatic relations, the two countries have not signed a single official treaty. As one senior Israeli diplomat laments, "There is no formalization of these relationships. Not even a cultural agreement, or tourismš... Formal relations have not yet yielded one single agreement between the two states."

Perhaps the only successful diplomatic initiatives have been in youth exchanges. In 2003, Jerusalem and Baku agreed to facilitate study opportunities for Azerbaijani scientists and doctors in Israel. The Azerbaijan-Israel Youth Friendship Society works to promote youth relations through the teaching of each others' histories. Kanan Seyidov, the society's deputy chief of international relations, explained that the program works to explain "the real situation of Israeli people living under the everyday terror threat, and the impact of Armenian aggression and occupation on Azerbaijan."

The New Great Game

Nevertheless, both Jerusalem and Baku recognize that they are better off working with each other (and Turkey) than allowing Russian or Iranian influence to become paramount. Even as diplomatic relations remain less formal, Azerbaijan's neighbors recognize the growing importance of Israel-Azerbaijan ties.

Iran. At the heart of Azerbaijan-Israel cooperation lie their mutual fear and distrust of Iran. Israel has obvious reasons for distrusting the Islamic Republic: Iranian leaders from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami to current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have all called for Israel's destruction.

Azerbaijan has a more complicated relationship with Iran. On the one hand, Azerbaijan shares historic ties and a religious bond with predominantly Shi'ite Iran. Far more ethnic Azeris live in Iran than in independent Azerbaijan. But Tehran has sought to destabilize Azerbaijan. It has engaged in arms trafficking with Armenian separatists and trained Azeri mullahs to preach an Islamist message that has undercut traditional Azerbaijani secularism. Tehran gave little support to their Shi'ite brethren in the early 1990s when Azerbaijan's economy plummeted 58 percent. Competing claims to energy deposits in the Caspian Sea have also harmed relations.

Today, Iran and Israel play a cat-and-mouse game in Azerbaijan. Both have developed vast espionage networks in Azerbaijan. Israeli intelligence maintains surveillance and listening outposts on Azerbaijan's border with Iran.

Published articles attest that "Baku is a perfect base for Israeli intelligence operationsš... the city is home to an Iranian embassy with 200 employees." One senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon even suggested that some Azerbaijani Jews regularly infiltrate Iranian territory. Iran has followed suit, spying on Israeli targets in Azerbaijan. In September 2004, Israeli security agents caught an Iranian operative videotaping the Israeli embassy in Baku.

Iran has vowed to exact revenge on Azerbaijan for its cooperation with the "Zionist entity" and for following Israel and Turkey westward after its 1991 independence. Following Netanyahu's 1997 visit, Iran's state radio harshly criticized the meeting, declaring that "Baku is playing a dangerous game by receiving the Zionist regime's expansionist prime minister. By doing this it has destabilized its own ties with Islamic states in the region and the world."

The Iranian foreign minister further threatened Azerbaijan saying that Baku's cooperation with Israel would cause instability in the Caucasus, harm Islamic unity, and hurt "those governments themselves." To this day, Iranian officials are cited in the Iranian press stating that Azerbaijan is cooperating with an "occupying power."

Russia. Another area of mutual cooperation is shared suspicion of Russian intentions. Both Jerusalem and Baku distrust Moscow's penchant for pursuing two-track policies that undermine regional security. The Israeli government, for example, distrusts the Russian sale of nuclear technology to Iran, arms to Syria, and legitimization of Hamas and Hezbollah. The Azerbaijani government is meanwhile worried about Russian bases in Ossetia and Abkhazia and Moscow's support for Armenian guerillas in Nagorno Karabakh.

Russian cooperation with Iran reinforces to Israeli and Azerbaijani strategic thinkers that they must rely on each other. The same dynamic has also strengthened relations between Azerbaijan and Israel on one hand, and Georgia on the other.

Some Russian nationalists are displeased that Israel is intruding on a region they believe part of their own sphere of influence. A 1998 article by Vitaliy Demin in the Russian newspaper Zavtra - generally recognized as an anti-Semitic newspaper - accused Israel of becoming to Russia what Cuba is to the United States. He also blamed Israel for seeking to exploit regional energy resources. Some of this resentment stems from opposition to pipeline routes that bypass Russian territory.

Persian Gulf states. The Azerbaijan-Israel relationship has successfully shut out the influence of Persian Gulf states in the Caspian. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the Persian Gulf emirates have substantial trade with Azerbaijan. In 2004, none of the Persian Gulf states made the top twenty-five of Azerbaijan's trade partners.

In the early 1990s, Saudi Arabia used its Islamic Development Bank to provide Baku with loans and credits, but that money has dried-up in recent years. Riyadh seldom invests in countries if they do not tow an increasingly Islamist line. Saudi ideologues would much rather fund a government like Turkey's which seeks to erode secular protections than one like Baku's which has worked to preserve them. That none of the Persian Gulf states supply Azerbaijan with weapons or have long-standing relations with Baku's defense establishment limits their reach in the region.

According to analyst Anoushiravan Ehteshami, Saudi Arabia, the most active of all the Persian Gulf states in the Caspian region, plays no more than an "indirect roleš... in countering Israeli expanding influence in Central Asia."

If oil-rich Azerbaijan is successful in cultivating an independent energy relationship with Israel and the West, then the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in general and the Persian Gulf emirates in particular may lose influence. It is certainly a glaring reality that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with real influence in the region.

Turkey. Among regional countries, Turkey has benefited most from the development of Azerbaijani-Israeli cooperation. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Turkish officials began wooing Azerbaijani politicians - stressing their shared ethnicity, language, and Armenian experiences.

Ankara has encouraged the development of a secular, free market government in Baku oriented to Europe and the West. In 2004, official Turkish-Azerbaijani trade amounted to slightly over US$400 million with Turkey claiming the fourth largest share of Azerbaijan's foreign trade. In 2003, Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his expectation that Azerbaijani-Turkish trade would grow to $1 billion.

The blossoming of Turkish-Azerbaijani ties reinforces Israel's own strategic vision for the region.

Meanwhile, thanks to Ankara, the partnership between Baku and Jerusalem continues to mature. This was demonstrated by the July 2001 "Caspian Sea incident." That month, the Iranian warship Geophysics 3 threatened an Azerbaijani oil exploration ship in the Caspian Sea. As emotions and militaries flared, Turkey issued a statement promising to defend Azerbaijan. It was clear that Israel would also take part. As an Israeli defense minister who was in Turkey shortly thereafter insisted, Israel would have joined the triumvirate against "Iranian aggression." Just a week earlier, Sharon told journalists in Ankara that Israel would expand ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The United States. The U.S. government also remains a player. Baku cooperated with Jerusalem in the hope of improving ties with Washington.

Not too long ago, U.S. policymakers considered Azerbaijan to be, at best, irrelevant and at worst, a nuisance. In 1992, the United States Congress passed the Freedom Support Act promising economic and humanitarian aid to all the former Soviet republics except Azerbaijan. Muscled through by the Armenian lobby, Section 907 of the act legislated that Washington would not give aid to Azerbaijan until the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. As a result, Azerbaijan received no economic aid from the United States in the 1990s while Armenia received over $1 billion.

In the mid 1990s, struggling to piece together the weak and dysfunctional Azerbaijani state, President Aliyev moved towards Jerusalem, thereby winning the allegiance of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. As Hassan Hassanov, Azerbaijan's foreign minister, stated in 1997, "We don't conceal that we rely on the Israeli lobby in the U.S."

This paid dividends when, in 2002, President Bush waived Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. In a rare and understated public admission, an official at the Azerbaijani embassy in Washington acknowledged that, "Jewish organizations made a certain contribution in the Section 907 waving process."

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration recognized what a strategic asset Azerbaijan could be. Baku allowed overflight rights to U.S. planes flying to Afghanistan and supported Iraq's liberation.

Azerbaijani oil provides a useful counterweight to that of Saudi Arabia and other states supporting radical Islam. In March 2002, the U.S. State Department reversed a ban on arms sales to Azerbaijan that had been in effect since 1993.

Simultaneously, the U.S. government granted $4.4 million in U.S. foreign military financing grants to Azerbaijan with which to purchase American-made weapons. In return, Azerbaijan sent peacekeepers to Iraq in 2003.

Publicly the Bush administration has pledged that it remains committed to seeing a more democratic Azerbaijan. In the run-up to Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections in November 2005, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried stated that the United States is "serious" about democracy-building in Azerbaijan.

Yet just how serious Washington is remains a question. U.S. foreign policymakers need Azerbaijan to continue providing much needed energy security and bases for U.S. special operations. Upsetting the already volatile regime of Heydar Aliyev's son may do more harm than good to U.S. interests. Authorities in Tehran remain ready to exploit any political instability.

Increased U.S. attention to Azerbaijan has been a double-edged sword for Israel, though. While the Baku-Washington rapprochement helped cement Azerbaijan in a pro-Western, anti-Islamist camp, it has also reduced Jerusalem's leverage. Azerbaijani authorities, feeling that they have exhausted the use of pro-Israel groups in Washington, now worry they will be seen by others in the region as too close to Israel.

Where Goes the Israel-Azerbaijan Relationship?

The relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan is at a crossroads. While Baku once embraced ties to Israel, many Azerbaijani elites are privately reconsidering their strategy.

Azerbaijan's recent decision to curtail expansion of cooperation with Israel is part of a trend. While Azerbaijani officials travel to Israel at unprecedented levels, the visits are rarely covered in the press and produce few results. Still, there remains potential for expansion of cooperation not only in the energy sector but also in agriculture, Azerbaijan's largest employer and second largest sector after oil.

The most vital question for both states remains Iran. While there is broad bilateral consensus that countering Iranian influence is vital to both Azerbaijan and Israel's national security, Iranian officials remain dedicated to reversing that perspective. Many Iranian officials remind their Azerbaijani counterparts that Iran will always be present, long after U.S. and Israeli attention focuses elsewhere. Here, any Israeli-Azerbaijan cooperation could be beneficial. As Azerbaijani foreign policy expert Vafa Guluzade has said, if "Israel will construct a factory that will give jobs to thousands, or even to hundreds, it will be good anti-Iranian propaganda."

Yet there is little evidence that Azerbaijani elites will take advantage of the opportunities Israel presents. Many of the same issues that hampered cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan in the 1990s remain unresolved. One Israeli diplomatic likened the relationship to that between "a virgin and a gentlemen callerš... she wants it but is afraid."

Israeli politicians, while always calling for closer cooperation with Azerbaijan, have become frustrated with Azerbaijan's cold feet. Some high-level Israeli diplomats privately wonder whether state interests or personal interests such as business contacts with senior Iranians are driving Azerbaijani officials away. They wonder whether Arab refusal to support pro-Azerbaijani U.N. resolutions regarding issues such as the Nagorno Karabakh dispute may erode Azerbaijani resolve.

The ball is largely in Azerbaijan's court. As Rafael Abbasov said, there is "a huge demand on both sides for cooperation, but a lack of eye-level cooperation and a lack of political backbone hurts future prospects. Specifically harmful is the lack of an Azerbaijani embassy in Israel."

Many Azerbaijanis recognize that their ties to Israel have benefited their state. As one Azeri columnist wrote in 2002, "Everybody knows well that Israel is one of the few countries with which Azerbaijan has only positive experiences. It is high time for Azerbaijan to dare to have its own path." Indeed, as Iran's nuclear program and Saudi support for Islamist groups threaten regional security, it is also in Washington's interest to help cement the Baku-Jerusalem relationship.

By Ilya Bourtman, a former researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, Israel.


Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.