IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 48

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IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 48


VIOLENCE FLARES IN ARMENIAN ENCLAVE  Political analysts across the
South Caucasus are warning of a "second Nagorny Karabakh" in southern
Georgia. Ara Tadevosian reports from Yerevan

LAST POST FOR RUSSIANS IN GEORGIA  The withdrawal of Russian troops
from Georgia inspires mixed emotions across the region. Ivlian
Khaindrava reports from Tbilisi

politicians are ostracised for accepting posts in the Karachai
government. Murat Botashev reports from Cherkessk

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Political analysts across the South Caucasus are warning of a "second
Nagorny Karabakh" in southern Georgia

By Ara Tadevosian in Yerevan

Fears are growing that the Russian troop withdrawal from an Armenian
enclave in southern Georgia could spark violent ethnic conflict in the

Unrest has been simmering in Samtskhe-Djavakheti for the past year as
plans move forward to close the Russian military base in the
administrative capital, Akhalkalaki.

The province's largely Armenian population bitterly opposes the
withdrawal, claiming that it will leave the region vulnerable to
Turkish expansionism and cripple the local economy.

Meanwhile, some observers point out that the province has long
nurtured breakaway tendencies and warn of a "second Nagorny Karabakh"
if urgent action is not taken.

Tensions came to a head in June this year when fighting broke out
between Georgian pilgrims and Armenian residents of the Poka
settlement, in Samtskhe-Djavakheti.

Endzel Mkoyan, an Armenian deputy in the Georgian parliament, later
claimed the violence flared after one of the visitors hit a local
youth. However, fellow deputy Van Baiburt said the clash was sparked
by agents provocateurs "who champion the cause of securing autonomy
for this region of southern Georgia".

Ten days later, a checkpoint on the Armenian-Georgian border became
the scene of fresh fighting, when Armenians from Akhalkalaki exchanged
blows with Georgian border guards. Witnesses said the situation spun
out of control after one of the guards hit a 70-year-old Armenian
woman with his rifle-butt.

According to Georgian sources, local villagers later set fire to a
nearby military building and, on the following day, a group of ethnic
Armenians smashed through the barrier of the Ninotsminda checkpoint in
a truck.

Leading politicians on both sides of the border have been eager to
attribute the violence to deep-rooted local frustrations, dismissing
any wider political context.

However, Armenians living in Samtskhe-Djavakheti have been vocal in
their protest against the closure of the Akhalkalaki base ever since
the idea was mooted at the OSCE summit in Istanbul last year.

Following its withdrawal from the two bases at Gudauta and Vaziani,
Moscow has promised to close the Akhalkalaki and Batumi camps by 2004.

But Melik Raisyan, an Armenian MP from Akhalkalaki, believes the move
will have a disastrous effect on the region's economy since "over
half" the residents survived by providing services to the Russian

The MP went on to say that local Armenians, who make up 90% of the
population of 76,000, "still remember the attacks made by the Turks in
the 1920s".

Raisyan claimed that Georgian border guards only had token control
over the Turkish frontier and the presence of the Russian military was
vital to the region's security.

In Armenia, military leaders have echoed these concerns. In an
interview with the Aiastani Anrapetutyun newspaper, the border troops
commander, Major-General Levon Stepanyan, said, "We're worried that
our Georgian colleagues won't be able to guarantee security after the
Russians have left."

Stepanyan even claims that, for a time, the Georgian side of the
border was patrolled by a detachment of ethnic Azerbaijanis. "Just
imagine the consequences of even the slightest scuffle," he said.

However, the general went on to say he had received assurances from
his Georgian counterpart, Lieutenant-General Valery Chkheidze, that
this section of the border would only be guarded by Armenians in the

The spectre of neighbouring Turkey continues to cast a chilling shadow
over the region. One Akhalkalaki resident, David Antonyan, 46, said
plans to build a railway between the town and Kars would inevitably
herald increased Turkish influence in Samtskhe-Djavakheti.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijani politicians have been quick to capitalise on
the growing tensions in southern Georgia. Two deputies, Ali Alirzaev
and Fazail Agamaly, told the Baku parliament that the "alarming
behaviour" of the Akhalkalaki residents proved "that they are pushing
towards autonomy for the region - or else secession to Armenia."

Both deputies concluded that "the Armenians have territorial ambitions
not only in Azerbaijan but also in Georgia." Melik Raisyan dismissed
these remarks as "provocative".

But the leaders of Georgian and Armenia have wasted no opportunity to
play down the situation. The Armenian president, Robert Kocharian, put
the unrest down to social and economic problems while Georgia's Eduard
Shevardnadze, on a recent visit to Armenia, commented, "Our region has
a wonderful future and I believe that in time the borders between
Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan will be purely symbolic."

People in Samtskhe-Djavakheti remain unconvinced. Roza Saakyan, 65,
who lost her son in the Nagorny Karabakh war, said, "I really hope
that Shevardnadze and Kocharian have the brains to prevent another
Karabakh breaking out here."

Ara Tadevosian is director of the Armenian independent news agency,


The withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia inspires mixed emotions
across the region

Ivlian Khaindrava in Tbilisi

While the Kremlin withdraws its troops from Georgia with evident
misgivings, politicians in Tbilisi can barely hide their eagerness to
escape from the skirts of their powerful neighbour.

Last month a convoy of 49 tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles
rolled out of the Vaziani base in the suburbs of Tbilisi under the
watchful gaze of international observers. The ordnance was then loaded
on to ships of the Black Sea Fleet and ferried to the Russian ports of
Novorossiisk and Tuaps.

By the end of the year, a total of 35 tanks, 358 armoured vehicles and
27 artillery units will be taken out of Georgia under an agreement
between the two states signed at last November's OSCE summit in

At the same time, 25 tanks, 90 armoured vehicles and two artillery
batteries are currently being broken up at the Tbilisi tank repair

Georgia inherited four Russian military bases from the USSR -- in
Vaziani, Akhalkalaki (a town in southern Georgia), Batumi (in the
Adjarian Autonomous Republic) and Gudauta (in Abkhazia, a region
bordering Russia that tried to break away from Georgia in a 1992 war
which claimed more than 7,000 lives).

An attempt to formulate their legal status was undertaken in 1995,
when the two countries signed a 25-year agreement on the bases. Then,
according to Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, Tbilisi simply
had no other option than to agree.

But in Istanbul last year, with the political and diplomatic
involvement of the USA, Russia agreed to close its military bases in
Vaziani and Gudauta by July 1, 2001. Talks were also supposed to be
held on the closing of the other two bases by 2003-2004. Washington
pledged $10 million towards assisting Russia in removing its troops
from the bases.

The Russian military has opposed the withdrawal. "Russian bases on
Georgian territory are a stabilising factor for Georgia itself, as is
the presence of Russian peacekeeping forces in the zone of the
Georgia-Abkhazia conflict," Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Department
for International Military Collaboration of the Russian defence
ministry, said during a visit to Armenia in May.

The Russian military is concerned that NATO will step into the vacuum
created by the closure of its bases. Ivashov said Moscow would never
accept that NATO influence should reach as far as Sochi (a Russian
resort on the Black Sea, a few dozen kilometres from the border with

The Russians are concerned at the loss of the strategically important
military airdrome in Vaziani and are talking of maintaining it as a
separate site from the adjoining base. They say it would be used to
supply the Russian forces remaining on Georgian territory.

Georgia insists that the base and the airdrome are one site, and the
closure of the bases entails the evacuation of the airdrome personnel.
At the same time, Georgia is offering to take on all the services
provided by the airdrome, including those for the Russian armed
forces, right up until the time when the last Russian soldier leaves.

There is also resistance to the withdrawal from Gudauta, where, apart
from the permanent Russian military contingent, there are Russian
peacekeepers brought in to the zone of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict
in 1994.

Russian vice-premier Ilya Khlebanov, visiting Tbilisi in June, said
the possibility of handing over the Gudauta base to Russian
peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia for the training of new "blue berets"
was being discussed. "Today, this would be the most rational and
sensible decision," he said.

Tbilisi has long been unhappy about the role of the peacekeepers,
accusing them of being pro-Abkhazian in their outlook. "Liquidating
the base in Gudauta, Tbilisi will kill two birds with one stone - it
reduces the Russian military presence and creates the conditions
necessary for the removal of the Russian peacekeepers," the
influential Moscow newspaper Kommersant commented.

The Abkhazian authorities have not hidden the fact that they are keen
to prevent the withdrawal of Russian military forces. "The threat of a
new armed conflict with the Georgian army exists, and so the forces
and equipment located in Gudauta remain at the disposal of the
Abkhazian military," said the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the
self-proclaimed republic, Sergei Shamba.

He warned that, if necessary, Abkhazia had the military capability to
obstruct the removal of Russian military forces from the Gudauta base.

Abkhazia's defence minister, Vladimir Mikanba, has said that the
Russian forces will stay in the area until Tbilisi signs an agreement
not to start any new armed conflicts or threaten security in Abkhazia.

But President Shevardnadze insists that the conditions of the Istanbul
agreement have to be met, and that the resolution of these issues will
contribute to a growth of trust in Russia among the Georgian

Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze has also joined the argument. He has
demanded that a representative of the autonomous republic be allowed
to take part in the Russian-Georgian talks on military issues, and in
particular on the removal of the Russian base from Adjaria. Unless
this is agreed, he warns, "the movement of military technology across
the territory of Adjaria will not be as easy as it was in August."

The costs of the operation are also an issue. Georgia, in the midst of
a deep economic crisis, simply has no financial resources to pay for
such operations. Russia also claims it cannot meet the costs and the
West has come to the rescue, financing the withdrawal process under
the final act of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.

This week, 10 T-72 tanks, 19 armoured vehicles, five motor vehicles,
and 27 items of specialised equipment were due to head out of the
Vaziani base as the withdrawal continued.

Nevertheless, the demands of the Georgians for a part of the Black Sea
fleet -- 40 naval vessels and two submarines based in the Georgian
port of Poti -- and compensation for other military equipment removed
from Georgia in 1991-1992 and costing some $10 billion, serve only to
antagonise Moscow and remain unanswered.

Ivlian Khaindrava is an independent Georgian journalist


Cherkess and Abazin politicians are ostracised for accepting posts in
the Karachai government

By Murat Botashev in Cherkessk

Minority leaders in Karachaevo-Cherkessia have been accused of
launching a terror campaign against any of their ethnic kin who
"collaborate" with the ruling authorities.

Alleged victims claim they have been forced to quit top government
posts after being beaten and threatened by hired thugs. They believe
these attacks were ordered by their own ethnic leaders who have dubbed
them "enemies of the people".

The Cherkess and Abazin peoples have been at loggerheads with the
Karachai majority ever since a Karachai general, Vladimir Semenov, was
elected president of the North Caucasian republic nearly a year ago.

Leading members of the two clans claim the existing regime is
deliberately excluding the ethnic minorities from government posts and
attempting to drive them off their traditional territories. As a
result, they have declared a political boycott of the Cherkessk
parliament which they say has been formed illegally.

Days after President Semenov's inauguration on September 14, Cherkess
and Abazin leaders announced that any of their ethnic kin caught
cooperating with the authorities would be ostracised. By the end of
June this year, only four Cherkess and three Abazins remained in
official positions.

However, things came to a head on July 14, just days after Professor
Anatoly Shevkhuzhov, a Cherkess national, was elected to the post of
deputy chairman of the Karachaevo-Cherkessian government.

Shevkhuzhov said that armed men broke into his home at around 10pm
that evening, then took him and his elderly parents to the
headquarters of Adyge Khase, a socio-political organisation
representing minority groups in the republic.

Here, the professor says, he was forced under threat of physical
violence to write a letter resigning from his post and send it to
government offices by fax.

On the following day, another Cherkess, Idris Kyabishev, Minister for
Architecture, Construction and Roads, was reportedly subjected to
similar intimidation and told to abandon his position.

The two incidents provoked a storm of protest from groups across the
Karachaevo-Cherkessian Republic, including the Russian Community
Organisation in Cherkessk, the Union of Rightwing Forces and the
Council of Kuban Cossacks which called for those guilty of staging the
attacks to be brought to justice.

However, as the summer wore on, other minority figures came forward,
complaining of blackmail, threats and open violence. Intruders in
black balaclavas broke into the home of Cherkess businessman Oleg
Argunov and beat up members of his family. The elder Kanshau Arashukov
claimed to have been the victim of a similar attack.

The escalation of violence within the minority clans has been openly
condemned by both Cherkess and Abazins as well as their ethnic cousins
in nearby Abkhazia. In an open appeal, Akhiet Chukov, a member of the
Abkhazian Initiative Group, said, "Over a prolonged period of time, a
campaign has been waged against representatives of the Abazin nation,
persecuting so-called 'enemies of the people'.

"Victims have included Valentina Patova, deputy to the People's
Assembly, Professor Sergei Pazov, rector of the Karachaevo-Cherkessian
State University, Mikael Chikatuev, the State Poet, Mukhamed
Tlyabichev, general director of the Kaskad factory, Rauf Malkhozov,
deputy to the Federation Council, and the entrepreneur, Ilyas

Chukov concluded, "It is well known that unanimity and unquestioning
consensus are the symptoms of a sick society, but today, in Abazin
circles, a dictatorial situation has arisen, in which everyone must
think as the Adgylar [an Abazin socio-political organisation] wants
them to think. Those who are of a different opinion are immediately
dubbed 'enemies of the people'."

Meanwhile, Umar Temirov, a well-known Cherkess politician working on
the nationalities committee of the Russian State Duma, wrote an open
letter to Cherkessk mayor Stanislav Derev in which he accused him and
his two brothers of "carrying out punitive functions".

Derev was Semenov's only rival in the presidential elections and the
general's subsequent refusal to appoint him prime minister sparked
mass protests in Cherkessk's Central Square.

Temirov wrote, "Why do you assume the right to pass judgement on your
fellow Cherkess? Why do you organise punitive brigades which carry out
illegal investigations and summary punishments with the aid of lie
detectors and cellophane bags?

"For almost a year, your people have been standing on the [Central]
Square, defending you while you've been committing criminal acts
behind their backs. Through these illegal acts, you discredit your
people's bid for self-determination."

The growing crisis in the ranks of the Cherkess opposition is further
reflected by the recent upheaval in the International Cherkess
Association, now based in neighbouring Kabardino-Balkaria. Last month,
members ousted the ICA president, Boris Akbashev, from office.

General Victor Kazantsev, newly appointed governor of the Southern
Federal District, is currently taking an active part in quelling the
ethnic conflict. In a meeting with President Semenov last month, it
was decided that a Cherkess should be elected to the post of
government chairman while a new position, deputy head of the republic,
would be filled by a Russian national.

Meanwhile, the figurehead of Cherkess nationalism, Stanislav Derev,
has been spirited away to Krasnodar to join Kazantsev's administration
in what many see as a shrewd political move calculated to keep the
spark away from the powder-keg.

Murat Botashev is a political commentator and journalist in Cherkessk,

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IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service provides the regional and
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The service forms part of IWPR's Caucasus Project based in Tbilisi and
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For further details on this project and other information services and
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Editor-in-chief: Anthony Borden. Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan;
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