Monday, 9 July 2007


By Michael Stott and Margarita Antidze
Reuters, UK
July 6 2007

YEREVAN, July 6 (Reuters) - Armenia criticized NATO and the European
Union on Friday for turning a blind eye to Turkey's long-running
blockade of its borders, saying Ankara's refusal to open land routes
was costing the small, landlocked state a third of its Gross Domestic
Product (GDP).

"Europeans are shy over these issues. They love to talk about human
rights, about democratic values but it's much easier to talk rather
than to implement anything," Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan told
Reuters in an interview.

Turkey shut its borders to Christian Armenia in 1993 to protest against
the capture by Armenian forces of territory inside Azerbaijan, Ankara's
historic Muslim ally, during fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region

Ankara says it will not reopen its frontier until Armenia reaches a
peace agreement with Azerbaijan.

The blockade, coupled with similar measures by Azerbaijan, means
Armenia has to route its trade through its land border with Georgia,
or over treacherous mountain passes that link it to Iran. Those
difficulties greatly increase costs.

Sarksyan said Armenia wanted to resume relations with Turkey without
preconditions and would not obstruct Turkey's desire to join the EU
because this might make Ankara "more predictable".

"Although NATO officials tell us that Turkey is predictable as it's a
member of NATO, I don't believe it because even before our blockade
Turkey was a member of NATO when it occupied Cyprus," the prime
minister added.

Armenia and Turkey have a long history of enmity, arising from the
killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman empire
in 1915-17.

Armenians and some European nations describe the deaths as genocide.

Turkey says they were part of a partisan conflict during World War
One. It is a crime in Turkey to refer to the killings as a genocide.


Sarksyan, tipped by analysts as a likely future president of Armenia,
said Armenia still needed help from its strategic ally Moscow to
defend itself. Russia has 5,000 troops stationed here.

"I do not think that the Turkish threat has disappeared and our Russian
military base is a guarantee against the Turkish threat," he added.

Sarksyan also said that if Western nations granted independence to
the Serbian province of Kosovo, they "could not fail to recognise"
the right of the majority Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh
to self-determination.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region located within Azerbaijan's
internationally recognised borders, broke away from Azeri control
during a war in the 1990s and has proclaimed independence, though
this has not been accepted internationally.

Talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the future of
Nagorno-Karabakh have dragged on for years. A meeting between the
presidents of the two nations in St Petersburg last month ended with
no breakthrough.

The Azeris want Armenian forces to withdraw from all territory
surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh before starting substantial talks on
the enclave's status.

"I see the solution of this issue based on compromise but I do not
see any steps or reactions from the Azeri side," Sarksyan said. "We
have done all we can".

Asked about his own political ambitions, Sarksyan said it was "likely"
he would be the presidential candidate of Armenia's ruling Republican
party, although a final decision would not come until a party congress
in the autumn.

Armenia holds presidential elections next year and incumbent President
Robert Kocharyan cannot stand after serving two terms.

The elections that gave Kocharyan his second term in 2003 were marred
by allegations of ballot-stuffing although international monitors
deemed this year's parliamentary elections -- won by Sarksyan's party
-- an improvement.

Azerbaijan Condemns Karabakh Vote
By Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijan has officially condemned the planned conduct of a
presidential election in Nagorno-Karabakh as an attempt to solidify
Armenian control over what it regards as an Azerbaijani territory.

In a statement reported late Thursday, the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry
repeated its position that such votes can not be legitimate without a
restoration of Baku's sovereignty over Karabakh and return of the
disputed region's Azerbaijani minority.

"The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry repeats that the unrecognized
separatist regime on the occupied Azerbaijani territories is nothing
than an illegal structure set up by Armenia on the basis of ethnic
cleansing of the Azerbaijani population," the statement said. `The
so-called election is held to cover up Armenia's annexation policy and
is aimed at strengthening the ongoing occupation of the Azerbaijani

The Azerbaijani government has similarly condemned the previous
presidential and parliamentary elections in Karabakh. Some of those
polls were also criticized by the international community, which said
they hamper the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) always
rejected the criticism, saying that the Karabakh Armenians need to be
represented in the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks by
their elected representatives. The U.S., Russian and French mediators
meet with NKR leaders during their regular visits to the conflict zone.

The mainly ethnic Armenian voters in Karabakh will go to the polls on
July 19 to elect a replacement for their outgoing President Arkady
Ghukasian, who has been in power for almost a decade. Bako Sahakian,
Ghukasian's handpicked successor endorsed by the NKR's four main
political parties, is seen as the favorite to win the election.

Ghukasian on Monday pledged to ensure that the vote is free and fair,
saying that that would facilitate international recognition of
Karabakh's de facto secession from Azerbaijan. `Even if the
international community formally doesn't recognize this election, it can
not fail to take note of its [proper] conduct,' he told university
students in Yerevan.

`I'm afraid of sounding immodest, but I will say that Karabakh always
holds the best elections in the post-Soviet space,' said Ghukasian.

However, Sahakian's main challenger, who served as Karabakh's deputy
foreign minister until recently, was reported on Friday to have
dismissed such pledges. The Yerevan daily `Haykakan Zhamanak' quoted
Masis Mayilian as saying that the authorities in Stepanakert are
illegally using their `administrative resources' ensure the
Ghukasian-backed candidate's victory. Mayilian also accused them of
discouraging local residents from attending his campaign meetings.

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