Thursday, February 08, 2007

Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia signed a $422 million deal on Wednesday to build a railway corridor between Europe and Asia.

The Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway, due for completion in 2009, follows the construction of major oil and gas pipelines that have turned the three countries into a strategic energy artery.

Until now there has been no direct rail link between neighbors Georgia and Turkey.

President Ilham Aliyev called the signing of the agreement of the railroad another triumph of independence of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Building of the railway is expected to start in June and is scheduled for completion in two years.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Europe's new link to the Caspian

The South Caucasus is often an excluded or forgotten issue in the EU foreign policy debate. A simplified description of EU's FP priorities would yield the following distribution: the Middle East, Lebanon, environment, relations with China (less so with Russia) are in while the Western Balkans, Turkey, and the Transatlantic relationship are out.

Omitting the South Caucasus from the list of priority issues is unfortunate and the EU should revers this. The Commission's answer to Europe's new East is insufficient. The ENP falls short of providing the heavily political support which the South Caucasus countries need in order to develop into full fledged democracies with functional market economies. Considering the neighborhood -- a patronizing Russia, about to be nuclear Iran, politically unstable Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and radical Islam perpetrating through Iran -- the South Caucasus need an anchor in order to find room for reforms. Europe on its part needs a stable, developed and integrated South Caucasus in order to make the most of the energy potential in the Caspian region. Second, a secure and democratic South Caucasus is a stable bridge for Europe's entry into Central Asia.

If the region bulks under instability, Europe's chances to secure new and non-Russian energy supplies will significantly diminish. Further, the region could slip back into the Russian orbit of influence, which means the gateway to Central Asia will be closed at the Georgian-Black Sea coast.

Europe should urgently do three things in order to better its position in the strategic game being played over the South Caucasus. First, up its political dialogue and engagement through offering broader commitments and a long-term association perspective for the South Caucasus countries. Second, European policy towards Moscow needs better coordination. A united Europe vis-a-vis Russia will ensure a more assertive Europe in the South Caucasus and a more sturdy European energy position. With the enlargement of the EU to Bulgaria and Romania, the broader Black Sea region has become Europe's own back yard.

In the end, European endeavors to resolve the series of frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus region need to be more assertive and explicit.

For now, Europe is choosing to remain a political light-weight in the region, cautious of over committing itself. Ensuring that Europe plays a major role in this region is perhaps the single most important strategic decision the EU will have to make in the upcoming year. The stakes -- energy and security -- are enormous if the opportunity to affect change in the South Caucasus countries and their assimilation towards the EU is lost.

Various religious traditions have different repercussions in different countries. Let’s have a look at the day of Ashura, when Shi’a Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. This day, people provide free meal, but also chest-beat, self-flagellate and do several other things in remembrance.

The countries with Shia Muslim population witness these customs and traditions of Ashura, but things look different in each of them. Azerbaijan is unique in this sense, with the difference being of humanistic and social nature.

Even during the soviet period of its history, Azerbaijan was the place where all these traditions were observed despite the pressures from the atheistic communist authorities. Since gaining independence in 1991, people of Azerbaijan continued in even larger scale mourning at Ashura, but the core rituals turned from self-imposed pain and suffering to other, socially more important actions.

In contemporary Azerbaijan, the majority donates blood and provides food to the needy. This is the case both for the capital city of Baku and the regions of Azerbaijan. Interestingly, last years the foreigners, including non-Muslims, also joined the people in these efforts. Among those, who donated blood this year were many representatives of the diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Ambassador Anne Derse, other representatives of the diplomatic corps.

It is, indeed, crucial to put social and humanistic substance into the customs and traditions we observe for centuries, to adapt religious dogma to the realities of a secular society. And if you want to know how, come to Azerbaijan.

What do these statements by Armenian Foreign Minister aim at?

"The document on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict put on the bargaining table contents Armenia,' Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian declared in Hague. `The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs have proposed a document which we consider logical. If we resolve the issue in compliance with the document, we shall get a solution that will not counter our national interests. That means we shall have safeguarded the self-determination of Artsakhi people, their security, as well as the unimpeded link between Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. These three points are provided for in the document,' said the ForeignMinister. Vartan Oskanian added that Azerbaijan continues its militaryrhetoric, which exerts negative influence on the atmosphere. `In any case it does not frighten us at all, does not divert from the path we have chosen. Our Army, the 15th anniversary of which we celebrated with luxury, is rather strong, self-confident and well prepared. Ourofficial stances are firm, and we do not thing at least during the coming ten years Azerbaijan will dare to undertake any infringement against Armenia or NKR,' the Foreign Minister underlined."

ArmRadio.am31.01.2007 11:23


Monday, January 29, 2007

Statement of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group

Baku/Yerevan – January 29, 2007

After four days of meetings, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs (Ambassador Yuri Merzylakov – Russian Federation; Ambassador Bernard Fassier – France; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza – United States) are encouraged by the constructive approach of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan as they seek to finalize a set of basic principles for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hosted Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov for talks facilitated by the Co-Chairs in Moscow on Tuesday, January 23. The Co-Chairs met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Wednesday, January 24. On Thursday, January 25, they traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh to meet with NK leader Arkady Ghukasian. They met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian in Yerevan on Friday, January 26.

The Co-Chairs appreciate the efforts of all the interlocutors they met during the week. It is the responsibility of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the assistance of the Co-Chairs, to find a lasting, peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The presidents are defending their national interests vigorously, and they are doing so in a way that allows the peace process to continue moving forward.

The Co-Chairs urge all parties to sustain this momentum in the negotiations and to prepare their publics for the necessary compromises. At the same time, the Co-Chairs urge continued pursuit of confidence-building measures and maintenance of the ceasefire to increase the level of trust and understanding between the sides.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Three answers to Boris:

- No, I do not mind that at all. In fact, we are glad to have you here.

- Yes, I agree. Yet, you are misguided in one important aspect, which is peace as the final goal, not one of the elements of the solution. Unlike Armenia, which controls up to 20% of Azerbaijan as a result of armed aggression and continues, inter alia, to develop its natural resources, we do not and can not allow ourselves to be dragged into time-killing scenarios. Diplomatic efforts continue to be high priority for Azerbaijan, but our right for the restoration of territorial sovereignty is even higher.

- Now, here I am puzzled. Just what do you mean by the ofstates being "different"? Would you elaborate, please? You may be getting distorted info on whatever I have said.

As for diplomatic norms of behavior... Was it myself who suggested that the other side's reps should undergo psychological treatment? Was it me who mocked and ridiculed suffering of numerous refugees and displaced as a "PR campaign"? I honestly believe I have never overstepped the line, unlike Mr. Karapetyan & Co.

Hope to hear from you soon.


Thanks a million for your kind words, everyone! First, answering the question of "why English". Let's get real: how many Westerners, including serious political observers and decison-makers can one hope to attract by doing discussions in his/her mother tongue, as long as it is not English?

Now, to the The Issue. NK. First things first. Let's re-iterate Azerbaijan's approach towards the process. We view resolution as a stage-package one. First stage would consist of 8 or9 components, including withdrawal of the occupationsl forces from all terrritories of Azerbaijan around NK, de-mining, return of the IDPs, restoration of communications, security and confidence-building measures, etc., with the second embracing definition of the legal status of NK per se as a result of inclusive, constitutional, democratic process. In between those is restoration of the pre-war ethnic composition of the NK population.

Now, to the question on "Armenian settlement". It's a pure PR move, and not very good at that. Well, how low can you go? And the main thing - it's not effective.

Tahir and Khazar

Friday, January 26, 2007

"If you don't know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere", Henry Kissinger

So therefore, it is crucial to know the road you go, the obstacles you have, and more importantly: if the road is the right one. All these dictate which tools to utilize to make sure you choose the right path and complete it.

For these reasons, we would like to discuss the following:

  • What are Azerbaijan's foreign policy priorities (it means not only the stated ones, but also those perceived by the people - and difference between the two);

  • What are obstacles in a way of achieving those priorities (again both real and imagined).

Tahir and Khazar

Security challenges in the South Caucasus?!

· Protracted conflicts in the region undermine the overall security environment. They lead to arms race, socio-economic burden for the Governments, and human right problems. The conflicts divert the efforts from the region-oriented projects for the sake of the people’s prosperity to the clashes, which drive the region apart;

· External pressures by the neighboring countries lead to the complicated geopolitical circumstances, which may frighten foreign investment and impede democratization processes. Even though the recent time pressures are mostly of the economic nature (e.g. rise in gas prices), some military-related actions by Iran on and over the Caspian took place in 2001 and 2002 (warship and aircraft penetrations);

· Unresolved status of the Caspian sea keeps the regional inter-state relations tense and prevent overwhelming development of the existing opportunities. The main issue remains positions of Iran and Turkmenistan, who do not want to join other littoral states in the medium line-resolution;

· Asymmetric threats of terrorism, WMD proliferation, drugs, human and other trafficking divert resources from the social projects to fighting these menaces. The existence of the grey zones as a result of the protracted conflicts creates favorable conditions for flourishing these very dangerous activities;

· Secure transportation of the energy resources to the world markets may bring needed revenues for the development of the region and will diversify energy supplies to the European markets. There were many warnings before and during construction of BTC and BTE pipelines, and problems in proper functioning of these pipelines through attacks, sabotage or other actions can harm both regional and European interests;

· EU-Azerbaijan relations should develop in fighting all afore-mentioned challenges in close cooperation with other organizations and countries. It is important to concert the efforts with NATO, OSCE, Council of Europe, as well as individual countries, including United States, Turkey, and Russia.

Tahir and Khazar
The blog is launched:

Why now?

· Energy security issues are looming in the world today and South Caucasus and Central Asia are among the major puzzle pieces;
· Global efforts on fighting terrorism, WMD proliferation and other contemporary threats attracted lots of attention to the region;
· The region is turning out to be on the crossroad of the East-West and North-South transport corridors;
· The region is on the crossroads of civilizations;
· Simply… it can be late tomorrow

Why Azerbaijan?

· Azerbaijan has been turning into the hub for the energy supply and transportation routes; fighting contemporary security threats, risks and challenges; and intercultural dialogues.

Tahir and Khazar