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ALIYEV INVITES KOCHARIAN
Global Strategies Shape Regional Developments

By Hratch Tchilingirian


When recently Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev invited Armenian
President Robert Kocharian to attend an EU-sponsored international
conference in Baku, to discuss prospects for the successful
implementation of the TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus
Asia) program, many observers and analysts were caught off guard.

In Armenia, the "surprise" invitation caused speculation on the real
political motives of Azerbaijan. Some think the invitation is a
diplomatic trap for Armenia, intended to embarrass the Kocharian
administration and score political points for Aliyev. Other circles
express concern for the security of Armenian officials visiting
Baku. And political opportunists interpret the invitation as further
indication of Armenia's "diplomatic weakness."

However, a closer look at the processes involved in convening
multinational conferences and EU's strategic policies in the region
indicate that Azerbaijan's invitation is more problematic for
President Aliyev than Armenia.  There are several important reasons
for this:
 
 -- President Aliyev's choices were slim. As in the case of virtually
all other regional and international conferences organized by
multinational bodies or regional clubs, (such as UN, OSCE, CIS, BSEC,
etc.), the host country president is expected by protocol to invite
the heads of state of all participating countries. Armenia is a
constituent member of TRACECA. The organizer (EU), not the host
(Azerbaijan), decides the "list of invitees."  Ironically, the idea to
host the conference in Baku was proposed in September 1997 by
Presidents Aliyev and Shevardnadze of Georgia. At the time change of
leadership in Armenia was the least expected development in the region
and, perhaps, Azerbaijan had high hopes that the Karabakh conflict
would be resolved by now.

 -- As indicated by the protest of Azerbaijan's opposition parties, the
invitation and Armenia's acceptance of the invitation is a negative
political matter for Aliyev. It is a common election campaign wisdom
that one does not invite the President of a country who is considered
a "war criminal" in Azerbaijan a few weeks before presidential
elections, especially when one is running for re-election.

 -- The invitation puts a dent in Azerbaijan's policy to isolate Armenia
in regional strategic and economic developments. This is the first
time that Baku, most probably against its wishes, extends an
invitation to the President of Armenia for an official visit to
Azerbaijan, albeit for an international conference. The most recent
example of Azerbaijan's policy on high level visitations was its
refusal to send a representative to BSEC's (Black Sea Economic
Co-operation) April 30 meeting in Yerevan where foreign ministers of
the participating countries initialed a Charter on upgrading the
BSEC's status. At the Yerevan conference Azerbaijan was scheduled to
take over the rotating chairmanship of the BSEC. It did not. It would
have meant hosting the next BSEC conference in Baku and inviting
Armenia. The chairmanship was passed to Bulgaria.

 -- Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan has consistently insisted that any
regional economic, transportation and related cooperation involving
Armenia and Azerbaijan is dependent on the resolution of the Nagorno
Karabakh conflict.  Baku's invitation implies an exception to
this. Participation in and implementation of the TRACECA program would
involve cooperation among the countries of the region, at the least
indirect cooperation among the three South Caucasus republics.

The TRACECA program -- its context, dimension and implementation --
has great significant for all the parties involved, especially the
South Caucasus republics. A closer look at EU's strategic policies and
programs in the region further indicate that building infrastructure
and creating better economic environment are stronger foundations for
the resolution of regional conflicts and the establishment of mutually
beneficial relations.

The TRACECA Program was launched by the European Union (EU) at a
conference in Brussels in May 1993 which brought together trade and
transport ministers from eight of the TRACECA countries: five Central
Asian republics, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The conference
agreed to implement an EU-funded program for technical assistance to
develop a transport corridor on a West-East axis from Europe, across
the Black Sea, through the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to Central
Asia.

The EU offered this program as an additional route that would
complement all traditional routes. It is part of EU's strategy toward
Central Asia and the Caucasus. The main objectives of TRACECA are:

 -- To support the political and economic independence of the republics
by enhancing their capacity to access European and world markets
through alternative transport routes;

 -- To encourage further regional co-operation among the republics;

 -- To increasingly use TRACECA as a catalyst to attract the support
of International Financial Institutions and private investors;

 -- To link the TRACECA route with the Trans-European Networks.

The TRACECA route -- the shortest distance and potentially the fastest
and cheapest route from Central Asia to deep-sea ships serving world
markets -- would establishes an alternative transport outlet to Europe
and would complement the traditional and often heavily overloaded
route via Russia.

Already several working group meetings have taken place since the
establishment of the program (Almaty and Vienna 1995; Venice and
Athens 1996).  The most recent meeting was held in Tbilisi, in May
1998, where 14 new projects for 1998-99 were proposed by the European
Commission and endorsed by the beneficiary countries.  There are also
plans to link the TRACECA route with the Black Sea region and the
Trans-European Networks.

Working closely with the World Bank, EBRD and international financial
institutions, TRACECA has already implemented several important
projects involving upgrading and rehabilitation of roads and highways
(Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan) and upgrading and construction of
ports (Georgia and Azerbaijan).

Other TRACECA projects involve the rehabilitation of the Caucasian
Railways (a 7.5 km track in Georgia, the reparation of a section on
the Armenian-Georgian border and the rehabilitation of a bridge at the
Azeri-Georgian border). As for air transportation, the TRACECA has an
Air Traffic Control (ATC) Training and Southern Ring Air Routes
project. This involves 10 countries in the region to upgrade their ATC
capabilities and to support the establishment of a work plan for
routes to be adapted by airlines. The project includes a feasibility
study for the three national Caucasian airlines (Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Georgia) to set up a joint venture for regional flights with
investment opportunities for private European investors.

Of particular importance to Armenia is the reconstruction of a
Iran-Armenia-Georgia highway. Armenian-American billionaire Kirk
Kerkorian has already donated a significant part of the cost ($85
million). The rest is expected to come from the European Union.

Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darpinian will head a delegation to Baku
to participate in the EU's conference scheduled for September
7-8. This would be the first Armenian high-level official visit to
Azerbaijan. The political implications of such a visit, both for
Azerbaijan and Armenia, remain to be seen.

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Hratch Tchilingirian is a scholar and analyst of contemporary
Armenian affairs, London School of Economics and Political Science. 
Comments to the author should be sent to HratchT@aol.com.

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