Some Thoughts on the October 27 Killings in Armenia - October, 2010

Eleven years ago today gunmen burst into the Armenian parliament and shot to death eight of the nation's lawmakers. The shooting was an unprecedented event for Armenia and it sent a shock-wave across the world. Among those killed included Armenia's two most influential politicians at the time, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirjian. Throughout history, virtually all major political assassinations have had third-party involvement. Examples are many. More often than not, assassinations of officials or influential individuals are operations carried out by special services. As a general rule, major political events, like the murder of politically important individuals do not occur randomly or get carried out by  individuals or even groups of individuals acting independently. The more spectacular a political killing, the higher the likelihood that it was planned by high level officials. Therefore, let's take another look at what happened in Armenia on October 27, 1999.

Due to its sheer audacity and bloody efficiency, the assassinations of eight Armenian officials, including two of the top three officials in the country, on October 27, in 1999 deserves a closer look. The Armenian department of US government-sponsored Liberty Radio (Azatutyun Radio) reported the following today:
"Deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) Galust Sahakian, who led his party’s delegation visiting Yerablur, a military cemetery in Yerevan where Vazgen Sarkisian is buried, said he believed the October 27, 1999 crime had been organized by “outside forces”. “We have no suspicions regarding local forces or individuals,” he added."
Before he was assassinated by the FSB in London in 2006, former Russian intelligence agent turned British spy, Alexander Litvinenko, had publicly claimed that the assault on the leadership of Armenia on October 27, 1999 was organized by special services of the Russian Federation (see news article below this commentary). Despite his less-than ideal credentials, did Litvinenko's serious accusation against his former bosses in the Kremlin have any validity?

Was there a geopolitical dimension to the historic assassinations Armenia suffered? 

Of course one can never be certain in these types of matters. Having said that, however, there are some circumstantial evidences that does, at the very least, suggest some degree of Russian involvement. To better understand what happened in Armenia on that day eleven years ago, we must first better assess the geopolitical climate of the time in question. In hindsight, what's clear is that the parliamentary killings happened during a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin's star was on the rise in the Russian Federation. What's clear is that Moscow at the time had begun to embark on a serious long-term campaign to reassert itself in the strategically crucial Caucasus region. What's also clear is that the killings occurred at a time when top level officials in Yerevan seemed to be getting ready to abandon Moscow's political orbit for Western promises regarding Nagorno Karabakh. Arguably the most powerful politician in Armenia at the time, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian had visited officials Washington in 1999 and there were strong indicators that he may have had accepted certain political proposals put on the table by them. Somehow connected to all this may have been the infamous and still controversial Western concoction called the "Goble Plan"; the brainchild and namesake of a senior US State Department official Paul Goble.

Under the Goble Plan Armenia was expected to essentially abandon its border connection with Iran. A ten kilometer wide corridor along Armenia's southern border region with Iran, stretching from south-western Azerbaijan to eastern Nakhijevan was then to be "internationalized".
In return, Baku was to recognize Artsakh's independence. And Ankara was to recognize the Armenian Genocide and return symbolic lands to Armenia. The overall intent/purpose of this Washingtonian project was to divert Central Asian energy distribution away from Russian control and settle the dispute over Nagorno Karabakh independent of Moscow.

Again, we must bare in mind that this ambitious plan was hatched by officials in Washington during the mid-1990s. In other words, it was concocted during a time when Russia was on its knees and to a large extent at the mercy of Western powers. Taking advantage of Russia's weak political position at the time, Washington was more-or-less hoping for Yerevan to voluntarily disconnect itself from Iran, arguably Armenia's most geopolitically strategic neighbor, for mere promises essentially made by Western oil interests. By expecting it to abandon its border with Iran, Yerevan was
essentially being asked to voluntarily complete the total encirclement and geopolitical isolation of the already remote and embattled Armenian state. Incredibly, but not surprisingly in my opinion, this potentially disastrous and suicidal plan seemed to have found willing partners in the highest echelons of the Armenian government. There were indicators at the time that Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and National Assembly Speaker Karen Demirjian had at least preliminarily, that is in principal, accepted Washington's aforementioned proposals. Thus, Armenian officials were, at least preliminarily, getting ready to partake in this Western  agenda in the Caucasus.

Less-than a month before their deaths, Vazgen Sarkisian had visited the United States for meetings and Karen Demirjian had visited Germany for high level meetings. Both at the time were on record stating that Yerevan will no longer allow itself to be subservient to Moscow and that Armenia will begin seeking closer relations with the Western world. This very significant development in Armenian politics at the time was unmistakably a direct and unprecedented political message to Moscow. Needless to say, knowing the strategic value of Armenia as well as recognizing close relations Russia has had with Armenia going back two hundred years, one can just imagine the indignation and rage Kremlin officials must have felt.

As we all know, the 1990s was a total disaster for the Russian state on all fronts. By the mid-1990s, Russia's political and financial infrastructures were for all intents and purposes being managed by officials in Washington. Russia was on the verge of becoming a failed state, which is what Western powers were actually hoping for. By the late 1990s, however, a powerful network of individuals within Russia's intelligence and special services apparatus were engaged in the long and meticulous process of house-cleaning in the Kremlin. Former KGB official Vladimir Putin had become the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation and together with Russia's powerful intelligence services he was working on a campaign to retake control of Moscow from the hands of Western-backed oligarchs and their puppet, Yeltsin the drunk. By the late 1999, this project was already in its advanced stages. Russian nationalists at the time were also in the process of reasserting Moscow's geopolitical will within their former spheres of influence. This was especially true within the strategic Caucasus, long known as Russia's vulnerable underbelly. In short, as we saw in Chechnya at the time, Moscow was ready not to spare any effort in its desire to reassert its political will in the Caucasus.  

Needless to say, it is a well known fact that Armenia plays a very important role in Russia's foreign policy formulations. With Georgia and Azerbaijan already written off as lost, Russian policymakers in the deepest chambers of the Kremlin simply would not accept the thought of losing Armenia as well. Without a friendly Armenia providing it with a strategic foothold in the south Caucasus, Kremlin officials rightfully feared that they could eventually lose the entire Caucasus region - as well as losing their direct and indirect control over the distribution of Central Asian energy reserves. After all, it was well known that isolating the Russian Federation and undermining its regional presence was precisely the agenda being fanatically pursued by Western powers and their regional allies since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Islamic insurgency in the north Caucasus was related to this. For the Kremlin, losing the Caucasus could therefore also lead to a potential pan-Islamic  and pan-Turkic thrust into southern Russia.

The second Chechen war in 2000, Alexander Litvinenko's assassination in 2006 and the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 proved that when push comes to shove Kremlin officials are more than ready and willing to resort to drastic measures and shed blood in the name of protecting Russia's national security. There is no doubt that in late 1999 Armenia had became a major front in Moscow's battle against Western, Islamic and Turkish expansion in the region. Alarmingly for Moscow, Official Yerevan at the time looked as if it had begun looking Westward. Then, suddenly on October 27, 1999, eight Armenian lawmakers, including Vazgen Sarkisian and Karen Demirjian, were gunned down in the Armenian National Assembly in a bloody spectacle that was televised worldwide. Armenia thereafter remained steadfastly within the Russian orbit, where it remains today. 

Therefore, had Moscow sent a loud message to Washington and Yerevan on October 27, 1999?

Within a several days after the shootings in Yerevan, I recall reading an English language official Russian press release claiming that the assassination of the Armenian officials was ordered by Washington and managed on-site by Strobe Talbott, a high level U.S. official that was in Yerevan on the morning of October 27 to hold meetings with Vazgen Sargsyan. The Russian press release also stated that an upset Strobe Talbott had stormed out of a private meeting with Vazgen Sarkisian several hours before the shootings occurred. I have since searched the internet for this Russian press release but I haven't been able to find it. I regret not to have copied or saved this curious piece of information. In hindsight, this Russian press release seemed to have been nothing more than an obvious case of disinformation (i.e. diversion). The press release was simply meant to confuse and/or divert attention - a standard operational procedure employed by special services. 

Nevertheless, it was widely known at the time that on the morning of the shootings, Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, U.S. Deputy-Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and his aide Stephen Sestanovich had indeed privately discussed issues pertaining to Nagorno Karabakh - but both sides claimed is was a friendly and productive meeting. Then on November 01, 1999, I came across a very interesting piece written by academician Mark Almond for the Wall Street Journal Europe interestingly titled - "Our Boys in Armenia Are Dead". In his very well prepared synopsis, the British writer and lecturer on modern history cautiously claimed that Moscow stood to benefit the most from what occurred in Yerevan. Mark Almond's report is fascinating and it accurately portrays the geopolitical climate of the Caucasus during the late 1990s. Thankfully, unlike the Russian press release I referred to above, I had downloaded and saved this particular article. It can be read towards the bottom of this page. The atmosphere leading up to the assassinations strongly suggested that Washington and Yerevan were getting close to a major agreement. In light of political developments in Armenia at the time, it would of been in Moscow's interest to carryout a beheading of the Armenian government since. 

My working theory is therefore this: Under Vazgen Sarkisian and Karen Demirjyan, Armenia was indeed readying itself to solve strategic matters in the region with the United States and independent of Russia, and national security elements in Moscow simply felt forced or compelled to put an abrupt stop to it before it got out of hand. If Russian intelligence services did indeed carry out the killings, and I believe they did, it was done out of fear and desperation. I believe that Vazgen Sarkisian and Karen Demirjyan were looking to enter into closer relationship with the United States at a  time when Russians were desperately fighting to regain control over the Caucasus region. I believe this triggered their drastic response.

It is also noteworthy to recall that within an hour or two after the shootings, Russia's elite Alpha Group was reported to be securing strategic infrastructure in Armenia. In my opinion, the Alpha Group's timely presence in Armenia was yet another indicator that Moscow was preparing to safeguard its position in Armenia in the event there were any unforeseen disturbances as a result of the shootings. Besides making some lofty yet vague political statements and pulling the triggers of their Kalashnikov assault rifles, what was Nairi Hunanyan's assassination team's real intentions in all this? Was Nairi Hunanyan simply a disgruntled or mentally disturbed citizen taking the law into his own hands or was he and his colleagues ideologically driven activists that were somehow manipulated by foreign special services to serve a greater geopolitical purpose? In my opinion, the answer may be a variation of the ladder scenario. Most probably, foreign intelligence agents had exploited domestic elements that were committed to exacting revenge on government officials in Armenia. Such a thing is actually quite common in the dark world of secret services and intelligence agencies. Most probably, even today, there exists in Armenia an individual or a group of individuals that are being groomed/nurtured to carryout a political assassination for one political purpose or another. These assassins are activated when the time is appropriate. It is well known that the Russian FSB/GRU/SVR, the British MI6, the America CIA, the Israeli Mossad and other intelligence services around the world covertly train, fund and arm various paramilitary groups as well as so-called "lone wolves" that have an axe to grind with their governments. Again, examples are many. It is also well known that Armenia is saturated by Russian intelligence agents.

Norayr Yeghiazaryan, one of the arrested accomplices who was also the person reportedly responsible for providing Hunanyan's assassination team with its arms and ammunition died very soon after his arrest. With Norayr Yeghiazaryan's death, the real story of who was behind the killings most probably died with him as well. It is always customary for special services to forever silence their incriminating link. Thus far, three of the six men reportedly involved in the assassinations have died in prison, with Hamlet Stepenyan being the most recent one. There may have been other deaths associated with the assassination case as well (see Washington-funded ArmeniaNow article at the bottom of this page). There was yet another curious dimension regarding this matter. I recall reading in an Armenian weekly here in the United States about an elderly female employee of the national assembly that was reported to have been an eyewitness to the bloody events on that day. This woman was whisked away to the United States merely a day or two after the shootings. What had this women seen that warranted her immediate flight to the United States? Reportedly, she never spoke a word about what she had seen. She died in New York, apperently from natural causes, I believe sometime in 2004.

Needless to say, authorities in Yerevan have not revealed any evidence implicating Moscow in the assassinations nor have they implicated any other political entity. Despite what Chairman of the Republican Party in Armenia reportedly stated today, the official storyline that remains unchanged to this day is that the shootings were a tragic yet isolated case of ideological fanatics taking the law into their hands. However, the fact remains that the only political entity that clearly had an interest in carrying-out an operation this major, especially in light of regional political developments then, was Moscow and to some extent the current pro-Russian ruling administration in Yerevan. If my convictions are true, if Litvinenko's accusations against Moscow were true, then it is quite possible that Robert Kocharyan was somehow made aware of the impending operation, which may be why he was not present when the killings took place. In the high stakes game of geopolitics, Kremlin officials may have seen Robert Kocharyan at the time (as they currently see Serj Sargsyan) as their most trusted human asset in Armenia.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of some experts, the only political entity that seemed to have directly benefited from the shootings in question was Moscow and their men in Yerevan. With one surgical strike of last resort, Moscow put to an abrupt end to Yerevan's ill-conceived attempt at breaking away from Russia's political orbit. With one sudden strike, Moscow ensured the continuing development of its strategic partnership with Armenia. Similarly, some of you may recall that when Armenia was on the verge of falling victim to a "color revolution" in early 2008, Moscow openly backed Serj Sargsyan's presidency and fully supported Yerevan's decision to crush Levon Petrosian's coup d'état.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that what I'm claiming here is only my personal opinion. These are my personal speculations. I am not privy to any special information other than what is readily available to everyone with an internet enabled computer. My take on this matter is simply based on what I have personally observed in regional affairs throughout the years, as well as my experience and training in matters pertaining to geopolitics and the military. I would like to close this commentary by saying that in the big scheme of life, in the big picture that is, what happened in Yerevan on October 27, 1999 ultimately ensured the political survival of the Armenian state in the ever-turbulent and unforgiving Caucasus. Official Yerevan needs to forget about closer relations with the West. For better or for worst, Armenia's and Russia's futures are interlocked. Armenia cannot exist without Russia. For well into the future, Armenia will have no choice but to firmly remain within Moscow's political orbit. I remain firm in my conviction that Yerevan's close alliance with Moscow will prove very beneficial for Armenia in the long-term. In the meanwhile, however, Moscow continues to treat Armenia much like how an overly jealous husband treats his wife. We can however find some solace in that. The following are some materials pertaining to this topic.



Shooting of the Armenian Parliament Was Organized by Russian Special Services - Former FSB Colonel Claims

Former employee of Russia's Federal Security Service, colonel Alexander Litvinenko, stated form his political asylum in Great Britain that the shooting of Armenian parliament on October 27 of 1999 was organized by Russian special services, more precisely Russian Military Reconnaissance. "Pursuing certain political aims, the Russian special services often turn to subversive activity. Many know in highest echelons of Russia's special services that the shooting of the Armenian parliament in 1999 was organized by RMR. This sabotage enabled Russia's political elite to prevent signing of the agreement on Karabakh settlement. If I am not mistaken, it was said that president Aliyev and Kocharian were to sign a memorandum at the Istanbul summit of OSCE. The peaceful process was developing aloof from Russia's control and that made Russian special services to carry out the special mission in the Armenian parliament", Litvinenko told Real Azerbaijan online newspaper ( Litvinenko said that he personally recruited employees of Azerbaijan's special services who occupy high positions today as well. "I was working at the anti-terror department. We actively engaged against Azerbaijan. I personally recruited 12 employees of Azeri National Security Service", he noted. "There are now 30 agents of Russian special services. Why? Because Putin does not trust Ilham Aliyev. Putin needs alternative sources of information. All Russia's institutes of Azerbaijan carry out tasks of the center, watch and control Aliyev", Litvinenko said.

Source: AZG Armenian Daily #079, 03/05/2005

Some Thoughts on the Killings in Armenia – Who did it and Why?

The slaying of 8 prominent politicians in Armenia on 27th October including the prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, and speaker of the parliament, Karen Demirchian, took the Western media completely by surprise. Experts seemed to be thin on the ground – CNN provided a young lady from the Economist Intelligence Unit who squirmed in discomfort when asked about the complexities of Yerevan politics; editorial staff from a leading US newspaper was surprised to learn that 'Karen' Demirchian was not a woman. Yet, while such a drastic scenario was impossible to predict, some glitch in Armenia's political life could have been predicted. The reason is this: a solution to the ongoing problem of what to do with Nagorno Karabakh seemed to be on the horizon. Although fighting between the neighbouring republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia ended in 1994, the permanent status of the small Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh situated within Azerbaijan itself remained unresolved. An OSCE-sponsored peace initiative, the Minsk Process, had made little progress with different solutions put on the table at various times – the one seeming to favour Baku while yet another benefited Yerevan, and vice versa.

Since 1994 the United States has become more entrenched both economically and politically in the Caucasus region. But investments in the oil-rich Caspian remain insecure as the pipelines needed to get the oil and gas out to the West transit Russia to the north or go through Georgia to the north-west. Both logistics and financing call for a more direct route, ideally through Armenia and on to Turkey. Investors themselves would also be more enthusiastic if regional squabbles, like Karabakh, were to be settled once and for all. It goes without saying that they care little whether Armenia or Azerbaijan are the winners in this particular struggle as long as the problem goes away. However, it looks very much as though somebody, somewhere does not want the problem of Karabakh to go away, not yet, that is. In February 1998 when it looked as though a previous deal was about to be struck, Armenia's president, Levon Ter Petrosian, was removed from office by, it was assumed, hardline supporters of Karabakh independence, including the murdered Vazgen Sarkisian and the then-prime minister, Robert Kocharian. Kocharian himself was a former president of Nagorno Karabakh. Kocharian stood and won the presidency in elections that took place in Armenia in March 1998 but only a after a strange and unsatisfactory campaign. Out of the blue, he was challenged for the post by the country's last Communist leader, Karen Demirchian, who had resigned in 1988 when the Karabakh protests were at their height. Since then Demirchian had pursued a career as a businessman running the Armelektromash factory in Yerevan, presumably without the faintest intention of returning to the political fray.

But his candidacy was heavily promoted by the West, the US in particular. The 'plan' was obvious: to shoe the maleable Demirchian into the presidency so that negotiations on Karabakh's future could be resumed from where Ter Perosian left off. It was generally assumed that Armenians would likely go for the nostalgia vote: Demirchian a reminder of the old Soviet days of plenty as against the younger Kocharian, a by-word for the present miserable standard of living. One American journalist was told not to bother going to Yerevan for the election as it was "all sown up – Demirchian is going to win" But things did not go according to plan. While many older Armenians may have associated Demirchian with happier times, others saw him as the old Communist boss who, among other things, had presided over the construction of the thousands of shaky high-rise buildings that had collapsed in the terrible earthquake of December 1988. On top of this, Armenians had developed a passionate hatred for Ter Petrosian during his 8 years in power. Kocharian was not only perceived as being younger and more dynamic than Demirchian he was also regarded as a refreshingly honest successor to the former president and his regime. When it became obvious that Demirchian was not going to win as easily as expected a vast array of American 'election observers' descended on Yerevan from where they fanned around the small republic and, allegedly, found evidence of huge electoral fraud perpetrated by the supporters of Robert Kocharian. Despite the fact that over 80% of the official OSCE observer team reported no such irregularities, a cleverly organized beat-up by a number of vociferous, mainly American observers, managed to taint the conduct of the election in the eyes of the world.

So, with the Armenian presidency in the hands of the reputedly 'hard-line' Kocharian another year was to pass before progress on the Karabakh question could be attempted again. The next opportunity presented itself with parliamentary elections that took place at the end of May this year. In the previous twelve months the loser in the presidential election, Karen Demirchian, had formed a new political party with a vague leftist agenda. In February 1999 the party joined forces with the hard-line, nationalist Republic Party under Defence Minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, to form the Unity Bloc which became the largest and most effective party in the parliamentary elections. Unity won the largest number of votes with 44.67% of the poll after an election plagued, this time , by genuine irregularities. President Kocharian made Sarkisian prime minister in the new government, Demirchian effectively became his deputy as speaker of parliament.

The cooperation between Sarkisian and Demirchian was an unlikely one – at first sight anyway. But astute commentators in Armenia had noted that Sarkisian and his Republican Party would not necessarily be unresponsive to the blandishments of the West. This has proved true. In the last three months negotiations have seemed to be up and running again over the status of Karabakh. The Americans have been pushing hard hoping to announce a deal at the upcoming OSCE summit in Istanbul. President Kocharian has met Azerbaijan's Haider Aliev on four separate occasions, but more importantly Sarkisian has visited the US and received substantial backing from both the World Bank and IMF to, presumably, reinforce his helpful line on sorting out Karabakh. Relations with Turkey were even beginning to get back on track, thanks to American mediation. So much, then, for the theory that Sarkisian was a hard-line nationalist. It is probably true to say that like many people in the former Soviet Union he too had his price. But could he have expected that he and Demirchian were to pay with their lives for their dealings with the Americans? Ter Petrosian had merely been toppled, they were slaughtered. Who might have been responsible ? Who benefited?


Although the killers claimed to be taking revenge for the corruption and graft of Armenia's political class, this is unlikely to be the reason for the killings. Armenia is much less corrupt than many other post-communist countries, if only because it is so much poorer and has had much less foreign investment to steal. Anyway, with the fall of Ter Petrosian the country has probably become marginally less corrupt. Domestically, there has been a spate of political/mafia killings over the past few years but never in the centre of political life like the parliament. However, the parliamentary chamber has one thing in its favour as a venue for these assassinations – the intended victims would be without bodyguards and weapons. Sarkisian, in particular, went everywhere with a bunch of weapon-touting heavies. It was also the one place where both Demirchian and Sarkisian would likely be in the same place at the same time. Although media commentators have insisted that the killers only meant to kill Sarkisian out of their eight victims, it was important for them to also get Demirchian. Both are associated with the negotiations over Karabakh. Nevertheless, it is Western nonsense to say that Sarkisian was 'popular'. A certain nonchalance about any threat to his person could explain the ease with which the gunmen got into the parliament which is situated in large grounds behind high railings with various layers of security. It is important to remember that this parliament had been under siege before in recent times. After Ter Petrosian claimed victory in the 1996 presidential election angry crowds stormed the building in protest. Yet despite the urgency of the situation TV pictures on the night of 27th October showed Armenian police, relatively relaxed, facing outwards. They seemed to be unperturbed for their own safety at the hands of the gunmen still, apparently, trigger-happy somewhere in the building behind them.


Both deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Sestanovich and Strobe Talbott have shuttled to and fro between Yerevan and Baku recently. Talbott met Sarkisian and Kocharian shortly before the assassination took place and has since been ordered back to Yerevan by an anxious Madelaine Albright. It is hard to see why the US should have promoted the kind of violence that occurred later in the day – the American team was obviously optimistic about a deal on Karabakh. Nor can the United States treat Armenia like Kosovo and lead a NATO intervention to occupy the country under the guise of stopping regional violence and instability – there are around 14,000 Russian troops in Armenia who are unlikely to follow the Serb lead and depart meakly north of the border when told to do so. Added to which, if investor confidence is part of the reason for seeking a regional peace deal high-profile assassinations are unlikely to do the trick.


Armenia has always been Russia's closest ally in the Caucasus. There seem to be no internal conflicts over this nor any domestic pressure to remove Russian troops from the country. In the last year the Armenians have also updated their missile defence system, for example. Although Russia allowed NATO to call the shots in Kosovo it is debatable whether she would allow the United States to take control of the Caucasus republics and their valuable trade routes to the West. If the thorny problem of Karabakh's status was solved the need for routes to be taken northwards through Russia would recede and with them valuable revenue. Whether or not these considerations led someone or the other at the behest of some faction or the other in Russia to order these assassinations is an unknown. One thing is certain: woe betide anyone who becomes too closely involved with settling the Karabakh problem. Even though the Americans are still hoping that some kind of deal can be stitched up in Istanbul next month, the parties to such an agreement might well look over their shoulders with some anxiety.


Suspicious Death: October 27 Accomplice Dead by Heart Attack in Prison

Suspicious Death: October 27 accomplice dead by heart attack in prison

An inmate sentenced to 14 years for his role in the October 27, 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian Parliament died inside Nubarshen penitentiary on Saturday (May 15). According to prison officials, Hamlet Stepanyan, 57, died of a heart attack. He is the third among six defendants of the controversial case who died in prison, leading human right defenders to question whether the death was by natural causes. Michael Baghdasaryan, member of the Public Monitoring Group at the Penitentiaries of the Ministry of Justice, says that Stepanyan was generally healthy; he only had some respiratory track problems. “Now it is too early to say whether or not the heart attack was a result of some meddling, but we have some doubts, however they are not grounded,” Baghdasaryan told ArmeniaNow.

On October 27, 1999, armed men invaded the National Assembly of Armenia shooting eight high ranking officials of Armenia, including then NA Speaker Karen Demirchyan, and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan. Led by Nairi Hunanyan, six defendants have been in prison since their surrender on the day of the attack. In 2000, Norayr Yeghiazaryan, who had sold weapons to the gang, died under unknown conditions in an isolation cell. In 2004, Vram Galstyan (uncle of Nairi Hunanyan) committed suicide by hanging from a bed sheet. Throughout his trial Galstyan claimed that authorities had injected him with psychotropic drugs, and that they pressured him to commit suicide “so that the truth remained unrevealed.”

Stepanyan’s trial ended December 2, 2003, and his sentence would have been completed in about three years. “It is hard to believe in so many accidental deaths linked with such a controversial case,” Human Rights defender Michael Danielyan, Chairman of Armenian Helsinki Association says. “It is extremely suspicious to see that the defendants of this case are disappearing little by little. This tendency shows that the traces [of the assassinations] are being dredged up,” Danielyan told ArmeniaNow. Human right defenders’ suspicions increase even more when synthesizing the death cases of witnesses linked with the October 27 case.

In 2002, Tigran Naghdalyan, 36, Chairman of the Board of the Armenian Public Television and a key witness of the case was shot dead at the doorstep of his apartment. Armen Sargsyan (brother of assassinated Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan) was accused and imprisoned for Naghdalyan’s murder, however, suspicion has surrounded Naghdalyan’s death that he was assassinated as an October 27 witness. In 2004, National Assembly deputy Mushegh Movsisyan, 47, another key witness of the case, died of a car accident. The same year, Hasmik Abrahamyan, 45, an employee of the NA Protocol Department who was on the witness list was found hanged in the NA building.


Wall Street Journal Europe: Our Boys in Armenia Are Dead

Armenia -- Former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian  (L) and  parliament speaker  Karen  Demirchian  assassinated in the  1999 attack on  parliament.

By Mark Almond
The Wall Street Journal Europe
November 1, 1999

Since the great crash of the Russian ruble in 1998, many have complained that Washington and its allies have put all their post-Soviet eggs in Boris Yeltsin's basket. Western leaders have recently paid lip service to depersonalizing their approach to the region. But throughout the whole former Soviet Union, and not least in the trans-Caucasus, Western policy has remained fixated on making deals with a handful of politicians regardless of their political legitimacy at home. The inherent contradiction between Western rhetoric about promoting democracy and the rule of law, and the West's backing for compliant supporters of Western interests, is now coming into the open after last week's televised massacre in the Armenian Parliament.

Although it is clear that Russia's interests in blocking U.S. domination of its old stomping ground in the Caucasus stand to gain from the murders in Yerevan, Russia's secret services may not have had a hand in the mayhem on Wednesday. A lot of people stood to benefit from the murders of the dominant parliamentary leaders in Armenia. And, tragically, the explanation offered by the assassins for their deed rang true for many Armenians. Last time I was in Yerevan, in May, locals accused the murdered men of all sorts of corruption. It was striking that even inside his own campaign headquarters the slain prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian was accompanied by five bodyguards. However shocked most Armenians will have been by the violence, the absence of an outpouring of public grief since Wednesday is palpable.

Even if they disapprove of murder, so many Armenians have lived in worsening poverty throughout the years of independence that their sympathy for Sarkisian is very limited. Despite the resumption of the savage war between the Russians and the Chechens, Western policy makers seemed to think that the three small states to the south of the Caucasus could avoid the backwash of instability. Indeed, Washington sometimes gave the impression that if the Russians had their hands full in Chechnya, then Western goals of stabilizing the south Caucasian states could be more easily achieved.

By knocking the heads of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia together, Western policy makers hoped to resolve local disputes and thereby to facilitate the great project of linking the fabled oil wealth of the Caspian basin with Western consumers via a pipeline bringing benefits to all three states in the region. It was for that purpose that key U.S. Administration officials like Deputy-Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and regional expert Stephen Sestanovich were in Yerevan on the day of the massacre. The State Department has been putting a lot of effort into tailoring a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. For the West, with its focus on the pipeline issue, Sarkisian had become an unlikely ally and his domestic sins were overlooked.

Back in February 1998, as Armenian defense minister, Sarkisian had been a key figure in the palace coup that forced Armenia's president since independence, Levon Ter-Petrossian, to resign. Mr. Ter-Petrossian was considered too willing to compromise with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. At that time, U.S. officials and Western oil interests were deeply alarmed that the new power constellation in Yerevan would block any deal with Azerbaijan. The fact that the former leader of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharian, was the likely successor to Mr. Ter-Petrossian, only added to Washington's alarm about the political upheaval in Armenia.

Short of plausible alternatives to a hardliner over Nagorno-Karabakh -- since they had put all their trust in the ability of the authoritarian Mr. Ter-Petrossian to push through any deal with Baku – Western diplomats in Armenia found themselves talking up the candidacy of the former leader of the Communist Party, Karen Demirchyan. He had, after all, shared many years of comradely cooperation with ex-regional Communist bosses like Haydar Aliev and Eduard Shevardnadze. Then quite suddenly, Sarkisian shifted his ground and turned against Mr. Kocharian, uniting his power-base with Mr. Demirchyan's in this May's parliamentary election. It was a winning combination, even if enthusiasm among ordinary Armenians for an alliance of the old and new nomenklatura promoted cynicism rather than enthusiasm. Despite his nationalist past, Sarkisian's role in toppling Mr. Ter-Petrossian had made him a more valuable interlocutor for the West.

For all the rhetoric about supporting democracy in the former Soviet Union since 1991, the West in general, and the United States in particular as the West's most powerful representative, have tended to fall back on Cold War principles in the power game in the Caucasus. Democracy is good, but having "our sons of bitches" in charge is better. Now the price of Armenian cooperation in the so-called "deal of the century" for Azeri oil looks more expensive. Suspiciously, key allies of President Kocharian were not in the chamber for the shooting. And Russian military aid to Armenia was already being stepped up before the killings with the delivery of Mig 29 fighter planes. Russia's strategy for restoration of control of the northern pipeline route from Azerbaijan through Chechnya seems on track.

At the same time, U.S. supplies of helicopters and other military aid to Georgia, which offers an alternative to the long-planned pipeline from Baku to Turkey via Armenia, looks less likely to bolster President Shevardnadze in his on-off conflicts with two autonomous regions on the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia and Adjaria. Russian success so far in Chechnya even seems to be causing that cynical old weathervane in Baku, President Aliev, to tack away from Western oil companies and drop a few advisers too closely associated with a pro-American line. All the while genuine democratic forces in the region have been starved of Western support as our focus has been on the leaders willing to cut deals. Now, by an irony of history, the only beneficiary of political upheaval in the region is likely to be Russia. Perversely, its local allies enjoy more popular support than the West's regional partners.

Eighty years ago British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declined to get involved and to support the anti-Bolshevik forces in the internal struggle for power in the trans-Caucasus because "If they want to cut their own throats why do we not let them do it? We [should] protect, Batumi, Baku, the railway between them and the pipeline." In the end, of course, Balfour failed to protect either the West's democratic principles or its oil interests. The West may now be about to lose out in the same place for the same reasons at the dawn of a new century.

Mr. Almond is distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford, California) and lecturer in modern history at Oriel College, Oxford.

Source: Wall Street Journal Europe November 01, 1999.

RF Ambassador Vladimir Stupishin: Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict Without Karabakh People?


In reply to the article, Who failed the Karabakh resolution by Alan Kasaev and Armen Khanbabyan. See appendix. The peace in the Transcaucasus depends on answers to questions raised in “Who has Failed the Karabakh Resolution” article by Alan Kasaev and Armen Khanbabyan.

The authors strongly exaggerated the prospects of a solid peace in the Transcaucasus. They suggest that those possibilities are bound to develop once Presidents Putin and Bush bring the resolution process under their direct control. The Russian President, by saying that “only Armenia and only Azerbaijan are able to reach an agreement,” has ruled out one of the parties, the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. This Republic has an immediate interest in those prospects. But Mr. Putin’s position has shut down a real opportunity for resolution, which is possible ONLY if the conflicting parties negotiate (i.e., as in this case, negotiations between the Republic of Azerbaijan (RAz) and the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (NKR)) with each other. Any alternative setting is doomed to be unsuccessful. I do not know what Mr. Bush thinks of all that. But, it is highly unlikely that he is more informed than Mr. Putin.
However, both presidents would like to play their part here as well. Why? It is widely assumed that they have “arrived to a common opinion that the peacemaking process has long as shifted to a stage of simulation, by which all meetings are strictly formal in nature and by definition cannot lead to any noticeable improvements.” Certainly they cannot, since others, not just enemies but friends as well, are trying to solve the problems of Karabakh for it and without it. All that is happening despite the fact that the people of NKR have been successfully taking care of their problems for more than a decade. This nation has created its governance in full compliance with international law, recognizing the right of any nation of self-determination and choice of a political status. The people of NKR have defended (armed, when forced to) their independence from RAz in full ordinance with the Soviet law of 1990 upon exit from the Soviet Union. The law was broken not by the Karabakh people, but by the politicians in Baku, at the time of disintegration of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.

Yet, why would the “great powers” care whether Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are in conflict with each other not just because of Karabakh, do “simulate” or do not “simulate” their readiness for serious talk? It is no secret that Heidar Aliev has voiced more than once his territorial claims on Armenia, including as he has once said, the “Erivan khanate.” Armenia does not have any territorial claims to Azerbaijan, but it could have and on more legal and just grounds than its neighbor. Armenia could have claimed back Nakhichevan, which had been part of the Erivan gubernia until 1918 and had been transferred, by Bolsheviks and Kemalists, under the “protectorate” of self-declared Azerbaijani Republic, which had appeared on the territories where before 1918 there had been no sign of Azerbaijan at all. So, even if Mr. Aliev is “simulating,” perhaps it is a good idea to let Armenia and Azerbaijan alone: let them “simulate” as much as they want, as long as they do not go to war with each other.

Not by chance, probably, but because of some Freudian impulses a suggestion that the American administration is “somewhat inclined to accept Moscow’s priority right over geopolitical influence in the post Soviet Transcaucasus” has the fashion word “somewhat” in it. It is not a parasite, but a true reflection of the way things are: the Americans are indeed SOMEWHAT inclined to accept our prerogative role in the Transcaucasus, for it is not one of their foreign policy interests. Well, perhaps they do need to have security in the region in order to work out the transportation and oil-pipeline related plans of the Western companies (however, those so-called “plans” are actually policies directed to shifting Russia out of the Transcaucasus). Why should we, at the cost of our Armenian ally, support all that? “Pax Americana” in the Transcaucasus, that is not doing any favors for Russia; it will work against our national and state interests.

I absolutely disapprove the notion of Meghri transfer to Azerbaijan. Such a transfer not only would lead to surrounding and “choking” of Armenia by the Turks, but would also be a starting point for eventual realization of the ideas of Pan-Turkism on the way to the “Great Turan.” How could one ever forget, that these plans, which contradict Russian interests, have been initiated and supported for more than ten years by the US State Department? It is unclear, why anyone, given such a setting, would ever tell me that “today Moscow and Washington have a lot in common in their approaches to a resolution.”

The declaration that “today the problem (i.e. obviously, Karabakh problem –V.S.) has finally shifted from the setting of nations’ self-determination into a territorial quarrel between the two states (i.e. Azerbaijan and Armenia)” seems to be rather odd. Even stranger are the words that “there is not anything say” about any mutual understanding between Russia and Armenia, that in reality there is a confrontation between Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Has the Russian diplomacy gone so mind-numbing that it has completely taken the side of a “small empire” that is refusing to give up Nagorno Karabakh, even cut in pieces, which the Soviet Azerbaijan had received from the Bolsheviks in 1921? Why is it a “finally” and a “not anything to say” process? There is still a room for maneuvering.

The nations’ right of self-determination is not something that is given by any state, but comes from God and is sealed by International Law. There could be, and could not be, some territorial disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However those have no relation to the problem of the Karabakh Armenians. Even the Soviet power had recognized their right for their own territory within the autonomous oblast, which was documented in the Soviet laws, according to which Armenia and Azerbaijan lived. They (Karabakh Armenians – AVG) opted out Azerbaijan with that “own territory”, which had never belonged to the Turks. They did so without breaking any territorial integrity of neither the Turks, the Lezgins, the Talishes nor of any other nation living in the artificially created state, which had not existed at all until 1918, and which has recently been coming up with some “native rights” to the lands of different nations. If “there is not anything to say” about it, does this mean that we are also done with the International Law?


Caucasus: Azerbaijan And Armenia Detail Karabakh Peace Plan

Radio Liberty, 2001

The details of an international peace plan for Nagorno-Karabakh have been made public in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Until now the plan has been treated as a classified document, and it is not clear why it has abruptly emerged. But RFE/RL correspondents Emil Danielyan and Jean-Christophe Peuch report that the plan comes to light at a time when momentum for solving the 13-year-old conflict appears to be gaining speed. Prague, 22 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Media outlets in Baku yesterday released for the first time details of a proposed international plan to settle the 13-year-old territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

The plan is the latest of three peace proposals drafted since 1997 by the so-called "Minsk Group" of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. It provides for the creation of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and Karabakh. The idea of a common state had previously been rejected by Azerbaijan as unacceptable. Armenian and Karabakh officials familiar with the peace process confirmed the authenticity of the document, which was published along with the two earlier peace proposals. Those plans were rejected by Armenia. The common-state plan was also published yesterday by Armenia's "Aravot" newspaper.

Under the common-state plan, the enclave would be placed under a loose confederation with Azerbaijan, but would have de facto independence. In addition, Karabakh would enjoy the internationally recognized status of a republic, with its own constitution, armed forces, and power to veto any legislation passed in Baku. It's not clear why the plan, which until now has been treated as a highly secret document, was made public. But its publication comes at a time when efforts to resolve the conflict appear to be gaining momentum. Analysts say President Heidar Aliyev may have ordered that the plan be made public in order to test his population's reaction to it.

Rustam Mamedov, an official with the presidential administration's social and political affairs department, tells RFE/RL that Azerbaijanis should be made aware of contents of the OSCE peace proposals for the enclave:
"The OSCE has so far drafted three proposals: the so-called package plan, the so-called step-by-step plan, and the so-called common-state version. The Azerbaijani population must broadly debate this. The concrete results of talks between [Azerbaijani] President Aliyev and [Armenian President Robert] Kocharian will be presented to the public, and the organic links that exist between this debate and [the] results [of the Aliev-Kocharian talks] will become clear. Everything must proceed through the heart and will of our people."
The Azerbaijani parliament is scheduled to hold a debate on the peace proposals tomorrow (23 February). But after a meeting today in Baku to discuss the three existing peace proposals, representatives of more than 40 political parties and social organizations concluded that all three plans are unacceptable for Azerbaijan. The Karabakh dispute broke out in 1988 when the mainly ethnic Armenian enclave decided to secede from Azerbaijan. The conflict that followed has killed thousands on each side and has turned 800,000 Azerbaijanis into refugees. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, the two countries are still officially at war.

Aliyev and Armenian President Kocharian were said to be very close to an agreement in 1999. But the murder of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and several other officials in October of that year brought the process to a dead end. Some analysts have even speculated that the killings may have been masterminded by people opposed to a peace agreement with Azerbaijan.

Speaking to reporters at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg recently (25 January), both Aliyev and Kocharian hinted at recent progress that could lead them closer to what they called "mutually acceptable compromises." These unspecified compromises, the two presidents said, could in turn serve as a basis for a future settlement of the dispute.

Asked at the time whether his country would agree to the creation of a common state between Azerbaijan and Karabakh, Aliyev declined to comment. A Western diplomat close to the peace talks told RFE/RL that none of the existing three proposals drafted by the Minsk Group is likely to be endorsed by the negotiating parties. The diplomat, who asked not to be named, said: "If there is an agreement, it is unlikely it will be one of the three proposals as they are. It will be something different that will perhaps include new elements." Aliev's former diplomatic adviser, Vafa Guluzade, told the Azerbaijani news agency Turan yesterday that a fourth plan -- details of which are still unknown -- might appear in the near future.

The agency also quoted unidentified diplomats as saying that Aliyev and Kocharian agreed on some basic principles that could serve as a basis for a new peace proposal when they met in Paris last month (26 January) with French President Jacques Chirac. France co-chairs the Minsk Group along with the United States and Russia. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said last week that Chirac had suggested general principles for solving the conflict and that agreement on them will place a solution within reach. Kocharian and Aliyev are due to travel to Paris next month for their 15th face-to-face meeting in two years.

Officials close to the negotiations told RFE/RL that the last round of talks in Paris have renewed hopes for a decisive breakthrough in the peace process. These officials also note that both Aliyev and Kocharian are committed to reaching a peace agreement before their presidential mandates expire in 2003. Chirac discussed the Karabakh issue by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 19 February. Putin and Aliyev also reviewed the latest developments in the peace process during a telephone conversation on Tuesday.

"The New York Times" reported earlier this week that Chirac was what it described as "guardedly optimistic about a possible settlement" in a lengthy phone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush early this month (1 February). The paper said relief agencies are already putting together an aid package that would be part of a future peace treaty. Armenian officials have repeatedly said they will not agree to any major concessions, apart from those envisaged by the common-state plan. Kocharian told reporters last month in Strasbourg that the common-state plan should serve as a basis for future negotiations.

"How could we find a balance between territorial integrity and self-determination of people, between these two principles that are equally important in terms of international law? We think that the right to self-determination has been legally confirmed in Nagorno-Karabakh. But, nonetheless, we're looking for the possibility of finding a compromise between those two principles. And we believe that the idea of a common state is precisely a way to find a just compromise."

Article 1 of the published peace proposals stipulates that Karabakh and Azerbaijan shall form a common state to be governed by a joint commission comprised of representatives of the two entities. Neither of them can unilaterally change the provisions regarding the common state. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would itself form its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches as well as a national guard and police. The document states that "the Azerbaijani army, security and police forces will not be allowed to enter the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh without the consent of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities."

Furthermore, under the plan, "Azerbaijani laws, regulations and executive directives shall have a legal force in Nagorno-Karabakh so long as they do not contradict the latter's constitution and laws." Karabakh residents could travel abroad with specially marked Azerbaijani passports. Only the government in Stepanakert would be empowered to grant such passports and residency permits. Armenian would be the new Karabakh republic's main official language. The package of proposals includes a separate agreement on military disengagement. Armenian and Azerbaijani forces would retreat from their current positions north and east of Karabakh to create a buffer zone controlled by a multi-national peacekeeping force under the OSCE. Karabakh Armenian forces would then gradually withdraw from six districts in Azerbaijan which they seized during the 1991-1994 war.

Overall responsibility for peace implementation would rest with a permanent mixed commission headed by a representative of the Minsk Group. France, Russia, and the U.S. would act as guarantors of the proposed settlement, while the OSCE or the UN Security Council would be given a mandate to take military action to ensure the parties' compliance with their obligations.

How the "Goble Plan" was born and how it remains a political factor


Because I was "present at the creation" of an idea that has taken on a life of its own, I welcome this opportunity to describe how this "plan" was born as well as to discuss what role I think it might play in the future. Like most parents, I have been both pleased and disappointed with my offspring. In January 1992, shortly after I had resigned from my position as special advisor on Soviet nationality problems and Baltic affairs at the U.S. Department of State, I prepared a background paper on the Karabakh conflict for former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who was planning to visit the south Caucasus. In that paper, I both described the history of that conflict and offered some thoughts on how it might be resolved. At the end of that 3,300 word essay, subsequently published in the "Fletcher Forum"(1992), I wrote the following lines:

"In principle, there are three ways to "solve" the Nagorno-Karabakh problem: driving out or killing all Armenians now there, reimposing enormous outside force to keep the two sides apart, or transferring the NKAO to Armenian control. The first of these is morally impossible, the second is probably physically impossible, and the third is politically impossible if it is done alone because it would leave Azerbaijan the loser both territorially and in terms of the water supply to Baku.

"Consequently, the various participants need to begin to consider the possibility of a territorial swap including the following concessions: sending part of the NKAO to Armenia, with the area controlling the headwaters of the river flowing to Baku and areas of Azerbaijani population remaining in Azerbaijani hands; and transferring the Armenian-controlled landbridge between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan to Azerbaijani control.

"Both sides would have difficulties with this, Armenia because it would lose its tie to Iran and Azerbaijan because it would lose something it said it would never give up. But both sides would also gain something that they have long wanted. Moreover, by focusing on the transfer of land, this type of settlement would minimize the need for any shift in population. In any case, no ceasefire or settlement will hold for very long unless both sides feel that they were not the latest victims in this long-running conflict. And perhaps most important, any "solution" which takes as its point of departure the preservation of the work of Stalin and his successors is doomed to failure and will insure that this region will remain unstable long into the 21st century."

Secretary Vance found that argument persuasive and mentioned the idea at a press conference in Stepanakert. Subsequently, several other American officials, either out of politeness or interest, said that they were intrigued by this argument. And because Vance and several others referred to my authorship of this idea, some officials and analysts in the Caucasus and elsewhere viewed my presentation of this idea as a testing of the waters by then-Secretary of State James Baker. Given that I had just resigned from the department he headed, I found that amusing at the time.

But because of this concatenation of events, the Goble Plan rapidly acquired a life of its own, sometimes serving as the occasion for criticizing one or another parties to the conflict and sometimes serving as the basis for further discussions. When it has been the former, I have been most unhappy, but when it has served as the latter, I have been pleased because my goal in 1992 and subsequently has been to prompt everyone involved in this conflict to think more broadly than they generally have been willing to do. Here I would like to address three other issues: what I was trying to do at the time, where I was wrong, and what role I see this "plan" having in the future.

No author can be sure of just what his readers will pick up on or how they will make use of his ideas. I certainly was surprised by the reaction to my essay. I actually thought that its most controversial feature was a suggestion, hardly ever noted in discussions of the Goble Plan, that Iran, as a regional power, would have to be involved for any settlement to work. The collapse of the Soviet Union created several fracture zones, including in the south Caucasus, and I believed then and believe now that peace as opposed to an armistice requires the restoration of a new balance of power, something unlikely if one of the major powers in the region is simply ignored.

Anyone who reads the passage I've quoted above will see that it is less a specific "plan" than a discussion of the logic of the conflict. I was and remain interested in seeing a peaceful outcome in the Caucasus, and I believed then and believe now that all the parties will be better off if they acknowledge the underlying structural functions of that conflict and that they will eventually have to acknowledge that any settlement will have to come about via a comprehensive approach rather than a step-by-step process.

But what happened in early 1992 and since that time has been that the Goble Plan has usually been reduced to the notion of a territorial swap, with all of the qualifications ignored including about the window during which this was possible and the countries which would have to be involved.

That misunderstanding was compounded by two mistakes I made in the article, mistakes for which I have been taken to task on a regular basis. The first and smaller one concerns the flow of water from Karabakh to lowland Azerbaijan: Such flows were not and are not as important as I had thought at that time. And they did not deserve the prominence I gave them. The second and more significant one concerns the importance of the border with Iran to Armenia and Armenians. In 1992, there was very little commerce or communication over this border, and I viewed it as something Armenians might be willing to sacrifice in the name of peace. But I underestimated its psychological meaning. Not only is this border increasingly significant for trade, but it is a key outlet for Armenia to the non-Turkic world. 

I underestimated that factor, and I acknowledge my mistake here. Were I asked to update the Goble Plan now, I would modify it by calling for Azerbaijan to cede a small portion of western Nakhichevan so that Armenia could have a border with Iran and by urging that the international community put pressure on Turkey to open its borders with Armenia as part of the package deal to end this conflict.

Every time I see a reference to the Goble Plan in the press, I smile to myself because I know how this plan was created and even where: at a word processor in the basement of my house! As I wrote almost a decade ago, I thought there was a moment when the ideas contained in my article and my "plan" could have become part of a peace settlement. As months and years have passed, I have become ever less sure that those ideas can play such a role. But as I have pointed out many times to critics of the Goble Plan in the past, they have to answer--as I do not--for failing to come up with an idea that could have saved thousands of lives and brought peace to a region that has known too little of it in the past. (Paul Goble)


Armenian President Robert Kocharian disclosed in February that international mediators had resurrected the prospect of a territorial exchange to resolve the Karabakh conflict, and that Kocharian discussed that possibility during one of his meetings with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev. But both Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian have said repeatedly that the Armenian side rejected such a territorial exchange out of hand. Oskanian stated in a TV interview on 4 June that "this issue is closed." He added that the international community cannot coerce any state to cede part of its territory, and that Armenia therefore "has nothing to worry about," according to Snark.

Azerbaijani officials, however, seem to have been more ambivalent: "Izvestiya" on 24 February quoted Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev as saying "Azerbaijan would consider as a great success the reaching of an agreement on resolving the Karabakh conflict that would grant the country a corridor to the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic in exchange for the corridor uniting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh." Given that the latter corridor is already under Armenian control, that formula would constitute a unilateral concession on the part of Yerevan--a concession that the Azerbaijani authorities could try to present as a tactical victory on their part, and thus mitigate the feared outrage by radical groups who oppose ceding any Azerbaijani territory to Armenia.

Azerbaijani leaders' collective ambivalence has, in turn, given rise to some truly fanciful hypotheses. "525-gazeti" for example on 27 May quoted the Russian news agency APN as reporting that President Aliev is prepared to agree to a territorial swap (Nagorno-Karabakh for the district of Meghri in southern Armenia) in exchange for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But despite repeated official Armenian denials, opposition politicians have seized on the possibility of territorial concessions on the part of Armenia as a way to discredit and to exert pressure on the present leadership. For example, addressing a congress of his nationalist National Unity Party late last month, chairman Artashes Geghamian accused Kocharian of remaining silent rather than unequivocally distancing himself from rumors that a territorial exchange will be part of a Karabakh settlement, according to Snark as cited by Groong.

Geghamian cited what he claims are details of the revised proposal, which, he said, envisages the creation of five separate corridors, each 15 km wide, linking the Azerbaijani town of Fizuli with the Armenian-occupied town of Zangelan; the Armenian-occupied district of Nuvadi with the Armenian town of Meghri; and the Armenian town of Agarak with Ordubad in Nakhichevan. Geghamian further claimed that military observers would be deployed in those corridors. He argued that the creation of a landbridge between Turkey and Azerbaijan would result in the formation of a union between those two states within 5-10 years.

The Union of Rightist Forces (AUM), for its part, has acted even more aggressively in seeking to extract political mileage from the specter of the loss of part of Armenia's territory. Leaders of that alliance, whose four member parties all split from the then ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement in the mid- to late 1990s, traveled to Meghri in May where they told a meeting of some 400 alarmed local residents that the reason for the 27 October shooting in the Armenian parliament of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian was their collective opposition to a territorial swap. Then on 31 May, former National Security Minister David Shahnazarian told fellow AUM members that Yerevan had been offered $3 billion to agree to cede Meghri as part of a territorial exchange. International mediators have suggested that financial incentives, in the form of funds for reconstruction, could be part of an eventual Karabakh peace agreement. 

As Paul Goble indicates above, one of the gravest drawbacks of a territorial exchange from the Armenian standpoint would be the loss of its border with Iran. Visiting Yerevan last month, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi was assured by Armenian leaders that Yerevan will never agree to cede Meghri. The loss of all or part of that region would jeopardize ambitious bilateral cooperation projects such as those discussed below. (Liz Fuller)

The RFE/RL Caucasus Report is prepared by Liz Fuller based on news and analyses from "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's Armenian-, Azerbaijani-, Georgian- and Russian-language broadcasts.


  1. Could there be any truth to another theory, namely that Kocharian ordered the killings to get rid of two high ranking government officials that were opposed to the Goble plan for territorial exchanges in regards to the NKR settlement talks?

    I found this old article from a lower rung politician having made such a statement in 2000:

  2. Հակոբ,

    The late 1990s saw an unprecedented warming of relations between Yerevan and Washington. On the eve of their assassination, Vazgen Sargasyan and Karen Demirjian had become the darlings of the West. Karen had even announced that Yerevan would begin seeking to balance its relationship with Moscow with increased dealings with the West. All this was happening as nationalist elements in Russia led by Putin and the FSB were planning a coup inside the Kremlin. Once the Kremlin was taken back from Russia's Western-backed Jewish oligarchs, one of the first things they needed to do was protect their southern flank. The Paul Goble Plan was something Armenians were stupid enough to accept but Russians would never allow it. The theory you refer to is disinformation by those who were actually getting ready to make a deal, namely Levonakans. I would not trust Ashot if I were you. It was the Karabakh clan that stopped Armenia from committing a geostrategic suicide.


Dear reader,

New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comment board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis. You are therefore welcome to post your comments and ideas.

I have come to see the Russian nation as the last front on earth against the scourges of Westernization, Americanization, Globalism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western/European civilization, ethnic cultures, Apostolic Christianity and the concept of traditional nation-state. Needless to say, an alliance with Russia is Armenia's only hope for survival in a dangerous place like the south Caucasus. These sobering realizations compelled me to create this blog in 2010. This blog quickly became one of the very few voices in the vastness of Cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice emphasizing the crucial importance of Armenia's close ties to the Russian nation. Today, no man and no political party is capable of driving a wedge between Armenia and Russia. Anglo-American-Jewish and Turkish agenda in Armenia will not succeed. I feel satisfied knowing that at least on a subatomic level I have had a hand in this outcome.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several "anonymous" visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what. Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply insult me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Commentaries and articles found in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a historical record and a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

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