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Inner City Press Podcast --

Nagorno-Karabakh President Disputes Fires and Numbers, Oil and UN, in Exclusive Interview with Inner City Press - Video here

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Correspondent at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, November 13 -- Of the so-called frozen conflicts in the world, the one in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan, claimed by Armenia, heated up this Fall -- literally.

            In August and September 2006, Azerbaijan and Armenia traded volleys of draft resolutions in the UN General Assembly, about a series of fires in the Nagorno-Karabakh region which on most maps is Azerbaijan, but is not under Azeri control.

            The subtext of the fight was that Azerbaijan wants the dispute to be addressed in the UN General Assembly, while Armenia prefers the ten-year process before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE. In the UN General Assembly these frozen conflicts are often treated as footnotes, particularly to a press corps which covers the Security Council in the most minute detail, at the expense of most other activities undertaken by the world body.

            Last week Inner City Press sat down for an interview with the president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkady Ghoukasyan, and asked him about the fires, about the UN and other matters. Click here for the video.

            "The fires were provoked by Azerbaijan firing," Mr. Ghoukasyan said. "They used special bullets that would ignite wheat fields."

            In the UN, "the countries of the Islamic Conference are present and Azerbaijan is hoping to use their support," said Mr. Ghoukasyan. He added that most countries in the UN know little of the Karabakh conflict, so "Azerbaijan can try propaganda in the United Nations," in a way that it can't with the OSCE "experts."

            By contrast, the situation in Abkhazia is routinely put on the UN Security Council agenda by Russia, with representative of Georgia often excluded from the meetings and resorting to sparsely-attended press conferences outside, most recently on October 12.

            On Nagorno-Karabakh, UN observers see Turkey backing Azerbaijan, while the NKR is represented, if one can call it that, by Armenia. The interview, originally scheduled for a hotel across from UN Headquarters, was moved six blocks south to the Armenian mission in a brownstone on 36th Street, to a second-story room with the Nagorno-Karabakh flag on the table. Through a translator, Mr. Ghoukasyan argued that no negotiations that do not involve representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh can solve the problem. "The prospects are diminishing, without Nagorno-Karabakh involvement, it's just impossible to come to a resolution," he said.

Hot Words From Frozen Conflicts

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Ghoukasyan to compare Nagorno-Karabakh to certain other so-called frozen conflicts, two of which are before the OSCE: Transnistria a/k/a Transdnestr, and South Ossetia, where a referendum was held on November 12, the results of which no country in the world recognized.

            "We already had our referendum," Mr. Ghoukasyan said, "back in 1991. We would only hold another one if Azerbaijan and the co-chairs of the OSCE group agreed in advance to recognize its results."

            Mr. Ghoukasyan said he had come to the U.S. less to build political support or to propose a referendum than to raise funds for infrastructure projects in Nagorno-Karabakh, mostly from "different circles of Armenians in the United States." He is on a whirlwind tour: "Detroit Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and maybe Fresno, we are still finalizing our West Coast program," he said. A highlight will be a telethon from Los Angeles on November 23.

            Speaking of funds, and of infrastructure, Inner City Press asked about the impact of the Baku - Tbilisi - Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline on the conflict.

            "Azerbaijan is trying to get maximum political dividends from fact of this pipeline," said Mr. Ghoukasyan. "Since the West is interested in undisruptible oil, Azerbaijan tries to beef up their price for this stability. This emboldens Azerbaijan, making it more aggressive and  less willing to come to agreement."

            What would an agreement look like?

            "In any resolution, we think that Karabakh should have physical land connection with Armenia," said Mr. Ghoukasyan.

            At a press conference about the BTC pipeline earlier this year, the Azeri Ambassador told Inner City Press that twenty percent of Azerbaijan's territory has been occupied by Armenia.

            On the disputed numbers of displaced people, Mr. Ghoukasyan quipped, "I always suspected they are bad in mathematics." He estimated it, "maximally," to be 13%, and put the number of displaced Azeris at "only" 650,000, rather than the one million figure used by Azerbaijan. Mr. Ghoukasyan admonished, "There is information in books."

            And so to the library went Inner City Press. Therein it is recounted that while "in 1989, the Armenian Supreme Council made Nagorno-Karabakh a part of Armenia, this decision was effectively annulled by NKR declaring its independence in 1991. Whether the decision to declare independence was made cooperatively with Yerevan is not yet known."

            The UN's role is dismissed: "with one exception the UN never condemned the capture of Lachin, the strategic link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The UN passed Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884... Each UN resolution reiterated the international body's support for the OSCE Minsk Group process."

            Going back, some pundits blame the conflict on Stalin: "he took a part of Armenia and gave it to Azerbaijan, and now so many people are dying while trying to correct his foolish mistake. Now redefining the borders is as painful as cutting someone's flesh when that person is alive."

            Fast forward to 1977, when the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast's first secretary from 1973 to 1988, Boris Kevorkov, told visiting journalists that Karabakh Armenians were happily separated from the Armenian republic, saying that "the history of Nagorny (Mountainous) Karabakh is closely interwoven with Azerbaijan's... By contrast, the region is close to Armenia geographically but is separated by high mountains, which were an insuperable barrier in the past for any extensive contacts." (Quoted in Claire Mouradian's "The Mountainouse Karabagh Question"). 

            Also found are rebuttals, including from Azeri poet Bakhtiyar Vahadzade in his 1988 Open Letter, that "since 1828, our people have been divided into two parts," and that both Azeris and Karabakh Armenians "emanate from the same ethnic stock: the Caucasian Albanians." Others say Turkey always takes the Azeri side.  There are references to the shoot-down of an Iranian C-130 aircraft in 1994 as it crossed the Azeri-Karabakh line on contact, and of Iran's demand for an apology.

            Going back, a volume by Mazda Publishers in Costa Mesa, California entitled "Two Chronicles on The History of Karabakh," contains the full texts of Tarikh-e Karabakh (History of Karabakh) by Mirza Jamal Javanshir and of Karabakh-name by Mariza Adigozal Beg. In the introduction, translator-from-Persian George A. Bournoutian reports that "Armenian historians maintain that all of Karabakh was, at one time, part of the Armenian kingdom and that the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh has had an Armenian majority for several hundred years. Azeri historians assert that the region was never part of Armenia and that the Armenian population arrived there from Persia and the Ottoman empire after the Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828) when, thanks to the Russian policy that favored Christians over Muslims, the Armenians established a majority in what became Nagorno-Karabakh." In a footnote he addresses  nomenclature: "Nagorno-Karabakh is the Russian designation. The Armenians call is [sic] Artsakh or Gharabagh and the Azeris Karabag."

            Finally, on the question of numbers, Arif Yunosov in "The Migration Situation in CIS Countries" opines that the conflict has caused 353,000 Armenia refugees and 750,000 Azeris -- less than the one million figure used by Azeri President Aliev, but large, and 100,000 larger than acknowledged in the interview. And a more solid figure than Aliev's 20%, but more than was acknowledged, is 13.62 percent. The search for truth continues. If the comparison is to the original, Soviet-defined Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, it must be noted that NKR is claiming, beyond the Oblast, the territory of Shahumian.

            By the end of the interview, Mr. Ghoukasyan was focusing on two regions of the old Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast over which now Azerbaijan has de facto control: Martakert and Martuni. While Mr. Ghoukasyan's point was that these should be subtracted from the 13 percent, they raise a larger question, that of break-aways from break-aways.

            The analogy, to Inner City Press, is to the serially-opening or "nesting" Russian dolls. Inside one republic is another, but inside the breakaway is another smaller portion, that either wants to remain with the larger, or to itself be independent. Northern Kosovo comes to mind, and the portion of Abkhazia into which a Tbilisi-based government is trying to relocate.

            How small can these Russian dolls become? And how will the UN-debated status of Kosovo, now frozen into 2007, impact or defrost other frozen conflicts? Developing.

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The UN and Nagorno-Karabakh: Flurries of Activity Leave Frozen Conflicts Unchanged; Updates on Gaza, Gavels and Gbagbo

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

  UNITED NATIONS, September 7 -- The UN General Assembly met past 6 p.m. Thursday to approve by consensus a resolution entitled "The situation in the occupied territories"... of Azerbaijan. Armenia disassociated itself from the consensus, expressing its displeasure at the title and at the notion of its dispute with Azerbaijan being considered in the UN. Other self-declared stakeholders in this frozen conflict by proxy spoke before the resolution passed. The United States, which considers itself an interested party with respect to every disagreement and territory, spoke in favor of the resolution. So did Ukraine, on behalf of "the GUAM states" -- Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Turkey spoke in favor, as did Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

            All this diplomatic firepower was brought to bear on a final resolution consisting of five paragraphs, primarily directing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to assess fires in the affected territories, to involve the UN Environment Program in rehabilitation and to report back to the UN General Assembly by April 30, 2007.

Still waiting, per WFP

            What were the two days of negotiations about? asked an observer in the General Assembly's cheap seats, where few of the headphones are working.

            Armenia does not want to the issue before the UN, and objects to the phrase "occupied territories of Azerbaijan" when referring to Nagorno-Karabakh and environs.

            If the UN is involved in the Palestinian occupied territories, about which an UN agency gave a briefing on Thursday, and in similar issues in Abkhazia, why has it not been involved in Nagorno - Karabakh? What is the UN's involvement in Nagorno - Karabakh?

            The UN Security Council passed four resolutions on Nagorno - Karabakh between April and November of 1993. Resolution 822 called for a cessation of hostilities. Resolutions 853, 874 and 884 continued in that vein. The ceasefire, such as it was and is, was negotiated by Russia in May 1994. Since then the main venue of action, or inaction, has been the 11-nation Minsk Group of the OSCE, with Russia, France and the U.S. as co-chairs. Since all three are members of the UN Security Council's Permanent Five, with veto rights, one might wonder why they prefer this other venue. To assess UN involvement in the territories in 2006, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked the UN Spokesman's Office. The oral answer was that even the UN Development Program has no operations in Nagorno - Karabakh, only the World Food Program. Then on Thursday the following was provided:

The Joint UNEP / OCHA Environment Unit has been working in close collaboration with colleagues in UNEP, who have been in direct contact with representatives from Azerbaijan and Armenia and the OSCE, which sent a mission to the region in July of this year. The Joint Unit, through our relationship with the Global Fire Monitoring Centre, which is our partner on forest fire-related matters, identified experts last month who could, potentially, go on an assessment mission. The OSCE has been requested to undertake another mission and is considering it. It sought UNEP's advice on experts, which in turn contacted the Joint Unit. We have, therefore, brokered a relationship between the Global Fire Monitoring Centre and the OSCE. So our identified experts are speaking with staff from OSCE. The Joint Unit will continue to support all those involved in this issue.

            There are areas in the world which the UN does not impact via Security Council resolutions, but in which it is a major humanitarian player. Nagorno-Karabakh, like for another example Casamance in Senegal, is not one of those regions. It is sometimes said that if you live in a region in the clutches of one of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, you're out of luck at the UN. But the list of those out of luck at the UN is longer than that. And Nagorno - Karabakh... is on that list.

            In the General Assembly chamber, the scaffolding is now done, so the meeting was held there. The first part of the meeting, headlined by Jan Eliasson and Mark Malloch Brown, concerned conflict prevention. Sitting in the lower audience seats, few of the headphones worked or provided sound. Sitting behind the S's, one could see that among those nations not attending the GA session on conflict prevention was... Sierra Leone, regarding which Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently issued a report, S/2006/695, stating in part that "the continued border dispute between Sierra Leone and Guinea remains a source of serious concern." While the report does not name it, the dispute surrounds the diamond-rich town of Yenga. As usual, follow the money.

            Regarding another, higher profile occupied territory, Thursday at noon the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) briefing on Gaza revealed among other things that while the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation says it will pay on its insurance policy on the Gaza power station, rebuilding will take 18 months and power is for now sporadic.

            At UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked three questions, one of which, concerning housing subsidies by governments to UN employees, was summarily preempted with the statement that an answer will come in the near future. On Cote D'Ivoire, where a toxic dumping has resulted in the disbanding of the cabinet, the UN Spokesman responded that the Ivorian prime minister called the UN's head of peacekeeping and, as usually, everyone should stay calm. The benefits of this chaos to still-in-power Laurent Gbagbo are apparent to some. On whether the UN's envoy on extra-judicial killings will as requested visit Nigeria as well as Lebanon, a response one supposes will come.

  Mr. Dujarric's sometimes-fellow briefer at noon, Pragati Pascale, gave a preview of the afternoon's General Assembly action including on Nagorno - Karabakh, then fielded following her statement about a gavel passing, fielded a strange but concrete question about whether it was the same unique gavel, with wood looking like flame, used when the budget cap was lifted. Even before 5 p.m. she responded: " President Eliasson will, indeed, pass the fancy ceremonial gavel to the incoming President.  This was a gift to the General Assembly from Iceland.  President Eliasson did receive a copy of the gavel from the Secretary-General at the end of the main part of  the session last December, so he can take that home as a remembrance of his time here." Speak, memory! So to their detriment say those of Karabakh...

At the UN, Micro-States Simmer Under the Assembly's Surface, While Incoming Council President Dodges Most Questions

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

   UNITED NATIONS, September 5 -- Nagorno Karabakh, one of the world most frozen and forgotten conflicts, surfaced at the UN on Tuesday, if only for ten minutes. The General Assembly was scheduled to vote on a resolution concerning fires in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. The diplomats assembled, or began to assemble, at 4 p.m.. At 4:15 it was announced that in light of ongoing negotiations, the meeting was cancelled, perhaps to reconvene Wednesday at 11:30.

            Sources close to the negotiations told Inner City Press that the rub is paragraph 4 of the draft resolution, which requests that the Secretary-General report to the UN General Assembly on the conflict. Armenia wants the matter to remain before the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has presided over the problem for more than a decade. Leading the OSCE's Minsk Group are Russia, France and the United States, members of the veto-wielding Permanent Five on the UN Security Council, nations which Azerbaijan claims have ignored its sovereignty as well as blocking Security Council action, as for example Russia has on Chechnya.

            Of the fires, Azerbaijan has characterized them as Armenian arson, and has asked for international pressure to allow it to reach the disputed territories where the fires have been.

Nagorno-Karabakh, per WFP

            At a July 13, 2006 briefing on the BTC pipeline, Inner City Press asked the Ambassador of Azerbaijan Yashar Aliyev about the pipeline's avoidance of Armenia. We cannot deal with them until they stop occupying our territory, Ambassador Aliyev said. "You mean Nagorno - Karabakh?" Not only that, Amb. Aliyev answered. That's only four percent. Few people know this, but Armenia has occupied twenty percent of our territory.

            Both Amenia's Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and UN Ambassador Armen Martirosian have said publicly in the past month that if Azerbaijan continues pushing the issue before the United Nations, the existing peace talks will stop. Armenian sources privately speak more darkly of an alliance of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, collectively intent on involving the UN in reigning in their breakaway regions including South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transdniestria -- examples of what some call the micro-states. Armenia is concerned that in the UN as opposed to OSCE, Azerbaijan might be able to rally Islamic nations to its side.

            It is not only to predominantly Muslim nations that the Azeri's are reaching out. The nation's foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov met recently with this Swedish counterpart Jan Eliasson, the outgoing president of the General Assembly.

            Following Tuesday's General Assembly postponement, Inner City Press asked Mr. Eliasson if, in light of his involvement in reaching the 1994 cease-fire, he thinks the GA might have more luck solving the Nagorno-Karabakh than the OSCE has.

            "I hope so," he said. "I'm in favor of an active General Assembly." He recounted his shuttle diplomacy to Baku in the early 90s. And then he was gone.

            Elsewhere in the UN at Tuesday, the income president of the Security Council, Greek Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis held a press conference on the Council's plan of work for September. Inner City Press asked when the Council will get the long-awaited briefing on violations of the arms embargo on Somalia. Amb. Vassilakis responded about a meeting on September 25, at Kenya's request, on the idea of the IGAD force in Somalia. Inner City Press asked what has happened with the resolution on the Lord's Resistance Army of which the UK has spoken so much. It will be up to them to introduce the motion," Amb. Vassilakis replied. He did not reply on the issue of the outstanding International Criminal Court indictments against LRA leaders including Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti.

            Inner City Press asked why, on Ivory Coast, the long-delayed report by the Secretary-General's expert on the prevention of genocide has not been released. In this response, Amb. Vassilakis grew animated, saying that one has to choose between justice and peace.  This implies that the finished report identifies alleged perpetrators, as pertains to genocide, but is being withheld either to facilitate peace, which has not come, or as negotiating leverage over some of the perpetrators. To be continued, throughout the month.

At the UN, from Casamance to Transdniestria, Kosovans to Lezgines, Micro-States as Powerful's Playthings

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, August 25 -- Because they are so often forgotten, today's report is micro-states. The thread ran through UN Headquarters on Friday, from noon briefing to stakeout to UNCA Club upstairs. Kofi Annan's spokesman on his way to the podium stopped to tell Inner City Press not to ask certain questions. Some involved the housing subsidy story below, one involved the Casamance region of Senegal, where fighting is raging and refugees flee. 

   Thursday Inner City Press had asked who in the UN, other than the refugee agency UNHCR, was addressing Casamance. Friday the spokesman whispered, "On Casamance I don't have anything more than when UNHCR has said." So instead Inner City Press asked about a seminal micro-state, Kosovo. At a press conference hours earlier in Pristina, the UN's mediator Martii Ahtisaari had announced that no package will be put before the Security Council in September. Inner City Press asked, but what of the postponed municipal elections? Video here, at Minute 29.

            The spokesman's office arranged a conference call to UNMIK in Pristina, where the acting press chief said no elections can be held in the winter anyway. The OSCE, he said, estimates that to schedule elections takes at least six months. So much for local democracy, even in areas run by the UN.  Kofi Annan's incoming envoy to Kosovo should have a better answer. We'll see. Other data the spokesman belated provided on Friday is being analyzed.

            The micro-states theory is that if Kosovo becomes fully independent, the same will happen -- or be called for by Russia -- in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in Transdniestria and even Ajara in Georgia. From this list we can drill down even keeper. Inner City Press asked Kazakh Ambassador Yerzhan Kazykhanov about a civil disturbance earlier in the week in Aktau on the Caspian coast, involving attacks on immigrants from the striving micro-state of Chechnya, on Azeris and the little-known Lezgines, who come from Dagestan.

   "There are many groups," the Kazakh Ambassador said, adding that his recent flight from Almaty to Aqtobe took nearly four hours. On the map he pointed at Oral and noted that World War II passed through. In his prepared remarks, Kazakhstan's Ambassador stressed, not without reason, that the "closure of the Semipalatinsk testing site was one of the most significant events in the field of nuclear disarmament." Asked about Kazakhstan's joint anti-terror operations with China in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, like Chechnya another potential micro-state blocked by one of the Permanent Five on the UN Security Council, the Kazakh Ambassador assured that the fighting of terror has nothing to do with refugees. We'll see.

Slovakian limbo per UNHCR

            But back to the micro-state of Casamance, which was part of what's now Guinea-Bissau until France took it. The civil strife dates back at least to 1982, and yet the UN and Security Council do nothing about it. At a stakeout interview on Friday afternoon, Inner City Press asked the Council's president Nana Effah-Apenteng if Casamance is on his radar.  No, the Ghanaian Ambassador replied. "Maybe you are more up-to-date on this issue than I am." Video here, at Minute 8:47.  A well placed source upstairs at the UN noted that Senegal keeps it quiet. As Chechnya is to Russia, in a sense, Casamance is to Senegal. Ah, the micro-states...

At deadline in Conference Room 3 in the basement, the disability rights convention was being endlessly discussed. Ten days ago the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention, Don MacKay, said that if current efforts to block the creation of a treaty monitoring body are successful, the Convention may well not be enacted. "And that would be shabby treatment," Mr. MacKay said, citing a long history of societies' discrimination against the disabled.

 Click here for video and here for the text of the draft Convention.

            Inner City Press asked if the United States is among the countries opposing any monitoring of countries' performance under the Convention, similar to the approach the U.S. took in derailing the Small Arms meeting at the UN earlier this year. Mr. MacKay acknowledged that the U.S. is among six or seven countries raising such concerns, but stated that the U.S. position does not seem "doctrinal" or doctrinaire.

    The afternoon the conference would wrap up, the UN briefer Thomas Schindlmayr resisted naming the countries opposed for example to the reference to countries' occupation. One journalist loudly left the room. Later this list became clear, including the U.S., Australia, Israel. And at 7:52 p.m., amid applause, the report was adopted.

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Burundi: Chaos at Camp for Congolese Refugees, Silence from UNHCR, While Reform's Debated by Forty Until 4 AM

In Liberia, From Nightmare to Challenge; Lack of Generosity to Egeland's CERF, Which China's Asked About

The Chadian Mirage: Beyond French Bombs, Is Exxon In the Cast? Asylum and the Uzbeks, Shadows of Stories to Come

Through the UN's One-Way Mirror, Sustainable Development To Be Discussed by Corporations, Even Nuclear Areva

Racial Disparities Grew Worse in 2005 at Citigroup, HSBC and Other Large Banks

Mine Your Own Business: Explosive Remnants of War and the Great Powers, Amid the Paparazzi

Human Rights Are Lost in the Mail: DR Congo Got the Letter, But the Process is Still Murky

Iraq's Oil to be Metered by Shell, While Basrah Project Remains Less than Clear

At the UN, Dues Threats and Presidents-Elect, Unanswered Greek Mission Questions

Kofi, Kony, Kagame and Coltan: This Moment in the Congo and Kampala

As Operation Swarmer Begins, UN's Qazi Denies It's Civil War and Has No Answers if Iraq's Oil is Being Metered

Cash Crop: In Nepal, Bhutanese Refugees Prohibited from Income Generation Even in their Camps

The Shorted and Shorting in Humanitarian Aid: From Davos to Darfur, the Numbers Don't Add Up

UN Reform: Transparency Later, Not Now -- At Least Not for AXA - WFP Insurance Contract

In Congolese Chaos, Shots Fired at U.N. Helicopter Gunship

In the Sudanese Crisis, Oil Revenue Goes Missing, UN Says

Empty Words on Money Laundering and Narcotics, from the UN and Georgia

What is the Sound of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War at UN

Kosovo: Of Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of Ferronikeli Mines

Abkhazia: Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia

Post-Tsunami Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives

Who Pays for the Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN

Citigroup Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference

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