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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 183, Part I, 20 September 1999


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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 183, Part I, 20 September 1999

A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern
Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the
staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia,
Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central,
Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed
simultaneously as a second document.  Back issues of
RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at
RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline

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Headlines, Part I

* MOSCOW STEPS UP AIR BOMBARDMENT OF CHECHNYA

* RESIGNATION RUMORS GAIN INTENSITY

* OSCE CRITICIZES KAZAKHSTAN'S SENATE ELECTIONS

End Note: GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN-POPULATED REGION IN LIMBO
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RUSSIA

MOSCOW STEPS UP AIR BOMBARDMENT OF CHECHNYA... Beginning late
on 17 September, Russian aircraft flew some 100 raids on
Chechen targets within 24 hours and continued bombing the
following day, Interfax reported, citing Defense Ministry
sources. Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, speaking in
Arkhangelsk on 18 September, insisted once again that only
guerrilla bases are being targeted in those raids, and
Interfax on 19 September quoted a Russian military spokesman
in Makhachkala as estimating that 140 guerrillas were killed
in the previous day's bombing. But Chechen presidential
spokesman Selim Abdumuslimov said that more than 20 people
died and 50 were injured air attacks on villages in the
districts of Shelkovksii, Gudermes, Nozhai-Yurt, and Vedeno
over the previous two days. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister
Akhmed Zakaev told Interfax on 19 September that "not a
single so-called militant or mudjahedin" was among the 200
people killed since the bombing raids began three weeks ago.
LF

...BUT REPORTS OF GROUND INVASION PROVE PREMATURE. Chechen
government officials claimed on 18 September that Russian
motorized units had penetrated 1.5 kilometers into Chechnya
from neighboring Ingushetia and were digging in, Interfax
reported. But Russian Defense Ministry sources in Moscow
denied that claim, as did Ingushetia's President Ruslan
Aushev. Reuters quoted a Russian military spokesman as saying
that it is "senseless" to invade Chechnya from the west given
that the Chechen threat to Russia is aimed at Daghestan,
which borders Chechnya to the east. But on 19 September,
ITAR-TASS reported that more federal troops were moved from
North Ossetia to the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya.
LF

FEDERAL FORCES REGROUP IN DAGHESTAN. In Daghestan, Russian
forces have been redeployed in the border districts of
Kizlyar, Khasavyurt, and Babayurt in order to repel
anticipated new attacks from Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on
18 September. At the same time, Interior Ministry and OMON
troops are reportedly still combing and demining the villages
of Shushia, Karamakhi, and Chabanmakhi as well as the Kizlyar
uplands. ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September that "small
groups" of militants remain in Daghestan, but he did not
specify in which areas. LF

INTERIOR MINISTRY CLAIMS PROOF OF OFFICIAL CHECHEN
INVOLVEMENT IN DAGHESTAN FIGHTING. Russian Interior Ministry
spokesmen told ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 17 September they
have evidence that a 300-strong unit of the Chechen army
directly subordinate to President Aslan Maskhadov took part
in the fighting in Daghestan, returning to its base in
Gudermes on 11 September. There has been no official Chechen
response to those accusations, although Chechen government
spokesmen earlier denied any involvement in the attacks on
Daghestan. LF

NATIONALITIES MINISTER CALLS FOR MASKHADOV-PUTIN MEETING.
Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov told
journalists in Moscow on 18 September that Maskhadov should
state definitively that he is "against bandits," ITAR-TASS
reported. Mikhailov added that a meeting between Maskhadov
and Russian leaders is planned to discuss joint measures
against terrorism. Maskhadov wrote to President Yeltsin to
propose such measures last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15
September 1999). Both Mikhailov and Chechen Deputy Prime
Minister Kazbek Makhashev said on 18 September that
preparations are under way for a meeting between Maskhadov
and Russian Premier Putin at which the two men will sign a
declaration outlining measures for resolving the North
Caucasus crisis. LF

FEDERATION COUNCIL SKEPTICAL OF PUTIN'S CHECHEN PROPOSALS?
Addressing a closed session of the Federation Council on 17
September, Prime Minister Putin outlined his measures for
countering the Chechen threat, including the imposition of a
cordon sanitaire and continuing air strikes against the
"guerrillas," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 September.
Putin himself told journalists after the session that
senators expressed support for those plans and urged the
Russian government to act "harshly and rapidly." But the
daily said all senators with whom its correspondent spoke
unanimously slammed Putin's proposals, arguing that air
strikes are insufficient and ground troops should be sent
into Chechnya. The newspaper quoted unidentified senators as
expressing doubts that it will be possible to "resolve the
Chechen problem" before next year's Russian presidential
elections. LF

CHECHNYA STIPULATES CONDITIONS FOR EXTRADITING 'TERRORISTS.'
In a 19 September letter to Russian Prime Minister Putin and
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas
Akhmadov said Chechnya will "consider" extraditing to Moscow
the terrorists responsible for the apartment bombings in
Moscow and Buynaksk only on certain conditions, Interfax
reported. He said that Moscow must furnish convincing proof
of those persons' involvement in the bombings, and agree to
hand over to Chechnya the "war criminals responsible for the
genocide of the Chechen people in 1994-1996" as well as
Russian pilots responsible for the air raids on Chechnya
during the past three weeks. LF

RESIGNATION RUMORS GAIN INTENSITY. Duma deputy and former
Economics Minister Aleksandr Shokhin wrote in "Segodnya" on
20 September that Russian President Boris Yeltsin will resign
on 19 October in order to force his opponents to choose
between running in the State Duma elections scheduled for 19
December or in presidential elections. One of Yeltsin's chief
rivals, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, is planning to seek re-
election as head of the capital on that date, and Yabloko
leader Grigorii Yavlinskii is another likely presidential
candidate who will be participating in the State Duma
elections. In an earlier article in "Segodnya," Shokhin had
been only one day off when he predicted Yevgenii Primakov's
ouster from the premier's office. JAC

LEBED TOUTED AS YELTSIN'S SUCCESSOR... Referring to unnamed
Kremlin sources, "Segodnya," which is owned by Vladmir
Gusinskii's Media-Most Group, reported on 18 September that
Prime Minister Putin is about to be dismissed and Krasnoyarsk
Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed named in his place. In
addition, Lebed's backer, media magnate Boris Berezovskii,
will receive a "high administrative position" probably
connected with North Caucasus affairs, the daily claimed. The
next day, Igor Shabdurasulov, deputy chief of presidential
administration, dismissed the report, telling Interfax that
the "goal in fabricating sensational rumors is simple--to
create the pretext under which the opportunity is given over
and over again to 'show oneself' and gain publicity through
electronic and press media professing one's comments,
assessment, and forecasts." On 15 September, presidential
spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin had described earlier reports
about Lebed's appointment as "utter rubbish." JAC

...AS GOVERNOR SAYS HE'S NOT MOVING TO MOSCOW--YET. In an
interview with the German magazine "Der Spiegel" on 19
September, Lebed said that he would not accept any position
in the Yeltsin government. The same day, Lebed told Russian
Public Television that if he were elected president, he would
have a better chance than others of resolving Russia's
problems with Chechnya. Earlier, Lebed had said Russia needed
a military man as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10
September 1999). JAC

RAISA GORBACHEV LOSES BATTLE WITH LEUKEMIA. Raisa Gorbachev
died early on 20 September at the Muenster University Clinic,
where she had been undergoing treatment for leukemia since
late July. Her husband, former Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev, had remained with her throughout her stay in the
German hospital. While earlier having found little sympathy
among the Russian public, the couple was flooded with letters
from well-wishers within Russia after Raisa Gorbachev was
diagnosed with leukemia. JC

MOSCOW'S FIRST LADY THROW HER HAT INTO RING... Yelena
Baturina, the wife of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, announced
on 18 September that she will seek a seat in the State Duma
from a single-mandate district in the Republic of Kalmykia.
Baturina said she will run as an independent candidate and
plans to "engage in creative activity, notably implement
construction projects" in Kalmykia, according to Interfax.
Baturina's brother, who runs the INTEK construction company,
is prime minister of Kalmykia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3
November 1998). Baturina also said that she plans to take an
active part in the construction of a Buddhist temple in
Moscow. The predominant religion in Kalmykia is Tibetan
Buddhism. JAC

...AS MAYOR DESIGNATES HIS RUNNING MATE. Mayor Luzhkov has
tapped Valerii Shantsev, current deputy Moscow mayor, as his
running mate in the upcoming mayoral elections, "Izvestiya"
reported on 18 September. Luzhkov is pledging to reduce
taxes, construct housing on a scale of 3-4 million square
meters a year, and upgrade the standard of living of
Muscovites by one-third, according to the daily. On 14
September, Luzhkov launched his "official" web site at
http://www.luzhkov.ru. JAC

MORE MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS CLOG WORK AT TRANSNEFT. Transneft's
top managers decided not to show up at work on 17 September
to show solidarity for ousted director Dmitrii Savelev, "The
Moscow Times" reported the next day. Policeman armed with
saws had forcibly installed new director, Semen Vainshtok,
the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 & 16 September
1999). "Komsomolskaya pravda," in which the Interros
financial group holds a 51 percent stake, suggested that
Savelev was dismissed primarily because of his support for
the Baltic Pipeline System project over a competing pipeline
project backed by LUKoil. Both Deputy Fuel Minister Vladimir
Stanev and Vainshtok are former LUKoil vice presidents.
According to the daily, Fuel Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii had
to dismiss Savelev in an unorthodox manner because he was in
a hurry: Savelev reportedly intended to run in the State Duma
elections, and once he was registered as a candidate, he
could have been dismissed only with the permission of the
Central Election Commission. JAC

RUBLE FIRMS TEMPORARILY, STOCKS DIP... The ruble exchange
rate rose to 24.41 rubles to $1 on 17 September from 25.47
rubles two days earlier. Traders attributed the rise to the
Central Bank's issuing a new regulation for commercial banks
that had the effect of tightening the money supply, AFP
reported. However, traders do not expect the trend to last
because of expected higher inflation and rising political
tensions, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, the stock market
values continued to slide. The benchmark RTS index slipped
2.77 percent on 15 September from the previous day, Reuters
reported. Stocks have fallen steadily since the apartment
bombings in Moscow. JAC

...AS INFLATION PREDICTED TO RISE. Finance Minister Mikhail
Kasyanov said on 17 September that inflation will be slightly
over 40 percent in 1999, rather than the 30 percent projected
in this year's budget. Kasyanov added that GDP will
experience zero growth in 1999, compared with the previous
year. Real incomes fell 14.8 percent and real wages 35.9
percent during the first eight months of 1999, the Russian
Statistics Agency reported the same day. JAC

GROMOV SAYS START-2 IMPORTANT FOR RUSSIA. In an interview
published in the 19 September "The Washington Times," Colonel
General Boris Gromov, chairman of the Russian State Duma's
Subcommittee on International Affairs said he believes that
START-2 ratification is "strategically important" for both
Russia and the U.S. and that the treaty has not lost its
"significance and positive potential" since it was signed in
1993. He attributed the delay in ratifying START-2 to the
"serious decline of the economic and social situation in
Russia," noting that the cost of implementing START-2 is a
"heavy burden" for the current Russian budget. With regard to
the U.S. desire to amend the 1972 ABM treaty, Gromov stressed
the Russian standpoint that it is an "indispensable part of
any system of strategic stability." He urged that the two
sides find a compromise, possibly establishing a joint ABM
system or making "mutual concessions within the future START-
3 framework." JC

U.S. JETS INTERCEPT RUSSIAN BOMBERS OFF ALASKA. U.S. fighter
jets were sent to intercept two Tu-95 Russian Bear bombers
some 200 miles off the coast of Alaska on 17 September. The
bombers did not stray from international air space, but once
they entered the "outer defense identification zone," the
U.S. planes were sent to identify them. Interfax quoted the
Russian Air Force press center as expressing "surprise and
regret" over the incident. It stressed that its aircraft did
not violate U.S. airspace and commented that the air force
witnesses the "daily barraging of NATO intelligence aircraft
along the Russia border but does not take hurried steps." The
last time a Russian Bear aircraft was intercepted off Alaska
was in March 1993, according to Reuters. JC

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WANTS NEW KARABAKH PEACE PLAN...
Meeting in Baku on 18 September with visiting OSCE Chairman
in Office Knut Vollebaek, Heidar Aliev argued that the OSCE
Minsk Group is unable to resolve the Karabakh conflict and is
biased toward Armenia in its efforts to do so, Turan
reported. Aliev added that he expects the Minsk Group to
prepare a new draft peace plan before the OSCE summit in
Istanbul in mid-November. Turan quoted Aliev as saying that
his direct talks over the past two months with his Armenian
counterpart, Robert Kocharian, have yielded no results, as
"Armenia is offering very difficult proposals that could not
be accepted by Azerbaijan." Vollebaek expressed the OSCE's
support for a continuation of those direct talks, which he
termed "vital" to resolving the conflict, according to ITAR-
TASS. LF

...ORDERS RELEASE OF ARMENIAN POWS. President Aliev announced
during his talks with Vollebaek that he has ordered the
National Security Ministry to release the last four Armenian
prisoners of war held in Azerbaijan. He added that he hopes
Armenia will reciprocate by releasing the 15 remaining
Azerbaijani prisoners before the OSCE Istanbul summit, ITAR-
TASS reported. Armenia released three Azerbaijani POWs on 17
September. Armenia says it still holds six Azerbaijani POWs,
while the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh
Republic admits holding five Azerbaijani servicemen, RFE/RL's
Yerevan bureau reported on 17 September. LF

POLICE DISPERSE DEMONSTRATIONS IN AZERBAIJANI CAPITAL. Baku
police dispersed some 50 people taking part in a picket of
the city mayor's office on 18 September, Caucasus Press
reported. The picket was organized by the chairmen of the
Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections to
demand permission to convene a rally in Baku on 25 September.
Two days earlier, some 300 police had broken up a rally by
opposition representatives at the Salyany race track on the
outskirts of Baku. Several participants were arrested. The
demonstrators had been protesting alleged violations by local
election officials during the first stage of preparations for
the 12 December municipal elections. LF

RUSSIA RELAXES, REIMPOSES CONTROLS ON BORDERS WITH GEORGIA...
Interfax reported on 17 September, quoting Abkhaz President
Vlasislav Ardzinba, that a week or so earlier, on 9
September, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a
resolution lifting restrictions imposed in 1994, 1995, and
1997 on crossing Russia's borders with Azerbaijan and
Georgia, Ardzinba termed that step "the lifting of the
economic blockade" against Abkhazia. But within days of the
signing of the Russian government document, State Duma
speaker Gennadii Seleznev called for the closure of those
borders to prevent the transport of arms via Azerbaijani and
Georgian territory to militants fighting in Chechnya and
Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1999). On 17
September, Russian border guards closed the Psou border
crossing between Russia and Abkhazia in response to last
week's terrorist bombings in Russia, according to Caucasus
Press. LF

...SPARKING PROTESTS IN TBILISI. The Georgian State Frontier
Department issued a statement condemning the 9 September
Russian government resolution as an infringement of Georgia's
sovereignty, Caucasus Press reported on 18 September. The
statement added that the Russian move abets Abkhaz separatism
and "does not promote the development and strengthening of
good-neighborly relations" between Moscow and Tbilisi. Also
on 18 September, the Abkhaz parliament in exile, which is
composed of the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz
parliament elected in 1991, issued a statement demanding that
the Georgian government completely reassess relations with
Moscow in the light of the Russian government resolution. The
statement called for the closure of Russia's four military
bases in Georgia and for the withdrawal of the Russian
peacekeepers deployed under the CIS aegis along the border
between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE DISCUSSES GEORGIAN CONFLICTS. During
talks in Tbilisi on 17 September, Georgian Foreign Minister
Irakli Menagharishvili thanked Knut Vollebaek for the OSCE's
contribution to resolving the conflict in South Ossetia,
Caucasus Press reported. Interfax quoted Vollebaek as telling
a press conference after his talks that the OSCE is prepared
to join the process of trying to resolve the Abkhaz conflict
and will hold talks with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on
doing so. Vollebaek also met with Parliamentary Chairman
Zurab Zhvania and with representatives of several opposition
parties to discussed preparations for the 31 October
parliamentary elections. He was scheduled to meet with
Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and President Eduard
Shevardnadze. LF

BRZEZINSKI PROPOSES THAT ARMENIA JOIN GUUAM. Former U.S.
National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told
journalists in Tbilisi on 17 September that he considers the
GUUAM alignment comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,
Azerbaijan, and Moldova, "a good initiative" that may at some
point evolve into a security system, Caucasus Press reported.
But Brzezinski added that he thinks Armenia should also
become a member of GUUAM, together with Romania, Poland, and
Turkey. He proposed that Tbilisi offer the maximum
concessions in order the resolve its conflict with Abkhazia.
But he ruled out independence for the breakaway republic,
advocating instead a confederation with Georgia, according to
Caucasus Press. The Georgian leaders insist they would agree
only to Georgia becoming an "asymmetric federation." LF

OSCE CRITICIZES KAZAKHSTAN'S SENATE ELECTIONS. In a statement
issued in Almaty on 17 September, the OSCE's Office for
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights criticized the
conduct of elections that day to the upper chamber of
Kazakhstan's parliament, Reuters reported. The statement
noted the failure of an unspecified number of local election
commissions in the city and oblast of Almaty to comply with
new regulations allowing local political party
representatives to observe and monitor the vote count. The
previous day, Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Zaghipa
Balieva had pledged that voting would be "absolutely fair,
transparent and democratic" and that "all the election laws
will be followed." Twenty-nine candidates, all of whom were
either government officials or senators whose term is about
to expire, were contesting 16 senate seats. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S EX-PREMIER LEAVES RUSSIA. Akezhan Kazhegeldin,
who was hospitalized after suffering a suspected heart attack
following his detention by police in Moscow on arriving from
London on 10 September, returned to London on 16 September,
Reuters reported on 17 September, quoting members of
Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan. Those
party members added that Kazhegeldin has no firm plans to
return to Kazakhstan, where he faces charges of tax evasion.
LF

SEVEN KILLED IN NEW CLASH IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN. Seven
Kyrgyz troops were killed and another six injured in a four-
hour exchange of fire with more than 100 guerrillas who
attacked their positions near the village of Syrt in southern
Kyrgyzstan early on 18 September. Kyrgyzstan's Security
Council secretary Bolot Djanuzakov told journalists that the
guerrillas were attempting to gain access to the Uzbek
exclave of Sokh, which is surrounded by Kyrgyz territory, but
were prevented from doing so. He added that the guerrillas
lost 15 men in the fighting, including the field commander
who led an earlier incursion on to Kyrgyz territory. During
the fighting, the guerrillas also seized some 12 local
civilians whom they intend to use as human shields, ITAR-TASS
reported on 19 September. LF

NEW POLITICAL PARTY FORMED IN KYRGYZSTAN. Some 100 deputies
elected Zamira Sydykova, chief editor of the opposition
weekly paper "Res Publika," as chairwoman of the Party of
Republicans at that party's founding congress in Bishkek on
18 September, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported.
Parliamentary deputy and Ata-Meken party chairman Omurbek
Tekebaev, who also attended the congress, said his party may
align with the Republicans. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS. Addressing a congress
of the Islamic Renaissance Party in Dushanbe on 18 September,
United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri called for
the consolidation of the peace process in Tajikistan and
affirmed that the party's ultimate objective is to come to
power "by political means, strictly within the bounds of the
constitution," ITAR-TASS reported. The 540 delegates to the
congress elected Nuri as the party's new chairman. Former
chairman Mukhammed Sharif Himmatzode and First Deputy Prime
Minister Khodja Akbar Turadjonzoda were elected deputy
chairmen. In August, Tajikistan's Supreme Court lifted the
ban it had imposed on the Islamic Renaissance Party in June
1993. But on 17 September, a leading member of the country's
Central Electoral Commission said the party will not be able
to contend the presidential and parliamentary elections later
this year unless it first re-registers with the Ministry of
Justice, Reuters reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR SECOND TERM. Abdulmadzhid Dostiev,
who is deputy chairman of the People's Democratic Party, told
Reuters on 17 September that Imomali Rakhmonov will run for a
second term in the 6 November presidential poll "at the
party's request" as there is "simply no alternative." The
party is to convene a congress on 23 September. A former
Tajik Supreme Soviet chairman, Rakhmonov was elected
president in November 1994 with some 60 percent of the vote.
LF

UZBEKISTAN AGAIN IMPLICATES TAJIK OPPOSITION FIGHTING IN
KYRGYZSTAN. Speaking at a press briefing in Tashkent on 17
September, Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov
claimed that the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas in Kyrgyzstan
receive support and instructions from members of the UTO,
Reuters and Interfax reported. The UTO has denied earlier
Uzbek charges that it supports the guerrillas (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 10 and 13 September 1999). Kamilov said that the
leader of the band now holding hostages in Kyrgyzstan's Osh
Oblast reports by radio to former UTO commander Mirzo Zioev,
Tajikistan's Minister for Emergency Situations and Civil
Defense, and to headquarters in Kabul and Qaraganda in
Kazakhstan. He added that the Tajik government refuses to
acknowledge that it has lost control of the situation in the
eastern part of the country. At the same press conference,
National Security Council Secretary Mirakbar Rakhmonkulov
said Uzbekistan will not send ground troops to Kyrgyzstan to
help fight the militants, according to Interfax. LF

END NOTE

GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN-POPULATED REGION IN LIMBO

By Emil Danielyan

	Georgian and Armenian words mingle at the noisy bazaar
and in the busy shops and cafes of Akhaltsikhe, a town in the
west of Javakhetia. But the situation is quite different in
the smaller town of Akhalkalaki, 70 kilometers to the east,
at the heart of the southern region of Georgia, where ethnic
Armenians constitute an overall majority. Akhalkalaki's
population is overwhelmingly Armenian. Georgian is rarely
spoken, and there are few other signs that this is Georgian
territory. The place looks depressing and is deceptively
calm.
	Javakhetia's location on Georgia's border with Turkey
and Armenia gives the region strategic importance as Russia
and the West compete for influence in the post-Soviet South
Caucasus. The continuing presence in Javakhetia of Russian
troops and the region's ethnic composition are the main
causes of tension. Added to those factors are the
longstanding grievances of the local population largely
stemming from severe living conditions.
	Achieving a modus vivendi with its sometimes
obstreperous national minorities has been a huge challenge
for independent Georgia. Attempts to rein in Abkhazia and
South Ossetia by force have resulted in Tbilisi's loss of
control over those two breakaway regions. And although
relations with local Armenians have been mainly peaceful,
finding a long-term arrangement with Javakhetia has proved
problematic.
	The area known as Javakhetia (Javakhk in Armenian) is
composed of four raions. Ethnic Armenians are concentrated in
two of those raions, Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, accounting
for more than 95 percent of the population. The Tbilisi
government's influence there is fairly limited. Akhalkalaki
still hosts a Russian military base, one of the four
remaining in Georgia. In a town with a virtually non-existent
economy, the base is the main employer. The locals are
strongly opposed to the withdrawal of the Russian troops,
which Tbilisi is seeking as part of its bid to establish
close ties with NATO and the West.
	Some Russians did pull out last year, however, raising
the question of who would occupy their empty barracks. Under
pressure from local Armenians unwilling to see Georgian army
units stationed in Akhalkalaki, the Georgian government
agreed to turn the barracks into a hospital. Local government
officials now say that Tbilisi has assured them it will not
deploy Georgian troops in the area in the foreseeable future.
A recent meeting in Akhaktsikhe between the Armenian and
Georgian defense ministers was also intended to reassure the
local Armenia population.
	In terms of culture and education, the region's ethnic
Armenian population is oriented toward Armenia. Only a
handful of the inhabitants of Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda
Raions speak Georgian. Schooling is in Armenian, and
textbooks are those used in Armenia. High-school graduates
generally choose to continue their education in Yerevan,
rather than Tbilisi. Many Armenians in Javakheti have
subsequently made careers in the Armenian military, where
they are well represented in the officer corps. Armenia's
present defense minister was born in Javakheti.
	Employment opportunities in Javakheti are limited. Apart
from the Russian base and trade, the locals live off farming
or money received from relatives working in Russia. Three
hours of electricity a day is no incentive to launch a
business. Moreover, meager pensions and public-sector wages
have not been paid for more than six months.
	As a result of the crumbling infrastructure and the lack
of prospects, many people feel forsaken by the central
government. Akhalkalaki district council chairman Levon
Gabrielian, who is a member of Georgia's ruling Union of
Citizens of Georgia, says Tbilisi's attitude toward the
region is "not objective," while more radical local leaders
speak about covert discrimination.
	Anti-Turkish and pro-Russian nationalists, who until
recently operated under the umbrella group Javakhk, have
formed a party called Virk (the medieval Armenian name for
Georgia.) The Georgian Justice Ministry refuses to register
the party, citing its "regional" character. But one of Virk's
leaders, David Restakian, says Tbilisi wants to bar the party
from participating in parliamentary elections next month. "We
are more dangerous for them than Javakhk because we want to
obey their rules of the game," he says. "One in 10 Georgian
citizens is an [ethnic] Armenian, and yet we have no senior
officials in Tbilisi."
	Virk's stated aim is a "federal" Georgia in which
Javakhetia would be a separate entity. Its members are
against the possible construction through the region of a
pipeline carrying Azerbaijani oil to the Turkish
Mediterranean coast. They are clearly a force on which Russia
can depend to keep its presence in the region.
	As the polls near, Georgian parties are competing to win
the sympathy of Javakhetian Armenians, who in the 1995
elections voted for President Eduard Shevardnadze's Union of
Citizens of Georgia (not least because the Armenian
leadership urged them to do so). Posters of Aslan Abashidze,
the autocratic ruler of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, can
already be seen in Akhalkalaki, while those of his newly
formed electoral bloc urge the ouster of the Shevardnadze
administration, which, it contends, "has no future."
	Abashidze rules virtually independently of Tbilisi,
relying on Russian troops to preserve Adjaria's quasi-
independence. He recently proposed incorporating Javakhetia
into his Black Sea republic, which reportedly enjoys the
highest living standards in the country. However, both the
Armenian moderates and nationalists are highly mistrustful of
Abashidze, pointing to his suspected Turkish connections. The
October parliamentary elections will show whether their
warnings carry more weight than his economic track record
among Javakhetia's impoverished population.
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