Video Bridge - Armenia and Azerbaijan: 2013 Year in Review

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Video Bridge - Armenia and Azerbaijan: 2013 Year in Review

The dialogue was held on December 16, 2013.
 
 
Experts from Yerevan
Johnny Melikyan - Head of the Centre of Political and Legal Studies
Hrant Mikaelyan - Researcher at Caucasus Institute 
 
Experts from Baku
Mehman Aliyev – Director of Turan Information Agency 
Azad Isazade – Expert at the Institute for Peace and Democracy
 
Question by video-bridge facilitator: Armenia and Azerbaijan: 2013 year in review: foreign and domestic policies. 
 
Johnny Melikyan – Thisyear has been rather eventful for Armenia. First of all,we had presidential elections held. Another point worth mentioning is thatthere have been some changes regarding Armenia’s relations with Russia and the EU.
 
Since summer the Russian mass media have initiated the so-called information warfare which culminated withRussian President’s visit to Baku. The issue of Russia’s selling weapons to Azerbaijan was raisedagain. The response of the Armenian side was highly negative and the incidentdirectly affected Armenia’s relations with the Russian Federation.
 
All of these, together with the so-called “bathrobe” scandal,was a kind of a message to Yerevan that was saying: “we are rethinking migration policy of the Russian Federation, you will have things to be concerned about if you follow the path of Euro-integration”.
 
There was a drastic change in the Armenia-EU relations. Armenia and the EU have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, announcing that despite the halt Armenia has decided to take, it will maintain contacts with the EU. One recent case only verifies this statement. A few days ago it was announced that Armenia along with Georgia and Moldova will get 25 million Eurosfroman EU programme“More for more,” to conduct reforms in its economy. Thusthe EU showed that its relations with Armenia within theEastern Partnership framework will not change and will sustain.  
 
Mehman Aliyev – Throughout the year Azerbaijan was moving towards presidential elections, unlike Armenia, where elections were held early in the year. Our elections were held at the end of the year. For that reason all inner or outer relations during the year were built around this event. In the end, we have had 2 outcomes: firstly, a large-scaled electoral fraud, secondly, a more consolidated and active opposition. Also there were some democratic outbursts expressed by a series of demonstrations. The latest one, held on December 15,had to do with the rise in fuel price and future rises in public service costs. This is an indicator of the government’s readiness tomake concessions to some extent. It is a breakthrough in a sense that such demonstrations are allowed to be held,while in the pastthey were forbidden. Late last year Russians left theGabala radar station which was of high strategic importance for them. Beginning from the next year Azerbaijan will terminate its agreement on oil transitby the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline.The relations with Russiawill become weaker. Azerbaijan has signed a visa facilitation agreement with the EU. On the whole, we are drifting away from the CIS and Russia and coming closer to Europe. Although we can’t say that it is a swift transition, a certain tendency wasoutlinedthis year. On December17 a gas agreement will be signed on the Shakh-denizoil field. It is a very important agreement aimedatfuture association with Europe. It is not only an energy resource agreement but also a political one. For years negotiationshave beenconducted and relationships were built concerning this agreement, and finally we are getting to the finish line. So despite all the hardships, all in all this year was more or less Europe-oriented. A more distinct outline of partnership with Europe has appeared.
 
Hrant Mikaelyan – What has happened in Armenia? Public policywas reduced to nothing, i.e. party politics no longer has any significance or power. Instead we have a non-conventional continuation of politics. Civil protests have replaced politics and because of the absence of regular politics they have become more radical and have drawn larger masses of people. The first major indicator of thiswasthe protest against transport price hikes. More than 7000 people were participating. There was a rather serious confrontation. As a result the government cancelled the law. Although it is not so much spoken about Iwill also single out a protest, the so-called “revolution” by Shant Harutyunyan, during which protesters wearing Anonymous masks claimed a coup d'étatin Armenia (the protest of the leader of “Tseghakron”political party, Shant Harutyunuan, with a small number of followers at the beginning of November 2013- Ed.). In fact, during the protest a certain amount of violence could be observed. To my mind,this new qualitative change was a result of public politics being completely left out. Even the united parliamentary opposition parties can do nothing. That’s all about what has happened. Now I want to speak about what has not.
 
We are often asked by Europeans why we won’t hold demonstrations against the government decision as Ukrainians do. To my mind, Ukraine has a different juncture. There were demonstrations in Armenia after the presidential elections, and they carried on until they were reduced to noting. Many have lost faith in a demonstration as a method of reaching an acceptable solution. That is why politics began to emerge from one would least expect.
 
Azad Isazade – It is much easierfor me to answer as my three colleagues have alreadyaddressed to the major issues in the topic. Year 2013 was probably memorablein the respect that both Armenia and Azerbaijan were subjected to the Russian pressure due to theemployed “carrot-stick” method on both countries throughout the year. The Gabalaradar station has already been mentioned. After its closedown, the relations between Baku and Moscow have come to a complete halt. A symbolic thaw was to be observed when two Russian military ships entered Baku BayafterPresident Putin’s visit to Baku in anticipation of presidential elections. Russia was employing the carrot-stick method both in terms of economy and migration. My colleague mentioned the “bathrobe” scandal. The same was done against Azerbaijani migrant workers: the Birulyovo case, for example. We understand that Russia sends such messages periodically to both of us in order to threaten, to blackmail. They sell weapons to both of us.
 
We have money to buy them. Russia thinks that as we have oil resources weshould pay the full price. Sometimes the whole thing becomes ridiculous. In Azerbaijan we see the rise in petrol price, and the next day a decrease in gas prices in Armenia. The public is dissatisfied with the price rise. Of course, when a price is decreased in Armenia it is even more dissatisfying for the public. We are so much bound to each other even in small details that we react to absolutely everything. Also it should be mentioned that for some time Aliyev didn’t maintain any contacts with Putin. That is to say, the relations were severed back inMedvediev’s term. Since summer these relations have normalized more or less. I can’t say whether it’s good or bad. We have not joined the Customs Union yet, but we are not integrating with Europe either. As a result of the carrots-and-stick method we are again in pendent conditions. It’s easier for us as we have not announced joining CU, but that doesn’tguarantee that we won’t in the future. 
 
Question by video-bridge facilitator: The two presidents, IlhamAliev and Serzh Sargsyan, had a meeting in 2013, but we seem to disregard that event, why? Because it was a regular meeting which will change nothing and because we cannot expect anything from it?
 
Johnny Melikyan – In the last few years there were no meetings similar to theones arranged by ex-President Medvediev. Of course, it is a positive thing that the relations are being resumed. For me this meeting was important in the sense that they resumed negotiations on the start of negotiations. 
 
Mehman Aliev - As you have already mentioned the meeting of presidents is a start to a new negotiation process, which we have witnessed many times. They don’t bring us to anything except for the preservation of status-quo, of course. That is to say, the point is to avoid violence. At the end of 2012 Armenia witnessed the start of the electoral campaign. Azerbaijan did the same in 2013. In both countries elections were over, so it was logical to start the process. I don’t expect any changes during the next 5 years. These meetings will simply provide a certain format to guarantee thestatus-quo. 
 
Azad Isazade – My evaluation of that meeting will probably be a little harsher. None of us mentioned that meeting here. Of course, the meeting of the presidents was just an imitation of the negotiation process resumption, which has never been normally carried out. The presidents had not met for two years and thestatus-quo was, nevertheless, preserved. The two presidents were simply compelled to meet. I would not expect any progress in that direction. Of course, an imitation of the negotiation process is better than an imitation of military actions. There were intensive rumours that both parties would go for an imitation of hostilities in the campaign periods. It is good that we have survivedthat dangerous period and now have an imitation of the negotiation process. May things remain in this way.
 
Johnny Meliqyan’s question for the Azerbaijani experts - How do people react to the information aboutanother soldier being killed on the front line? Is the majority of the population under the influence of propaganda, or are there people who just preach that you shouldcome to agreement peacefully through diplomatic ways?
 
Mehman Aliyev - At the beginning of this year there were protests in the center of Baku. The youth held protests against soldiers’ deaths. Most of these losses were not on the front line, but in non-combat conditions. In the recent months, namely since summer,the number of deaths in the army has practically reduced, but the problem still persists. We have seen these protests in Azerbaijani society, especially among young people. This problem was highlighted,and thereforeappropriate conclusions were drawn. The new Defense Minister, having conducted various inspections, statesthat measures have been undertaken to prevent such happenings.  
 
Hrant Miqayelyan’s question to Azerbaijani experts - We know that there are some problems in Baku in connection with the freedom of assembly. That is, if people join the rally, many of them will be arrested. We know that happened before. And has the situation been like this year?
 
Mehman Aliyev’s answer – It has been bad. This problem has been acute in the recent years. Especially after the parliamentary elections in 2010. Almost all actions - pickets, meetings (even inclosed areas) were banned. When the campaign began,meetings with voters, that is – demonstrations and gatherings happened. After presidential elections the opposition held its third demonstration. It was not prohibited by theauthorities;moreover, the opposition was provided with a special stadium in the city where these rallies were held. I guess that is how it willcontinue, but in the future there will besome relief. At least such tendency can be observed. Authorities could prohibit actions, but they do not do it today. I think this stems from the fact that Azerbaijan is still moving towards European integration. Regardless of the government’s opinion, thisprocess is underway, slowly, but surely.
 
Azad Isazade’s question for the Armenian experts - How easy does the Armenian society take the membership to the Customs Union and the refusal from European integration?
 
Hrant Miqayelyan’s answer – There is some part of society which considers it from the political perspective, it is downtown Yerevan, not a very large part of society, and there is a part that considers it from the economic perspective. This is the larger part of the society, people whose relatives work in Russia. They believethat Armenia's accession to the CU will contribute to their relatives’ working conditions. From this point of view, a negative attitude to the decision is dominant in the public.But overall, if you look at the results of public opinion polls, although none of them are valid,CU still has the final preponderance.
 
Johnny Meliqyan’s answer – Recently the mass mediapropagated a pro-European line that is why the population was quite shocked by such a decision. Non-governmentalorganizations, financially supportedby Western countries, as well as the embassieswere basically the ones to make such a noise.
 
Therefore, I would say it was unprecedented that Putin was met by several thousands of people in Yerevan who were against his visit and the decision of RA to join the CU. But it is quite interesting to compare this with Davutoglu’s visit to Yerevan (on 12 December 2013 – Ed.). You know about the problems between Turkey and Armenia, and how Armenians perceivethe issue of the Genocide. And imagine that in front of Marriott, where Davutoglu stopped and where the meeting of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation was being held, there were only one hundred young participants protesting the visit. It turns out that this year the attitude towards Davutoglu's visit has somehow changed, and there were fewer people against his visit than against Putin's. But it hasa conjuncture basis, so I think that everything will change due to the shift of information flow.
 
Hrant Miqayelyan’s question for the Azerbaijani experts - From the economic point of view there has beensome stagnation this year in Armenia. After April the economy stopped growing, except for agriculture. I wonder what the situation is like in Azerbaijan, and what you expect next year?
 
Mehman Aliyev’s answer - Here is the situation in Azerbaijan: oil production falls, although it should be stabilized next year, because a couple of new wells will be introduced. But this is a temporary phenomenon, because in the future the production will fall. Compared with 2010, when the production was 50 million, by 2023 itwill fall by half. Gas, whichwe will start exporting, cannotcompensate for these losses. The government understands and setsa task to develop the non-oil sector. I think the problem is that somewhere around 80 % of the economy is illegal. This is huge tax evasion. Fuel costshave increased.The cost of utilities is expected to be increased as well. That is, the government is trying to fill the budgetat the citizens” expense. This year's budget was 3% less than last year. This is the first time we have a situation where the budget is decreasing instead of growing. Generally we come to understand that the era of oil income is drawing to its end, so we should take steps to develop the non-oil sector. There are sufficient opportunities for it, yet there is no political will. In any case, the government realizes the importance of taking some actions. And in any case, this question can be solved only from the political viewpoint. Municipal elections will be held next yearand parliamentary elections in 2015. The year will be replete with elections, so the new political situation will force the authorities to take measures to change the economictrend, that is, to create a balance in favor of the non-oil sector, too.
 
Mehman Aliyev’s question to the Armenian experts - I have a feeling that Armenia will not join the CU and Eurasian Union. That is, eventually, Armenia will turn around and join the European Union. Especially after Ukraine and its defrost situation. Do you think I am wrong, what can you say about it?
 
Johnny Meliqyan’s answer - The situation in Ukraine will be indicative, but at the end of this year a regular meeting of Eurasian economic Commission will be held, and there should be adopted a roadmap for Armenia to join the CU. Actually, Armenia will not be a full member of the CU, as there is also the geographic component, the distance from the border with the CU. However, CU seems to be a political project, rather than an economic one, and Russia seems to be willing to pay some amount of money for Armenia to be in the CU together with Belarus and Kazakhstan. I think that Armenia can still join the CU, anyway, but the format will be defined and limited by the interrelations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia. If Russia misses this opportunity, Europe will take advantage of it.
 
Hrant Miqayelyan’s answer - In my opinion Armenia cannot be a full member of the CU, and I have a feeling that large-scale investmentsare not expected. That is, Armenia will bear the CU label, but I think there will not be any full membership. It will be a membership with numerous exemptions, at least for trade with Georgia and other countries.
 
Mehman Aliyev’s question - Milov, the Chairman of the Democratic Choice Party, who is also a well-known economist, announcedin Baku that the Customs Union costs Russia 20 billion. He thinks that such a project has no prospects and will fail. If this project fails, will it be good or bad for Armenia?
 
Hrant Miqayelyan’s answer - If the CU fails, Armenia will be free to lead its foreign policy, but there will be some economic disadvantage, because if Russia stops expending on this integration, it will cancelcertain facilities for Armenia, perhaps even the free trade zone,adopted in 2011.

 

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