|Sunday, 29 November 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 183, 98-09-22
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 183, 22 September 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 LEADING TAJIK OPPOSITION FIGURE MURDEREDOtakhon Latifi, head of the National Reconciliation Commission sub- committee on legal issues, was shot dead by unidentified attackers leaving his home in Dushanbe on the morning of 22 September. A former "Pravda" correspondent, Latifi returned to Tajikistan last year after five years of exile in Iran. Both the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition have condemned the killing, according to dpa. LF
 KYRGYZ OFFICIAL SEEKS TO EXPLAIN CHANGES IN LAND OWNERSHIPPresidential administration head Omar Sultanov addressed the nation on state television on 20 September to explain and seek support for the proposed constitutional changes that will legalize the private ownership of land, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Those changes, which also include restrictions on the powers of the parliament and guarantees of media freedom, are to be put to a nationwide referendum next month. Sultanov assured his audience that the current five-year moratorium on the sale of land will remain in effect and that 700,000 Kyrgyz citizens who have already received plots of land free of charge will not be required to pay for them. In addition, the country's main natural resources will remain state property, he said. LF
 LANGUAGE ISSUE ALSO TO BE PUT TO REFERENDUM?The Bishkek city administration announced on 21 September that the City Assembly has appealed to the parliament to include a question on the status of the Russian language in next month's nationwide referendum, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. According to the 1989 law on the state language and the 1993 constitution, Kyrgyz is the sole state language in Kyrgyzstan. Some public organizations and politicians (including President Akayev) have suggested giving Russian the status of either second state language or a language of interethnic communication. The parliament, however, has rejected those proposals. Ethnic Russians account for some 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population. LF
 ARMENIA CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM ANNIVERSARYArmenia on 21 September marked the anniversary of the 1991 referendum in which participants voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession from the USSR, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The celebrations included the official opening of a Victory Arch at the entry of the main military cemetery, located in a Yerevan suburb where most victims of the war in Nagorno- Karabakh from Armenia are laid to rest. In a departure from previous years, there was no military parade. LF
 ARMENIAN PREMIER CONCLUDES LEBANON VISITArmen Darpinian returned to Yerevan on 18 September following a three-day official visit to Beirut, Armenian agencies reported. Darpinian held meetings with President Elias Hrawi, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and his Lebanese counterpart, Rafik Hariri, who had visited Yerevan in May. Both sides noted that cordial bilateral relations are not paralleled by similarly strong trade and economic ties. As a first step toward improving those ties, the two premiers signed an agreement on avoiding dual taxation. Darpinian also attended the opening of a business forum attended by entrepreneurs from both Armenia and Lebanon. Hrawi extended an invitation to Armenian President Robert Kocharian to visit Lebanon. LF
 TENSIONS WITHIN FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTYFormer deputy parliamentary speaker Karapet Rubinian called on 18 September for the resignation of Vano Siradeghian as chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Rubinian argued that under Siradeghian's chairmanship, the party has committed "mistake after mistake" in recent months. He charged that Siradeghian is an obstacle to the HHSh's regaining its leading position in domestic politics. The HHSh's ruling board voted on 18 September to accept Rubinian's resignation from the party. It also voted to expel a second former deputy parliament speaker, Ara Sahakian, who had criticized Siradeghian in an interview with the daily newspaper "Aravot." Another prominent HHSh member, former parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsian has been refusing to attend the board's meetings, reportedly because of differences with the party leadership. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 KOSOVAR MILITARY LEADER SLAIN IN TIRANA...Ahmet Krasniqi, a top official in the self-styled Kosovar government in exile, was murdered on 21 September, Reuters reported. Interior Ministry spokesman Artan Bizhga said he was killed by unidentified gunmen outside his home. Krasniqi was a top military official in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosova, the paramilitary organization loyal to "government-in- exile premier" Bujar Bukoshi. PB
 ...WHILE TWO EXPLOSIONS SHAKE CAPITALThe Albanian Prosecutor-General's Office blamed opposition leader Sali Berisha for a 21 September grenade attack at the Tirana home of the prosecutor investigating last week's violence in the capital, Reuters reported. In a statement, the office said "chief terrorist Sali Berisha dare not think that we prosecutors...will withdraw from the path of justice in Albania." No one was injured in the attack. Also on 21 September, Albanian Television reported that an explosion rocked the home of Vasil Melo, the chairman of the Albanian Human Rights Protection Party, which serves the ethnic Greek minority in Albania. There were no injuries in the blast. PB
 ALBANIAN PREMIER PROMISES CHANGESFatos Nano said on 21 September that he will make changes in his government after order is reestablished in the country in the wake of what he called last week's "coup d'etat," AFP reported. Nano, speaking on Albanian Television, failed to give details of the changes to come but said they are "necessary." He added that the authorities are working on restoring stability, fighting crime, and improving the economy. PB
 OPPOSITION RALLY CANCELEDA planned rally against the government of Fatos Nano was called off on 21 September when only a few hundred people showed up, Reuters reported. Former President Berisha had promised to stage peaceful rallies every day until Nano resigned. Berisha began talks the same day with right-wing parties in an effort to get them to boycott the parliament, as Berisha's Democratic Party has done for the past three months. Fourteen parties announced they have joined the "front against dictatorship." Teodor Laco, head of the Social Democrat Union, said the only way to force a change in government is to boycott parliamentary sessions. The Albanian news agency ATA reported that Alfons Zeneli, director of Radio Kontakt, and Ilir Zhilla, former director of ATA, have been arrested on charges of aiding the "armed uprising of 14 September." PB
 UN ENVOY, MILOSEVIC DISAGREE ON DISPLACED REFUGEESJiri Dienstbier, UN special envoy for human rights, said in Belgrade on 21 September that he saw tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians during a 10-day tour of Kosova, AFP reported. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, however, said after meeting with U.S. envoy Christopher Hill the same day that the "humanitarian catastrophe that we have been hearing about is not based on reality." He insisted that Serbian officials are providing tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians with food and shelter. Dienstbier said he witnessed a "disproportional use of force" and that Belgrade's goal appeared "not only to get the fighters of the [Kosova Liberation Army] but to prevent the return of the population to these areas." Dienstbier called for Belgrade to declare an amnesty for ethnic Albanians not suspected of committing war crimes. PB
 UCK POLITICAL LEADER RESIGNSAdem Demaci, the political spokesman of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said on 21 September that he is withdrawing from politics for health reasons, Reuters reported. A statement said Demaci's health has deteriorated, and doctors recommend that he "disengage from all political activities for as long as possible." Demaci, 68, spent 28 years in Yugoslav prisons as a political prisoner. He has repeatedly voiced his opposition to a negotiated settlement with Belgrade over the status of Kosova. He is also the main political opponent of Kosovar "shadow state" President Ibrahim Rugova. PB
 PLAVSIC CONCEDES ELECTION DEFEATBosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic has acknowledged losing her bid for reelection to ultranationalist Nikola Poplasen, AP reported on 21 September. Although final results of the 12-13 September vote are to be released later this week, many Western officials involved in the election have indicated that Poplasen is far ahead. Poplasen, leader of the chauvinist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and an ally of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, said he will follow the Dayton agreement "to the letter, nothing more and nothing less." The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo warned Americans not to travel through Serbian-controlled parts of Bosnia because the "emotional tone of the political rhetoric" may "heighten tensions in the area." The OSCE's Election Appeals Subcommission issued a warning to Poplasen and Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik for violating a pre- election media blackout. The subcommission also disqualified nine SRS candidates standing for the parliament. PB
 SLOVENIAN OFFICIALS WORRIED ABOUT FARMERSEmil Erjavec, a member of the Slovenian EU negotiating team who is charge of agriculture, said on 21 September that Slovenian farmers will have a hard time competing as members of the EU, Reuters reported. Slovenia began negotiations on joining the EU in March and hopes to join by 2003. The Agriculture Ministry said it will cost some $120-150 million in just the next two years to bring Slovenian agriculture up to EU standards. Erjavec said the parliament is expected to appropriate money by the end of the year to finance improvements in the agriculture sector. PB
 ACCUSED CROATIAN WAR CRIMINALS GO ON TRIALThree Croats alleged to have committed atrocities against Serbs in 1991 declined to enter a plea at their trial in Zagreb on 21 September, AP reported. It is the first time that Croats are being tried in Croatia for atrocities against Serbs. The three are charged--along with six others being tried in absentia--with the abduction, extortion, and murder of hundreds of ethnic Serbs in the Pakracka Poljana region, southeast of Zagreb. PB
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT IN ROMANIANursultan Nazarbayev, who is on a two-day visit to Romania, met with President Emil Constantinescu, Prime Minister Radu Vasile and other officials on 21 September, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They discussed the TRACECA transport corridor and the possibility of transporting Caspian oil to Europe via the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta. Last month, Kazakhstan granted concessions to Romania for the exploitation of two oil fields. Constantinescu and Nazarbayev signed an accord on avoiding double taxation, a consular agreement, as well as agreements on cultural collaboration and on consultation between the two countries' Foreign Ministries. Nazarbayev said that the two countries can learn from each other's experience on reform. He emphasized that his country is "neither part of the Soviet Union nor of Russia" and has not been affected by the current Russian crisis. MS
 TUDOR SAYS ETHNIC HUNGARIANS TO DECLARE TRANSYLVANIA AUTONOMOUSCorneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), told the Senate on 21 September that a report prepared by "one of [Romania's] secret services" demonstrates that the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) will soon declare Transylvania's territorial autonomy. He said similar reports in the past were ignored by the presidential office and by the government, according to Mediafax. The media recently carried reports on a document signed by an ethnic Romanian from Cluj, who called for Transylvania's autonomy and said he is "fed up with Romania." He said he was making that call on behalf of the Pro Transylvania foundation, but it later transpired that the foundation has not been registered. Opposition parties, including the PRM, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, and the Party of Romanian National Unity accused the government of condoning plans aimed at the country's "federalization." MS
 FORMER BULGARIAN KING CALLS FOR NATIONAL UNITYIn an address carried by BTA, former King Simeon II urged Bulgarians to drop political and ethnic differences and work together to establish democracy and a market economy as well as to fight corruption and crime, AP reported. The address was delivered on the occasion of the anniversary marking 90 years of Bulgarian independence from Turkey, which had been declared by Simeon's grandfather, Ferdinand. The anniversary was recently restored as a public holiday by Bulgaria's government, having been banned after the communist take over in 1944. MS
[C] END NOTE
 "AND HOME THERE'S NO RETURNING"by Liz Fuller
For almost 40 years, the Meskhetians (an ethnically mixed group comprising mostly Muslim Georgians and some Kurds and Muslim Armenians, whose common identity was largely forged in the course of deportation) have been lobbying for permission to return to their ancestral villages in southwestern Georgia, from where they were deported in 1944.
The most recent attempt to secure such permission failed. On 17 September, Georgian special police detachments surrounded a hostel in Tbilisi, rounded up some 40 Meskhetian men, loaded them on to buses, and deported them to the Russian Federation. The men belonged to an 83-person delegation that had traveled to the Georgian capital the previous day to plead with the Georgian leadership for permission to settle permanently in Georgia. The women members of the delegation were left behind in Tbilisi. Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told journalists that he had ordered the expulsion of the Meskhetians because, he claimed, they are aligned with opposition supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
The deportation recalls the mass expulsion of the Meskhetians from Georgia in November 1944 on Stalin's orders. The rationale for that action was the need to clear a strategically located region on the Soviet-Turkish frontier of elements suspected of pro- Turkish sympathies so that Soviet military operations could be extended into northeastern Turkey. On 15 November 1944, the entire Meskhetian population of several districts in southwestern Georgia, totaling between 150,000 and 200,000 people, were loaded into rail cars and transported to Central Asia. Thousands died en route, and thousands more in the harsh conditions in which they were forced to live in exile.
Following Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" to the 20th CPSU congress in 1956, which disclosed some, but by no means all the evils committed during the Stalin era, the restrictions imposed on most of the deported ethnic groups were lifted. But unlike the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, and others whose exile Khrushchev had explicitly condemned, the Meskhetians were not permitted to return to Georgia. Their efforts to do so were hindered by the fact that in many cases, their nationality had been arbitrarily changed to "Turkish" in their internal passports. Consequently, some were offered the chance to settle in Azerbaijan and accepted on the assumption that it would prove easier to resettle in Georgia from that neighboring republic. That assumption quickly proved to be false.
By the late 1960s, the Meskhetians had split into two factions. One faction continued to push for the right to return to Georgia, while the other launched a campaign for the right to emigrate to Turkey. In the mid-1970s, the first of those two factions enlisted the help and support of the tiny Georgian dissident movement headed by Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who at the time was a faculty member of Tbilisi State University. Now represented by an informal association called "Salvation," the faction eventually registered a modest success in the early 1980s, when small-scale repatriation to Georgia got under way, presumably thanks to the efforts of then Georgian Communist Party Central Committee First Secretary Eduard Shevardnadze. That influx petered out, however, in the late 1980s.
A further catastrophe hit the Meskhetians in the summer of 1989, when approximately 100 were killed in ethnic clashes in Uzbekistan's Fergana valley. Some 4,500 Meskhetians were swiftly evacuated from Uzbekistan to the Russian Federation, rather than Georgia. Since the collapse of the USSR, Meskhetians in several cities in southern Russia, especially Krasnodar, have been subjected to systematic harassment by the local authorities, who refuse either to acknowledge them as Russian citizens or to grant them residence permits.
Following his return to Georgia from Moscow in 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze at first argued against allowing the Meskhetians to return to Georgia on the grounds that social and economic collapse precluded creating adequate conditions for their repatriation. But in December 1996, Shevardnadze signed into law a state program whereby some 5,000 Meskhetians would be gradually repatriated to Georgia by the year 2000. Some Georgian political figures objected to the proposed repatriation on the grounds that the Meskhetians considered themselves Turks, and would thus constitute a "fifth column" and potential separatist movement. The Georgians and Armenians who for the past 50 years have inhabited the villages from which the Meskhetians were originally deported in 1944 threatened to take up arms to prevent their return.
In the event, whether for political or financial reasons, the1996 program was not systematically implemented. One Georgian observer suggested that Shevardnadze would have been committing political suicide if he had made provision for the deported Meskhetians to return to Georgia before reaching a settlement to the Abkhaz conflict that would create secure conditions for those ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war to return to their homes.
The Meskhetians therefore renewed their lobbying campaign, seeking support from, among others, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel and the Turkish government. Ankara has apparently agreed to allow some of those Meskhetians who wished to settle in Turkey to do so, on condition that the Georgian government expedite the repatriation of those who prefer to settle in Georgia.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty