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Avoiding a Yugoslavia In the Caucasus

IF the economic situation in the United States can be called recession, then what is happening in Armenia can best be described as a nightmare. Armenia is suffering from a severe shortage of goods including food, energy, and medicine. At times, even commodities like bread and milk are gone. Without access to gas or oil, the government may have to recommission a nuclear power plant deemed as dangerous as the one in Chernobyl.

Although the collapse of communism has been painful for all former Soviet republics, Armenia's misery is compounded by fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, a civil war in Georgia, the historic animosity between Armenians and Turks, and an overriding determination on the part of the West to prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism to Central Asia. These unique impediments are directly responsible for Armenia's economic ills.

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The era of glasnost under Mikhael Gorbachev inspired Christian Armenians in Nagorno- Karabakh to seek independence and self-determination. Moslem Azerbaijan was not pleased with what it viewed as an attempt at secession. The fighting began.

Although Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh did declare independence, no nation, including Armenia, recognizes this declaration. The decision by Armenia's president, Levon Ter Petrossian, to decline recognition was made in the hope that a negotiated settlement can be reached. His decision has caused a schism in Armenia's large diaspora, some of whom think they know better what is best for Armenia, and has led to the forced resignation of Armenia's American-born foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian. Despite the

president's attempt to encourage a peaceful solution, Azerbaijan has continued its brutally effective economic blockade upon Armenia's eastern border.

Previously supplied by Russia via Azerbaijan, Armenia turned instead to its northern neighbor Georgia. But Abkhazian and Ossetian separatists in northern Georgia interrupted the flow of goods to southern Georgia, and hence, to Armenia. Most recently, a key rail bridge in Georgia was destroyed, effectively cutting off Armenia altogether.

Turkey, continuing its resistance to the longstanding demand that it confess to the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in the early part of this century, has been less than cooperative with nations trying to supply Armenia from the west. Turks are providing military assistance to the Azerbaijanis, their ethnic relations.

This leaves a small southern border with Iran, the one Islamic nation in the region willing to assist Armenia. But Iran's gestures of friendship, and its attempts at mediating peace in Nagorno-Karabakh, have not been well received by Western nations concerned about a spread of Islamic fundamentalism to a region of the world dominated by Moslems.

The West would prefer the new Central Asian countries to follow Turkey's example of secular government. As a result, the West wants to ensure Turkey's access to these countries. Because its supplies of oil and gas have been limited since Desert Storm, Turkey needs access to Central Asia's rich oil fields. The only thing blocking its path is Armenia.

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THIS presents a perfect opportunity for mutually beneficial cooperation between Armenia and Turkey. In exchange for access to Azerbaijan through Armenia's southern territory, Turkey should allow Armenia access to the Black Sea. But a disturbing and little noticed article in "Platt's Oilgram News," a respected industry publication, disclosed a joint Turkish-Azerbaijani plan to annex southern Armenia and build an oil and gas pipeline linking them. It has even been suggested that Armenia voluntarily surrend er this region to Azerbaijan in exchange for ending the blockade.

Armenia, however, has already witnessed the loss of much of its land through aggression and agreements signed by officials of the former Soviet government. It will not assent to the forfeiture of any additional territory.

The demise of the Soviet Union affirmed the superiority of freedom, democracy, and capitalism over repression, dictatorship, and communism. But it also ended the ability of these dictatorial governments to stifle centuries-old ethnic conflicts. The Caucasus nations must put aside their prejudices and cooperate with all neighbors to foster economic prosperity and ensure their existence. Failure to do so will result, at best, in a resurrection of authoritarian rule. At worst, we will see a repeat of the at rocities occurring in former Yugoslavia.

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