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Transcaucasus: Politicians Find Lessons At Democratic Convention

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  • Transcaucasus: Politicians Find Lessons At Democratic Convention

    Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
    July 30 2004

    Transcaucasus: Politicians Find Lessons At Democratic Convention

    Three leading opposition politicians from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and
    Georgia were among the hundreds of international figures invited to
    observe this week's Democratic National Convention in Boston. The
    three told RFE/RL's Robert McMahon that in spite of the convention's
    frequently stage-managed appearance, it offers some useful lessons in
    their own struggles to bring democracy to the South Caucasus.

    Boston, 30 July 2004 -- They represent some of the major opposition
    voices in the sometimes turbulent world of transitional politics in
    Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

    But for this week, at least, Stepan Demirchian, Ali Kerimli, and
    Davit Gamkrelidze were content to sit on the sidelines and observe
    the opposition party convention in Boston.

    Demirchian, Kerimli, and Gamkrelidze were among hundreds of
    diplomats, politicians, and political activists attending the
    convention as guests of the National Democratic Institute for
    International Affairs.

    In separate interviews with RFE/RL, the three politicians said the
    convention held useful lessons for their own countries' difficult
    reform paths. They also gained insight into the foreign policy
    priorities of key advisers to Democratic presidential candidate John

    Kerimli is chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party's (AHCP)
    reformist wing and is a lead figure in attempts to reunite the
    fragmented Azerbaijani opposition. He said beyond the stagecraft on
    view in Boston, he saw the convention as an important
    confidence-boosting exercise for the opposition Democratic Party.

    "The convention is orchestrated as a big show, [there are] a large
    number of participants, they use the stage for propaganda," Kerimli
    said. "The convention itself does not decide anything because all
    decisions have already been taken. The convention simply illustrates
    the will of the candidate to win, the presentation of his team, of
    his program -- this was of particular interest to me."

    Gamkrelidze is chairman of the New Conservative Party (formerly the
    New Rightists Party) of Georgia -- the only opposition party in that
    country's parliament. He said the convention provided a useful model
    for organizing an effective campaign. He said it highlighted the
    importance of well-trained activists and volunteers, who are the foot
    soldiers of major U.S. parties.Davit Gamkrelidze said the convention
    demonstrated some of the strengths of multiparty democracy, which he
    said Georgia lacks.

    Gamkrelidze said the convention demonstrated some of the strengths of
    multiparty democracy, which he said Georgia lacks.

    "This balance -- balance between the Republicans and Democrats -- is
    first of all a huge benefit for the citizens of the United States and
    when you [don't have] this balance it means that the government and
    ruling party, they lose control over themselves and it's very
    dangerous, and we already [have found] out in Georgia that the
    government and the new leaders in the Georgian state, they somehow
    lost control over themselves," Gamkrelidze said.

    For Demirchian, leader of the Justice Faction in the National
    Assembly of Armenia (HZhK), the U.S. convention has helped illustrate
    how far his country must travel on its path to democracy.

    "We have to learn a lot. So, democracy needs consistent work. Hard
    work," Demirchian said.

    Demirchian lost to President Robert Kocharian in a 2003 presidential
    runoff. He and other opposition leaders have alleged that Kocharian
    falsified that vote and led protests this spring demanding the
    president either organize a national referendum of confidence on his
    rule or step down.

    Demirchian, Kerimli, and Gamkrelidze were eager to hear any mention
    of Democratic Party policy on issues such as Nagorno-Karabakh and
    Russia's role in the South Caucasus. But most speeches and panel
    discussions focused on Iraq, the Middle East, and the Democrats'
    strategy for waging the war against international terrorism.

    Kerimli said after a briefing given by top Kerry foreign-policy
    advisers that the Democrats favor greater engagement with allies and
    multilateral institutions.

    "America has now to make a very important choice -- how it will
    continue to be the leader in the world," Kerimli said. "Of course,
    America does have a leadership role, but the question is how this
    role will be [put to use] and how this role will be implemented --
    together with the world or alone. The Democratic Convention shows an
    inclination toward solving the problems in participation with all
    international organizations."

    Gamkrelidze sensed little difference in the main foreign policy goals
    of U.S. Democrats and Republicans.

    "It's my impression [there are] not big differences between the two
    parties, first of all about the security, about the war against
    terror, also such things as values and spreading of the values. It's
    good for me because it's always dangerous when there is a big shift,"
    Gamkrelidze said.

    The three politicians were among participants from more than 120
    countries who came to Boston under the sponsorship of the National
    Democratic Institute. It was believed to be the largest group of
    foreign observers ever to attend a U.S. electoral convention.

    The institute, a nonprofit organization, aims to establish political
    and civic organizations, safeguard elections and promote
    accountability in government.

    (RFE/RL's Nikola Krastev contributed to this report.)