Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Armenia’

European Liberal Democrats in the Caucasus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th May, 2012

It was daring — even brave — of the Armenian National Movement to invite the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) to convene a Council meeting in Yerevan this week, only days after general elections were held in Armenia, about which they have cried foul. ELDR has never had a meeting on such a scale in the Caucasus before, but it was doubly valuable for European Liberal Democrat Council members as the Liberal International organised a side-trip fact-finding mission to Georgia beforehand. I was involved in both, as the (UK) Liberal Democrats’ representative on the Executive of Liberal International and an elected member of the ELDR Council. I was in Armenia six years ago, travelling widely around the country, so it was fascinating to see how the capital Yerevan has been rapidly modernising, though the countryside has changed little and indeed gives the feeling of still being back in the Soviet era, only friendlier. But there was also a big contrast between Georgia (a first for me) and Armenia. In Tbilisi, our Georgian hosts — the Georgia Dream coalition — gave a very critical appraisal of how they see democracy fumctioning in their homeland, whereas the government — who looked after us for half a day — put a different spin on the state of affairs. But whoever was right about whichever issues there is no denying that Georgia is a place willing itself onto an upward trajectory, much aided by the abolition of widespread earlier corruption and personal insecurity. Most Georgians are anxious to get into NATO and one day into the EU as well; the 12-Star flag of Europe is prominant everywhere alongside the Georgian red cross. We were taken to the Line of Occupation on the edge of South Ossetia to remind us of just how close and real the Russian occupational presence is. In Armenia, in contrast, there is more of a Russian flavour to the capital, but of course there is also a big influence of the Armenian expatriate community from France and the United States, some of whom are presumably financing the massive amount of reconstruction going on. In the ELDR Council and contiguous special sessions we heard a lot from NGOs and others about alleged irregularities in last Sunday’s poll. But there was also, among other things, a fascinating session on LGBT Rights in the South Caucasus, organised in conjunction with the two Dutch Liberal parties (the VVD and D66) as well as International Liberal Youth (IFLRY). Just days ago a gay-friendly bar in Yerevan was set alight by far right activists, but nonetheless there is a lot of positive conscious-raising on equality issues (even in Georgia, where over 90% of the population say they disapprove of LGBT activism). The black hole as far as the Armenians are concerned seems to be Azerbaijan, but as I know from a visit there not all that long ago, things are modernising apace in Baku, financed by oil money, even if the regime is pretty authoritarian. All in all, the Caucasus is a region with huge political and economic potential, desperate to be seen as European, while at the same time retaining its diverse specificities.

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Unreconciled Differences: Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st October, 2010

Scott Taylor is a Canadian war correspondent who is best known for his reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan. But recent years have also seen him in the Caucasus — a region he confesses he knew nothing about until he became involved. That steep learning curve forms the dynamic of his new book Unreconciled Differences: Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan (Esprit de Corps Books), which tries to make sense of the complex tensions and unresolved issues of that region within an admirably succinct 176 pages. Despite the clunky title, it is a smooth, fascinating read, mixing personal experience and impressions with potted history. A central thread is the question of what constitutes genocide, given the onging Armenian campaign (particularly in the Diaspora) to get Turkey to accept that what happened to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 was genocide. Given the sensibilities among the various states and individuals, Scott Taylor’s standpoint is bound to infuriate as many as it pleases. Interestingly, Azerbaijan comes out best in his snapshot view of the Caucasus states, which is probably why the Azerbaijan Embassy hosted the book’s London launch the other day. Academic experts on the region will wince at one or two of the author’s assertions and the style is unrelentedly journalistic. That makes it extremely readable, if not always entirely reliable.


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Black Sea Implications of Turkey’s EU Accession

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th May, 2009

JF speaking at Black Sea ConferenceI took time out from Euro-campaigning the other day to attend a day-conference in Leicester on the Black Sea, hosted by the Department of Politcs and International Relations at the university there, with the support of a couple of European academic groupings and the British Embassy in Bratislava. The Black Sea is one of the regions in which I have lectured on cruise ships in recent years and the theme of the paper I delivered at the Leicester conference was ‘Black Sea Implications of Turkey’s EU Accession’.

The Black Sea is viewed by most Britons as more than peripheral, though when Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU two years ago, it became the Union’s eastern shore, just as the Mediterranean is the EU’s southern shore, the Atlantic the western and the Arctic the northern. However, if and when Turkey accedes to EU membership (as I believe it will and should, though probably only in about another 10 to 15 years time), the Black Sea will largely become part of the Union, with important implications for relations with Russia and the European aspirations of countries such as Georgia and Armenia.

The EU will suddenly acquire frontiers with Syria, Iraq and Iran and its centre of gravity will move sharply to the south-east. Moreover, I believe its character will inevitably change. When the old Mediterranean dictatorships, Greece, Portugal and Spain,  joined, they were grasping democracy and human rights eagerly. Similarly, when the eight former Communist states of central and eastern Europe joined, they were turning their back on 40 years of an oppressive ideology and were embracing a free market economy. Even though the accession process is already the stimulus for positive economic and political reforms in Turkey, it will not fundamentally change when it becomes part of the EU. Instead, the EU will be even more diverse than it is already — a diversity which I beieve will be stimulating and should be celebrated.

(photo courtesy Carol Weaver)

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Journalists at Risk

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd November, 2008

Journalism has become a far more risky profession since I started out as a cub reporter for the Manchester Evening News and the Geographical Magazine in the Vietnam War. It is not only in war or conflict zones that journalists are often deliberately targeted these days. Just this week, in Yerevan, Armenia, Edik Baghdasarian, who heads the Armenian Association of Investigative Journalists, was violently assaulted by three men as he left his office and could easily have been killed. His ‘crime’ in the eyes of whoever orchestrated the attack was that he has crusaded against high-level corruption. The incident served as a salutory reminder to us members of the Association of European Journalists who have been been meeting in Linz for the past couple of days of the risks that we take.

In a scheduled session on the subject this afternoon, we had presentations fropm Neboysa Bristic (Serbia), Zdenko Duka (Croatia), Krzystof Bobinski (Poland) and Fabrice Pozzolli-Montenay (France), highlighting dangers of diverse kinds, from violent ultra-nationalists to interfering media owners, government attempts to control the media and some irresponsible members of our own profession who have little respect for truth, objectivity or integrity. My old Bush House colleague (and Chairman of the AEJ British Section), William Horsley, who chaired the session, also spoke of the role ‘dumbing down’ has had in contributing to the decline in media standarsd over the past 25 years.

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