Armenia Regrets Start of Iraq War

PREPARES TO ASSIST IRAQ’S ARMENIAN REFUGEES FLEEING TO ARMENIA

YEREVAN (Armenpress–RFE/RL)–Armenia regretted on Thursday the onset of the US-led war against Iraq–but avoided explicitly criticizing Washington’s efforts to topple President Saddam Hussein by force.

"We regret that diplomacy has produced no positive results and that Iraq’s disarmament is not occurring peacefully," Oskanian told reporters. "But at this point we don’t think it makes sense to support or oppose the war."

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said official Yerevan hopes for a quick end to the military campaign. He also expressed concern at the fate of at least 15,000 ethnic Armenian citizens of Iraq.

The Armenian government–meanwhile–began preparations for a possible influx of Iraqi Armenian refugees–approving plans for a simplified visa regime and temporary shelters for them. Oskanian said Yerevan is seriously concerned about the security of Iraq’s Armenian community.

He revealed on Wednesday that Armenia asked neighboring Turkey and Iran–which border on Iraq–to open transit routes for those Iraqi Armenia’s who would like to escape to Armenia.

Armenia–which is only an hour’s flying time from Iraqi territory–has objected to a unilateral US military action lacking a United Nations mandate throughout the crisis. But unlike Russia–France and other major powers opposed to the war–it has stopped short of denouncing the US and its allies. Furthermore–Oskanian on Thursday hinted that Yerevan would now welcome a quick and bloodless overthrow of the Iraqi regime.

"We just hope that consequences of this war will not be extremely negative for the Iraqi people and the regional countries and that all this will end as soon as possible," he said.

A spokeswoman for Armenian foreign ministry Tziunik Aghajanian expressed her regret that the peaceful process of Iraq’s disarmament failed–and addressed fears of possible disastrous fallout as a result of the war. "Unfortunately–the process of peacefully disarming Iraq did not meet with success and military activities have begun. We are hopeful that they will not lead to a humanitarian and ecological disaster–which will threaten the civilian population of Iraq as well as the countries of the region.

She emphasized that Armenia is deeply concerned about the fate of the Iraqi Armenian community and is prepared to utilize all its resources to be of help to the community.

Asked whether the US has approached Yerevan for use of its airspace or perhaps airports–"The US government has so far not asked us to assist in its military action," she replied.

US ambassador to Yerevan–John Ordway–said last week that his government was not seeking military assistance from Armenia yet. "I’m not sure that air corridors are really appropriate in this situation," he said. "I don’t think that the geography is such that it’s a factor."

PARLIAMENT MEMBERS SPEAK OUT

Aghvan Vartanian from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation said Armenia’should stay away from joining the US-led coalition against Iraq because of the absence of a UN Security Council resolution. He stressed–however–the need to assist Iraqi-Armenian refugees. "What Armenia can do–with its scant resources–is to help refugees who will flee Iraq and arrive in our country." He added that although the war will not impact Armenia–the country must be prepared for a post-war Iraq which may require redistribution of balance of powers.

Galust Sahakian of the Miasnutyun (Unity) said–"The Armenian people are against the war–but I don’t think we have the power to interfere in other countries’ affairs and have any impact on this war.

The leader of the opposition People’s Voice faction–Grigor Harutiunian–said the war is "unacceptable," but added that Saddam’s regime deserves little international sympathy. Only one opposition lawmaker–Frunze Kharatian of the Armenian Communist Party–denounced Washington’s actions–protesting that Armenia’s opposition to the war is too soft. He also express concern about the environmental consequences of the war.

This position struck a chord with some 50 students of the Oriental Studies Department at Yerevan State University who demonstrated outside the US embassy in the Armenian capital in protest against the first US military strikes against Iraq. Their opposition to the war seemed to be shared by many city residents.

"I am categorically against the war," said Anzhela–an environmentalist. Vruyr–a middle-aged man–said he fears that the Iraqis will set their oil wells on fire–the negative effects of which could be felt in Armenia.

But one student who did not take part in the protest voiced support for the military action. "I think that they do have weapons of mass destruction and could use them sooner or later," he said of the Iraqis. "And Armenia is not that far away from them."

Neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan have openly sided with the Americans on the issue. Most Armenian lawmakers believe that this in no way puts Armenia in a more disadvantaged geopolitical position.

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