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  • Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
    Business & Economics: TEMPERS FLARE OVER THE ISSUE OF NAGORNO-KARABAKH SOUVENIR CURRENCY Elizabeth Owen: 9/07/04 Eurasianet Over the past month and a half,
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2004
      Business & Economics:
      Elizabeth Owen: 9/07/04

      Over the past month and a half, two souvenir currency notes from
      Nagorno-Karabakh have unleashed a storm of accusations and counter-
      accusations between Azerbaijani officials and representatives of the
      Armenian-controlled, self-styled republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

      On the surface, the red and green notes, which have no monetary
      value, seem harmless enough. One diplomat even compared the notes to
      money used for the board game Monopoly. But for those directly
      involved in trying to achieve a Karabakh peace settlement -- in
      particular the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, along with
      Karabakh Armenian leaders -- there is nothing about that is taken
      lightly about the 1988-94 conflict.

      At present, the Karabakh peace talks are deadlocked. Azerbaijan is
      adamantly opposed to any political arrangement that leaves Karabakh
      outside its jurisdiction. Armenia, meanwhile, will not accept a
      settlement that restores any level of Azerbaijani control over the
      enclave. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

      For Baku, the two-dram and 10-dram notes represent an attempt by the
      enclave to burnish its image as an independent entity. "Despite the
      fact that this is not real money, we cannot accept this and we
      strongly oppose any attempt at creating this currency," said Fikret
      Pashayev, economic counselor at the Azerbaijani embassy in
      Washington, DC. "It could create further tension in the region."

      For Armenian leaders in the Karabakh capital of Stepanakert, the bank
      notes are seen as an attempt to reinforce their republic's right to
      exist. "Of course, my government is involved in this," said Vardan
      Barseghian, the US representative of the self-declared Nagorno-
      Karabakh Republic. "We see this as a promotion for Nagorno-Karabakh."

      The bills are meant not only to reinforce a sense of national
      identity, said Barseghian, but, also, to encourage outside investors
      and even tourists to venture into the remote, mountainous region.
      Among the attractions touted for potential visitors are the 13th
      century Gandzasar Monastery, once a residence of the head of the
      Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church.

      Still, for a publicity campaign, details have been scarce. Posing as
      currency collectors, correspondents from the Baku-based daily
      newspaper Echo found out that the notes had been printed by
      Österreichische Staatsdruckerei, the Austrian State Printing House, a
      200-year-old company now in private hands. The order was placed by
      the Educational Coin Company, a wholesale numismatic firm located in
      Highland, New York.

      Barseghian characterized the print run as "not very large," but could
      not give an estimate of overall sales. The project, he stressed, "is
      more of a souvenir type thing."

      That fact, however, apparently has yet to register with individuals
      selling the souvenir currency on the online auction site E-Bay.
      Prospective buyers have been told that the drams are already in use
      in Nagorno-Karabakh, described as "a breakaway region in Armenia." In
      late August, bidding reached a high of $6.50 for a pair of two-dram
      and 10-dram notes.

      Azerbaijani diplomats in Washington raised the matter with the US
      State Department, Pashayev said, and reportedly received assurances
      from US officials that the Educational Coin Company could face "very
      severe punishment" if it continued with its promotion and
      distribution plans for the Karabakh currency.

      Images of the Nagorno-Karabakh currency have been removed from the
      Educational Coin Company's website. David Laties, the company's
      secretary-treasurer, declined all comment on his firm's deal with
      Österreichische Staatsdruckerei. The State Department did not respond
      to a request for information on its own role in the affair.

      "They [the Educational Coin Co.] need to be careful when they get
      involved in something that has a political side," Pashayev
      said. "After all, if some Armenian company tried to print money for
      Texas, no one in the United States would support this, either."

      Meanwhile, representatives of Azerbaijan's embassy to Vienna filed a
      complaint with the Austrian government and met with Reinhart
      Gausterer, director general of Österreichische Staatsdruckerei, Echo
      reported. In a telephone interview from Vienna with EurasiaNet,
      Valentin Inzko, head of the Austrian Foreign Ministry's department
      for the South Caucasus, stated that Austria has subsequently allayed
      all of Azerbaijan's concerns.

      "Azerbaijan understands that we are not involved in this, and that
      our position on Nagorno-Karabakh is unchanged," Inzko said. "This is
      a discussion between two private companies."

      The Azerbaijani response to Nagorno-Karabakh's currency venture comes
      as no surprise, Barseghian stated. "Azerbaijan reacts to everything,"
      he said. "They don't like anything."

      "What's the big deal?" he went on to say. "The Nagorno-Karabakh
      Republic has been developing for the last 15 years. Azerbaijan has no
      influence whatsoever on what¹s going on in Karabakh."

      Editor's Note: Elizabeth Owen is a is a freelance writer specializing
      in political issues in the Caucasus.

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