Business & Economics:
TEMPERS FLARE OVER THE ISSUE OF NAGORNO-KARABAKH "SOUVENIR" CURRENCY
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.