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Armenia: French Assembly ‘Recognises’ Genocide

France’s National Assembly voted to recognise that the Ottoman Empire was guilty of genocide against Armenians, despite objections from Turkey and Azerbaijan. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, appeals were made to the respective diaspora communities for economic assistance and support in resolving the two countries’ territorial dispute.

In May the French National Assembly passed a bill recognising the genocide of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. The text of the bill states that "France publicly recognises the 1915 Armenian genocide." The measure’s supporters agree that as many 1.5 million Armenians died, disputing Turkey’s official claim that only 300,000 perished during civil war and deportations. Only 30 deputies were present for the vote.

If the French Senate supports the bill, France would join Greece, Russia and Canada as the only states officially recognising the genocide. In 1987 the European Parliament voted along similar lines, but this vote is not binding on EU member states.

The decision was condemned by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, who warned that it could harm relations between the two countries. Turkey is a major potential market for the French defence industry, and France has actively supported Turkey’s application to membership of the European Union. The French government quickly distanced itself from the resolution, stressing that it was an initiative of some Assembly deputies rather than the Jospin administration.

The vote was also condemned in Azerbaijan, where government officials claimed that it would encourage Armenian nationalism in the disputed enclave of Nagorno Karabakh. France is one of three co-chairs of an ad hoc group of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe charged with resolving the row between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

France’s Armenian community of 300,000 includes many descendants of the survivors of the 1915 massacres. Armenia’s ambassador to France welcomed the decision. Youri Djorkaeff, a member of France’s World Cup football side, also publicly supported it. Djorkaeff’s mother is Armenian, and the player claimed that the Assembly’s vote inspired him to score in the 2-2 draw with Morocco. A protest rally by Turks against the decision held in Paris in June was attacked by a mob of 60-80 people. A Turkish man was stabbed to death during the fighting.

Inside Armenia, the country’s newly elected President, Robert Kocharian, actively courted the Armenian diaspora to help develop the economy and rebuild Nagorno Karabakh. In May the Prime Minister of Lebanon visited Armenia. Several Lebanese Armenian parliamentarians, drawn from the country’s 100,000 Armenian community accompanied Rafik al-Hariri. He looked forward to improved relations between the two countries. Carlos Menem, President of Argentina, toured Armenia in June. He also stressed the importance of Argentina’s 100,000-strong Armenian community to political and economic relations with Armenia. President Kocharian appealed to the Armenian diaspora to invest in the country, by buying homes and businesses.

Kocharian received strong backing from the 6 million members of the Armenian diaspora during the country’s presidential elections in March. He anticipates that this support will be translated into investment and financial aid, particularly from the US Armenian community, which numbers some 1.2 million. Kocharian has promised overseas Armenians dual citizenship. In 1997 remittances between the two countries totalled over $350 million and, according to the Armenian Assembly of America, many people regularly commute between the US and Armenia. One member of Kocharian’s new cabinet renounced his US citizenship in order to join the government. The overseas funding has been important in rebuilding Nagorno Karabakh and constructing a highway from the enclave to Armenia.

Azerbaijan’s President Heydar Aliyev also made an appeal to the Azeri diaspora to coincide with the second world congress of Azerbaijanis held in Washington DC in May. He asked for their help in the dispute with Armenia and declared that Azerbaijan would remain the ‘historic motherland’ of all Azeris.

Economic reformers, Karabakh hardliners enter new Armenian cabinet, Agence France Presse English Wire 20.4.98; France braves Turkish ire to recognise Armenian genocide, Henri Mamarbachi, Agence France Presse English Wire 29.5.98; Azerbaijan denounces French genocide vote, Agence France Presse English Wire 29.5.98; French vote cites Turks for genocide, Boston Globe 30.5.98; French vote on genocide riles Turks, Jon Hanley, The Guardian 30.5.98; World Cup briefs, Boston Globe 1.6.98; Turkish man stabbed in Armenia-related clashes in Paris, Boston Globe 20.6.98; Armenia; staying true to their roots, Selena Williams, Los Angeles Times 10.4.98; Lebanese premier ends visit to Armenia, BBC 6.5.98; President of Argentina visits Armenia, ITAR/TASS 30.6.98; Azeri President calls for solidarity from diaspora, Khalg Gazeti – reported by BBC monitoring service 30.5.98; President wants diaspora to have homes and businesses in America, Noyan Tapan – reported by BBC monitoring service 2.7.98


Pakistan Appeals to Overseas Communities and Workers to Offset Sanctions

In the wake of economic sanctions imposed on Pakistan in response to its nuclear weapons testing blasts, the country’s government turned to overseas Pakistani communities and migrant workers for financial support. They hope that an increase in remittances will offset the losses in foreign exchange caused by the sanctions.

A target figure of one billion dollars additional income by September was set. In the ten months before May’s nuclear tests, Pakistan received 1.2 billion US dollars of remittances. It had 1.1 billion dollars of forex reserves in June, and froze foreign currency accounts of around $10 billion to prevent the money leaving the country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif undertook tours of Pakistani communities overseas to garner political and economic support. He visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Britain. The tour to the USA and Canada was cancelled. Sharif had been due to meet Pakistani community leaders in Toronto and New York. The Minister for Overseas Pakistanis, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, accompanied him. In Britain, he toured Manchester and London, where he received enthusiastic support. He urged families to send at least 1,000 ($1,600) a month via regular banking channels rather than informal routes. Potential supporters were offered incentives such as the sale of 25,000 plots of residential land. On an earlier visit to Italy and Belgium in April, the Prime Minister had promised overseas Pakistanis with citizenship in other countries that he would arrange for new laws making it easier for them to return to Pakistan.

Reports from Saudi Arabia in June suggested that overseas Pakistanis there were responding to the call for support. The Pakistan embassy in Riyadh announced that there were substantial donations to two National Self-Reliance Funds.

PM’s Belgian trip, The Nation 27.4.98; Sharif plans western tour to muster support from overseas Pakistanis, Agence France Presse English Wire 8.6.98; Pakistani PM seeks support in Manchester, Keith Nuthall, Independent 14.6.98; Pakistani PM cancels trip to Canada, US, Allan Thompson, Toronto Star 17.6.98; Pakistan pins forex hopes on millions of nationals living abroad, A. K. Shaikh, Agence France Presse English Wire 18.6.98; Remittances to Indian subcontinent increase substantially, Mohan Vadayar and Shahid Ali Khan, Saudi Gazette 15.6.98.


Latinos in Los Angeles: Transnational Commerce, But Local Politics

A delegation from the Salvadoran government visited Los Angeles in June to encourage greater investment from Salvadoran-Americans in their home country. Many Mexican states, including Guanajuato, operate such programme. But in the aftermath of Proposition 187, Salvadorans and Guatemalans in Los Angeles are also becoming more active in local politics.

US-based Salvadorans send home around $1.2 billion worth of remittances every year, equivalent to a tenth of El Salvador’s GNP. During the country’s years of civil unrest, the money was a vital lifeline for many families. But, now that peace has been established, the Salvadoran government is concerned that remittances are fuelling inflation and stoking a consumer boom. The government sent a delegation of officials and entrepreneurs to Los Angeles in June for two days to discuss the alternative of productive investment in businesses. The First Business and Trade Conference El Salvador-Los Angeles was designed to increase trade between the Central American country and southern California’s 700,000-strong Salvadoran community. On offer was the chance to invest in privatised utilities in El Salvador.

The conference participants included representatives from the Los Angeles mayor’s office, the Los Angeles Salvadoran Chamber of Commerce, the Salvadoran ambassador to the US and the consul general from Los Angeles. Salvadoran businessmen from New York and Washington DC also attended.

The conference stemmed from the work of the National Competitiveness Programme, which has identified sectors for expansion. The government wants to encourage the expatriates to switch from money remittances to investment in small businesses. There are already close transnational business connections between El Salvador and Los Angeles, including courier services, real estate companies. Bravo Enterprises Inc., based in the city of Commerce in Los Angeles County, imports a powdered rice drink called ‘horchata’ from El Salvador and sells it in California. Food and drink products represent a large potential market in trade between the two places. On South Vermont Avenue, the Salvadoran supermarket chain La Tapachulteca has opened its first US branch and is looking for other locations in the region.

The Salvadoran project is similar to schemes already operated by many Mexican states. Ricardo Sandoval, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, describes the investments made by US-based Mexicans in their home region of Guanajuato. Their money is going into garment shops, employing 200 people to make T-shirts and clothes for American stores. The investment scheme is organised by the state governor, Vicente Fox, whose administration also provides matching loans and grants. Fox has his eye on the country’s presidency, and hopes that this programme will demonstrate how rural economies can be developed successfully.

There are thought to be 250,000 migrants from Guanajuato in Texas alone, and others in California and Illinois. They, and migrants from other states, send back $6 billion worth of remittances each year, Mexico’s fourth-largest source of foreign earnings. For migrants, the advantages include not having monthly payments stolen, lost or eaten up by excessive service charges. The individual investments can be as small as $1,000, often organised among people from the same village or town. Economists calculate that each dollar invested in this way is more than doubled in value by being directed towards manufacturing rather than personal consumption.

At the same time that transnational commercial ties are being forged between Central American states and US-based communities, California’s Latinos show signs of deeper involvement in local and regional politics. The campaign against California Proposition 187, which aimed to withdraw many public services from undocumented immigrants, encouraged the new wave of activism. Other factors are said to include higher rates of naturalisation and local support for a school repair bond initiative on the 1997 ballot. In Los Angeles County, voter registration among Latinos has increased by 30% since 1994, which is six times the average for the County’s population.

In February, Salvadorans in Los Angeles backed a Salvadoran-American candidate for state Senate, Liz Figueroa (Fremont, Democrat). Organisations such as the newly-founded Guatemalan Unity Information Agency are aiming at achieving political representation inside the US. GUIA grew out of the ‘fraternidades’, expatriate clubs linked to hometowns or home regions in Guatemala. The Salvadoran Leadership and Education Fund was likewise founded in relation to events abroad, but is now turning to the US scene.

A new tide of Latino activism, Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times 13.4.98; Ties that bind: El Salvador comes to town, looking for opportunity, Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times 17.6.98; Salvadorans come to L.A. to seek their countrymen's aid, Stephen Gregory, Los Angeles Times 26.6.98; Workers in U.S. send money home to help families, towns start garment businesses, Ricardo Sandoval, San Jose Mercury News 29.6.98.


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