Monday, December 31, 2007

Week 24-31/12: The new great game…

…is not a game at all!
The recent tragic events in Pakistan are a general warning …

The media in Caucasus dedicated comparatively less attention to the murder of Benazir Bhutto than the western ones. Partly as a consequence of their local-focused strategy, partly –probably- led by the need not too stress too much an event which creates a long wave of instability.

In Azerbaijan, in particular, information assessed from the very beginning that responsibilities were to be cast on Al Qaeda, dropping any reference to any other hypothesis. The country, which has approximately 70% Shia Muslim and 30% Sunni, faced already in the past wahhabits infiltrations. Starting from 1998, the fax claiming responsibility for bombing of the USA Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam was sent from Baku. In Guantanamo is detained one Azeri citizen. A couple of azeri mosques (Abu Bakr and Cuma) are considered to be linked to Sunni or Shia terrorist groups, coming from bordering Dagestan and Iran.

Azeri government is active in facing the terrorist danger, but it is also playing the card of justifying its authoritarian rule as a tool to prevent a color revolution… but a green one!

In judging how much a religious revival is indeed dangerous, the role played by religious in society, how much the state should interfere and, even more, if it is allowed to limit citizens’ rights, it is mandatory to use caution, coherence and a good deal of tact&discretion.

Otherwise the risk is to support dictatorships in the name of a secular state that can happen to be as harsh and cruel as its opposite.
Or to make sheer democracy activists seem like nothing more than other countries’ agents.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Week 18-23 December: www? war, weapons and words

In the night between 16th and 17th , from 01.00 to 4.15 am, Turkish aviation hit military targets of Kurdish guerillia in Zap, Ajasin, Khakurk. The operation was accomplished by 24 F-16, supported by heavy artillery. It is not the kind of episode which can be left unnoticed.

Already the 6th, Ilham Aliyev had declared that Azerbaijan stands by Turkey in its fight against PKK, which, by the way, the Azeri National Assembly added to the list of terrorist organizations. The statement of the President caused a reaction among Kurdish political activists, with the leader of the Kurdish Workers’ Party in France, Sejan Barzani, threatening Azerbaijan of terrorist attacks on its territory.
Azerbaijan has indeed quite a Kurdish minority, increased of over 23 000 members since the indipendence. But mostly, Azeri Kurds seem to be loyal to their citizenry identity. As for their national identity, although some communities vaguely claimed - in the 90ies - their will to create a Kurdish Republic, with their historical sites at present under Armenian occupation, they gave no further signs of secessionism or terrorism against the Azeri State.

In Armenia the Vice Speaker of the National Assembly Vahan Hovannisjan during the parliamentary hearings on "Armenian-Turkish relations: Issues and perspectives" referred to the relations between the two countries as a deadlock. He went so far as to describe Turkey as a classical example of dictatorship, since, in his words, it tries to control not only the present, but also the past (A1+, 12/19).

Georgian media are focusing on the north front… As election countdown goes on, the role of Russia in internal affairs is more and more disputed. The incumbent president tried to cool the voices about the involvement of Moskow in November demonstrations. But Nino Burdžanadze, the acting head of State, connects current protest actions with Russia (Imedi news, 12/20). In the meantime, Georgian military police has detained three Russian peacekeepers - named Volkovec, Duškalev and Krovostenko - from the contingent of the CIS Peacekeeping Forces stationed in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone. Apparently, they are suspected in infringement of a 12 kilometer safety zone alongside the river Inguri (Rustavi 2, 12/23).
As for the “internal” front, both Saakašvili and Patarkacišvili have to appear , on the 22nd , in Tbilisi Court for a violation of the Election Code, that may have led to their exclusion from the registration list.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Week: 10-16 December: Democracy, one word, different meanings

Countries watch each other, sometimes to protect the interests of fellow citizens there, sometimes as models of democracy.

Russia watched at the Western democracies at the beginning of the ’90, but a rich and well documented article from Kommersant gives a description of Russian democracy, as an adapted one, or even a “russified” one. (

Azerbaijan follows the presidential campaign in Georgia, stressing the fact that, although rather unpopular in large stratus of society, Mikhail Saakašvili is the only candidate who visited the azeri minority (on the 11th he went to Marnueli, promising to the local inhabitants that more means of integration will be given).
And talking about azeri democracy, it is described as “decorative democracy”, not even that “controlled democracy” in which Western partners had hopes. The critics are raised in reference to the high number of political prisoners in the country, up to 72, and to the fact that OSCE, the organization mostly in charge of promoting democracy in the area, should be more demanding towards a CoE permanent member as Azerbaijan. By the way, the azeri delegation at PACE is supporting the Russian candidate to its presidency, and it doesn’t sound very encouraging to the azeri opposition.

In Armenia, another independent journalist, Levon Sardaryan, of H2, was fired. Public tv is dedicating 80% of its electoral coverage to the Prime Minister Sargsyan’s campaign (source: Yerevan Press Club). Is it a kind of “pre-electoral democracy”?
The main opposition candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosyan is often claimed to be supported by Turkish press, used as a mean of anti-propaganda against him.

And mentioning Turkey, what about its democracy? What does the Ak Partiyası mean to many not-Muslim voters, and what is its role in the process of democratization of the country? An intriguing article by Ilnur Cevik, on the English-language newspaper The New Anatolian, challenges many western (conflict-of-civilizations-led?) common senses… (

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Week 3 - 9 December: Elections and dissidents

Hard times for the free press and opposition candidates in South Caucasus. As elections are approaching, there’s a turn of the screw in the policy towards dissidents.

In Azerbaijan it effects most the free press of the Nakhchivan region, where the “Nasibov case” is raising the concern not only of civil society but also of international organizations and foreign representatives. The Nasibov couple, both distinguishable journalists and activists in the sphere of human rights protections, are undergoing a period of persecution, with their pc, house, office confiscated. Il’gar Nasimov, correspondent for radio Freedom, is at present under detention.
Other journalists are facing the same problem. Just to mention some, the correspondent of the opposition newspaper Azedliq, Mohammed Rzaev has been summoned at the Ministry of Internal Affair; Elman Abbasov got his stuff withdrawn, and during a police search in his house it seems that the an officer placed a flesh card there, later assuming that it contains documents for which the journalist has to answer personally.

In Georgia Imedi TV, a not pro-government channel was allowed to go back on air. But practically it’s impossible, since, as its General Director Bidzina Baratashvili pointed out, equipment is very seriously damaged, all equipment for satellite connection and broadcasting is absent, the control room is demolished.
Meanwhile the list of candidates for the 5th of January Presidential election is taking shape. Right now 5 out of 13 candidates have been registered, but other six are waiting for the Election Commission, by 11th of December, to check their list of minimum 50 000 signatures to be allowed to compete. The present candidates are the incumbent President, Michail Saakashvili, Levan Gachechiladze (United Opposition), David Gamkrelidze (New Rights), Shalva Natelashvili (Labours), Georgij Maisashvili (Future Party), who was at first rejected and then admitted to run for presidency (for details

Restrictions to candidature seems to be at work in Armenia, as well, where Raffi Hovanisyan saw his name deleted (once more) from the list of those who are running for presidency on the 19th of February. His Heritage party, which is playing an important role as an opposition party in the National Assembly, will not present another candidate and will support an opposition candidate. The opposition itself didn’t manage to express a unique leader, although most votes will probably be cast on the former president Levon Ter Petrosyan. A1+, the tv channel that was already closed in the past, is promoting his speeches as much as possible, but many fragments of the opposition parties (Orinats Yerkir, National-Democratic Union, the Communist Party) will not stand by him.

Finally, the long wave of Russian Duma elections reached the South Caucasus, and effected especially Georgia, where the Minister for Conflict Resolution David Bakradze expressed his annoyance for the fact that in Ossetia and Abkhazia Russian elections were held, and for the words of Boris Gryslov, who committed the Duma to decide over the annexation of the two regions in January (Rustavi 2 TV, 3rd December news).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Week 11/26 - 12/02: Elections Elections Elections!

Elections, elections and again elections! The last month of the year starts with election specials on every media.

AzTV talks about the Parliamentary election in the Russian Federation, with an interview with Vasili Istratov, the Russian ambassador in Baku. The point is not just the output of the Russian political life, but the azeri medias stress also the supposed activity of Armenian diaspora to ensure its influence in the new Duma (01/12/07, Xaberler, evening edition).

On the other side, the whole Armenian press, with no exception, is concentrating on the local Presidential election. The would-be presidents are officially submitting their candidatures. 15 names are enlisted, some very liable to fetch a lot of votes, like the PM Sarkisyan, or the first President Levon Ter Petrosyan, whose candidature may be supported by many opposition candidates, as Raffi Hovanisyan (after their meeting on the 8th November,

Georgia, also, is preparing to the election day, at the beginning of the following year. Novosti -Gruzija reminds that the 5th of January people will be asked, as well, to express whether they want their country to join NATO or not (, which sounds pretty much like a referendum on the geopolitical choice for their country.