September has begun, chilling South Caucasus. And unveiling how embarrassing it can be.
Like a cold shower the deliver of Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan shocked Armenian public opinion. Before this traumatic event the debate was all about the arrival of Syrian Armenians, fleeing from Aleppo, Damascus, in need of everything, including language courses, driving licences and so forth... And then, suddenly, a long negotiation reached its end and Ramil Safarov came back to homeland, Azerbaijan, as a hero.
In 2004, during a NATO training in Hungary Safarov hacked with an axe an Armenian engineer serving in the army, while he was sleeping. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Azerbaijan, apparently, asked the Hungarian authorities to let Safarov serve the sentence in his homeland, which in the end was agreed. As soon as he landed in Baku, he was pardoned, granted the rank of major and an apartment, plus last 8 years salary.
A bad story, gone worse. It mostly happened during the weekend, which gave, hopefully, time to everybody to develop a proper strategy to defuse tension.'Cause Armenian reaction was clear and strong, as predictably. US also made quite a statement.
Caution seems to prevail among other actors. But Hungary image has been damaged by voices of an alleged flow of Azerbaijani money. Not to mention the image of Azerbaijan: it's impossible to come to terms to such a celebration of a private case of murder, even taking into consideration that the perpetrator was displaced during the Karabakh war.
The whole case and reactions, at ground level, just unveils how deeply - and embarrassingly - Azerbaijanis and Armenians hate each other. Since last weekend, a bit more, if possible.
In Georgia, in the meanwhile, OSCE observation mission started to release its first notes about the political environment before elections. In few words, about the "much ado about Ivanishvili" basically created by the government itself. There's a lot of room for growing embarrassment here, as well. And the official election campaign has just started.
It's a weird summer in Caucasus. The stormy weather that swept Krasnodar is swirling above south Caucasus as well. As a result Georgia and Azerbaijan suffered distructions and losses.
Still, at least two men are in bloom. For Bako Sahakyan and Vano Merabishvili 2012 is the summer of personal satisfaction. The first has just been re-elected president, allegedly by 47.000 Karabakhi - that is to say the 66% of the (depopulated) region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Previously he had been Interior Minister and head of Security Service of the self proclaimed Republic. This is his second term. Five years ago he received 85% of votes. It means he has lost 20% of supporters in five years. Still his leading position is not trembling. Not as much as the ceasefire, at least.
The low intensity conflict along the ceasefire line goes on, but Sahakyan is not losing his cold blood or his temper. He sounds quite confident that no conflict will really threat the national security. In the last month he received visits from the top officials of Armenia, actually during the election campaign. He promises to promote Karabakh development for the next five years. Is there something going on - e.g. a flurry of bullets - that deserves a bit more efforts or not?
The second is also another Minister of Interior Affairs is in full bloom: newly appointed Prime Minister Merabishvili. Once the grey eminence of Georgian security system, he has now turned into a kind of manager on loan to politics. And as the storms hits badly Georgia, he is displaying his crisis management abilities, like the perfect businessman. No "international" tributes to him (and to his new government, which looks pretty much militarized). Still, it all smells like a election campaign as well. And it's a long election campaign, indeed, that is draining not waters, but energies and legitimacy in the country already since months. And it's yet a long way till October. A long, rocky and steep path, under a persistent storm of rain and hail.
The last two month, and even more the last days, saw a proliferation of measures that would be meaningful only in the context of crises. Just, there are no signs of the crises which would have possibly have pushed to adopt such measures.
This unexpected development doesn't prevent, by the way, real crises from going on and exacerbating (the low intensity conflict between Armenian and Azerbaijan, the suspension of the Gali IPRM). The perfect "new wave of crises" generators seem to be the Georgian government. Popular, stable, in a leading position since years, it's taking steps that look totally irrational to an external observer. First of all all the management of the "Ivanishvili issue": an overreaction to the rise of a challenger - who would have had very few chances to overcome the present majority - which is mining the credibility of the government abroad, creating an unprecedented mess in the legal framework of the country, polarizing society and displaying a hardly bearable level of public manipulation.
Then, in the last two days, two other incomprehensible measures adopted by a Parliament and a Government which are entering in the last three months of their activity: the new strategy towards North Caucasus and The Great Reshuffle of the government itself. Both measures are legitimate, of course, but sound weird and very unnecessary, especially compared to the declarations of all Georgian high ranked public officials so far, starting from the President himself. Mikheil Saakashvili always praised the good cooperation between Georgian and North Caucasian and never mentioned the need to create a new strategy. And in the way it is put it won't be surprising to see it taken as a blatant provocation by Russian authorities. As for The Big Reshuffle, that is to say the appointment of Vano Merabishvili as the new Prime Minister, it's a total enigma. First of all because Merabishvili is himself a bit of an enigma: the hardliner former Minister of Interior Affairs cannot be blamed for being too talkative. All that it's clear about him is that he is tough, perhaps radical, powerful and loyal, apparently, to the President.
The personal relations between Saakashvili and Merabishvili - or even the "inter-personal hierarchy" - are somehow a matter kept for the corridors of Georgian higher institutions. So what led Saakashvili to move Merabishvili to the second highest cadre of the Government will be an issue of speculations for days, or perhaps weeks. One thing is for sure: never in the last months was a frustration for the performances of the former Prime Minister expressed. And there was no perception, as well, of a dysfunction within the Government Cabinet.
If it's an electoral step, one wonders on what bases. Society is indeed satisfied with the improvement of security, but it doesn't mean that Merabishvili himself is loved and popular. The program he's submitting to the Parliament sounds indeed like an electoral platform (employment, agriculture etc.) so it may mark the start of the un-official National Movement political campaign. Did the Party need all this? A very unexpected move, thou.
And talking about government and speculations: it took more than one month to unveil the composition of the new Armenian government. Surprisingly and unexpectedly - again - long negotiations, whereas the clear success of the Republican Party might have suggested a fast process. Even more in the light of the urgent need for stability to face the ongoing border crisis. So, is it a mis-perception of what's going on? And who's not sensing properly? Observers of actors?
Armenian parliamentary elections were held on 6 May 2012. Five parties and a coalition won seats in Parliament. Three of them are opposition parties, two in the previous legislature were allies of the presidency party, the Republican Party. The latter comfortably won the elections. With 45% votes through the proportional system and 29 seats through the majoritarian one, the Republican Party has the majority of seats, 69 out of 131.
So the two main issues in Armenian foreign policy - the protracted conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and relations with Turkey - will be addressed in continuity with the policy expressed so far by President Serzh Sargsyan, unless the regional counterparts change their strategies. With the party he chairs being confirmed as the leading political force of the country, Sargsyan will run for his second term in the upcoming presidential elections.
(full working paper in English available at http://www.iai.it/pdf/DocIAI) /iaiwp1214.pdf
The Russian Federation’s security system echelon has been visiting Armenia since the beginning of 2012. In January Secretary of the Armenian National Security Council Arthur Baghdasaryan received a delegation led by Russian Deputy Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Valentin Sobolev to discuss the cooperation programme between the Armenian and Russian Security Councils for 2012-2013. In those days President Sargsyan was meeting in Sochi Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and Dmitrij Medvedev. In February Secretary General of the Russian Security Council Nikolaj Patrušeev arrived in Armenia accompanied by the Commander in Chief of Land Forces Alexander Postnikov, the Federal Military and Technical Cooperation Service Deputy Director Konstantin Birjulin, the Deputy Chief of Boarder Service Nikolaj Kozik, the head of the “Russian border” federal agency Dmitrij Bezdelov and other senior statesmen. Arthur Baghdasaryan held private talks in the Russian Federation Department of Border in Armenia. The delegation was then hosted by the Armenian President. The sides agreed to sign a new treaty and reached agreements on military technical, border defence and emergency situations issues. On 2 April Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov arrived in Yerevan.
Armenia and Russia have a long tradition of deep, comprehensive and friendly cooperation. But in view of the present crisis in the Middle East, Russia is probably focussing on the enhancement of its most advanced southern bases, including Gyumri in Armenia. According to the former Pentagon official and defence analyst Michael Maloof: “Moscow [is] increasingly uneasy in terms of instability in the region of what Syria is just one aspect of a larger problem […]. For example, Russia is moving more troops and modernizing its base in Armenia in anticipation of the whole crisis in the Middle East from Syria to Iran”.
The Syrian and Iranian crises do affect Armenia not only because of the Russian military resources located in its territory, but also because the two countries have significant Armenian minorities. So far Yerevan has not taken the step to repatriate some of them, like Moscow did with Syrian citizens of North Caucasian origins (Itar-Tass, Federation Council to evaluate security of North Caucasians in Syria, 17 Feb. 2012, http://www.itar-tass.com/en/c154/345990.html; Itar-Tass, Working commissions for admitting compatriots from Syria set up, 26 March 2012, http://www.itar-tass.com/en/c154/375337.html ). Still it is following the crisis and reports of incidents involving Armenians are widely reported by the media.
For Armenia an escalation of the Iranian issue is particularly worrying. The two states share a border and they cooperate on many fields. Squeezed between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia has only two open land borders: to the north with Georgia and to the south with Iran. These real or perceived threats may be a factor influencing voters’ behaviours, leading them to express a preference for continuity, provided that the latter embeds elements of development and social equity.
In the last two weeks there was not a single day without a violation of the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the last days, violations resulted in casualties. Incidents are recorded non only along the former administrative boundary line of Karabakh, but also on the border between the two states. When the Karabakh war erupted, more than twenty years ago, something was different: there was not the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) yet, and Armenia and Azerbaijan were under the same umbrella.
Things have changed since then. Armenia belongs to CSTO and Azerbaijan is not aligned. In case of aggression, Armenia would most probably call for the protection of the Organization. The key question is if this low intensity conflict will turn into an open war, that is to say, if one of the two - Azerbaijan, which is more interested in changing the status quo - will try and invade Karabakh and strategically useful sites in Armenia. The escalation seems at present unavoidable.
Still, in May Azerbaijan is hosting Eurovision, so any military action right now should be ruled out. In September Armenia will host CSTO drills. Again, it would be unwise to start military operations then. Not to mention that Russian ones, Kavkaz 2012, are planned in the same period. A summer tentative blitz? The new Azerbaijani armory called for a huge investment. Why, if not for a war?
Someone is playing with fire, but most probably someone else is determined to back the player to earth. Perhaps someone who is investing a lot in a huge event like Olympiads in the Caucasus and who is well aware that a blitz will never be successful in Karabakh.
So to speak, Abkhazians policy took off, as well. Separatist officials took an extremely tough stance against EUMM head of Mission and - without even the shortest notice - cancelled the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meeting in Gali.
It's clear that De facto President Ankvab is not Bagapsh. Still, in the last three years IPRM proved to be a very valuable instrument, so pragmatically, it would make sense to land, back to earth... in not to the earth of Gali, as EUMM head of Mission is not "persona non grata", to Ganmukhuri or Zugdidi...
Actually, it's hard to say when the "before" benchmark should be fixed. One thing is for sure: the permanent, growing use of hate speech as the standard political communication in South Caucasus.
In Georgia President Saakashvili, according to Civil.ge, after attending Orthodox Easter service in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi on Sunday said that "Evil force", which occupies parts of Georgia where "our churches are trampled down", will "retreat and definitely be defeated", and that occupation of 20% of [Georgia's] territory by the enemy" [is]"of course a temporary situation". He said that the Easter was symbolizing victory of good over evil and this holiday was fitting well to "the optimistic nature of the Georgian nation."
Was it necessary and appropriate to comment in such a way Orthodox Easter? It should be recalled that there are specific provisions in UN Resolutions about Georgia/Abkhazia/South Ossetia which address the use of militant rhetoric: Resolution 1666/2006, point 6; Resolution 1582/2005, point 8; Resolution 1554/2004 point 7, which clearly states, to quote one example: "[...] publicly dissociate themselves from all militant rhetoric and demonstration of support for military options".
Georgian President Saakashvili is not an exception in South Caucasus. And the results of the systematic use of hate speech is visible. You don't have to wait for a war to appreciate its fruits. Not even for a slightest threat of national security, to be more exact. Take the case of the Azerbaijani Film Festival in Gyumri, Armenia. In the days when Yerevan is promoting the program of the National cinema center of Armenia in Cannes, this is what happened with the film Azerbaijani Film Festival, organized by the Armenia-based Caucasus Center for Peace-Making Initiatives and supported by the U.S. and UK embassies:
«STOP» Azerbaijani Film Festival in Armenia has been blocked as a result of a terror and blackmailing carried out by pressure groups that try to disguise their actions by an alleged "wave of public outrage." The organizers and potential viewers of the festival receive threats of physical revenge through the internet and phone. Those who threaten disseminate information about planned actions of vandalism and terror to take place during the festival. At the same time the festival is blocked by blackmailing and putting pressure on the owners of the premises rented by our organization. In all these cases people are so scared that they refuse to provide any information about the blackmailers.Several mass media outlets and individuals are involved in this anti-festival campaign. They actively disseminate false information and libel about the activities of the Caucasus Center of Peace-Making Initiatives (CCPMI). The pressure on people related to CCPMI increases every day. (http://southcaucasus.com/old/index.php?page=current&id=2544)
The title of the Armenian movie to be presented in Cannes is: “Your grief is mine” Hate Speech is the grief of whoever has to deal with South Caucasus.
Quotation from the Geneva International Discussions (GD), XIX Session, 28-29 March, Co-Chairs' press communique:
"In Working Group I, the participants reviewed the security situation on the ground and welcomed the relatively stable environment, despite an increase of the number of the violent incidents along the Inguri river. The value of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms in ensuring continued stability was reiterated by all participants. The participants continued to discuss Non-Use of Force and International Security Arrangements. A new contribution was tabled in the context of the discussion on non-use of force commitments by participants. Deliberations on these topics will be resumed at the next round. The Co-Chairs encouraged participants to engage in confidence-building, based on positive practice of the IPRMs.
In Working Group II, the participants reviewed the humanitarian situation, focusing on the needs and challenges of displaced persons and vulnerable populations. In addition, specific issues such as missing persons, education and cultural heritage preservation were discussed. In an information session, participants were given the opportunity to increase their knowledge of the legal framework governing the preservation of cultural heritage. The participants were given an update on various water-related projects led by the OSCE and financed by the EU."
An incouraging routine, which is working for the last three and half years.
A far less encouranging quotation from International Nuclear Summit, Seoul, 27 March, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's speech: “As for the disinformation broadcasted here by the President of Azerbaijan regarding the Armenia NPS, it doesn’t surprise me a bit because vilification of Armenia has become a modus operandi for Azerbaijan long ago. Not only every issue related to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh is presented from the highest podiums in the most perverted way but also the documents adopted by the international community, i.e. by us and by you. Even the UN Security Council resolutions related to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict are distorted, neglecting the fact that they were the ones who started the military actions; they were the ones who refused to cease them, they are the ones who voice belligerent statements on a daily basis and refuse to solve the NK issue in accordance with international law[...]”
The GD are deemed unsatisfactory by many, and unfortunately even when participants assess a session positively, as Georgian ones this time, they cannot influence mutual relations among the parties involved or their behaviour or choices outside the process itself. And that's something that endangers their continuity and prospects. Still, they're definitely much more than the limping cease-fire arrangements in force between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The term limping sounds optimist, actually. Falling is a term describing better what's going on. Stability does not proceed on uneven legs.
A warm, not really hot, weekend in Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And it's not because of the blooming spring. It was the weekend of contemporary elections. Albeit for different reasons.
In South Ossetia, although this time the vote was considered legitimate, no new president's name sprang from the ballots. It should be remember that it's since November that South Ossetia is trying to elect its president. Head of the delegation of the Russian Public Chamber Maxim Grigoryev, while monitoring the process, assessed that the elections passed in the calm atmosphere.
Well, it would be surprising if five months after the mobilitation, with their first preference ignored, the few people who live in South Ossetia would still feel excited about the vote. Anyway, no candidate reached the 50%+1, so there's going to be a runoff between the most voted two: Leonid Tibilov (42.48%) and David Sanakoyev (24.58%). The first one has a KGB background, the second a Human Rights one.
Still, it's hardly predictable that it would make any difference who, on the 7th or 8th of April, will eventually become the president. This second round should be considered the peak of lowering expectations for South Ossetian political life. Moreover, none of the two was suggesting something really shaking. Just Stanislav Kochiyev, the leader of the South Ossetian Communist Party, had in his program the re-unification with North Ossetia (which means annexation to Russia) but he scored just 5.26%.
At least, this sounds like a reasonable projection: so called independence twinned by a growing dependence from Russia. But it's just a projection. After such troubled elections, it's hazardous to make forecasts. So was hard to forecast the bad performance of political parties in Abkhazia.
Electors gave preference to independent candidates [11/13] in the first round, and confirmed the trend [15/20] in the second. Being independent doesn't necessary mean being anti-government. So, it's not necessary a vote of protest. But it's definitely a sign that political parties in the region cannot rely on a stable, loyal electoral base. A bad spring surprise for local parties.
A good confirmation, not as an unpredictable surprise, came from Armenia. After some speculations, it's official: Armenian delegation will participate in the work of Euronest plenary session to be held in Baku on April 1-4. Since Armenia withdrew its participation from Eurovision, some members of the delegation started to voice their concerns about security warrants. So, through EU mediation, a little step has been taken, and Armenian politicians will visit a hopefully warm, spring Baku.
The upside-down world of South Caucasus goes on its way. Especially during electoral periods.
In South Ossetia the main characters of November elections disappeared. In two week time elections will be held again, but without Alla Dzhoeva, who's been hospitalized after her head quarter was raided, and without her main contender, Mr. Bibilov who withdrew as well. So the present aspirants, in the end of a troubled political campaign which basically lasted 6 months, are Ambassador to Russia Dmitry Medoyev, Ombudsman David Sanakoyev, former State Security Committee Chairman Leonid Tibilov, South Ossetian Communist Party leader Stanislav Kochiyev, Apparently the second enjoys more chances to be elected. Or, as it seems to be the case, to be the second best. On the 25th it will became clear who's the new President. What's clear already now is how miserable the whole electoral process has been. And so are the "State" institutions, so blatantly used for political/clan needs.
It's rather a sub-normal electoral period of Abkhazia, also. Early presidential elections, followed by Russian parliamentary elections, followed by Russian presidential elections, and, on Sunday, Abkhazian parliamentary elections. Due to the double citizenship, many residents in Abkhazia spent a considerable amount of time voting, in 2011-2012. Not surprising the voter turn-out is not so high, this time. And there's going to be a second round, as not all candidate managed to collect the necessary 50% preferences and/or the voters' turn-out didn't meet the electoral provision. To the ballots again...
And back to sub-normality between Georgia&Russia / Azerbaijan&Armenia. A deadlock on the visa-diplomatic relations in the west of Caucasus, no Eurovision contest in the East. Not doors, but just small windows of communication and people to people contacts might open. But so far this option is denied. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili found unacceptable the preconditions to reciprocate the lifting of visa between Russia and Georgia and Armenian singers are requested not to go to Baku.
Different issues, same output. After a slight chance of un-freeze the situation, we are all pushed back to sub-normality.
It's not yet springtime, but already something new is in the air. Not everywhere, thou.
On the Karabakhi-Azerbaijan contact line the exchange of fire has become an unpleasant evergreen. The only thing that seems to give it a break is the presence of the Minsk Group directly there. Usually, when some OSCE staff is there, there's not report of violations. A coincidence that underlines the urgent need to arrange some kind of - as low profile as possible - permanent monitoring. Or at least a couple of patrols of quick reaction monitoring. So far, it's still a deep, cold and dark winter over there...
On the opposite, in western Caucasus a new interesting proposal sprang. On the 25th January the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared Russia ready to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia. There were remarks from Tbilisi and for the time being the thing didn't sound very promising at all.
Unexpectedly, again from the level of the presidency, a counter move from Tbilisi arrived, not in the form of a invitation, but as a concrete proposal: to lift visa rules towards all Russian citizens. There's already in force a favourable regime of visa for North Caucasians. And if this very liberal system wouldn't crash against new possible rules of restrictions of crossing - let's say, for security/anti-terrorism, or whatever -, it would mark a very positive development. Apparently, today there was a shooting close to Ganmukhuri. Let's wait for EUMM assessment about that (where there's a monitoring structure...)
It's just the beginning of March, perhaps it's too early for springtime first fruits. And so the counter-suggestion of Moscow, to ease the law on occupied territories, turned a very pragmatical proposal in a political issue which may block the entire process. Now the debate is around the unwelcome preconditions of the lifting, which means that the question has already moved to another level. Let's see if the twist is reversible.
As time goes by, the political landscape unties its knots in Armenia. The present government coalition's parties will most probably run independently. On Monday Head of Republican Party of Armenia parliamentary faction, Deputy Chairman of the Party Galust Sahakyan dismissed rumours about a possible new coalition agreement. He didn't rule it out, still it's quite clear that Prosperous Armenia is doing its best to attract valuable names to its party list. Arthur Baghdasaryan, Rule of Law party, already declared that the party will run with its own proportional list.
Among the (many) opposition parties, Heritage and Free Democrats tried and find a common ground for action. Heritage may be a party that would manage to enter the National Assembly also running alone. Still, to be effective it would need something more than few seats. So, in the days following the congress of the 2nd of March the party may reveal its potential new allies' strategy.
Many parties (among them the Armenian Revolutionary Federation) are still working on their party lists. The vote is yet far, in May. And it's even more far in Georgia, albeit a group proposed to anticipate the election date. The most vibrant part of the civil society is at present fully absorbed in the protest against the new Law on Parties. There are issues of concerns, according to relevant national and international organizations. And the government may indeed consider to amend it once more. After all, if the amendments are meant - as many voice - to prevent Bidzina Ivanishvili from interfering with all his money and power in the political life of the country, the measure may still be not only unfair but also disproportionate.
Meanwhile Ivanishvili unveiled the core team of his would-be party. He's still deprived of Georgian citizenship, so just mentioning how hopeful the party might be is totally premature. And the government has many months to come and all the tolls are at its disposal to gain even more consensus than the present, including insisting on the allegations of Ivanishvili's links with Moscow.
As the domestic politics evolves, in the year of parliamentary elections, from the south-east winds of war and instability blow . A car bomb was defused in Tbilisi. Target: the Israeli Embassy. Mastermind? Some suggest Iran. Iran denies, while its relations again touch a negative pick with Azerbaijan. Some knots had better untie slowly and gently.
In Euclidean geometry, parallels never meet. So seem to do Georgia and Russia. On the other hand, like for parallels, they share something.
Right now the two countries share the common pattern of billioners contending the primate to the present leadership. Prokhorov, in Russia, is a Presidential candidate. Ivanishvili in Georgia is much less: actually, he's not even a Georgian citizen. Not any longer. But he gained visibility, he has money and somehow he is in the political arena.
For each of them the previous presidents voiced their support: in Russia Michail Gorbachev said “I think it’s worth voting for him [Prokhorov].”; in Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze in January declared during an interview that he was sure that Ivanishvili would reach the power. In both cases, the aspirants may not gain so much from this statements: both previous presidents are probably more listened abroad than domestically, and both of them are not really loved. For some citizens, they represent - much more than relevant opinion makers - Soviet geriatrics.
In both Georgia and Russia triumphalism seems to be the chosen political language of communication by the ruling class. In Georgia Saakashvili came back from United States claiming to have achieved more that it was even conceivable, in the field of cooperation for defence capabilities. Putin pledged, in case of his election, to cut inflation, to turn Russia in one of the world's economic centres, to drastically change the housing situation, to invest in religious buildings' reconstrucion and to refrain from interference in the affaires of religious association, and, not last, to return to "winter time" and to reverse the demographic crisis, making Russian population reach 154 million.
Both are not really credible: the two of them seem to be promising much more than they can get. And probably their stubborn attachment to power is a destabilizing element in their systems. Some Putin's supporters turned into "bench sitters" after the hand-over with Medvedev. They may not join the protests, but they are not really happy about how all the issue was managed. Some other just think he had his chance to reform the country, and that he did what he did, but now he's done with Russia. And it's clear, as well, that a reply of the Medvedev-Putin tandem, after the amendment that strengthens the role of the Prime Minister in Georgia, wouldn't be welcome. At least not by the international community.
Let's see if the parallels will diverge exactly on this point.
... at the wrong time. At the beginning of the week Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and Armenian one Serzh Sargsyan met in Sochi, guests of the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in the framework of the periodic endeavor to move a step onward, on the way of a political resolution of the Karabakh issue. Or at least to prevent violence to spiral up, more likely.
At the end of the meeting the joint statement reads: "Signifying Peace treaty development President of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Republic of Azerbaijan have expressed commitment to accelerate the agreement of Basic principles considering the work done so far."
But, few lines below, it's clarified what are the feasible measures that can be implemented at present: "In development of Sochi joint declaration adopted on March 5, 2011, presidents of the Republic of Armenia, Republic of Azerbaijan and Russian Federation approved co-chairs’ report on launching investigation mechanisms in the contact line, which they have co-developed with the personal representative of OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and recommended to continue that work."
The meeting took place just before Armenian militarist rhetoric would reach its pick. The 28th of January marks the anniversary of the foundation of the Armenian Army. The twentieth anniversary was pompously celebrated, and Serzh Sargsyan declared: "Twenty years ago, we turned the wheel of history. It that critical time, our nation reinstated its independent statehood and took total responsibility for the protection of its rights and national interests. At the moment of that historic rise, the creation of the Armenian army was one of the most momentous achievements.
There was an imperative to thwart the imminent danger of a genocide looming over the Armenian people and, particularly, over the Armenians of Artsakh. That vital episode of the army creation was necessitated by the time itself."
Somehow, the wording of the statements isn't going in the same direction... It wouldn't have been bad to end the celebration with the wish "NEVER AGAIN". But such wish - apparently - was not openly expressed.
They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind. Who are they? They are those who put the base for the South Ossetian mess to develop, from one twist to another.
In November the elections, probably won by Alla Djoeva. As her victory was then not recognized, Tskhinvali entered a deadlock. New elections were called, and Alla was denied to run again. The then president Kokoity picked up the chance to try to spin out his mandate for other three months.
So badly did he and his krysha ruled the country, that he had managed to mine his popularity and foreign support to the extent that to kick him off an agreement was reached. A gentlemen agreement, between a gentle-lady and no-gentle- men, apparently. According to such agreement, Alla was to run for renew elections in March, if/and only if, Kokoity left and his bravi - chief prosecutor and chairman of the supreme court- were removed, as well. Alla'a supporters returned home. Squares empty, no snow revolution, back to election campaign.
And here manoeuvring started again: Kokoity's party, the majority in the Parliament, voted down the resignation of the two bravi, on the 14th of December. One month of unofficial negotiations, power struggle, all and more. Eventually on the 17th of January the new twist: Alla doesn't recognize as legitimate the "re-run" elections, she reclaims her victory and urges the acting president to step down.
So, as she doesn't recognize the elections, she won't be allowed to present the documents for candidacy. Back to the before-agreement positions, but with a variation: now Jambolat Tedeev, who was not allowed to run in November and who cast his support to Alla, announces that he plans to run. And - frankly speaking - he's popular and powerful enough to have hopes, if...
...if the wild won't get wilder. He's a man who creates problem. If for South Ossetian krysha Alla was too much, how much is Jambolat?
Wasn't it easier, possibly, to deal with her and to accept election results, instead of twisting into the wild?
... about my recently published book, Georgia, twenty years after USSR. On line on the Portal on Central Eastern and Balcan Europe. Chapter-by-chapter short résumé available http://www.pecob.eu/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/EN/IDPagina/3368
According to Azerbaijani sources, in 2011, 774 violations of the ceasefire have been recorded, which resulted in 19 casualties. 2011 was one of the worst year, since the suspension of fights thanks to the ceasefire. If the trend goes on in 2012 - as it seems to be the case - this should be called an un-ceasefire. As suggested before, there's a strong need for additional measures of conflict prevention on the line of contact, from a hotline to a most desirable demilitarized area.
And it's hardly what can be inferred Sargsyan suggested during his "new year visit" to Karabakh, as a previous Karabakhi commander. And Parliamentary elections are getting closer. No one would like to stir an unpopular topic. But is the escalation of violence along the line of contact popular?
As for the elections: should they be expected to be just selections? Probably not. The ruling Republican Party has not a pair challenger, but still it's quite predictable that there will be more room for the opposition, in the preferences of voters. How much it's hard to say. Some may collect the fruits of everyday stubborn work of party-to-people meetings, like Raffi Hovanissyan. Some, the fruits of mass mobilizations and "radical" opposition, like Levon Ter Petrosyan.
Whatever, it should be welcome to have a more representative and mixed parliament. It would help to share responsibilities (it the oppositions manage to have something more than 6 seats or the like), and so to defuse political tension. And to have someone - hopefully- able to restrain the power of oligarchs' lobbies which crystallized around the Republican party in more than a decade of power. Society has started some time ago to resent from this perceived boundless power of the oligarchs. In long term, this might be destabilizing.
So far the fight is much more the electoral law, which the majority has not intention to change. And speculations about how elections will be free and fair, and if a 2008 after election scenario is possible now. Use of force before Presidential elections is not advisable, on the side of a potential candidate. Sargsyan may have this concept clear in mind, after the Russian example in December...
Is it going to happen ANY change? ANY hope to stop the daily violation of the ceasefire?
Someone else (really else...) said: Yurtta barış dünyada barış
A new year started, full of hopes and expectations.
In Georgia the political debate in the last week of the year was dominated by the adoption of the amendments to the electoral code. According to the Draft Opinion (DO) expressed by the Venice Commission of Democracy through Law and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the amendments are source of concerns. Local organizations share this opinion and called the president not to sign the law. No way.
Paragraph 67 of the DO underlines that "Article 45(4) of the draft Code prohibits aliens from participating in election campaigns. This prohibition is also problematic. The rights of freedom of expression and association, according to Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, belong to all persons within the jurisdiction of a member State. Even if non-citizens (stateless and alien residents) do not have the right to vote, they do have the right to freely express their opinion, associate and participate in political debates during election campaigns. Such a clause limits fundamental rights of non-citizens residing in Georgia and conflicts with the basic human rights protected by the regional and global international conventions recognised by Council of Europe member states and OSCE states. The OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission recommend that this prohibition be deleted from Article 45(4)."
Bidzina Ivanishvili may be prevented not only to run for elections but also to turn his movement into a party.
President Saakashvili spent the new year eve with soldier. And he was most probably the more "militant" among them. He thus addressed his army " [...] Of course our country has a lot to worry about. A part of it is occupied by the enemy.[...] We are meeting tomorrow with the hope that we will free our country and help it stand up proudly. We will never kneel before the enemy and those whose desire is to destroy Georgia. I would like to recall our guys who have fallen. Everyone in this lineup, we are all soldiers." These his words, in the Military base of Adlia, before meeting the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, and before adding, in his TV New Year address to the Nation "I am absolutely sure that the empire will inevitably fall, Georgia will eventually be liberated and I want us to establish the tradition of congratulating each other [New Year] by saying ‘next year in Sokhumi".
MA Degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures,
BA Degree in International and Diplomatic Sciences,
PhD in Democracy and Human Rights, Political Sciences.
Languages: Italian, English, Russian, Turkish.
Associate Researcher ISPI (Milan), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, DIRE (Genoa University).
Previous work experience: Political Adviser EU Council;
EUMM Team Leader and Gender Focal Point.
Assistant Professor El Manar University, Tunis