A Georgian-language blog that claims to represent Islamic State terrorists is spreading alarm in the South Caucasus country of Georgia in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris.
Self-described as the Islamic State’s “Information Website,” the Wordpress blog posts updates about jihadist “successes,” such as the November 13 carnage in France and alleged military victories by the so-called Islamic State, alongside appeals to the Caucasus’ Muslims to take up arms.
“Young Muslim sisters and brothers from Georgia… awaken and see the truth before it is too late, while you are still alive and can profess bayat (allegiance) to the Caliph,” reads a November 9 post by an individual named Abu Mariam al-Jurji (“the Georgian” in Arabic).
Georgian speakers have peppered the post with angry comments, larded with obscenities and hate speech. Some advised these “sisters and brothers” to come to their senses and switch to the “true faith,” Georgian Orthodox Christianity, the dominant religion in Georgia.
The “successes stories” shared on the blog also include human-interest pieces, such as jihadists making shawarma during a break in their fighting and photo-reports on daily life in various ISIS-controlled Syrian towns. A perfume shop in Raqqa, a car market near Aleppo, rows of public busses in Manbij – all are cited as testimony that ISIS is working and that Allah is great.
The blog often describes Georgia as a wilayah, an administrative unit within the greater caliphate. The calls to allegiance to the Islamic State particularly target Muslim minorities, including ethnic Kists, Azeris and Abkhaz.
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have identified Georgian military units trained by the United States as being suspected of war crimes, possibly jeopardizing future American aid to those units.
Last month, the ICC prosecutor's office formally requested the authority to start investigations into war crimes in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia over the disputed territory of South Ossetia. According to the prosecutor's initial report, Georgian and Russian military forces, as well as units of the de facto South Ossetian security forces, all were implicated in war crimes.
In the Georgian case, the crimes involved attacks on Russian units of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces under the Sochi agreement between Georgia and Russia, which formally ended the conflict. Intentionally attacking peacekeepers is a war crime under the Rome Statute, under which the ICC operates. From the ICC report:
During the night from 7 to 8 August 2008 the Georgian armed forces conducted a military operation against JPKF HQ and the base of the Russian Peacekeeping Forces Battalion (RUPKFB) claiming that it had lost its protected status. According to the Russian authorities, 10 peacekeepers belonging to the Russian peacekeeping contingent were killed and a further 30 were wounded as a result.
With almost every day bringing a new recording about ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and friends’ alleged plans to thwart any takeover of government-bashing broadcaster Rustavi2, online parodies of the conversations have become the thing in Georgia, even as public concerns about violations of privacy are growing.
Borrowing the graphics used in the original online leaks, the send-ups replace the ex-president and his allies with various entertaining exchanges between real and fictional characters.
“Keto, I am going to come over tomorrow at dusk. Let’s try, perhaps it can work out between us,” a man called Khirkhal tells his small-town paramour in a clip ripped from the 1980 Georgian musical comedy, “Everyone Wants Love.” “Come, come through the breach in the fence, but don’t let anyone see you,” Keto whispers passionately.
While the online satires and opinion polls indicate public fatigue with Georgia’s main political forces and their ways, the original leaks paint a far less entertaining picture. “Blood will be spilt there… a hundred percent,” Saakashvili supposedly predicted in reference to the standoff around Rustavi2, a channel long sympathetic to the former president’s political base in Georgia, the United National Movement Party.
Saakashvili, now governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, added that he is as certain of such a turn of events as the fact that he is not coriander. This herbal metaphor makes only slightly more sense in colloquial Georgian, in which it can also carry crude connotations depending on usage.
But, in any case, the turn of phrase does not appear to be helping either Misha, as he is known, or the current Georgian leader, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, cut a particularly dignified figure.
In a controversial ruling,Tbilisi City Court Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze ruled on November 3 to restore the ownership rights of former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi to Rustavi2, Georgia's main broadcasting outlet.
Rustavi2's counsel, Zaza Bibilashvili, told the TV station he plans to appeal the decision.
The lawsuit has been at the center of a months-long struggle that has accerbated a bitter political crisis between the ruling Georgian Dream and former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement, which claims that the lawsuit serves as a government-takeover. Khalvashi maintains that he only wantes to restore the rights he supposedly illegally lost during Saakashvili's first, 2004-2008 term in office.
Georgia's political crisis moved into high gear on October 30 after ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was caught advising the embattled Georgian television station, Rustavi2, to barricade itself against the government’s alleged seizure plans and adopt a “revolutionary scenario.” Based on the wiretapped conversation, posted online, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili accused Saakashvili of fomenting an upheaval and vowed to “neutralize everything and everyone” threatening the country’s constitutional order.
The State Security Service early this afternoon began questioning Saakashvili’s two interlocutors, Rustavi2 General Director Nika Gvaramia and former National Security Council head Giga Bokeria, a senior member of Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM). Neither of the two men is being held. The Service already is investigating another supposed conversation between Saakashvili and Bokeria.
Driving the drama is the shortly expected verdict in a lawsuit for ownership of the Saakashvili-sympathetic television station Rustavi2, the country’s most frequently viewed national broadcaster. Station staff and supporters claim the suit fronts as a takeover attempt by the government, and that they will not recognize a court-decision that changes Rustavi2’s ownership.
With tensions escalating, the hearing on Friday was postponed until November 2.
Georgian television is now awash with the taped conversations, the authenticity of which both Gvaramia and Bokeria have confirmed. Dates mentioned in the conversation indicate it occurred some 10 days ago.
Some sellers at the October 10-11 Caucasus Cheese Festival in Tbilisi saw cheesemaking as a true art.
Cheese brought together dairy makers from assorted regions of the South Caucasus at a lactose-rich gathering in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, over the past weekend. Creamy, dry, pungent and stringy, cheeses of every description were up for grabs at the latest installment of the Caucasus Cheese Festival, an attempt to enhance Georgia’s reputation as the region’s gastronomic capital.
Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture, which co-organized the October 10-11 event with a cheesemaker guild, could provide no specifics about makers of the “peace cheese.”
Yet Georgian cheese cognoscenti were not short on details about their homeland’s own 60-some makes. As with wine, Tbilisi’s sights are on Europe, and what Agriculture Minister Otar Danelia called a “worthy place” for Georgian cheese on the world market.
To meet that goal, part of the idea was to look beyond the usual business of Georgia’s stretchy, mozzarella-like sulguni and supple, crumbly imeruli, to less popular varieties and locally made versions of European cheeses. And there they lay – cured in honey, herbs or olive oil, aged and fresh, some molded into animal figurines or drinking vessels.
Cheese historians — even in this food-obsessed land, not a common calling — were on hand to note that the Georgian expression “Smile like a cheese seller” comes from medieval times, when vendors were eager to outshine the competition.
Joseph Stalin's monument now lies in an abandoned lot outside of Gori, his hometown in Georgia.
The city council in Joseph Stalin’s Georgian hometown of Gori struck down on October 2 a motion to restore the Soviet dictator’s monument in the town square. The fierce debate left unclear the fate of the grand, six-meter statue that just refuses to be consigned to the ash heap of history.
Gori’s Stalinists have made stubborn attempts to bring their icon’s statue back to the town center, but central government officials have resisted these efforts, which they view as an embarrassment to the country’s goals of Western integration.
Today’s debate on the topic at Gori’s city council erupted into a shouting match between Stalin supporters and opponents.
The Stalinists argue that Joseph Visarionovich is Gori’s (and Georgia’s) most famous son and the major tourist attraction in gritty Gori, a town some 40 kilometers west of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Visitors indeed flock to the Stalin Museum which features a massive collection of Stalin memorabilia, including his death mask and a tiny shack where the comrade-in-chief, then known as Soso, the Georgian diminutive for his first name, spent his early years.
The reported route of Russian military flights to Syria. (photo: twitter, @cencio4)
New flight-tracking data suggests that Russia is sending military equipment to Syria over the Caspian Sea, taking a lengthy detour to bypass the entire Caucasus isthmus. The circuitous route suggests that Moscow has failed to gain overflight permission from either Georgia or Azerbaijan in its new top foreign policy priority, the intervention in Syria.
The new data was reported by the blog The Aviationist citing the open-source flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. It suggests that Russia sent six Su-34 bomber aircraft to Syria via a route southward to the North Caucasus, veering to the east just north of Grozny and crossing into the airspace over the Caspian Sea north of Makhachkala. It then crosses the Caspian taking a route roughly parallel to the coastline of Azerbaijan, about 50 miles away. It then enters Iranian airspace roughly 50 miles south of the Azerbaijani border, the continues through Iraq before reaching Syria.
The United States had been trying to get countries in between Russia and Syria to block their airspace to Russian military flights, and succeeded in the case of Bulgaria, while Greece confirmed that they had gotten a similar request. If the U.S. has made any such requests to the Caucasus countries it hasn't been announced. Turkey, a firm opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- whom the Russian intervention seeks to prop up -- doesn't allow the flights of its own accord.
Georgian Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli and General Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, meet in Tbilisi on September 7. (photo: MoD Georgia)
The United States is practicing how quickly it can deploy its military to Georgia in order to respond to "Russian aggression," Georgia's defense minister has said.
General Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, visited Tbilisi and spoke September 7 at a conference, "Georgia: Europe’s New Geopolitical Landscape: Security, Economic Opportunity, Freedom and Human Dignity for the Frontline States." Hodges also met with Minister of Defense Tinatin Khidasheli and senior Georgian military officials.
"There were a lot of interesting nuances when he discussed joint Georgian-American exercises," Khidasheli said after the meeting. "In particular, one of the objectives of these exercises will be to see how quickly the US military vehicles and soldiers will arrive in Georgia in case of aggression – something that the General stated publicly.”
"For me, as Defence Minister, General Ben Hodges’ speech was very interesting. He made some interesting points, especially when talking about Russia,” she continued. "He very clearly and directly said that Russia had been busy with aggression for 20 years. I think when an American General says such phrases, it means a lot.”
However, it's not clear exactly what Hodges' words were. The press office of U.S. Army Europe, asked by The Bug Pit to clarify Hodges's remarks, provided a transcript of his answers to reporters' questions at the conference, but they contained nothing about U.S. forces responding to Russian aggression in Georgia.
According to a report on the website civil.ge, Hodges's remarks were somewhat vaguer:
Georgian media have depicted the August 30 clash as a Free Willy-style drama. But counter to these reports, the activists claim they had no intention to release the facility's inhabitants into the open sea. Although Batumi's top attraction is located a quick walk from the beach, carrying to the water bottlenose dolphins that weigh, on average, 300 kilos might have proven problematic.
The Georgian Federation for Animal Protection claimed that its members, with a backup of Russian and Turkish animal rights activists, instead tried to unfurl banners that read “A dolphinarium is a prison!" and were physically assaulted by guards and dolphin handlers.
The dolphinarium’s administration says the opposite — the activists intruded on the premises and attacked the staff using pepper spray. Both sides uploaded videos in an attempt to prove their versions of the story.