In a smack-down to Georgia and Ukraine’s European aspirations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on May 21 that the two countries should not have expectations for a visa-free regime with the EU anytime soon.
Merkel’s comments came amid the European Union’s summit with its EU-curious neighbors in the Latvian capital, Riga. In the run-up to the summit, it was clear that the EU would not be granting a visa-waiver at this time, but Georgia and Ukraine expected to make significant progress toward such a waiver, as well as toward integration with the bloc.
As of early evening, Tbilisi had not yet responded officially to Merkel’s remarks. In comments earlier in the day in Riga, however, Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili told Georgian reporters that Georgia has met with flying colors most of the EU’s requirements for a visa-free regime, and that it is “only a step “ away from heading toward receiving that status.
Kyiv’s reaction was not immediately available.
Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova are the main EU-enthusiasts among the six ex-Soviet republics courted by the EU under its Eastern Partnership Program. Moldova, Ukraine's southwestern neighbor, received its visa-free deal in 2014.
After the last Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Ukraine had pulled away from signing an association agreement with the EU, helping to set in motion a domestic conflict over Ukraine’s leadership, the bloc arrived at this next summit in Riga with far less enthusiasm for integrating the countries and to engage Russia in a full-on competition for the region.
Kazakhstan soldiers in southern Tajikistan for CSTO joint military exercises. (photo: CSTO)
Russia and several of its allies have completed joint military exercises on the Tajikistan Afghanistan border, which they say was necessitated by the worsening situation in northern Afghanistan.
The drills of the Collective Security Treaty Organization began last week and the first step was deploying the 2,500 troops, without prior notice, to the exercise site in Tajikistan's Khatlon province. According to the scenario of the exercises, "the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border seriously deteriorated. Armed groups invaded the territory of Tajikistan from the territory of Afghanistan. The Tajikistan armed forces together with other security structures carry out military operations to repel the invasion."
Military units from the various CSTO member states carried out individual tasks: Tajikistani aircraft carried out aerial reconnaissance and identified the position of "terrorist groups" numbering 700 people.
Then an Armenian special forces company reconnoitered the site on the ground, traveling with modified Nissan pickup trucks armed with machine guns. Then, various special forces units from Belarus, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan advanced to "capture the militants' field commander and secure the withdrawal of the Armenian reconnaissance troops."
In the final stage, Russian and Kazakhstani bomber jets carried out air strikes on the militant positions, and drones identified targets for further artillery strikes.
Top: the photo published by the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense. Below: from the twitter account of Armenia MFA spokesman Tigran Balayan.
Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense published a photo of its soldiers in Moscow's May 9 Victory Day parade in which an Armenian flag has been digitally edited out.
Armenia and Azerbaijan were among a number of countries whose soldiers marched in the parade, marking 70 years since the allied victory in World War II. And thanks to the fact that they are next to one another alphabetically, they marched one behind the other in the parade.
While the parade went off without a hitch, the controversy began soon afterwards. Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense published a photo of its soldiers on its website, which web users quickly identified as an alteration of a previously published photo which was a good shot of the Azerbaijani contingent but -- unfortunately for Azerbaijan military PR -- prominently featured the flag of the Armenian soldiers right behind.
Armenia's government, naturally, leapt. "#Azerbaijan falsifying history, is going far beyond and fabricates reality," tweeted Armenia Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Tigran Balayan.
The episode caused some embarrassment within Azerbaijan, as well. "It's an obvious Photoshop," prominent military analyst Uzeir Jafarov told the BBC Russian service. "Our soldiers are in a ceremonial parade. They have Israeli weapons in their hands, conforming to NATO standards -- and all this for a photo shoot? It's unworthy of us." (The Azerbaijan MoD declined to comment.)
Located atop a steep hill, the Armenian Genocide Memorial is one of the landmarks of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. But it does not stand alone.
Armenia contains nearly 30 memorials to the the victims of Ottoman Turkey’s 1915 massacre of ethnic Armenians, according to the Armenian National Institute (ANI), a Washington, DC-based research and education center. They often stand in places named after locations in Turkey that formerly contained ethnic Armenian communities — Nor Sebastia, Nor Hajen, Musa Ler or Arabkir.
“Monuments have come to serve as a location for gatherings, as the victims of the Armenian genocide have no graves,” claimed ANI Director Rouben Adalian, an historian. During the 1960s, when greater public attention also started to focus on the Holocaust, the Armenian Diaspora began the construction of monuments to the victims of 1915.
In Soviet Armenia, Adalian added, the topic generally had been suppressed. None of the monuments were built before 1965. “[I]t was not even discussed until 1965 when there was a public outcry that the genocide should be remembered.”
Many monuments were built throughout Armenia in the 1970s and 1980s; most adhere to a stark symbolism. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, they often are smaller and use more religious and ethnic-identity references than previously would have been allowed.
In several locations, graves of soldiers killed during the 1988-1994 war with neighboring Azerbaijan over breakaway Nagorno Karabakh have been placed next to the memorials.
Yet other than the best-known memorials in Yerevan, the northern village of Aparan and the hamlet of Sardarapat, not far from the Turkish border, most of these structures are not well maintained, and receive few visitors.
For Armenians, the towns of Muş and Sason in southeastern Turkey, not far to the west of Lake Van, hold particular historical significance. But today, 100 years after the massacre of 1915, few ethnic Armenians still remain there
In the medieval era, Muş served as the central town of the influential Armenian principality of Taron, home to Mesrop Mashtots, who invented the Armenian alphabet in the early fifth century.
Sason, known to Armenians as Sasun, is the setting for the 8th-10th-century Armenian national epic, “The Daredevils of Sasun" (also called “The Daredevils of Sassoun"), which tells how Armenian fighters, led by the legendary ruler, David of Sasun (or Sassoun), repulsed repeated Arab invasions.
Although both locations lost their prominence in modern times, they remained important regional centers for Armenian culture until the bloodshed of 1915.
Today, little sign of that past remains. The old part of Muş, where many ethnic Armenians once lived, has been partly destroyed, though the walls of a women’s hamam and an Armenian church still stand. Khachkars, Armenian memorial cross-stones, stand near many Kurdish houses. Stones with carved crosses often have been used for construction materials. A graveyard can be found on a nearby mountain.
Recently, an Armenian club opened in Muş with the name "Daron - Hay,” a local Armenian rendition of “Taron-Armenian.” Members say they chose the Armenian word “Hay” since the Turkish word for Armenia, Ermeni, can be used as an insult.
Members say, though, that those attitudes are starting to change a little. But still, despite a relative liberalization of government policies in recent years, many ethnic Armenians in Turkey remain cautious.
Kim Kardashian, the US celebrity who conquered the Internet, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who conquered Crimea, will be among the VIPs to visit Armenia this month for the 100th anniversary of the mass slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
TV star Kardashian, her rapper husband Kanye West and much of her Armenian-American clan are headed this week to the tiny South Caucasus country that is the Kardashians’ paternal homeland, celebrity-news site X17 reported on April 4. The trip will be filmed for E!’s “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” television show.
Already, she has begun her preparations.
Concerned about her roots, Kardashian changed her look from platinum blonde back to brunette for the pilgrimage, US Magazine noted; a shade perhaps also seen as better suited for the occasion.
Putin may have made no similar adjustments, but, unlike Kardashian, he confirmed plans to attend the official commemoration ceremony itself on April 24.
Nonetheless, Kardashian’s presence in the country will help Armenia in what is proving to be fierce competition with Turkey over April 24, a date Ankara has selected to remember the landmark 1915 Battle of Gallipoli.
Yerevan and Ankara have accused one another of deliberately timing their respective commemorations to leave the world’s leaders and celebrities with an uncomfortable choice. The two countries are closely comparing RSVPs.
Recent reports that Russian military vehicles were appearing in Georgia have raised complaints in neighboring Azerbaijan that Tbilisi is “betraying” Baku by allowing the Russian military to ship military supplies into Armenia via its territory or airspace.
The story of the Russian vehicles in Georgia is almost certainly a tempest in a teapot – after footage surfaced of Russian-made ZIL 131 military trucks on Georgian streets, various theories quickly emerged. Georgia's opposition claimed the trucks were evidence that the current government was in cahoots with Moscow, while some suggested they may be on the way to Armenia, where Russia both has its own large military base and provides substantial military aid to the armed forces there. But it didn't take long for another, more banal explanation to come out: the vehicles were decommissioned in Russia and are being sold on the commercial market.
There's no indication that the Russian trucks were in fact destined for Armenia, but the question of how Russia supplies its base in Armenia, as well as delivers military aid there, has long been a secretive and contentious one. Armenia is separated from Russia by Azerbaijan and Turkey, which are hostile to Armenia, and Georgia, which is hostile to Russia. Georgia nevertheless did allow overflights of Russian military shipments to Armenia until 2011, when it publicly annulled the agreement with Russia allowing for that transit. The status of that transit is now unclear, though there have been various unconfirmed reports that it was reinstated even while former president Mikheil Saakashvili was in power.
Armenia plans to use Eurovision, the pop-and-politics fest extraordinaire, to ask Europe not to “deny” that the slaughter of thousands of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey amounted to genocide.
The Armenian entry for Eurovision, “Don’t Deny,” has not formally been linked to many countries’ – most notably, Turkey’s – reluctance to admit that the slaying amounted to genocide. But in the song’s video, presented on March 12, the subtext is fairly obvious.
The performers, a sextet called Genealogy, are made up of five ethnic Armenian artists (from Australia, Ethiopia, France, Japan and the US), reportedly all descendants of survivors of the 1915 massacre, and a singer from Armenia.
The group, mostly kitted out in contemporary renditions of early 20th-century outfits, sing amidst retro-shots of an extended World-War-I-era family. The family ultimately vanishes, leaving empty chairs behind.
Armenian Weekly claimed that each singer in the collective stands for a petal of the forget-me-not flower, the symbol chosen for the April 24 genocide-centennial in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. The publication claimed that Armenian singer Inga Arshakian represents the midpoint of the flower — the center of gravity, if you will — for the far-flung Armenian Diaspora.
The centennial’s official commemoration date hits roughly a month before Eurovision’s May 19-23 run in Vienna.
Reports about Vladimir Putin’s death might be slightly exaggerated, but they have kept Internet-users entertained for two days now. Yet, as journalists go chasing the vanished Russian president, perhaps someone needs to talk to his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, who insisted that he spoke to Putin over the phone just yesterday.
According to the Armenian president’s office, Putin told Sargsyan he was planning to come visit Yerevan on April 24 for Armenia’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the massive slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
If the chat did take place, Sargsyan may be the last leader to have spoken to Putin. A trip to Kazakhstan was canceled, as was a meeting with a delegation from breakaway South Ossetia.
Armenia ranks as Russia's main ally in the South Caucasus, so, presumably, Sargsyan would know when he's talking to Putin himself.
But how did Putin sound to the Armenian leader? For now, Sargsyan's office ain't sayin'.
The chat, though, is likely to feed the fire of speculation since Putin disappeared from public view after late last week. What began as a “have you seen Putin?” whisper is turning into a wildly trending “Putin died” phenomenon that some take seriously and others as a total joke. Even an oracular website has been set up to let users ask if Putin is dead or not.
Amidst an angry backlash from Armenian-Americans, Starbucks has removed from cafés around Los Angeles artwork depicting women in Armenian national dress under Turkish flags.
The coffee chain was apparently attempting to cater to LA’s large ethnic Armenian community , but anyone with a smattering of an understanding of Armenian-Turkish relations — or of Google searches — could see how displaying such a poster could go awfully wrong; especially ahead of the centennial commemoration of the slaughter of over a million ethnic Armenians in Turkey.
With the centennial planned for April 24, the century-old dispute about whether or not the killings amounted to genocide has reached a fever-pitch. Armenia already has withdrawn from a largely defunct reconciliation plan with Turkey.
The Armenian National Committee for America, a Diaspora group, launched a social-media campaign at #boycottstarbucks deeming the art “Tasteless!” and calling for the coffee-colossus to remove the photos and apologize.
The outpouring has prompted the company to issue an apology. In what appears to have become the company’s standard response to press-queries, a Starbucks spokesperson wrote to EurasiaNet.org that “We missed the mark here and we apologize for upsetting our customers and the community.”
The spokesperson stated that the artwork has been removed from “our Mulholland & Calabasas store in Woodland Hills” and that the company is “working to make this right" and "to ensure this image is not in any other Starbucks locations."
Similar statements appear to have been sent to RFE/RL and the Armenian-American publication Asbarez.com, according to their reports.