Armenians may have been troubled by Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to their country, as it seemed to be an exhibition of Russia's tightening grip on Yerevan's foreign policy. But in Azerbaijan, the visit occasioned a different sort of fear: that Putin was confirming Russia's military support for Armenia in a potential conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
One military expert in Baku, Uzeyir Cafarov, said that Putin's support for Armenia would increase the risk of conflict. "We must be extra careful regarding the situation on the front line in January and February. It is possible that local clashes will take place on the front line. Russia continues to play double games. We must not give in to this and must bring into Russia's attention that its position on the Karabakh conflict is biased," Cafarov told the newspaper Azadliq, according to a BBC Monitoring report.
And member of parliament Zahid Oruc told sia.az (also via BBC Monitoring), "With this visit and by increasing the number of Russian troops in Armenia, Russia is stimulating the regional arms race and pushes others to this. This is a threat to the lasting peace in the region."
To be precise, the poll (of 1,000 respondents) found that Armenia's level of suffering stands at 37 percent. Georgia, a comparatively sized neighbor with its own economic and security problems, suffers by 16-percentage points less.
Azerbaijan, the richest yet least democratic of the South-Caucasus trio, apparently suffers the least, at 15 percent of its respondents.
Overall, the survey, released on December 2, makes the Russian maxim that “It is better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick” ring truer than ever. The line of inquiry is broad -- linking "thriving" to job-security and access to healthcare, for instance.
Nonetheless, some surprises did emerge: the UK and Uzbekistan allegedly sharing the same level of suffering, for one.
Yet the Gallup pollsters, who did both face-to-face and over-the-phone interviews, did not just call up randomly selected respondents to ask how they're doing on a given day. Criteria under examination included the amount of income, optimism, stress, physical pain, worry and anger.
The data, though, is based on how respondents rate their own lives. How the survey compensated for cultural differences toward public expressions of feelings is not clear.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his country's military base in Gyumri, Armenia. (photos: kremlin.ru)
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his country's military base in Gyumri, Armenia, while unprecedented protests against Putin took place in the capital, Yerevan. Protesters objected to Armenia's plan to join the Russia-led Customs Union -- which they say Putin bullied their president, Serzh Sargsyan, into -- and Russian pressure generally. But one key element of the Russian-Armenian relationship remains relatively unquestioned in Armenia: Russia's military role in the country.
After Russia scored some remarkable successes in getting ex-Soviet republics Armenia and Ukraine to suspend their work toward integrating with the European Union, it has faced a fierce backlash, most notably in Kiev. But even the much smaller protests in Yerevan were remarkable given Russia's role as Armenia's traditional protector against neighboring, hostile Turkey and Azerbaijan. So it was probably no coincidence that Putin chose as his entry point to Armenia the most potent symbol of Russia's protective role, the military base at Gyumri.
"We believe that the presence of Russian troops on Armenian territory helps strengthen stability and security in the South Caucasus, and increases the level of practical cooperation between Russia and Armenia – both CSTO members – in military and technical spheres," Putin said during his visit.
Nearly every day, the exact same headline pops up in the news feeds of those who follow conflict n the Caucasus: "Armenian Armed Forces violate ceasefire in several directions." And with only slightly less frequency, and only slightly more variation, another headline appears: Azerbaijan Violates Ceasefire over X times Last Week."
The stories -- reprinted press releases from the respective ministries of defense -- follow the same numbing pattern. From the Azerbaijani side, after a couple of paragraphs saying where the alleged shooting took place, the exact same four paragraphs close out the piece:
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the The OSCE Minsk Group, Russia, France and the U.S. are currently holding peace negotiations.
Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.
The Armenian press releases are even more repetitive, not bothering to name the sites of the alleged violation. They all follow this form, nearly verbatim, the only variation being the number of violations over the past week:
The adversary violated the ceasefire, at the line of contact between the Karabakh-Azerbaijani opposing forces, around 200 times past week.
Sticks, stones and homemade smoke-bombs flew in downtown Yerevan on November 5 as police brawled with a few dozen anti-establishment protesters, some wearing Guy-Fawkes masks.
Flamboyant activist Shant Harutyunian’s call for a revolution ended with police breaking up his small, but ambitiously billed "March of a Million Masks" rally, and making 37 arrests. Few in number, protesters nonetheless put up a tough fight battling police officers. Footage carried by several news outlets showed groups of policemen failing to hold down even individual protesters. The activists were eventually overpowered after riot-police reinforcements arrived.
An outspoken nationalist who claims the government is undemocratic, corrupt and controlled by Moscow, Harutiunian began his movement with “occupying” the city's central Liberty Square for about a week. He vowed to bring down the president and lead the people to take over main government offices. The clash broke out when police tried to prevent the protesters from marching through the city.
Video from the scene show riot police dragging activists and stacking them in vehicles as onlookers booed. Several protesters and policemen were hospitalized.
Harutiunian, who spent a year in jail after Yerevan's deadly 2008 protests, blames police for the violence, and was among those detained. Charging that the protesters were anarchists, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia defended the police's actions.
The commander of Russia's troops in Armenia has said those troops could be used in a conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh, the first time that a Russian officer has publicly made such a claim. The commander of Russia's 102nd military base, Colonel Andrey Ruzinsky, made the comments in an interview with the Russian military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (via RFE/RL):
“If Azerbaijan decides to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh by force the [Russian] military base may join in the armed conflict in accordance with the Russian Federation’s obligations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)."
It's never been entirely clear how Russia would see the collective security provisions of the CSTO in the event of a conflict over Karabakh. While they would seem to clearly obtain if Azerbaijan attacked Armenia itself, since Karabakh is in de jure Azerbaijani territory, one could easily imagine Russia saying that a conflict restricted to that territory would be none of its business. But there really isn't any room for interpretation there, and this seems like a clear Russian shot across Azerbaijan's bow.
Azerbaijan took a while to respond, prompting the opposition news agency Turan to criticize official Baku for ignoring Col. Ruzinsky's statement. But when Baku finally did respond, it naturally, blamed Armenia:
“No treaty envisages the involvement of the Russian base into the hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh on Armenian part”, MP and political scientist Rasim Musabayov....
The monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had to suspend its activities last week because of an as-yet unexplained shooting:
Following the usual exchange of security guarantees by local commanders on both sides of the Line of Contact, members of both OSCE teams heard shooting as they approached their observation points. It was not possible to determine from where the shots were fired. Safety and security concerns prompted the Personal Representative to abandon the exercise.
Naturally, both sides blamed the other. Azerbaijan's APA reported:
The Armenians violated ceasefire while the contact line was being monitored by the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office.
Defense Ministry Spokesman Eldar Sabiroghlu told APA that today the Armenian Army units violated ceasefire..
A planned monitoring of the Line of Contact between the armed forces of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan to be conducted by the OSCE Mission in the Hadrut direction, scheduled for October 17, was stopped because of the submachine gun shots from the Azerbaijani side towards the positions of the NKR Defense Army.
A colossal, bronze Jesus Christ, cast in Armenia, has appeared in war-ravaged Syria “to save the world.”
Soaring higher than Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer, the statue stands 39 meters tall in the mountaintop, Byzantine-era Cherubim Monastery, lording it over the city of Saidnaya, 27 kilometers north of Damascus, Armenian news outlets reported. Some Russian outlets said that the statue is one meter shorter than its Brazilian counterpart.
From its vantage point above the sea, the statue overlooks an historic pilgrimage route from Istanbul to Jerusalem. The statue, created by Armenian sculptor Artush Papoian, was installed on October 14, when Orthodox Christians celebrate a commemoration of the Virgin Mary, whose icon is a chief draw for the monastery.
But the statue was not born of recent events in Syria. While Syria's ethnic Armenian population has been fleeing the country in droves -- including to Armenia itself, which has built a "New Aleppo" to accommodate the arrivals -- the project has been in the works since 2005, Russia's Komsomol'skaya Pravda reports.
The Armenian capital is throwing a birthday party today. Yerevan has turned 2,975 years-old, but, like any millenarian, would have you believe that “the old girl,” as one news outlet put it, is still looking good.
The city, which is believed to have more gray hair than Rome and is regarded Babylon’s peer, is not hiding her age. She is celebrating it with a song and dance. And a spot of windsurfing.
She's been through it all, after all: a difficult childhood marked by complicated relations with abusive neighbors; riotous teen years spent mingling with Persians, Turks and other so-called shady characters; a mid-life crisis under Tsarist and, then, Soviet rule, and, finally, a late bloom in her 2,900s, but not without some criticism of her face-lifts.
"Numerous cafés and restaurants have been built instead of trees and bushes, often clashing with the surrounding planned environment," complained one United Nations Economic Commission for Europe report. "The most important concept of the city’s plan – viewpoints of the natural environment – has been lost," and the "environmental situation has drastically declined."
The risk of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is increasing and international meditors need to step up efforts to make sure that conflict doesn't arise in the "coming weeks and months," says the International Crisis Group in a new report.
The report (pdf), Armenia and Azerbaijan: A Season of Risks, argues that internal tension in both Baku and Yerevan could cause a small conflict on the border -- which occur nearly constantly -- to spiral into a full-fledged war. In Azerbaijan, presidential elections will be held next month, and Armenia's recent abrupt announcement that it is joining Russia's Customs Union has thrown that country's political scene into turmoil, the report argues. This, combined with the arms both sides (but especially Azerbaijan) have been acquiring, could be a deadly mixture, the ICG argues: "Confrontation, low-intensity but volatile, between Azerbaijan and Armenia has entered a period of heightened sensitivity. The ICG "does not predict a second war is either imminent or more likely than not. It does suggest the near-term threats to stability are becoming more acute... Vigorous international engagement is needed to lessen chances of violent escalation during coming weeks and months."