In the eyes of many in this part of the world, the West has a selective memory about the messy demise of the Soviet Union. While Georgia and Armenia largely ignored Gorbachev's big day, some in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan called for suing the octogenarian ex-comrade for presiding over the Soviet army's 1990 crackdown on Baku protesters and role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The bigger news for Azerbaijani media outlets was the failure of British police to honor a request from former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky to arrest Gorbachev for the deaths of peaceful demonstrators in Baku (1990), Tbilisi (1989) and Vilnius (1991). Saying that Gorby enjoys diplomatic immunity, a London court declined to issue an arrest warrant.
After an incident in which an Armenian sniper allegedly shot an Azerbaijani child across the line of contact between the two sides in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, the OSCE has called on both sides to remove their snipers from the line of contact.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, the new chairman-in-office after Kazakhstan's chairing of the organization last year, made the comments at a briefing in Kazakhstan. From Reuters:
"Withdrawal of snipers would set a good example and would be appreciated by the political community."
"We will take what your president and your minister [referring to the Kazakh leadership] did and try to promote resolution by one millimetre, two millimetres, at least to have snipers withdrawn, at least to execute, one, two or three security measures, measures of trust. We will see how it goes."
The child's death is under dispute. According to the Azerbaijan news agency APA, the victim was a ten-year-old boy, Fariz Badalov, who was shot while playing outside his house. But Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan denied that the incident occurred:
The Armenian President noted that the recent statement is a slander, since hostilities against civilians, let alone against children, run counter to the moral portrait of Armenian soldiers. As for the certain incident, similar accusations are baseless, since even territorial peculiarities of the region make it impossible.
Armenian authorities denied entry on March 10 to a European Union-based television documentary crew that is taking an independent look at the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict.
Foreigners routinely obtain visas at Yerevan airport, provided they have appropriate support paperwork. The four-member television crew -- comprising a Lithuanian, Finn and two Estonians – all had valid documentation needed to obtain a visa. Yet, according to an executive producer of the project, Andrius Brokas, border officials denied the crew entry.
A representative of the Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the crew had been barred from entering the country, citing technical reasons. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not grant visas inside the country upon arrival," the ministry representative claimed. "In addition, they did not address us for accreditation according to the set procedure."
Speaking by phone from Helsinki, Finland, Brokas said the documentary crew, is working on the documentary for broadcast by the Finnish National Broadcasting Company YLE. The group had coordinated the project with a local Armenian partner, AZD, a Yerevan-based production company. AZD representatives had assured Brokas that all necessary permissions had been obtained for four days of filming in Karabakh and three in Yerevan.
The television crew may have encountered problems at Yerevan airport because former president and current opposition leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, was among the individuals lined up for interviews. The documentary project also has conducted its own investigation into the Khojaly tragedy of 1992. Azerbaijani officials assert that Armenian forces slaughtered hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians in the incident.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan military balance is getting a lot of scrutiny these days, and Jane's Intelligence Review has just published a good reported analysis (subscription required) by Emil Sanamyan that has a lot of interesting points. Among them:
-- "Upon closer inspection, Azerbaijan's purported 'military budget' incorporates not just the paramilitary forces outside the Ministry of Defence but also state prosecutors and even courts, with an apparent intention to inflate the overall figure for propaganda effect."
-- "The combined Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh defence army total is estimated by Jane's to be around 300 T-72s, considerably larger than the 110 officially declared by Yerevan. Azerbaijan is thought to maintain around 350 to 400 T-72s... Baku has declared only 217 tanks, although it it likely that this figure was designed to appear under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty ceiling of 220."
-- "[F]or now it is the Azerbaijani UAV capability that provides the most immediate potential for escalation. Armenian defence officials have confirmed that Azerbaijan has begun flying its UAVs close to the Line of Contact that separates the two sides, with several such flights reported since 2008. In mid-2010, two Armenian Su-25s were dispatched to try to intercept these UAV flights."
-- "Armenian officials also claim that Armenia has begun to domestically produce UAVs and that more than a dozen have already entered service, with the aim of co-ordinating artillery fire. These have yet to be seen publicly."
With the Middle East in their sights, media and policy wonks are now placing wagers on what regime in what faraway place will fall next. Many seem to bet on the former Soviet Union.
Making such predictions is a fool’s game, but in the South Caucasus many politicians and analysts argue that the region's economic hardships and limited civil liberties make for the necessary ingredients for a Middle East-style revolution cocktail.
Aliyev's administration so far has not deigned to respond to these calls; Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has brushed off similar demands.
Calls for change have been no less frequent in Georgia. But, given the 2003 Rose Revolution, how the Georgian government chooses to respond could provide greater insight into the country's political psychology.
Ever ready to move with the times, the Georgian government appears to be attempting to capitalize on its revolution experience to promote an image abroad as a democratic hipster.
Azerbaijan has signed a deal to buy 24 Mi-35M helicopters from Russia, giving Baku a huge boost in its attack helicopter fleet. News.az reports:
Russian company Rostvertol signed a deal in September-October 2010 to sell 24 Mi-35M attack helicopters to Azerbaijan, Rostvertol General Director Boris Slyusar said yesterday.
The agreement came to light as the general director announced Rostvertol's 2010 trading figures...
The Mi-35M is a multi-purpose attack helicopter, designed to destroy armoured hardware, provide aerial fire support for ground troops, carry paratroopers, evacuate the wounded and transport cargo in its hold and external cradle.
Azerbaijan currently operates 15 Mi-24 attack helicopters, but in addition to more than doubling the fleet the Mi-35Ms are a significant step up from those in capability, with upgraded weapons, engine and night flying capability.
There is no word on how much Azerbaijan is paying, but in 2008 Brazil bought 12 of the same helicopters for $150 million, suggesting that this purchase is somewhere in the $300 million range.
The press from Azerbaijan's neighbor and foe, Armenia, is of course alarmed, as you might expect since that buy is almost equal to Armenia's entire defense budget. One article is titled "Armenia’s strategic ally continues arming Azerbaijan," and another tries to pour cold water on the whole thing:
Armenians celebrate St. Sargis' day on Feb. 19 in Yerevan's St. Sargis church and in the city's Lover's Park. St. Sargis Day is celebrated on a Saturday sometime around 63 days before Easter and marks the feast day of St. Sargis, the patron saint of young love. Unmarried Armenian women eat a piece of salty bread, ideally after fasting all day, in the hope of dreaming about their future husband. Tradition says the man who brings them water in the dream will be the man they marry.
Anahit Hayrapetyan is a freelance photojournalist based in Yerevan.
Armenians in the city of Echmiadzin celebrate Trndez, an orthodox ceremony of purification in the Armenian Catholic Church and the Apostolic Church. The celebration, dating from pre-Christian times, involves people jumping over fires and coals and usually begins the evening of Feb. 13.
Anahit Hayrapetyan is a freelance photojournalist based in Yerevan.
Azerbaijan is seriously preparing for war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh, the country's defence minister told international peace mediators in Baku on Friday.
"Azerbaijan is seriously preparing to liberate its territories," Safar Abiyev said in comments published by the ministry's press service.
It's hard to know how seriously to take these sorts of statements; the phrase "bellicose rhetoric from Baku" is by now a firmly entrenched cliche of Caucasus journalism. Still, that statement sounds, to my ears, more blunt than normal.
One of the most interesting parts of the recent International Crisis Group report (pdf), was its speculation about what would happen in a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh. It concluded that, while Azerbaijan has an obvious advantage in military spending, a variety of other factors could give Armenia an edge:
Former President Ter-Petrossian, was careful not to present the 1990s war as a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in order to emphasise the battlefield role of Nagorno-Karabakh forces and to downplay the Armenian army’s involvement. The present Armenian leadership makes no such pretence. A premeditated resumption of hostilities by Armenian forces is not likely, but cannot be ruled out, as Yerevan commentators and some military officials, notably in Nagorno-Karabakh, warn of a “preventive war” if the entity comes under imminent threat.