When it comes to failure, no South Caucasus country can hold a candle to war-survivor Georgia in the estimation of the 2010 Failed State Index.
Foreign invasion, little ability to exercise control over its borders and 2008-war-related domestic grievances keep the country's total score (91.8) high on a 120-point scale. Georgia fell between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the Index, assembled by Foreign Policy and The Fund for Peace, a Washington, DC-based research organization.
Criteria such as Refugees and Delegitimization of State as well as Uneven Development bring Azerbaijan (84.6) up on the failure list, where it landed slightly ahead of Israel.
Armenia was ranked as the least "failed" of the three South Caucasus states with a score of 74.3.
As seemingly always, Norway is ranked as the world's most successful country.
Twitter and Facebook reports are coming from Azerbaijan about the alleged detention of yet another journalist critical of the government in circumstances similar to the arrest of bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli.
Natiq Adilov, who works for the pro-opposition Azadliq (Liberty) newspaper, was allegedly beaten and taken into custody on June 16, reports say. As was the case with Hajizade and Milli, an unidentified man allegedly attacked Adilov (this time, on the street in Baku) and then accused him of assault.
Police could not yet be reached for confirmation or denial of the reports.
Is Afghanistan more important to the U.S. than Azerbaijan? Shockingly, that may be true. Veteran Azerbaijan hand Thomas Goltz visited Baku just before U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates did, and that's what an intelligence official told him:
"The American chargé d'affaires told me not to talk to you, but he is State Department and I am not," the official said -- I'm paraphrasing from memory here, but closely -- putting initial pleasantries out of the way. "I am here to set up the Gates visit tomorrow. We finally decided to give the Azerbaijanis something before this thing deteriorates any further." Then he sort of smirked while saying the following: "We frankly don't care about human rights or democracy-building, or Israel and Turkey, or peace in Karabakh or Georgia, or even Azerbaijani energy. There is only one thing we really care about right now, and that is Afghanistan."
I was not surprised, but had to ask:
"Afghanistan," he said, and then repeated the word.
This has annoyed Azerbaijan, which would prefer Washington to do more of what Baku wants, than what Washington wants:
"Our attitude is that Washington should stop thinking of Azerbaijan in terms of Afghanistan and start thinking of Azerbaijan in terms of Azerbaijan," my old pal Araz Azimov, now deputy foreign affairs minister, told me. "The official attitude as enunciated by the president is, 'We want respect.'"
(An aside: Here we could invoke what readers are free to call Kucera's First Law of Geopolitics: If a place's importance derives primarily from the fact that it is between one more important place and another more important place, that first place is ultimately not that important.)
Russian approval of sanctions against Iran may have chilled relations between the two countries, but there is still enough room left for diplomacy to swing a cat. Iran plans to send a pair of Caucasus leopards to Russia to help efforts to repopulate the big cats in the Caucasus area.
Hunting and poaching have brought the Caucasus leopard to the brink of extinction; environmentalists rejoice at every occasional sighting of the animal in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Some claim that the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh has also got in the way of the leopards’ migration routes.
The Iranian gift will be placed in the Russian city of Sochi's zoo. Russia plans to start dispersing the cats on the northern flanks of the Caucasus ridge, hoping that the leopards will spread throughout the Caucasus area. Russia, in turn, is helping Iran restore the population of tigers in its northern province of Mazandaran.
Robert Gates has finished his visit to Azerbaijan, and beyond the obvious discussions of Baku's role in the Northern Distribution Network, Gates highlighted the potential of new security cooperation on the Caspian Sea:
We talked about the Caspian maritime security situation, what we might be able to do. We've already helped them there with several tens of millions of dollars, boats and -- radars and capabilities.
We looked at more exercises. We looked at additional things we could do together -- intelligence sharing and so on.
The reference in the first paragraph is to Caspian Guard, a program earlier last decade that aimed to give Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan a joint ability to protect their oil and gas facilities in the sea, but which Pentagon officials seem to try to keep their distance from these days, apparently viewing it as not having accomplished much. But anyway, will be interesting to see what eventually emerges from this -- could the NDN be bringing about a new impetus to U.S. Caspian security efforts?
Are Iran and Turkey planning to gang up against Armenia in Nagorno Karabakh? That's what an Armenian analyst says, according to ArmInfo:
The Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem and Iran have arrived at a certain arrangement regarding deployment of international forces in Nagorny Karabakh, the political expert Hmayak Hovhanissyan told media on Tuesday.
"Iran's stance has sharply changed and now Tehran comes out for change of the status-quo in Nagorny Karabakh and even offers its assistance in the process. Azerbaijan has already accepted that offer whereas Armenia has not responded to that yet. As regards my concern about possible resumption of military actions in Nagorny Karabakh, it is not exaggerated, otherwise President of Armenia Serzh Sargayan would not touched upon this topic during his visit to Brussels," he said.
This seems alarmist, but it is worth noting that Iran and Turkey have been cooperating more lately (most notably on the Iranian nuclear deal), and Iran seems to be moving a little bit away from Armenia, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference just came out with a statement declaring Armenia the aggressor in Karabakh. On the other hand, things are a little rocky between Turkey and Azerbaijan because of the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement. All this is to say that this is a pretty fluid situation, and so it seems possible that, for better or worse, there could be some movement soon on Karabakh.
And if Iran and Turkey fail to resolve the situation, it may fall to Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to set things right. Today.az reports:
Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher, reportedly, wishes to visit Baku, and support Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute...
The move does not jive well with Tbilisi’s hopes for closer ties with the EU and increased European involvement in Georgia’s conflicts and domestic politics. Tbilisi often looks to the EU’s point man for the Caucasus, Peter Semneby, to help mitigate problems with Russian-backed separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With plans afoot to relegate Semneby’s functions to a lower-ranking functionary in Brussels, Georgians now may have to look elsewhere for intercession.
As RFE/RL writes, the move "signals another lurch toward big-power politics within the EU." And one in which the South Caucasus and Moldova -- with their complicated, long-running separatist conflicts -- look likely to pull significantly lesser weight.
The South Caucasus can heave a collective sigh of relief. Singing talents from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia all have made it to the final of Eurovision, Europe’s annual pop-glitz fest.
The three countries' singing beauties and their saccharine-heavy songs breezed through the semi-final of this pop music Super Bowl, where voting for participants tends to reflect the continent’s geopolitical fault lines.
British bookmakers predict that Azerbaijan’s Safura will win the contest with her "Drip Drop" song, while Google’s I-Predictor gadget gave Georgia’s Sofo Nizharadze with "Shine" a respectable fifth-place finish.
What is democracy? For Ethiopia, it's "fair play"; for Poland, it's "like a keyboard." (?) And for Azerbaijan, it's "possible."
An Azerbaijani entry was the only contestant from the former Soviet Union among the 18 finalists in the "Democracy Is . . . " video contest sponsored by a collection of American universities, film and recording associations and the US Department of State, among others. Online voting will decide a winner by roughly June 18.
But the makers of the Azerbaijani video most likely know a thing or two about why democracy matters. The video links to a website of Azerbaijan’s youth movement Ol! The founder of the movement, blogger Adnan Hajizade, is serving a two-year prison term on what are widely believed to be trumped-up charges of hooliganism.
The breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh has voted, but, so far as most of the outside world is concerned, it voted in vain. The mediating trio of France, Russia and US reiterated that the territory's May 23 parliamentary election will not be regarded as legitimate. But if anyone nevertheless wants to know how things are shaping up, de facto Prime Minister Ara Harutyunian’s Free Homeland party leads with 46 percent of the vote and is trailed by de facto Parliamentary Speaker Ashot Ghulian’s Democratic Party of Artsakh with 29 percent of voters. Next comes Dashnaktsutiun with 20 percent, while the Communist Party has failed to clear the four-percent threshold, according to preliminary results.
Only Armenia, which protected Nagorno-Karabakh through thick and thin, has hailed the election, calling it a "demonstration of a resolve to live independently."