The three-meter-tall wall will stretch three kilometers across the conflict line to shield nearby Azerbaijani-controlled villages from sniper bullets. The wall starts in Ortagervend, a village where an eight-year-old boy was shot to death six months ago.
The chronic sniper exchange between the Azerbaijani army and separatist Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenian forces has often turned deadly and threatened the return of all-out hostilities in the area. Azerbaijani authorities said that the sniper fire is driving the civilian population away from the villages.
In a rare sign of approval of an Azerbaijani initiative, separatist officials welcomed construction of the wall as a way to solidify the border of the disputed enclave.
Georgia often comes off as the teacher’s pet compared with Armenia and Azerbaijan. International monitors regularly assign it better grades in terms of business-friendly reforms and democratic freedoms. But it also turns out to be the most suicide-prone student in the South Caucasus class.
The war-scarred country leads the regional suicide chart with a rate of 4.3 officially reported suicides per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, which released the world suicide rates on October 10,International Mental Health Day.
Armenia, the poorest of the South Caucasus trio, came a distant second with a rate of 1.9. Azerbaijan, the richest, biggest and most autocratic of the three, is the least suicide-disposed, as its 0.6 rate suggests.
As tends to be the case elsewhere in the world, South Caucasus men are more vulnerable to suicide than women; especially in Georgia, where the male suicide rate (7.1 per 100,000) is nearly seven times that of the female rate (1.7 per 100,000).
Country statistics suggest that the age of suicide has grown older in both Armenia and Georgia. However, the WHO list, based on national statistics from different years, does not provide for a full and precise comparison.
The situation in the three countries is still incomparably better than in infamously depressed Russia and, the world’s most suicidal nation, Lithuania.
Iran's movement of an oil rig toward Azerbaijan's territorial waters in the Caspian Sea in 2009 caused Baku to fret about its lack of military capacity to handle such a threat, and to seek advice from U.S. officials on what to do, recently released Wikileaks cables show.
The cables make for some fascinating reading, and seem to provide some real insight into the strategic thinking of both the Azerbaijani and U.S. governments about the threat of conflict in the Caspian. They make it clear that Azerbaijan is afraid of both Iran and Russian threats against its gas and oil infrastructure in the Caspian, and that U.S. embassy officials are eager to prevent any such conflict because of the economic disruption that it would cause.
The crisis, which seems not to have been previously reported, began in November 2009, when Iran moved its new Alborz-Iran rig into waters that were disputed between Azerbaijan and Iran. The U.S. shared some (unspecified) intelligence information to Ali Asadov, senior energy advisor to President Heydar Aliyev to which Asadov responded:
"This situation is challenging, your information shows this. This tension will escalate." Asadov did not outline specific responses the Azerbaijani government planned to undertake. Rather, like many of our GOAJ interlocutors, Asadov appears to be gathering information and weighing Azerbaijani options, in light of superior Iranian naval strength."
Asadov's assessment of the situation is worth quoting at length:
“You're jealous because we are pretty, athletic and rich,” has essentially become Baku's way to smack back at the BBC after the broadcaster reported that Azerbaijan was alleged to have handed over $9 million to buy gold medals for its boxers at London's 2012 Olympics.
But Azerbaijan need not worry about securing medals, he continued. In Ahmedov's telling, the World Championships alone could get Azerbaijani boxers a ticket to the 2012 Olympics.“All of this obviously causes envy,” he concluded.
It may be doubtful whether such an argument could ever stand up in court, but, with investigation plans still pending, Azerbaijan is clearly making its move to punch the allegations into a knockout before the upcoming Olympic games.
In a story more reminiscent of "The Set-Up" than "Million Dollar Baby," the BBC, citing anonymous insiders, has reported that oil-rich Azerbaijan may be relying on more than just its boxers’ muscles to pack a punch at the 2012 Olympics in London. Azerbaijan, the insiders' story goes, allegedly oiled the palm of a boxing organizer with $9 million to secure two gold medals for Azerbaijani boxers at the games. An angry Azerbaijan has countered that the allegations are a pack of lies, the work of unnamed enemies and provocateurs.
The Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), the group in the eye of the furor, first claimed that it received an innocuous “investment” from a private Swiss investor, but later admitted that the cash came from Azerbaijan. The group says the transaction had nothing to do with fixing medals and claims that the money came from a private Azerbaijani investor, not the Azerbaijani government.
But the line between private and government realms often can be blurry in corruption-plagued Azerbaijan. The fact that Azerbaijan’s Minister of Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov, of all people, acted as a mediator between AIBA and the mystery investor only reinforces the point.
The International Olympic Committee is considering launching a probe into the allegations.
After the Armenian government in Nagorno Karabakh said they shot down an unmanned Azerbaijani drone last week, Baku quickly denied that it was theirs, but didn't provide any additional information. But then the state news agency APA came out with an explanation that, to be charitable, we can call "elaborate." Approvingly citing a Turkish tabloid report, APA suggests that the drone may have in fact been Israeli:
The anonymous sources close to Turkish diplomacy claim that the pilotless jet belongs to Israel.
The newspaper says that according to the diplomatic office, the pilotless jet belongs to the Israeli air forces: “The jet ascended from the military base located in Armenia or occupied Karabakh to make the reconnaissance flight related to Iran. Thus, the occupied lands of Azerbaijan are used not for the drug transit and as a terror base but turned into a military base for the secret operations and military reconnaissance”. The source also said that Israel currently holds reconnaissance operations by means of pilotless jets over Middle Eastern countries.
If Armenia really were allowing Israeli UAVs to spy on Iran from its territory, why would they be based in the disputed territory of Karabakh, rather than closer to the Iranian border in Armenia proper? And why would Armenia -- which has good relations with Iran -- allow such a thing in the first place? As this fascinating Wikileaked cable describes, it's in fact Azerbaijan that has a close relationship with Israel -- based in part on their similar perception of the threat from Iran:
Wreckage of what Armenian officials in Nagorno Karabakh say is an Azerbaijani unmanned drone
Armenian forces in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh have shot down an Azerbaijani unmanned drone aircraft, they say. Azerbaijani officials thus far have been silent on the issue, but the Armenians have produced photos and video of the wreckage.
Vazgenashen, previously known as Gulably, is about ten kilometers from the Line of Contact (LoC) between the two armies. Armenian officials believe the aircraft was on a reconnaissance mission.
Karabakh military officials said there was a spike in Azerbaijani UAV activity in recent days most of it along the LoC. But an Azerbaijani intrusion at such depth can be considered a significant escalation.
The aircraft went down on September 12 at 7:30 AM local time near Vazgenashen in Nagorno Karabakh's Martuni district "as a result of special measures undertaken by units of air defense and radio-electronic warfare of the Karabakh Defense Army," the army's press office reported.
Having a Latin American friend is apparently the latest thing for the separatist territories of the Caucasus. Just after Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega was playing host to a de facto ambassador from breakaway South Ossetia, which Nicaragua thinks is a country, conflicting news reports hit that Uruguay may recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh, the cause of over two decades of hostility between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Granted, it may depend on whose news service you read. To hear Armenian news sites tell the tale, it almost sounds as if Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro, who supposedly made the declaration at a September 9 seminar in Montevideo on bilateral ties with Armenia, has spent many sleepless nights tormented by questions of faraway Karabakh's status.
An angry Azerbaijan, which wants Karabakh back at any cost, isn't buying it. Baku claims that it has been assured that Montevideo respects Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Still, Azerbaijan's Argentina embassy is checking up on the story.
The Spanish news agency EFE, meanwhile, has posted a version that suggests something less than a full assertion of Karabakh's independence, but enough to raise Azerbaijani eyebrows.
For your Tamada's part, during a recent trip to Latin America he had a hard time explaining what the conflicts in the Caucasus are all about, so was almost surprised to hear that anyone in Uruguay has heard of Nagorno Karabakh, much less feels strongly on the issue.
Azerbaijan's defense minister told U.S. officials that the country was interested in "active cooperation with NATO up to full membership" but couldn't say so publicly, according to a diplomatic cable recently released by Wikileaks. The cable recounts a 2007 meeting between Defense Minister Safar Abiyev and a U.S. delegation from the Pentagon and State Department headed by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Peter Rodman:
Abiyev said that Azerbaijan's cooperation with NATO had a goal in mind. He said that this goal "could not be announced, for certain reasons" at present, but that Azerbaijan sought "active cooperation with NATO up to full membership". He said that the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the only inhibitor of Azerbaijan moving even more quickly with NATO: "It is time for more serious, more active steps by the US in Minsk Group. Our cooperation with the US and NATO would be more open and more decisive in this case."
There is ample reason for suspicion here. It's not clear what the "certain reasons" for Baku's reticence were, perhaps the fear of a bad Iranian or Russian reaction, an issue that's frequently cited in the cables from Baku. There is reason to doubt the sincerity of that fear (see below). But even if you take the Azerbaijanis at their word, if you can't even announce publicly that you want to join NATO, the obstacles are so daunting as to make any such wish meaningless.
With Azerbaijan's confirmation of its purchase of a new air defense system from Russia, the S-300, by displaying it at its Armed Forces Day parade in Baku a few weeks ago, it "instantly becomes the most capable SAM [surface-to-air missile] system in the region," writes air defense analyst Sean O'Connor in the latest edition of the IMINT & Analysis newsletter.
The most intriguing part of the sale is that Azerbaijan's foe, Armenia, is a strong military ally of Russia; Russia stations troops at a big base in Gyumri, Armenia, and supplies heavily discounted weapons to the Armenian forces (and by extension, the Armenians who control the breakaway Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno Karabakh). All that, no doubt, was part of the reason that Russia denied that the sale had taken place, only to be proven wrong in a flashy parade in central Baku:
Regardless of Russia’s motivations for keeping the sale out of the public eye, Rosoboronexport’s public denial of the contract represents an interesting occurrence. On one hand, Rosoboronexport’s implications may have been completely accurate if a complete contract did not exist at the time of announcement. Finalization of the contract and subsequent non-announcement to temper Armenian concerns represents a logical course of action in that regard. On the other hand, however, the following statement represents a factual description of the Azeri Favorit situation: the press reported a sale, Rosoboronexport denied a sale, and Rosoboronexport then delivered Favorit components to Azerbaijan.
This incident will serve to cast doubt upon any future denials of Russian military sales to foreign states, leaving observers to ask the question: “what is really going on?”