Political forces across party lines, several NGOs and media companies issued a letter that warned organizers that there would be consequences in Vanadzor, too, and that the festival organizers would bear the responsibility.
A previous attempt to screen Azerbaijani films in Armenia also fell through in 2010. The organizers said they will keep trying to promote free thinking and help audiences on both sides of the 24-year-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan see through the veil of propaganda.
Politicians, who, in both countries, would rather leave unchallenged the image of a national enemy, exploded in anger at the “treasonous” event (sponsored, in part, by the British and American embassies), and the organizers found themselves stranded in a Gyumri press club surrounded by raging demonstrators. Claims were made that the films were all about Azerbaijan-centric propaganda on the two countries' 24-year-long conflict over the breakaway territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
In reality, these were short, “human-interest” stories that had little to do with the war. Previous attempts at cinematic exchanges between Azerbaijan and Armenia were foiled amid similar, politically fed outpourings of public anger.
This time, the authorities in Gyumri tried to pull the plug quite literally on the festival (called, ironically, Stop) by shutting off electricity in the entire area. Saying that security could not be guaranteed, city government and police officials pressured the organizers to cancel the event. The festival’s director, peace activist Georgi Vanyan, who has been the previous target of death threats and a campaign of vilification, was beaten during altercations with anti-festival protesters.
Ministry of National Security spokesperson Arif Babayev told EurasiaNet.org over the phone that “the operation against terrorists in Ganja is not over yet.” Babayev did not provide more details, but said that the ministry will issue an official statement in the evening.
Turan news agency reported that an explosion this morning in the residential area of Mahrasa Bagi in Ganja had killed two people. Unnamed local sources in the city told the agency that a suicide bomber with a grenade or explosives-laden belt had committed the act.
The Ministry of National Security’s involvement in the events in Ganja underlines the claim of terrorism, rather than an otherwise-explicable event. If the suicide-bomber version is confirmed, the explosion would rank as the first case of an attack by a suicide-bomber in Azerbaijan.
Local news wires, quoting unnamed sources in law enforcement agencies, report that the MNS was taking action against religious extremists (termed “Wahhabis”), originally from Azerbaijan’s northern Qakh region, who had rented an apartment in Ganja.
During the detention operation, one of the targeted individuals allegedly blew himself up, killing MNS Lieutenant-Colonel Elshad Guliyev in the process. The five people wounded included law-enforcement officers. The victims’ bodies have been flown to Baku by helicopter, the MNS said.
Amid the negotiations between Russia and Azerbaijan over the Gabala radar station, Armenia has stepped in and said they would be willing to host a Russian radar if a deal over Gabala falls through.
The current lease for the radar station expires in December, and Azerbaijan has gradually been raising the price it says it wants to charge Russia under a new agreement. The latest reports had Azerbaijan's price rising from $7 million now to a whopping $300 million. Another set of talks on the issue between the foreign ministers of the two countries took place this week, with no apparent resolution. But Armenia's prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Armenia would be willing to host a replacement radar, and that it could even be a better site for it than Azerbaijan:
“There may even be advantages, because Armenia is a mountainous country. Coverage can be broader,” Sargsyan said.
Meanwhile, the Russian and Azerbaijani public bargaining continued. Ali Hasanov, a top adviser to Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev, tried to emphasize that the negotiations were taking place on Azerbaijan's terms:
"Gabala radar station is our property. We decide on to whom and on what terms to lease it, taking into account the interests of the state. We take into consideration its cost, policy and its impact on relations with neighboring countries" Hasanov said.
And he downplayed the threat of an Armenian counteroffer:
"We do not have anything against that. Of course, why the Armenian outpost cannot be a radar post as well? If Russia needs to build this post in Armenia, we will not have any objections" he said.
Azerbaijani minister of defense Safar Abiyev meets Iranian defense officials this month in Tehran.
Israel has gained access to airfields in Azerbaijan, possibly so that Israeli aircraft could land there after attacking Iran, a new report in Foreign Policy magazine says:
[F]our senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. "The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior administration official told me in early February, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."
Senior U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Israel's military expansion into Azerbaijan complicates U.S. efforts to dampen Israeli-Iranian tensions, according to the sources. Military planners, I was told, must now plan not only for a war scenario that includes the Persian Gulf -- but one that could include the Caucasus.
A few weeks ago, when Azerbaijan's $1.6 billion arms deal with Israel was announced, this blog discounted the idea that Azerbaijan would get involved in a potential Israeli attack on Iran, arguing that the risks for Azerbaijan are too high and the potential gains unclear. The exception would be if Azerbaijan's influence were so discreet as to allow Baku some plausible deniability; then Iran probably wouldn't stand to gain from attacking Azerbaijan. According to the FP report, the most likely use for the Azerbaijan airfields would be so that Israeli aircraft could land there after an attack, obviating the need for mid-air refueling en route to Iran, which Israel isn't particularly experienced with and which would reduce the amount of weapons the planes could take on each sortie:
A nodding donkey in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Province, near Uzbekistan’s Sokh enclave.
Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, is negotiating with authorities in Kyrgyzstan to set up a refinery in the country. While the project may help the Kyrgyz economy, it remains unclear whether it will help wean Bishkek off Russian energy supplies or force Kyrgyzstan simply to swap its dependence on Russian refined fuel for a dependence on Russian crude oil.
A delegation from SOCAR visited Bishkek in early March. According to Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Energy, the group was in Kyrgyzstan to survey locations in Chui Province, and discuss investment, tax, and trade regulations. Negotiations also touched on the country’s shaky electricity supply and its modest oil and gas reserves. The visit follows a January meeting between Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev and SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev in Bishkek.
Under the proposed deal, SOCAR would complete construction by the end of 2013, at a cost of $100 million. The facility would have an annual output of 2 million tons of refined products. At least 40 percent of this would exceed Kyrgyzstan’s domestic demand and be designated for foreign markets. Tajikistan would be an obvious destination, as it, like Kyrgyzstan, is dependent on Russia for refined oil products, but the Azeri-Press Agency (APA) has said that China is also a likely market.
Granted, the get-together in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, precariously wedged between the three neighbors and the Azerbaijani-Turkish bête noire, Armenia, indeed marked a change of tone between Baku and Tehran.
Repeating an earlier line, Azerbaijan said that its territory can never be used as a launch pad for a strike against Iran. “Our brothers live there,” explained senior Azerbaijani presidential administration official Ali Hasanov, referring to the millions of ethnic Azeris in Iran. Post-meeting, Baku also made clear that if someone needs to worry about Azerbaijan’s new Israeli guns – a purchase that enraged Tehran – that should be Armenia (more details at The Bug Pit).
Amid increasing tension between Tehran and Baku, Azerbaijan's defense minister Safar Abiyev visited Iran on Monday and promised that his country would not be used as a platform from which to attack Iran. Press TV reports:
The relations between the two neighbors have been strained after Azerbaijan signed a USD 1.5 billion deal with Israel to purchase drones and anti-aircraft and missile systems.
Last month, Tehran summoned Azeri Ambassador Javanshir Akhundov to protest Baku’s agreement.
However, Azeri officials said that the weapons were being purchased to liberate 20 percent of the country’s occupied territories.
If there other, more important subjects that the two sides discussed, they weren't reported. So was the main purpose of the visit for Azerbaijan to reassure Iran about the Israeli weapons? It seems like Iran must have known better. Indeed, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahedi downplayed the significance of the Israeli weapons, according to News.az:
Azerbaijan-Israel arms deal is not new and this deal was signed some time ago. It has no connection with Iran-Azerbaijan relations. Iran is ready to assist Azerbaijan in the defense field and to organize joint trainings.
But it also would seem a strange time to start discussing joint military trainings and so on, as Iran and Azerbaijan don't have particularly close military relations. There have been other recent high-level discussions between the two countries: Last week, their foreign ministers (plus Turkey's) met in the Azerbaijan exclave of Nakhchivan.
With the Russian government agreeing to finally pay Kyrgyzstan rent for the military facilities that Russia operates there, pressure is increasing on the Kremlin to pay up for the other military bases it operates in the former Soviet Union.
Just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to pay his Kyrgyzstan counterpart Almazbek Atambayev $15 million in back rent for the Kant air base and other facilities, Tajikistan is signaling that it, too, intends to pay hardball. The two countries agreed in principle back in September to extend the lease of the base for Russia's 201st division for another 49 years. But the issue of payment was left until later, and on Tuesday Dushanbe's ambassador to Moscow suggested they would drive a hard bargain, in an interview with RFE/RL:
"[N]o one in the world today intends to give up even a small plot of their land for nothing." The Tajik ambassador said, "our country should keep this in mind, whether there should be payment of some $300 million or compensation through providing military-technical aid," adding "nobody will say thank you to those who give up their land for free to others."
The $300 million figure has been mentioned in Tajikistan but Dostiev conceded that even 10 percent of that amount of money would be acceptable.
Amidst all the publicity this weekend to mark the 20th anniversary of the February 25, 1992 slaughter of ethnic Azeris in the Nagorno-Karabakh village of Khojaly , one interesting bit of fresh information related to those events may easily have been overlooked.
In 1992, Sargsyan was the commander of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh's military forces, and, if anyone got the lowdown on what Armenian fighters did or did not do at Khojaly, he is, arguably, the man.
Some of his comments already have appeared in de Waal's 2003 book on the Karabakh conflict, "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War." But what was left out provides insightful reading -- not only about the details of the war, but also about the psychology of one of its main protagonists.
Asked about the slaughter at Khojaly, Sargsyan does not mince his words: " [W]hen a shell is flying through the air, it doesn't distinguish between a civilian resident and a soldier; it doesn't have eyes. If the civilian population stays there, even though there was a perfect opportunity to leave, that means that they also are taking part in military operations . . . "
Sargsyan concedes that "some form of ethnic cleansing" took place in Karabakh, adding that "It's not possible otherwise."
"But we didn't think up this method. They thought this up," he said in reference to the Azerbaijanis. "when, with the help of their militia, they kicked our people out of the Hadrut and Shusha regions" of Karabakh.