Not being invited to a big occasion usually causes bad blood, but, in Turkey and Armenia’s case, it was actually mutual invitations that started the trouble. After trading invites to anniversaries of two major historic events, the two countries’ leaders are waging a war of letters larded with testy remarks and history lessons.
Armenia on February 2 described as a “petty trick” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s invitation to President Serzh Sargsyan to attend Turkey’s April 23-24 centennial commemoration of the Battle of Gallipoli, a critical World-War-I campaign in which Ottoman Turkey repulsed an Allied invasion. The invitation is “amoral” and runs counter to all norms of protocol, declared Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian.
Sargsyan earlier had invited Erdoğan to come to Yerevan on the same date to attend Armenia’s commemoration of Ottoman Turkey’s 1915-16 slaughter of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians; deaths it condemns as genocide.
As Yerevan no doubt knew, the chances were less than remote that the increasingly sultanesque Erdoğan would shuttle on over to see Turkey’s Ottoman forbearers condemned for genocide.
His response was to ask Sargsyan to attend the Gallipoli memorial.
The Turkish and Brazilian soap operas and scandal-sheet talk shows that deluge Georgian TV might need to move aside. To help guide Georgia’s national narrative in the “correct” direction, the all-powerful Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is making a new, “real-life” political drama series and also will host a political talk show.
The TV saga’s proposed title, 9 + 1 Years, has already drawn jocular comparisons to "9 & 1/2 Weeks," the erotic 1980s Hollywood drama that was a smash hit in the ex-USSR. But in fact, it refers mostly to the 2004-2013 rule of ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, still ex-Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s arch-nemesis . (The film may also focus on the Georgian Dream's first year in power, from 2012-2013; hence, the +1.)
The Ivanishvili-Saakashvili battle is certainly worth a dramatic interpretation, but 9 + 1 Years is expected to be a one-sided take on just how hellish Saakashvili’s nine years in power supposedly were. “Nine Years” has become a mantra that the ruling, Ivanishvili-created Georgian Dream Coalition repeats to outshout just about any kind of attack on its governance record, be it failure to fix the roads or the lethargic economy. To many observers, it also reflects the government’s failure to develop and articulate any other vision for Georgia’s future; a problem that is noted both inside and outside Georgia.
A Russian soldier who allegedly massacred an Armenian family is expected to stand trial in Armenia, not Russia. Armenian General Prosecutor Gevorg Kostanian on January 15 made this clear to outraged citizens, who were worried that Armenia would defer justice to its Russian big brother.
The January 12 slaughter of six people in the northwestern town of Gyumri, the site of Russia’s 102nd army base, could not have come at a worse time for Armenia. Just ten days previously, its controversial membership in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union had become official. The sign-on took place amidst heavy criticism of Yerevan’s economic and security dependence on Russia.
The Gyumri murder now has put Armenia’s policies toward Russia further to the test. Angry Gyumri residents have demanded the handover of the alleged culprit, Private Valery Permyakov, and accused the authorities of mollycoddling Moscow.
Russia’s ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Volynkin, appears aware of the risks of such sentiments. In January 15 comments to the state-financed Russian news outlet Sputnik (picked up by Armenian news outlets), he expressed condolences for the tragedy, but emphasized that “this problem must not be politicized."
"Crime has no nationality, especially in this case," he emphasized.
Armenia’s small Heritage Party, the most outspoken of Armenian political party against economic integration with Russia, so far has called only for a transparent investigation into the crime.
Keeping up with the regional fad of being annexed by Russia, the separatist territory issued terms of reference for how it would like to be absorbed.
The draft document offers to surrender to Russia such attributes of de-facto statehood as the army, police and courts. Not to mention, the "protection and patrolling of national borders."
Customs checkpoints (not generally accepted for South Ossetia internationally) would be eliminated between the region and the Russian Federation and any restrictions on citizens moving across the de-facto border would be abolished, the draft continues.
In other words, no need to send little green men. There is a catch, though -- South Ossetia, an impoverished region of some 50,000 residents, wants Russia to pretty much sustain it financially.
The region, which was recognized by Moscow in 2008 as an independent country, purportedly sees this takeover as a way of reuniting with its Ossetian kin in neighboring North Ossetia, part of the Russian Federation.
The notion has been around for awhile, but the annexation of Crimea and proclamations of independence by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, breathed new life into South Ossetia’s plans.
The detention of the head of a non-governmental organization promoting transparent government in Georgia has raised suspicions over the authorities' motivation.
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information Director Giorgi Kldiashvili was detained on December 12 while carrying a dismantled firearm in Tbilisi. His license did not allow taking the gun out of his house, but he admitted to taking the weapon to a repair shop, according to an IDFI statement.
The group, though, maintains that the nature of the offense and Kldiashvili’s reputation did not warrant the arrest that followed.
After being stopped for carrying the gun, Kldiashvili himself showed up for questioning by police, who arrested him on the grounds that he supposedly could try to avoid prosecution. Two days later, a Tbilisi court found that there were no grounds for remanding Kldiashvili and he was released straight from the courtroom.
It has accused both the interior ministry and prosecutor's office of trying to intimidate Kldiashvili. The organization already is suing the interior ministry for allegedly failing to meet a request to release public information,
A senior parliamentarian from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, Tina Khidasheli, however, has spoken out against the steps taken by police.
Georgia has just had a telenovela moment when a vengeful ex comes out of the woodwork. A certain Inga Pavlova, a Russian citizen who claims to be the former wife of Georgia’s perceived shadow-ruler, billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, has emerged from the shadows to accuse Ivanishvili of bigamy and financial funny business.
In a video posted this weekend on YouTube, the little known Pavlova announced that she intends to sue Ivanishvili, who continues to tower over Georgian politics, for supposedly using her name without her knowledge to set up companies and for divorcing her without compensation.
But Pavlova did not just air her personal grievances. She also questioned Ivanishvili's political record and praised his arch-foe, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is wanted in Georgia on several criminal charges and continues to shake his fist at Ivanishvili from self-imposed exile.
Armenia ranks third after Israel and Singapore as the world’s most militarized country relative to population and economy-size, according to a report released this week by a German-government-financed think-tank, the Bonn International Center for Conversion.
The Center’s Global Militarisation Index 2014 claims that the small Caucasus country of just under three million is the European continent’s most militarized nation. It measures militarization as the “weight of [a] military apparatus” “in relation to its society as a whole” — a standard that puts Armenia, given its small population, relatively weak economy and strong security concerns, at a potential statistical disadvantage.
Locked in a bitter land dispute with neighbor Azerbaijan over breakaway Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia spent $247 million on arms purchases in 2013. Its next-door arch-nemesis, oil-and-gas power Azerbaijan, has far outspent Armenia, forking out $3.4 billion on defense last year. But because of its larger economy (nearly eight times the size of Armenia’s) and more than threefold larger population, Azerbaijan landed in tenth place.
In terms of the volume and sophistication of its military gear, Azerbaijan may also be far in the lead, but Armenia has 17.9 soldiers and paramilitaries per 1,000 inhabitants, while Azerbaijan has 8.9, the report found.
Russia, with an economy and population that dwarf both Armenia and Azerbaijan, finished in fifth place, after Syria.
The study did not apparently take into account the effect of military alliances with other countries. Russia, which sells arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, has its only base in the South Caucasus in the northern Armenian town of Gyumri.
Hopes for a fair trial for Khadija Ismayilova, the investigative reporter recently imprisoned in Azerbaijan, have been further dashed by the surprise-disbarment of one of her lawyers.
The Azerbaijan Bar Association ruled on December 10 that attorney Khalid Bagirov allegedly had breached professional ethics when he questioned the fairness of a court decision in the case against another of his clients, opposition-leader Ilgar Mammadov, jailed in 2013 for supposedly inciting a riot.
Ismayilova, who worked for RFE/RL and, also, in the past, for EurasiaNet.org, is still represented by Elton Guliyev.
Bagirov, who has been disbarred before, sees the decision as an attempt by the government to silence him. “I accept the decision of the bar association as a prize for the work I’ve done,” he told RFE/RL.
Georgia is busy pondering the legal options to discourage its citizens from joining the jihad in Syria, which allegedly has attracted dozens of recruits from the country’s remote Pankisi Gorge, a predominantly Muslim area.
“It is going to be a preventive mechanism to make sure our citizens know that if they participate in illegal foreign military formations…the state will take measures against them,” said Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security Chairperson Irakli Sesiashvili. Rustavi2 reported. The nature of the “measures” remains unknown, but they could entail tougher administrative and criminal penalties.
The actual impact of such a law is open to interpretation, however.
Addressing “endemic poverty and radical (usually foreign) influencers” could prove a more effective way of tackling the issue of Pankisi residents heading to Syria, one analyst familiar with Georgia, Michael H. Cecire of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, commented to RFE/RL.
The number of Islamic-war recruits from Pankisi (and, reportedly, from Muslim communities in the Black-Sea region of Achara) reportedly remains low, but it has resulted in embarrassment for Georgia’s plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Prison is increasingly the place to find the most prominent of Azerbaijan’s journalists, activists and freethinkers. The last public glimpse of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova came on December 5, when a police-car carried her off to prison as she waved to friends and supporters, who ran alongside chanting “Khadija!”
Her apartment has since been searched, her Facebook page already deactivated (not long before her sentence became public) and she remains in pre-trial detention in Kyurdakhany prison, outside the capital, Baku, for the next two months.
Ismayilova, an RFE/RL reporter who also has worked for EurasiaNet.org, stands accused of allegedly pushing a former colleague to attempt to commit suicide. The charge follows a series of exposes by Ismayilova into corruption among members of the presidential family and other senior officials.
The arrest has sparked a fusillade of international accusations against Azerbaijan again trying to silence critical media voices. Rallies to protest Ismayilova's detention already have been planned for this week outside of Azerbaijan's embassies in Washington and Tbilisi.
Baku, as usual, has brushed off the criticism as “baseless and biased,” and insists that vague certain circles seek to sully Azerbaijan’s good name. “Azerbaijan has never prosecuted any of its citizens as well as any mass media representative over freedom of speech, and they never suffered from pressure by any official authority,” claimed President Ilham Aliyev’s spokesperson, Azer Gasimov, the pro-government APA reported on Monday.