With elections around the corner, incumbent Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s candidacy has gotten a surprise endorsement from the enemy's leader, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.
Aliyev may have spent the better part of his two terms as Azerbaijan's president making public threats toward Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, but his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, still thinks that it is "perhaps best" to see Aliyev win a third term in October.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don't? Maybe so, yet, despite the endless fatal exchanges of sniper fire and threats between the two countries, the Armenian president’s words, uttered at a youth-group meeting, suggest that he does not expect Azerbaijan under Aliyev actually to go to war with Armenia to reclaim Karabakh.
The comment carries even further interest since Sargsyan himself is a native of Karabakh and once served as the separatist territory's chief of military operations against Azerbaijani forces.
But despite more than 20 years of talks with Baku with scant results, Sargsyan appears to believe that the two heads of state together have come a long way toward negotiating a settlement for the conflict.
“The road map to a solution has almost been drafted,” Sargsyan stressed, while conceding that the talks now are not "going actively."
If a deal is reached, and Aliyev "finds in himself the willpower to rise above his mania for Armenia-phobia," the 51-year-old Azerbaijani leader "would be the most acceptable and preferable option for us."
Armenia of late has gotten involved helping Diaspora Armenian communities caught in the crossfire of civil war in Syria. Now, some Armenian citizens want Yerevan to offer the same kind of help to their kin in another regional hot spot, Iraq.
The Yezidis, a Kurdish-speaking people who are Armenia’s largest minority, hope that Yerevan will raise the awareness of the plight of Iraq’s Yezidis around the world. Iraqi Yezidis now face violent attacks for selling alcohol. Iraqi laws only allow non-Muslims to sell alcoholic beverages and the country has witnessed a series of deadly militia attacks on liquor stores run by Christians and Yezidis.
Sasha Sultanian, head of Armenia's Yezidi National Committee, has announced that the group plans to ask the Armenian foreign affairs and Diaspora ministries to promote awareness of the Iraqi Yezidis' situation "in international organizations and [help] prevent the massacres," Armradio reported.
“Our brothers are being killed in Iraq,” Armenpress reported Sultanian as saying on August 14 “The governments of Kurdistan and Iraq aim to destroy the Yezidis living in Iraq and take over their lands."
Several hundred thousand Yezidis are estimated to live around the world; the largest number in Iraq. Their religion is a blend of Zoroastrian, Muslim, Christian and other religious traditions. The central figure in the faith is a peacock angel Malek Taus, who dispenses both blessings and misfortunes as he finds fit.
The South Caucasus country of Georgia has taken the concept of a welfare state to a whole new level by extending government aid to a millionaire. A nationwide inspection of government aid recipients revealed that quite a few of the country’s rich were somehow included in the poverty list and were happily getting some of their tax money back through a subsistence allowance.
The Ministry of Health and Labor's Social Services Agency, responsible for verifying welfare recipients' eligibility, recently reviewed its list of beneficiaries and found that 1,402 people on the list had incomes well above the levels required for government aid. “One businessman’s annual income was over a million lari [$625,000],” agency head Noe Kinkladze told reporters.
There were others, he said, with lower annual incomes, but still close to a million lari.
The agency did not specify how these well-to-do citizens ended up on the list, nor identify them by name.
Rich and successful as these people were, looks like they could still use a little extra cash from the government; perhaps to tip drivers or cleaning ladies. Georgia pays individual welfare recipients between 70 to 150 laris ($42.31-$90.66) per month.
The “poor millionaire” and other affluent beneficiaries were revealed after the agency cross-checked its lists with data from the National Revenue Service, the Georgian equivalent of the IRS. Kinkladze said that the government in 2012 -- under the control of President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement for most of the year -- gave under 1.2 million laris ($730,000) to sustain the rich.
Almost 80 percent of young Armenians surveyed in a recent poll say they’d leave their country if they get the chance, with 36 percent saying they’d leave for good. Their desire, uncovered by the Armenian chapter of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), jives with other recent research, and further stokes long-standing survival fears within Armenia.
“It is clear that the migration process poses risks for our country… by taking away young people, who are full of energy and are in their reproductive age,” said Gagik Hayrapetian, UNFPA’s assistant representative in Armenia, speaking at an August 12 news conference dedicated to International Youth Day.
In 2012, 49,600 Armenian citizens left the country of 2.97 million people for good, according to official data, but many locals speculate that the real number could be still higher. Coupled with one of the world's lower birth rates, high numbers of young people longing to seek greener pastures abroad may not augur well for the future, many Armenians fear.
The poll questioned 1,200 Armenian citizens between the ages of 18 and 30.
Many young Armenians are pessimistic about their education or career options at home, according to the findings of a report by the Armenian UN Association. Their strong desire to study abroad creates fertile soil for an eventually permanent emigration, the report found.
While Armenia's struggling economy is often considered the main cause of migration, the report argues that many other factors come into play, too, including marriage.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin came to Baku on August 13 to negotiate energy matters with oil and gas-rich Azerbaijan, which competes with Moscow as an energy supplier to Europe. Among the selling points that Putin brings to the negotiations table is his unique ability to influence Azerbaijan's upcoming presidential campaign.
Internationally acclaimed screenwriter Rustam Ibraghimbekov, the proposed candidate of the National Council, a coalition of Azerbaijan's main opposition members, remains a Putin-signature away from being allowed to run against longtime President Ilham Aliyev in the October 9 vote. To be eligible to run, though, Ibraghimbekov, a dual Azerbaijani-Russian citizen, first needs Putin to sign off on his request to renounce his Russian citizenship.
And the clock already has started ticking. Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission will be accepting registration documents from proposed presidential candidates from August 20 through September 9.
Last week, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said that the process of de-naturalization may take up to a year. “The procedure of renouncing citizenship is considered completed after the applicant receives a note through a diplomatic or consular office,” Peskov told Azerbaijan's APA news service.
A warship carrying a shipload of grinning, hand-shaking US navy officials sailed into the Georgian port of Poti on August 11 and hosted a round of squabbling by the country’s two rivaling leaders, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and President Mikheil Saakashvili.
As the US commanders raised glasses of wine to peace and security in Georgia, the two top Georgians on board made anything but peace. President and prime minister fired jabs at each other across their well-wishing hosts and if it were not for the presence of US Ambassador Richard Norland, the two might have gone elbowing one other right over the side of the ship.
Much like two rivaling fashion divas, they began with remarks on apparel choices. “What’s that thing you are wearing?” the prime minister asked the president, as the two exchanged a frosty handshake, in reference to a red poppy brooch on Saakashvili's lapel. “Where did you get this?” Ivanishvili continued.
“I can get one for you,” the president responded. “And it is supposed to mean what?” Ivanishvili pressed on. “It’s a symbol of the memory of our fallen soldiers [killed in the 2008 war with Russia],” Saakashvili responded.
It was then that US Ambassador Norland felt it was a good time to interject with a toast to "the success of US-Georgian security cooperation." But the pair just could not let such a high-profile, face-to-face encounter go to waste without some other tiffs, too.
Georgia on August 8 vowed to start direct talks with the representatives of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but it may need first to deal with that uninvited party to the conversation, Russia.
Speaking on the fifth anniversary of Georgia's 2008 war with Russia over the two territories, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili called on Georgians to wipe the slate clean and collectively reach out to the regions, now located behind a line of Russian troops. “We need to get the strength to forgive...but also we have to accept our own mistakes and undo what still can be undone,” Ivanishvili said, Georgian news outlets reported.
“We are ready for a direct dialogue with our Abkhaz and Ossetian brothers,” he went on to say. “I am confident that we will find a common language to work toward a shared future.”
One Georgian government minister specified later that Tbilisi does not intend to accept in any way the regions' Russian-backed claims to independence from Georgia. “This means restoring mutual trust between the peoples and by no means between subjects of international law,” said Alex Petriashvili, the state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, Netgazeti.ge reported.
State Minister for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili told RFE/RL's Georgian service that the new policy would mark a change from the more maximalist, nationalist sentiments that existed prior to the war and an attempt to be more accommodating to the interests of the breakaway regions.
Apparently taking a cue from Armenia's closest ally, Russia, the Armenian police seem to be thinking that it is time to do something to defend traditional Armenian family values from the onslaught of what they see as growing "gay propaganda."
A draft bill, now scrapped, would have required anyone caught promoting "non-traditional sexual relationships," as RFE/RL reported, to pay a fine equivalent in drams to $4,000. The bill took its line of argument -- and, it appears, its inspiration -- from a recent Russian bill that established a similar ban last month.
In a published statement, police, however, confined their perceived "problem" to “preserving the traditional Armenian family, as traditional values represent the pillar of national survival,” the Russian-language Armenia Today news site reported.
Moscow on August 6 issued a friendly reminder to Georgia that Russia’s got nuclear bombs; just something to keep in mind while weighing the costs and benefits of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Amidst a refrain (by now, hackneyed to many Georgians) about how politics and wars can’t get between the pair's centuries-old friendship, Medvedev had one key message -- the Kremlin’s unremitting disappointment over Georgia’s NATO fetish.
“We are against -- putting it mildly -- Georgia’s joining NATO,” Medvedev said, in remarks voiced-over into Georgian by Rustavi2. But don’t get us wrong, he continued. “Any country has the right to choose a preferred political and military alliance to join,” yet the Kremlin just can’t sit and watch a neighboring country, be it Georgia or Ukraine, become part of a strategic alliance that still has Russia in the crosshairs.
“May I remind you that Russia is a very big country with a huge nuclear arsenal and that is something not to be ignored . . .” he added. "Yes, we have a partnership with NATO, but a fact remains a fact."
Rustavi2 anchor Nino Shubladze pointed out that the Baltic countries had joined the Euro-Atlantic military club and it did not seem to lead to any doomsday developments.
Yes, and Moscow is not happy about it, Medvedev pointed out. Nothing good will come of Georgia’s following the Baltic example, he reiterated.
Five years after their 2008 war, Georgia and Russia appear to be busy getting nowhere toward any form of reconciliation. Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said that Moscow will restore diplomatic ties with Georgia if Tbilisi admits to starting the fight. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who launched a charm offensive in Moscow, countered that Tbilisi is doing its darndest to be constructive, but stands firm with its demand that breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia return to Georgian control.
In an August 4 interview with the pro-Kremlin TV broadcaster Russia Today, Medvedev, who was Russia's president in 2008, claimed that military engagement with Georgia was his idea and that he had not been playing second fiddle to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He also claimed that toppling the government in Georgia was never Russia’s goal -- but did not explain how that jives with Putin’s reported intention to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili by his private parts.
Commenting on Georgia’s internationally backed calls for Russia to withdraw its recognition of the sovereignty of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia (and with it, its troops), Medvedev passed the buck to the separatist regions' residents. Political choices “lie with the people who live there,” he underlined.