Now that the Roman Catholic Church has smoked out a new pope, everyone is looking for a local angle in the news from the Vatican. Armenia seems to have found one.
The Armenian Apostolic Church may be an introverted, exclusive club, much smaller than the Catholic Church, but, conceivably, backing from the Vatican could help the Armenian cause worldwide. The global, well-organized Armenian Diaspora has pointed out that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the newly crowned Pope Francis, has been a friend of the Armenian community in Argentina. The community hopes that the pontiff will take this friendship to his new home in the Vatican.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Bergoglio often attended liturgies dedicated to the ethnic Armenians massacred in Ottoman Turkey in the early 20th century. As an archbishop, he reportedly called on Turkey to own up to the atrocities against Armenians, which Turkey insists was collateral damage of World War I.
Along with building support for its refusal to recognize breakaway Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, achieving recognition of the 1915 massacre as genocide is an end that Armenia is pushing worldwide.
The Vatican is not immune to lobbying, and many ethnic Armenians, especially those in Argentina, hope that Bergoglio will stick to his alleged position on the massacre.
But Yerevan is not just leaving it to the Diaspora to advocate Armenian causes in the Holy See. Earlier this month, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan appointed his son-in-law Mikael Minasian as the country’s first-ever ambassador to the Vatican.
Exploring the strange, new world of bipartisanship has been a school of hard knocks for Georgia and, so, perhaps it is only fitting that the country's power-share struggles have now entered the classroom.
An agriculture university, of all places, has suddenly become the main battlefield in the tug-of-war between Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and President Mikheil Saakashvili. The government on March 12 stripped the university of its accreditation, sparking a maelstrom of protest and near-national debate.
Ivanishvili’s education officials explained the decision by citing allegedly deficient quality standards at the school, the brainchild and money pit of President Saakashvili’s former economy minister, the rich, rotund libertarian Kakha Bendukidze.
Bendukidze, chair of the university's supervisory board, scoffed at the government’s claims of glitches and described the school's loss of accreditation as the Ivanishvili government's personal vendetta.
“This university has one big, 187-kilo defect, and that’s me,” the economics guru declared. He sent the nitpicking education officials to hell, and called on the students to fight for their right to education.
The students, who have found their studies hanging up in the air just before midterms, did not have to be asked twice. Agriculture University students and sympathizers from other schools took to Tbilisi's streets, while debates rage on TV and online.
Venezuela is among six countries which have recognized the independence of one or both territories from Georgia. And in the Caucasus, the deed of "a good friend" is not easily forgotten.
At a March 8 funeral rally in the South Ossetian capital Tskinvali, officials and public figures took turns to remember the Chavez they knew, the Chavez they loved, and queued to sign a memorial book to be sent to Caracas.
The mourners said they were forever thankful to the Bolivarian revolutionary for standing up to the West and recognizing South Ossetia’s still largely unrecognized independence from Georgia. “Since then, the people and the president of Venezuela have become close friends to us,” elaborated the territory's de-facto president, Leonid Tibilov.
For a musical memorial, South Ossetia’s singing talent Alla Byazrova, of course, performed her serenade to the late Venezuelan leader. “Hugo Chavez, Hugo Chavez, my best friend, my faraway friend!” she sang to a catchy, syncopated beat.
Taking protesters on a road trip has become a favorite crowd-control technique for the Azerbaijani police. After treating the participants in a March 10 rally in Baku to a dose of rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons, the police drove a group of detained demonstrators tens of miles away from the capital city and dumped them in the middle of nowhere.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova, one of those detained for hours by police and then taken for the ride into deepest Gobustan, said that she was able to call her friends, who followed the police bus and picked up the detainees. “I hid my phone and did not give it to the police,” Ismayilova said. (Ismayilova also has worked for EurasiaNet.org.)
Army officials have tried to explain several of the conscripts’ deaths as accidents or suicides. Relatives, gathering in Baku's Fountain Square with photos of the dead soldiers, angrily have rejected such claims, and demand justice.
In its cautious, arduous attempts to make up with Russia, Georgia brought to the negotiation table its key natural resources: wine, mineral water and folk dancing. But the ongoing cultural and business rapprochement, which Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili hopes will usher in a diplomatic reconciliation, is pitting pragmatic Georgians against patriotic Georgians in an increasingly bitter fight.
After nearly seven years of abstinence from Georgian alcohol, Russia on March 6 essentially allowed wine and mineral water from its southern neighbor back on its national dinner table. The decision came after Russia’s federal wine-tasters spent many hours in Georgia, scrupulously sampling the wine to make sure the NATO-aspiring country’s alcohol didn’t taste anti-Russian.
Concurrently, one prominent Georgian cultural act took place in Russia. But the performers face stone-pelting at home for what some call selling-out to the oppressor, as many Georgians are not buying the art-and-business-are-above-politics argument.
A series of Moscow performances by the Erisioni ensemble may be a success in Russia, but is a flop in Georgia. The collective of folk dancers, musicians and singers has become the target of vitriolic attacks online and in the media.
Italian novelist Umberto Eco would have no trouble transforming the turmoil over Armenia's February 18 presidential election into a fantasy thriller complete with secret societies, mystical forces and evil home repairmen.
In a fresh subplot in the ongoing Armenia-elects-a-president drama, one presidential candidate has now been accused of plotting to assassinate another. Meanwhile, a more ordinary stand-off between the two main characters -- the official winner and the runner-up -- continues apace over whether or not the election results were rigged.
On March 5, Vardan Sedrakian, a mythologist, occultist and failed presidential hopeful, was arrested and charged with conspiring to kill candidate Paruyr Hayrikian, who survived a shooting attack two weeks before the election.
Finding the basis for this claim could prove an uphill struggle. But there is one connection to masonry: two of the alleged attackers on Hayrikian reportedly remodeled mythologist Sedrakian’s summer house.
A small crowd of frail, elderly Georgians bearing red banners and wreaths gathered on Tuesday in front of Joseph Stalin’s childhood home in the town of Gori to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet leader’s death.
“Comrades, we have gathered here to remember the great leader,” said Alexandre Lursmanashvili, the chairperson of Gori’s tiny Community Party, as he stood in front of the Stalin museum. With their hair blowing in the wind, elderly men and women swaddled in winter coats listened and applauded solemnly.
“Don’t film just the old people. Film the young as well,” some instructed reporters, pointing at a younger woman with a red flag. After some photo-opp'ing, the crowd walked to a nearby church to attend a memorial service for the city’s most famous son.
A recent study commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has shown that Stalin is still very popular in his native Georgia, though diehard admirers like members of the small Communist Party are few in number. The study, which includes surveys of respondents in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, showed that a startling 45 percent of an unspecified number of Georgian respondents still view the Great Terror's architect positively. Unlike for other ex-Soviet spots, though, in Georgia Stalin is more of a national brand than just a USSR leader and a victor of World War II.
“He made us famous,” commented one elderly woman in Gori to EurasiaNet.org. “He was born here, in our town, he built a great, beautiful country and then he saved the world from Nazi Germany. Did any other Georgian do anything that even comes near to that?”
Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovhannisian, who argues that a rigged February 18 presidential election deprived "the people" of "victory" against incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, has said that he will demand today that the country's Constitutional Court throw out the official election results.
The Court has said that it will consider the appeal in ten days, Aysor.am reported. The March 4 move will open a legal front in Hovhannisian’s battle for the presidency, which, so far, has mostly unfolded in the form of street protests and campaigning. The US-born leader of the tiny opposition Heritage Party ambitiously has described his fight as the “Hello Revolution,” or "Barevolution."
But the chances remain slim that Hovhannisian, a onetime foreign minister, will get a favorable court decision or a critical mass of popular support for greeting his arrival in the presidential residence. His rival Sargsyan has already been welcomed back into the presidents’ club by world leaders such as US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sargsyan also commands influence with Armenia’s state institutions and the Constitutional Court is no exception, local commentators say.
Armenia’s handling of the voting process scarcely passed muster with international observers, who noted “implausibly high” support for the incumbent in several precincts, but the election monitors did not say that the irregularities warranted reconsidering the outcome of the national vote. Local observers have dismissed such findings as wide of the mark.
With all the dramatic flair of a silent movie star, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili sent his security detail home the other day, later saying he needs no bodyguard other than his Dutch-born wife, Sandra Roelofs. He then sat down in his tiny blue electric car and drove himself and the First Lady to the Tbilisi airport for an official trip to Baku.
But after coming back from Azerbaijan, the president found a convoy of security vehicles waiting for him at the airport, as if they were never dismissed. The big black SUVs, dispatched by the government, followed home the little presidential Nissan Leaf, which resolutely ignored them.
President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili have fought over speeches, arrests, constitutional changes and more. So, it should come as no surprise that they are now fighting over whether or not the president will have bodyguards.
Since last year's parliamentary elections, most components of the presidential security service -- like most of Georgia's government agencies -- have been taken over by the prime minister’s office. In turn, the president claims that the prime minister's people have been bringing pressure to bear on his personal bodyguards, so that he was compelled to relinquish the reported 350-person team altogether.
The case of a Georgian man serving life for an alleged 2005 assassination attempt against former US President George W. Bush in Tbilisi will not be reconsidered, despite pleas from the convict’s mother.
“My son is a political prisoner [and] an illegal prisoner,” Anzhela Arutinian told a February 28 press conference. “They have to give me back my boy. I am all alone. I have no one in this world.“
In family-centric Georgia, such an appeal can carry a certain weight, but, apparently, not with the Ministry of Justice, which, according to the TV station Maestro, said there were no grounds to reconsider the case.
Thirty-four-year-old Vladimer (Vova) Arutinian was convicted in 2006 for allegedly throwing a hand grenade into a crowd that had gathered in downtown Tbilisi's Freedom Square to see President Bush during his May 2005 visit to Georgia. The visit almost turned into a national celebration, with Bush calling the country a "beacon of democracy" and dancing on stage.
Georgian officials initially believed that Arutinian’s grenade was a dud, but later said that it simply failed to detonate. Wrapped in a piece of cloth, the grenade allegedly hit one person in the crowd before landing some 30 meters away from Bush, Georgian police said. Police later raided Arutinian’s apartment in a poor Tbilisi suburb. In the ensuing shootout, one policeman died and Arutinian was wounded.