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.
With the holiday season over, the Tamada is back with news from exotic destinations. Nicaragua and South Ossetia are now busy trying to prove that a 12,000-kilometer distance and many other differences need not stand in the way of a perhaps random, but still beautiful friendship.
Separatist South Ossetia's de facto ambassador to Nicaragua and Venezuela, Narim Kozayev, dropped by to see Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on September 6, just over a month after the tiny Caucasus enclave established its embassy to Nicaragua "with a residence" in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Yes, you read that right. Put it down to budget discipline or a desire by Tskhinvali to keep a close tab on things, but, apparently, Kozayev will not have far to travel to take up his mission to Nicaragua.
But if the address of the embassy's residence struck Ortega as odd, he didn't let on. Accepting the de facto ambassador’s credentials, Ortega said that Nicaragua and South Ossetia had clicked right off and found that rare political chemistry that may help two misfits gain acceptance in the international community.
“We are small peoples, but we have a deep sense of identity,” Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news service quoted Ortega as saying. “We are in a battle for self-determination, sovereignty and independence. This battle is our common denominator.”
But the bigger common denominator Ortega chose to omit is Russia, which is believed to have motivated longtime ally Nicaragua (plus Venezuela and Nauru) to recognize South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia.
So far, South Ossetia maintains de facto embassies in Moscow and the fellow post-Soviet breakaway regions of Abkhazia and Transnistria.
Tbilisi’s Hotel Abkhazia may look a far cry from its lush, subtropical namesake. But for the former hotel’s tenants – Georgians displaced from breakaway South Ossetia during the early-1990s separatist war – it was, until their eviction this week, second only to home.
While Georgia’s top officials, with most of Tbilisi’s elite in tow, enjoy the glitzy song and dance shows at Batumi’s booming seaside resorts, a sorry scene has played out back in the capital. Despite emotional pleas, police herded the internally displaced people, including elderly women and children, out from the rundown former hotel on August 15. Some 270 families were ejected as the government made good on a promise to remove IDPs from makeshift collective centers around the city.
The IDPs from “Abkhazia” were offered alternative housing in Rustavi, an erstwhile Soviet industrial town southeast of the capital, or compensation of $10,000 – too little to buy an apartment even in Tbilisi’s suburbs. Many fear they will have trouble integrating again and finding jobs.
The Georgian government has faced criticism from both local and international rights groups for displacing its displaced. This month, Amnesty International issued a scathing report on the forced evictions, “Uprooted Again,” which found Georgia had broken its international human rights obligations.
“Evictions failed to satisfy international standards relating to adequate consultation, notice, access to legal remedies and the offer of adequate alternative accommodation to all those evicted,” said the Amnesty report.
Fed up with threats that Baku will forcibly retake her native Nagorno-Karabakh, a 13-year-old Armenian girl sat down and penned a letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev recently. Aliyev, perhaps moved by the curious sophistication of the child’s missive, found time to respond with both a history lesson and an invitation.
“Why do you want to grab my homeland, which does not belong to you? Your own lands are not enough for you?” writes the girl, who signs off as Adelina Avagimian, a student from Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert (which Azerbaijanis call Khakhendi). Little Adelina argues that Karabakh has always been Armenian. And besides, she’s never seen any Azerbaijanis around.
Aliyev begins with a lengthy history lesson on how Karabakh was actually Azerbaijani land until the Armenians drove all the Azerbaijanis out during the conflict in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I don’t mean to give you boring lectures on the region’s history, but the Armenians started settling en masse around the South Caucasus, including Karabakh, only after these lands became part of the Russian Empire,” writes Aliyev. “I hope that on one of the starry nights that are so beautiful in Karabakh, when you look at the sky and dream of a peaceful future, you will ask your grandpa about this.”
Baku believes that Google’s choice of regional nomenclature is the result of alleged Armenian jiggery-pokery and has tasked the Azerbaijan State Committee on Land and Cartography to get Google to correct its word choice.
The Committee will be firing off an angry latter to Google’s California headquarters soon. Committee Chairman Rafig Huseinli noted that this is not the first time Google has violated Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and that Baku was able to negotiate changes to online listings in the past.
With the advent of online mapping tools and social networking, many of Azerbaijan and Armenia's territorial battles have gone virtual. In the past, Baku also wrangled with Microsoft over similar issues with MSN.com maps.
Azerbaijan this week had a visitor from the past. Enter Ayaz Mütalibov, who ran Azerbaijan when the country violently tore away from the Soviet Union, and during the early years of its confrontation with Armenia over the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh.
Although facing criminal charges in Azerbaijan, Mütalibov, the country's first post-Soviet president and last Soviet boss, was allowed home to Baku from his low-profile 19-year exile in Moscow to attend the funeral of his elder son. Mütalibov is accused of facilitating the brutal 1990 crackdown on a pro-independence rally in Baku, failing to prevent the 1992 massacre of Azerbaijanis by ethnic Armenians in the town of Khojaly and plotting to overthrow the late President Heydar Aliyev.
In a fresh illustration of how a family matter can take precedence over laws or old feuds in the Caucasus, Heydar Aliyev's son, the current President Ilham Aliyev, suspended the prosecution of 73-year-old Mütalibov for the occasion.
“Mister President, following the principles of statesmanship and also [the] national traditions of our people, gave his consent to [the] return of Mütalibov because of the severe illness of his son,” a presidential administration representative was quoted as saying by Kavkazsky Uzel news service. The charges against Mütalibov will remain in force, however.
As part of its ongoing chat with the opposition, the Armenian government on August 8 received an 87-page manifesto, which boils down to a single message for President Serzh Sargsyan: "Serzh jan, please resign and let me have a shot at the presidency. Yours truly, Levon Ter-Petrosian."
Ter-Petrosian, the ex-president and current opposition leader, has tried many avenues in the past to bring that message home. He has led people into the streets to protest and delivered fiery speeches, but his perseverance has been matched by Sargsyan’s stubbornness.
Now it's time to see if prose can succeed where other means of expression have failed.
At first glance, Ter-Petrosian, a philologist reportedly comfortable with dashing off scholarly works in Russian and French, as well as Armenian, might seem more than suited for this manifesto task.
In separate chapters, his Armenian National Congress (ANC) lists the alleged falsification of the 2008 presidential elections, corruption, mistrust of the judiciary system as among the reasons for early presidential and parliamentary elections (otherwise due in 2013 and 2012, respectively).
Levon Zurabian, the Armenian National Congress' chief negotiator, commented that the government's delegation listened "very attentively" to the opposition's complaints, RFE/RL reported. A response is requested by mid-August.
Nonetheless, whatever the ANC's writing skills, it seems fairly unlikely that Sargsyan, after reading its opus, will come out and say: "OK, you got me. Have your early election."
Moscow prosecutors say that Georgia refused to cooperate with the Russian investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Now, who saw that coming?
The investigators' miffed spokesperson, one Vladimir Markin, said that Tbilisi, for some bizarre reason, would not help provide Moscow with proof of Georgia's alleged crimes during the two countries' 2008 war. “Despite repeated requests … the Georgian Ministry of Justice refused to cooperate with Russian law enforcement agencies on this criminal case,” said Markin on August 8, the conflict's third anniversary.
This is after Russian investigators, in Markin's telling, have done all the due diligence. They even found no proof of “any illegal actions on the territory of Georgia or South Ossetia” by the Russian military. Surprise, surprise.
But how closely Moscow's meticulous sleuths examined the wartime situation on the ground in South Ossetia remains unclear. Without assigning specific blame, a European Union-funded international investigation, which blamed Tbilisi for lighting the match that led to full-scale hostilities, concluded that ethnic cleansing of Georgians, rather than South Ossetians, was “practiced both during and after the August 2008 conflict.”
Georgia, for its part, took Russia to the International Court of Justice over Moscow's ethnic- cleansing charges, but the court ruled that the two sides have not exhausted the means among themselves for smoothing things over.
Long story short, everyone violated the law, some more than others, and need to “make good for it,” as the EU-financed report suggests. Somebody tell Markin.
Three years after their war, Russia and Georgia are still fighting over the separatist territory of South Ossetia. Russia’s political supremo, Vladimir Putin, ignited the latest skirmish with a suggestion that South Ossetia may opt to join the Russian Federation.
Quite a macho act here by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. In a televised interview on Russia’s ties with Georgia, released on the eve of the third anniversary of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, he did everything short of blowing smoke off a gun.
Often seen as Moscow's good cop (with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the role of bad cop), Medvedev claimed that the 2008 conflict with Georgia was his war, not Putin’s. He also, per tradition, had some unflattering descriptive adjectives for his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Medvedev described the Georgian president as a “sticky” man, who stalked him at the pair’s last, pre-war meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, when the Russian president just wanted to enjoy a glass of wine. Medvedev said that Saakashvili repeatedly approached him about talks on breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He denied allegations that he had been trying to ignore Saakashvili and claimed he would have been happy to hold those talks.
But then, one fateful day, an American woman came to Tbilisi and Saakashvili had a change of heart. “He stopped writing, stopped calling, stopping getting in touch,” Medvedev reminisced, a tad bitterly. This woman’s visit served perhaps as an unintentional incentive for Georgia to choose a different course of action toward South Ossetia, he continued.