Safarov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary for the 2004 beheading of Armenian army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan at a NATO training program in Budapest, was extradited to and freed in Azerbaijan last month, causing shock and anger in Armenia.
Photos depicting Yerevan city buses bearing posters announcing an “Open Season for Safarov Hunting” are making the rounds online. The posters reportedly appear in various places throughout the city.
Some Armenian commentators say that the poster campaign is just a way for many citizens to vent their anger about the pardon, but, given the relentless propaganda campaigns on both sides, there can always be someone who opts to take the calls to exterminate the enemy literally. Safarov is walking proof of that.
After watching scores of people wearing red-and-white UNM shirts stream into the Tbilisi Sports Palace, one swing voter predicted the party's certain victory -- even after making a similar prediction for billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition when it gathered a huge throng of supporters in downtown Tbilisi this May.
And he is not the only Georgian voter for whom campaign talk is reduced to background noise and the visual impressions matter the most.
Along with chewing over the convention for news items, local wonks are also busy comparing how the count of red-and-white shirts compares with that of blue shirts for the Georgian Dream.
Depending where their loyalties lie, commentators speak of the UNM forcing public servants to show up at their events (the convention was headlined by ten UNM gatherings across Georgia) or of Ivanishvili allegedly bribing voters to attend his own rallies.
To paraphrase a line from Rudyard Kipling, Iran is no place for spies. In particular, for Azerbaijani poets accused of being spies. After spending about four months in an Iranian prison and causing more tension in the less-than-harmonious ties between the two Shi'a Muslim neighbors, a pair of Azerbaijani poets finally marched home yesterday.
Azerbaijani television carried footage of friends and relatives embracing Shakhriyar Hajizade and Farrid Huseyn at the Azerbaijani-Iranian border. The two were paroled before a court in Tabriz was scheduled to land a verdict in their case on September 10.
The Iranian side said that the poets have “Islamic mercy” to thank for their release, though the poets themselves said they were indebted to the Azerbaijani government.
The release came as an apparent peace-offering to Baku and was timed with Iranian Vice-President for Cultural Affairs Hasan Mousavi's visit to Azerbaijan. The enemies may plot all they want, but “friendly and fraternal relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have always been strong and will be so in the future,” Mousavi said in Baku.
But, no doubt, Tehran is looking to Azerbaijan to release alleged Iranian spies/terrorists of its own to make this sonnet to friendship and brotherhood complete.
In this tough-spoken part of the world, “deep concern” is widely seen as a Western diplomatic term for “This was bad, but we are not going to do anything about it.” And subsequent tweets expressing NATO's appreciation of Azerbaijan's role in the Afghanistan campaign and of Baku's partnership with the Alliance would particularly not correct that impression.
Many Armenians believe that the Alliance bears some responsibility for the 2004 axe murder since it happened at a NATO seminar in Budapest. Rasmussen does not.
Arguably, at a time like this, whatever he said on his Armenia-Azerbaijan tour, the general secretary would be left having to balance on an extremely high wire. But the question is to what extent his presence gave both sides pause amidst their rush of rage or simply directed their anger at another target -- the international community itself.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili may think that he’s got the upper hand in his political fight with arch-nemesis Bidzina Ivanishvili, but the billionaire suddenly has pulled out a surprise weapon -- American TV legend Larry King.
Apparently, despite having little or no known knowledge of Georgia, King is keeping a close eye on developments in the South Caucasus country and is ready to help the young station cope with the challenges it claims it faces from the Georgian government.
“I am proud to become a member of the TV9 advisory board,” King was quoted as saying in the station's statement.
King's press agent could not be reached to confirm the announcement.
By looping in King (if, in fact, he has), Ivanishvili must be hoping to lend both credibility and protection to his fiercely anti-government channel. Cable and satellite television carrier Global TV, partly owned by Ivanishvili’s brother, Alexander, recently saw hundreds of its satellite dishes expropriated by the state on voter-bribery charges.
The Georgian government and election officials might well be inclined to heave a small sigh of relief. A combined 60 percent of 2,038 Georgian respondents in a poll for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), to be released on September 7, predict a passably or "totally" clean vote in Georgia's October 1 parliamentary elections. By comparison, a combined 21 percent believe that there will be some form of funny business, in whole or in part.
But is Georgia a democracy to begin with? The poll implied that there is no easy answer to that question among many Georgians. Just over 40 percent of the respondents think they live in a democracy, while another 40 percent are convinced they do not. The remaining 20 percent included a tiny group of glazed-eyed enthusiasts who believe no further improvement is necessary and misanthropes who say that Georgia is not a democracy and never will be, either.
Arguably, Georgia is better off than repressive neighbors like Russia and Azerbaijan, but that does not make it Sweden. Nearly 10 years after the Rose Revolution, independently corroborated complaints persist about harassment of opposition parties and suppression of media liberties.
Critics charge that, for all its democratic reforms, Georgia is still not at a stage where it's imaginable that the ruling party would submit to losing in a fair election or where the opposition would be graceful in defeat.
Some time ago, that mix of traits prompted several academics, analysts and commentators with an interest in Georgia to brainstorm about the terms that accurately represent the country's current political system.
The winner? "Supra democracy" -- a reference to the traditional Georgian feast, or supra, emceed by a chosen toast-master-in-chief, or "tamada."
Armenia may be a bitter enemy and all for Azerbaijan, but the reaction to this murder, an act worthy of the Hostel horror film series, shows just how deeply seeded the raging propaganda against Armenia (and, in turn, Armenia's angry denunciations of Azerbaijan) has become in the minds of many. The gruesome crimes committed by Armenians against Azerbaijanis during the Nagorno-Karabakh war are cited as a justification of sorts for both Safarov’s acts and his release.
The deadly hostage-taking crisis near Georgia’s border with Russia has been announced as largely over, but the battle between Georgian forces and the unwanted visitors from the North Caucasus may have left Tbilisi with another enemy within the Russian Federation.
It's not always easy to figure out who’s fighting whom in the Caucasus and for what reasons; especially when official reports are inconclusive and leave ample room for speculation.
It is still unclear what drew a purported group of Islamist militants to cross into Georgia from the Russian republic of Daghestan and take several picnickers hostage. The ensuing clash claimed three Georgian military lives and left 11 “armed” and “bearded” attackers dead.
Blaming each other for terrorist activities in the Caucasus may be par for the course for Tbilisi and Moscow, but this time they seem to be up against a common enemy. Tbilisi has thus far refrained from pointing the finger of blame at anyone in particular, but one group of Islamist rebels has threatened retaliation.
“You will acquire another enemy, who will exact a ruthless revenge,” wrote a Daghestani chapter of the Caucasus Emirate, a militant group that seeks to establish Islamic rule throughout the North Caucasus.
Accusing Tbilisi of a provocation with its report of hostage-taking, the group claimed their mujahideen brethren had no intention to attack anyone in Georgia, but “if they wanted to, they could do it easily, Insha’Allah.”
There is clearly a serious armed crisis near Georgia's border with the Russian republic of Daghestan, but it is not fully clear what exactly the crisis is all about. Georgian officials speak cautiously of a hostage-taking situation; 14 are reported dead. Hearsay and conspiracy theories fill in the gaps.
All morning, Georgian TV and online media rolled footage of military trucks carrying troops, an emergency government meeting chaired by Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili (and featuring Defense Minister Dimitri Shashkin, Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia and Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili), and shots of scared residents of Lapankuri, the village home of some of the hostages. Security was tightened around military hospitals and officials kept talking about an ongoing pursuit of an unspecified armed group that purportedly had crossed into Georgia from Daghestan.
In short, it all went from a teaser to a thriller, when just enough action is shown not to reveal the plot.
Later in the afternoon, Georgian police posted videos showing two men from villages in the area who said they were taken hostage by about 15 “heavily armed” and “bearded” men; a description that, within the region, suggests a connection to fighters from Russia’s North Caucasus. Later, at about 4pm, the interior ministry said that three members of Georgia's special forces and 11 attackers had died in the standoff. Most of the Georgian hostages have been released, while another six hostage-takers have been surrounded by Georgian troops, the ministry said.
Cantankerous neighbors Iran and Azerbaijan are at a stage when nitpicking is a gratifying exercise and even a song blasting in one neighbor’s house can get the other nettled. Particularly when sung in the language of an enemy.
And so, an online video featuring Middle East pop icon Googoosh performing an Azeri song in Armenian did not escape the watchful eyes of Azerbaijan’s state copyright agency.
The agency could not locate the domicile of Googoosh (not to be confused with GooGoosha, Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s daughter and Central Asia’s Madonna), who left Iran after a ban on female singers. So, instead, the agency alerted YouTube and other video-sharing websites about what it charged was an egregious breach of copyright, Azerbaijani news agency APA reported.
“[I]f you sing a song in another language, you should credit the nation and the author, to which the song belongs,” explained Azerbaijani copyright officials.
Critic of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad though Googoosh may be, an Azeri song sung in Armenian is never music to Azerbaijani ears; especially if performed by an Iranian with Azeri roots.
The Azerbaijanis have long been vexed by Iran’s friendship with their enemy, Armenia, and Azerbaijani and Iranian state-controlled media both have an eye peeled for any misstep that can be associated with the other side -- however remotely. Now, looks like Googoosh's song has provided an unintentional musical score for the spat.