Granted, the get-together in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, precariously wedged between the three neighbors and the Azerbaijani-Turkish bête noire, Armenia, indeed marked a change of tone between Baku and Tehran.
Repeating an earlier line, Azerbaijan said that its territory can never be used as a launch pad for a strike against Iran. “Our brothers live there,” explained senior Azerbaijani presidential administration official Ali Hasanov, referring to the millions of ethnic Azeris in Iran. Post-meeting, Baku also made clear that if someone needs to worry about Azerbaijan’s new Israeli guns – a purchase that enraged Tehran – that should be Armenia (more details at The Bug Pit).
The Armenian performance in the world’s most anti-Armenian city had promised to be the biggest event at Eurovision -- and not for musical reasons. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at hammers and tongs with each other ever since the 1994 cease-fire that ended their fighting over the right of the predominantly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno Karabakh to independence from Azerbaijan.
But, amidst an arms buildup, frontline killings, and a dead-end for international talks on Karabakh, the mood in Armenia has not exactly been conducive to a sequined sing-off on enemy territory.
Earlier on, many famous Armenian singers demanded that Armenian Public Television, which oversees Eurovision matters in Armenia, withdraw from the show. The protesting singers said that the Armenians should not perform in a country where “hatred of Armenians is state policy.”
Pop music, powerful a force as it is, may have been unlikely to heal the deep scars left by the 23-year-long Karabakh conflict, but, now, we'll never know if Armenians and Azerbaijanis could have managed to put aside their differences for at least the short space of a syncopated beat.
The resemblance, far-fetched as it may sound, was also detected inside Armenia itself, where, as in many other small countries, there is sometimes an eagerness to trace various things around the world back to Armenia. One Armenian blogger, no doubt with thoughts of former Armenian-populated territory that's now part of Turkey in mind, even called the new lira design a Freudian slip on the part of the Turks.
The voice of reason came from the designer of the Armenian dram, Karen Kamendarian, who told Mediamax he'd already discussed the similarity with some concerned Turks on Facebook. The design of the Turkish lira symbol is clearly based on the Latin letters "t" for "Turkish" and "l" for "lira," he asserted, and its two intersecting lines are also sported by the Mongolian tugrik and the euro as well as the dram.
But amidst the jingoistic shouting on either side, don't expect anybody necessarily to listen.
So much for the Russian Spring: “skewed” campaigning, an alleged drop of Botox and a reported bit of voting magic, and Vladimir Putin is back as Kremlin boss. Putin owes much of his victory to the Caucasus, and, already, the congratulations are coming in from territories and countries in the Russian-owned, Russian-occupied or otherwise Russian-preoccupied region.
South of the Caucasus ridge, separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both safely tucked inside a wall of Russian arms, reported 90 percent support for Putin among registered Russian voters. The separatist chiefs of these territories, both existentially dependent on Moscow, did not opt for an interpretive dance, but did cast their votes for Putin and encouraged their electorates to follow suit.
Old Caucasus hands often say that Armenia and Azerbaijan have more in common than they might care to admit. Long united in hatred for each other, the two foes now have a fresh bond to share -- they've both got reason to be thankful to France, albeit for different reasons.
The Armenian government did express regret over France discarding the law, but shied away from making any big, official statements with the horns blaring. “I don’t think it is correct to interfere with the process of decision-making of the French Constitutional Council,” Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told Austria’s Der Standard newspaper. He and other officials in Yerevan put the development down to the alleged work of Turkish and Azerbaijani lobbyists.
If you're on a hunting trip in Georgia and happen to kill the last animal of its kind in the country, no need to worry. Just make sure to pay for the license and the fee for each kill, and you can go wild massacring any unfortunate animal you bump into, endangered though it may be.
Desperate to attract tourists, Georgia has decided to allow the hunting of animals listed on the country’s Red List of protected species. Some critics think the controversial decision is another manifestation of the Georgian government’s obsession with deregulation and money-making.
When environmentalists look at the tur, for instance, they say they see a beautiful mountain goat antelope found (decreasingly) only in the west of the Caucasus, but economic development ministry officials, they claim, see thousands of lari they can charge for its killing.
Georgia’s environment minister has tried to convince journalists that the rare animals can be killed for their own good, and that the new rules will introduce order into the hunting sector and somehow help reduce poaching.
Many Facebook users block other users for posting nasty comments on their wall, but few have blocked an entire country. Yet this is what happened yesterday when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev apparently decided he'd had it with angry posts from Georgia.
The onslaught against the Russian president’s Facebook page took place on the February 23 Homeland Defender’s Day, a Russian public holiday that commemorates military service. To mark the day, Georgians (and not only) in a loosely coordinated campaign bombarded Medvedev’s page with requests to withdraw Russian troops from separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories kept under heavy Russian military guard since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
The steady flow of comments ran the gamut from demands, to requests (for an IDP's return to Abkhazia, for instance) to coarse statements. “It was essentially an occupy-Medvedev’s-Facebook-page campaign to demand the de-occupation of Georgia,” one user commented to EurasiaNet.org.
At first, the comments kept disappearing almost instantly, and instead greetings from well-wishers started to pop up. “I wish you good health, Dmitry Anatoliyevich,” one kind user wrote, but her wishes got drowned in an avalanche of comments from Georgia.
Apparently unable to keep up with the stream, the Kremlin's Facebook men simply disabled the page for users from Georgia.
“They blocked users with Georgian IPs for a little bit,” said Giorgi Jakhaia, a Georgian blogger displaced from Abkhazia, and one of the organizers of the campaign. After briefly reopening, "the page got blocked again" when a fresh barrage of comments began, said Jakhaia, known by his nom de blog, Cyxymu.
Democracy pays, sometimes literally. According to Armenian news reports,
the European Union is dangling a hefty check before Armenia to motivate the financially struggling country to hold a clean parliamentary election in May.
The aid money, set aside by the EU for the 16 members of its European Neighbourhood Policy program, is not for Armenia alone. The funds will be distributed on a “more for more” basis; in other words, the more democracy, the more money.
“[T]hat means the partner countries will receive more money, more assistance from the EU, based on the progress in democratic reforms,” explained Peter Stano, the European Commission spokesman for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy. “In [the] case of Armenia[,] this formula [more for more] means that one of the commitments to democratic values will be shown in the conduct of the elections,” Stano told EurasiaNet.org.
But Armenia will have to do its democracy homework before it can find out the size of its possible share. “When it comes to individual amounts for individual countries[,] nothing has been decided yet,” Stano said.
Azerbaijan claims it has again caught some Iranian-sponsored terrorists, but is proving tight-lipped about the details.
On February 21, the country’s state-run AzTV reported that a terrorist cell allegedly operated by Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had been busted.
Stashing guns and explosives, the group allegedly planned attacks on “foreign nationals.” The report did not specify the nationality of the foreigners, letting the outside world put two and two together.
Speaking to EurasiaNet.org, a spokesperson for Azerbaijan's Ministry of National Security refused either to confirm or to deny the station's report.
Strangely, pro-government and state-run news sites have proven similarly skittish about delving into the AzTV report; no news about the arrests could be found on any of these websites on the morning of February 22.
Call it a milestone in the ongoing battle for the Pacific. Georgia and Tuvalu, separated by 45,000 kilometers of land and sea, are not on diplomatic terms anymore.
Last February, when Tbilisi and Funafuti established ties, it seemed they were in it for keeps. At first, the two got along really well. Georgia gave the cash-strapped island $12,000 worth of medicine. Tuvalu backed a pro-Tbilisi UN resolution calling for return of displaced ethnic Georgians to their homes in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
To hear Tbilisi tell it, the relationship, all of a year-long, was both dynamic and mutually respectful, until along came Russia, and seduced tiny Tuvalu away.
The country reportedly recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia last year, and the Georgians think the island government got an offer from Moscow they could not refuse. Russia is accused of a campaign to bribe small, South Pacific nations into recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- two regions whose names never before really resonated in the South Pacific -- in a bid to legitimize the stationing of thousands of Russian troops on the two territories.
Deciding that the relationship, based on the notion of the "inviolability of borders,” cannot work anymore, President Mikheil Saakashvili signed a decree on February 16 to call it a day.
Elsewhere in the South Pacific, Nauru shares Tuvalu's take on the two breakaways, and Vanuatu is on the fence. Neither country has diplomatic ties with Georgia.