Two prominent critics of President Ilham Aliyev's government were arrested in Azerbaijan on February 4 on charges of orchestrating the unusually daring anti-regime protests that took place in the town of Ismayilli late last month.
Coming after a run of arrests of protesters in Ismayilli and Baku, the detentions suggest that the government's unease about impromptu demonstrations in a presidential election year is not lessening. (Particularly with a Davos retreat in Baku this April, to boot.)
Prosecutors claim that Tofig Yagublu, deputy chairperson of the opposition Musavat Party, and Ilgar Mammadov*, chairperson of the opposition group REAL and a former political analyst, are to blame for instigating the demonstrations, which followed January 23 riots after a car accident that allegedly involved the nephew of the Ismayilli region's governor, Nizami Alakbarov. Yagublu and Mammadov reportedly traveled to Ismayilli to encourage protesters only after the demonstration itself, RFE/RL reports. Other sources say that poverty and the regional elite's high-handed behaviorhttp://www.eurasianet.org/node/66454 "> were the real cause of the unrest.
If proven guilty, Yagublu and Mammadov will face up to three years in jail.
*Ilgar Mammadov is an ex-board member of the former Open Society
Assistance Foundation-Azerbaijan, which was part of the network of Open
Society Foundations. EurasiaNet.org is run under the auspices of the
Open Society Foundation's Central Eurasia Project, a separate part of
A bottle of wine could become Georgia’s peace ambassador to Russia, as key talks are underway in Moscow on lifting a ban on Georgia’s alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and on removing the post-2008-war chill between the two neighbors.
Georgian wine is likely to return to Russian tables by the end of the spring, Georgian wine officials and winemakers said on February 4, after meeting in Moscow with Russia’s executive butler, Gennady Onishchenko.
Moscow has made it very clear that the 2006 ban was motivated by politics, rather than the supposed quality concerns. Now, ahead of the meeting with the Georgian wine delegation, Onishchenko, the food safety chief, said that politics is the “only barrier” to lifting the embargo.
Lifting the wine ban could serve as an aperitif for resolution of other issues between Tbilisi and Moscow, and has implications for the wider region. As another ice-breaker, Georgia’s new government said it might restore a railway link through breakaway Abkhazia to Russia, a proposal that led to eager nods from neighboring Armenia, Moscow’s main business and defense partner in the region.
But the recent overtures to Moscow have not made all and sundry happy in Georgia. While farmers and companies stand to benefit from lifting the ban, there is a tidal pull against seeking closer ties with Moscow from a large part of the Georgian intelligentsia.
The World Economic Forum, the meet-and-greet extraordinaire held each year in the Swiss town of Davos, will hold a retreat in Baku, Azerbaijan this April.
Azerbaijani officials and pro-government media are already blowing the trumpets to announce that the skyscraper-studded Azerbaijani capital will, once again, host a shoulder-rubbing of the rich and the powerful. The World Economic Forum has confirmed the plans to EurasiaNet.org, but has not specified further details.
And, with a presidential election down the road, Azerbaijani officials are not inclined to be modest. The decision to hold the Davos event in Azerbaijan is a testimony to the country’s growing influence on the international arena, said Ali Ahmedov, executive-secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party.
“This decision also proves that the international community highly evaluates the economic reforms held in Azerbaijan under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev,” Ahmedov was quoted by News.az as saying.
Armenia and Georgia, neighbors that compete over just about anything, from cuisine to culture, now seem to be going head to head over press freedom. Key media-freedom watchdogs seem to diverge about which of the two countries should take the lead in the South Caucasus.
For years, Georgia has carried the torch for media freedom in the region, a place that is hardly a bulwark of independent or high-quality media to begin with. But, according to the latest press freedom charts by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders, Armenia has taken over the baton.
The country was placed 77th in a ranking of 179 countries, 33 notches above Georgia, and way ahead of neighbors Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran.
Reporters without Borders wrote that both Armenia and Georgia “enjoy broad media pluralism and a low level of state censorship, but they still face important challenges concerning media independence and the working environment of journalists" who are "often treated as easy prey by a variety of pressure groups."
If the weather and Azerbaijan cooperate, we're repeatedly told, passenger planes will soon take off from the separatist airstrip of Nagorno-Karabakh. Any passengers, though, will probably be uneasily shifting in their seats with every shake or rattle, trying to figure out whether their plane has encountered turbulence or is dodging Azerbaijani missiles.
If it’s any reassurance for those prospective passengers, a top Russian general thinks that Azerbaijan is just kidding about its threats to knock down the planned flights from the breakaway territory. “It is either an unsuccessful articulation of thoughts or an unfortunate joke,” asserted Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia's response to NATO, while on a trip to Yerevan. “I don’t take this information seriously."
Committed to reclaiming Karabakh and the adjoining occupied territories, and returning tens of thousands of IDPs, Baku threatened to gun down any planes from the newly renovated airport outside the Karabakhi capital Stepanakert (known to Azerbaijanis as Khankendi), and said it has the full right to do so. Armenia threatened to respond in kind, and the Caucasus again got filled with the threat of war.
Cue Russia. Armenia is part of the CSTO, which vowed to protect, honor and cherish its members in good times and bad.
But the Azerbaijanis told Bordyuzha that they can match words with intentions, and again accused Moscow of siding with Armenia in the conflict over breakaway Karabakh. “Azerbaijan is not joking,” said Azerbaijani defense ministry spokesperson Eldar Sabiroglu, 1news.az reported.
As Georgia and Russia prepare to drown the memories of their 2008 war in wine and water, Georgia's legendary mineral-water company Borjomi, the nation's carbonated pride and joy, has been sold to a Russian firm.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group, a Kremlin-friendly investment group, has purchased a controlling stake in the production of the salty-tasting Borjomi, Georgian and Russian news outlets reported on January 27. The family of the late Georgian oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, who owned the stake, confirmed the deal, estimated at $300 million, but noted that they will retain a role in the company's management.
The controversial sale -- some Georgians view it as part of a sell-out to the enemy -- comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's attempts to find a way to Russian hearts through Russian stomachs. Next week, Moscow will host key talks on canceling the prohibition on Georgian drinks, which has put the Russians on a Georgian-free diet since 2006. At the time, Gennady Onishchenko, Russia’s top food-taster, declared that beverages from NATO-aspiring, US-friendly Georgia were inimical to Russian health.
“Arrested. In a bus with great people,” tweeted dissident Azerbaijani blogger Emin Milli, after riot police chased, beat and hustled protesters away from downtown Baku on January 26.
The Baku authorities have spared no effort to pound, quite literally, into residents’ heads that the center of the Azerbaijani capital is not the place to protest; rather, it is a stage for the government's various promotional campaigns, be it mega-pop concerts or international thought-exchanges. . . past, present or future. Leave the protests, please, to the outskirts.
With such high aims as Davos (and the European Olympics) in mind, the Azerbaijani government has very little patience these days for protesters. Police troops crushed the Ismayili uprising, which had been touched off by the reportedly thuggish behavior of the regional governor's son; in Baku, police chased and herded supporters of the Ismayili rioters away from the downtown area, and showered media with similar attention. Among the arrestees were the usual suspects: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Khadija Ismayilova (who also has written for EurasiaNet.org) and activist Emin Milli.
Episode 2: The thermal baths in the Georgian capital Tbilisi have fascinated travelers for centuries, and the city is said to owe its name and its existence to them. French and Russian novelists in the 19th century wrote odes to them. In ancient times, Persian conquerors thought they could help restore their virility.
With a satellite launch coming up, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev wants you to get it straight: Azerbaijan is not an ex-Soviet country; it is a cosmic country.
Following the launch, slotted for February 7, Azerbaijan will officially become “a space country,” Aliyev declared.
Azerbaijan, like some of its, well, ex-Soviet peers, is sick and tired of being put in the post-Soviet context as if it is the nation’s sole achievement. After all, the country has come a long way. Did it not feed many barrels of oil and many cubic meters of natural gas to Europe, fabulously redecorate its capital, Baku, and host the Eurovision Song Contest, for crying out loud? Will it not also host the first all-European Olympics?
Still, international media, foreign diplomats and scholars just can't kick the post-Soviet refrain.
“When sometimes in the meetings with foreign partners they say, ‘post-Soviet countries,' I go, ‘[W]ait. Azerbaijan is not a post-Soviet country. Perhaps some are post-Soviet countries, but we are not,’” News.az reported Aliyev as saying.
The entire world will stand corrected then, the thinking goes, when the region’s first independent satellite soon goes orbiting around the planet (including over Azerbaijan's much-hated neighbor, the non-cosmic country of Armenia), as airborne testimony of Azerbaijan’s progress away from the post-Soviet era.
Russia’s criminal world has been bereaved of its top gangster, 75-year-old Tbilisi-born Aslan Usoyan, known to friends and enemies alike as Grandpa Hassan. First among equals in the Soviet-born and ex-Soviet-wide system of criminals, Grandpa Hassan died a soldier’s death, shot by a sniper bullet in central Moscow, on January 16.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported symbolically that the killer fired from the roof of the apartment of the late Soviet poet Sergei Mikhalkov, who penned the lyrics of the Soviet Union's anthem.
A career criminal, Usoyan was born to a Yezidi Kurdish family in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, once the main exporter of mafia bosses. In his teen years, he began his ascent through the Soviet mafia hierarchy known as the thieves-in-law.
His authority soon outgrew Georgia, but Grandpa Hassan kept on climbing the career ladder.
As perhaps no other institution did in Soviet times, thieves-in-law embraced the spirit of multiculturalism with Georgians, Russians, Armenians and others all participating, coexisting and fighting one another.
That code held true for Grandpa Hassan well into old age. Russian media reported that in 2008 he clashed with the competing clan of Tarieli Oniani (also Georgian) at a mafia summit, where plans for appropriating the funds for Sochi's 2014 Winter Olympics were supposedly discussed.
Proud of his ethnic roots, Grandpa Hassan was also known for affirmative action policies to promote the Kurdish minority through the criminal ranks.
He is survived by many fellow mafia bosses in Russia and outside its borders. His criminal remains may be buried near the Moscow grave of another assassinated criminal mafia boss, Yaponchik ("Little Japanese man").