In a win likely to inspire some celebratory gunfire this evening, South Ossetia on June 4 narrowly defeated its separatist sibling Abkhazia in a World Cup of soccer, and now will head to the semi-finals. No, not in that World Cup. In a championship in Sweden for breakaway territories, stateless peoples, micro-nations, and the like.
For the most part, the Caucasus breakaways have been doing well in the tournament. The South Ossetian team earlier destroyed Darfur United with a jaw-dropping 19 to 0 score, while the Abkhaz beat Lapland 2 to 1, and held even against Occitania, a fuzzy territorial concept that embraces parts of Italy and France.
Breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh, however, has been less successful, losing to teams from the Isle of Man and the long-dissolved Countea de Nissa.
If Russia is looking for more land to grab, breakaway South Ossetia is interested. “Inspired” by the example of Crimea, South Ossetia’s separatist leader said on June 2 that his tiny Caucasus region can’t wait to glue itself to the Russian Federation.
“This historic moment should come,” said de-facto President Leonid Tibilov, news agencies reported. “We have good chances of becoming part of Russia.”
Following Russia's gobbling of Crimea, many wondered what next separatism-prone territory would end up in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation collection. So far, separatists in Ukraine’s East, Moldova’s Transnistria and Georgia’s South Ossetia have raised their hands.
“Here in South Ossetia we were excited to watch the Russian leadership deciding to reunite Crimea with Russia,” elaborated Tibilov dreamily. “We are happy for the people of Crimea, who finally have a home.”
The separatist leader said that the Crimea experience had created a wisp of hope in South Ossetian hearts that someday the same can happen to them.
The attraction for these individuals lies due north, in the Russian Federation's North Ossetia, seen locally as the region's Siamese twin. The two have been separated since 1922.
But whether or not Moscow has the incentive to try and reunite them remains unclear.
Abkhazia’s hair-trigger uprising ended in less than a week, before it could be properly understood or even noticed by the outside world. The proximity to events in Ukraine, both in terms of geography and the pattern, grabbed attention, but in Abkhazia no geopolitical shifts are expected. Rather, it's a change from within.
De-facto President Aleksander Ankvab resigned on June 1 after putting up only token resistance to a diverse group of opposition groups who have taken over the building from which he governed. A new presidential vote was called for August 24. In the meantime, de-facto Parliamentary Speaker Valery Bganba is serving as the region's leader.
Local observers see this outcome as both the result of Ankvab's own policy-shortcomings and as a failure of the breakaway region's system of governance.
In commentary broadcast by the online Asarkia TV, Inal Khashig, editor-in-chief of the Sokhumi-based Chegemskaya Pravda newspaper, argued that earlier expectations that the 61-year-old Ankvab would serve as Abkhazia's "chief foreman" and fix all of the territory's many problems, ranging from limited jobs to a crumbling public order, had failed to be met. “What was expected of him was to set things in order in various fields,” Khashig said.
Abkhazia’s two self-proclaimed governments took a break from both fighting and negotiations on May 30 as the embattled Black-Sea region entered into the fourth day of de-facto diarchy.
“Now, there is a bit of calm in the negotiation process . . . With this in mind, we are working on the next format of the meetings [with the opposition],” commented de-facto National Security Chief Nugzar Ashuba, the separatist administration’s point-man for talks with opposition groups which have claimed power.
Ankvab has ruled out the use of force against the opposition, but the opposition, for its part, warned on May 30 that responsibility for any violent clashes will lie with Abkhazia's 61-year-old de-facto leader.
A council of opposition parties continues to occupy the de-facto president’s office, which they took over by force on May 27, and claims that it is now the region's governing power. Ankvab has taken shelter at the Russian military base in Gudauta, northwest of the capital, Sokhumi, Ekho Kavkaza reported. His national security chief shuttles back and forth between him and the opposition. Two officials from Moscow, Abkhazia's chaperone, are on hand to facilitate the talks.
Protesters in breakaway Abkhazia on May 29 called for joining Russia's Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus in an apparent bid to win Moscow over to their side as they push for the ouster of the Black-Sea territory's de-facto government.
“We count on Russia’s support in this matter,” declared a joint statement of the opposition groups who have defied the rule of de-facto President Alexander Ankvab, Kavkazsky Uzel news service reported.
Moscow, which has poured both hundreds of troops and millions of rubles into Abkhazia since recognition of its independence from Georgia in 2008, has not responded.
But events may soon veer in another direction. The region’s de-facto prime minister, Leonid Lakerbaia, said on the afternoon of May 29 that the de-facto government may resign as if tensions continue to escalate.
Accusing the region's authorities of misusing Russian aid, mismanaging the economy and authoritarianism, protesters on May 28 stormed the building that houses Ankvab's office in the Abkhaz capital, Sokhumi . Moscow, in the role of concerned big brother, dispatched two troubleshooters, President Vladimir Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov and Deputy National Security Chief Rashid Nurgaliyev, to mediate.
Faced with demands to step down and having lost physical control of his own office, Ankvab says he is going nowhere, and has called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Crowds storming a presidential building, a massive night vigil on the town square, a leader defying calls for resignation -- no, this is not Ukraine. This is Abkhazia and it is happening now.
Calling for an end to corruption and one-upmanship, angry protesters on May 27 in the Abkhaz capital, Sokhumi, stormed into the building that houses the office of de-facto President Alexander Ankvab . The government’s opponents, largely led by Raul Khajimba of the Forum of People’s Unity of Abkhazia, declared a provisional ruling body, and demanded Ankvab's resignation. The territory's so-called “siloviki” (“power”) agencies (the de-facto defense, interior and security ministries) have thrown their support behind Ankvab.
At latest report, the pause-button in the subtropical region's so-called "tangerine" or "eucalyptus revolution" has been pressed. The protesters remain on the presidential building's first and second floors, ITAR-TASS has specified. The de-facto parliament convened around midday to discuss next steps, while Ankvab said in a television interview that he was meeting with members of the de-facto Security Council to decide on a way to restore order without causing further upheavals.
The Azerbaijani government has never been celebrated for its sense of irony. Yet even as it settles into its chair at the Council of Europe's Commission of Ministers and assures the world that it's got that democracy thing down pat, Baku appears to be busy cracking the whip.
Most recently, with a demand for lengthy prison sentences for three imprisoned civil-rights activists -- deemed political prisoners by international human-rights groups -- and by the May 19 arrest of three Jehovah's Witnesses.
But perhaps Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjørn Jagland got the full story. Jagland spent May 20-21 in Baku for the official kickoff of an "action plan" intended to help Azerbaijan meet its CoE obligations and "address some fundamental human rights and rule of law issues," as the document states.
On May 21, prosecutors addressed those issues in their own way -- by requesting prison sentences of between six to nine years for civil-society activists Anar Mammadli, Bashir Suleymanli and Elnur Mammadov, charged, after critical monitoring of the 2013 presidential election, with alleged violation of NGO-registration rules and abuse of their official duties.
Nashville, Tennessee has apparently become another unlikely proxy battleground for a war going on a world away -- between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which both are busy building strategic alliances in the United States.
In an investigative piece, the CBS-affiliate claimed that Towns, a Memphis Democrat, allegedly had accepted $10,000 in campaign donations from seven supposedly Azerbaijan-linked sources. When confronted by the station's chief investigative reporter, Phil Williams, Towns could not coherently explain what motivated him to lobby for Baku-Nashville friendship or who were the alleged campaign contributors.
Williams implied that Representative Towns’ story was a case of Azerbaijan buying lawmakers in Tennessee to promote questionable policies.
The reporter's sole commentator, Barry Barsoumian, identified as an Armenian immigrant and activist, pointed at the suspicious link between the “strange” resolution, which eventually flopped, and the murky donors. The concerned Barsoumian also presented the channel with the Armenian version of the decades-long confrontation between the Caucasus nations over the breakaway territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
Rainbow-colors represent "invisible" LGBT-Georgians at this downtown Tbilisi stairway, near the city's Freedom-Square subway station.
Opting against a public protest, Georgia’s gay community instead staged a “invisible” rally in the capital, Tbilisi, on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Passers-by on May 18 found downtown stairs emblazoned with rainbow colors, while, the day before, dozens of shoes appeared in a nearby park. “This art installation is for the invisible people, for those who are not seen, are not heard, and whose existence is not recognized,” read a poster.
Gay-rights have become a major civil-rights issue in this conservative city after an angry mob last May 17 chased LGBT-rights supporters from the streets. This year, the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church declared May 17 a “family day” and mobilized thousands of believers, many of whom vowed to prevent any repeat demonstration by LGBT activists.
But Georgia’s embattled LGBT community still tried to leave a footprint in Tbilisi through the “invisible” rallies. While a conservative group collected signatures on May 19 against a recently passed anti-discrimination law, just steps away the rainbow-colored stairs maintained their mute presence.
With the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, already on tenterhooks for May 17, the International Day of Homophobia and Transphobia [IDAHO], tensions are rising over a media report that police officers allegedly demanded that one hipster Tbilisi cafe hand over the names and contacts of all its “gay, transgender, and lesbian" clients. The Georgian interior ministry denied the café-management’s allegation as “absurd.”
Violetta Kolbaia, manager of the reputedly gay-friendly Gallery Café, wrote on Facebook on May 14, that the establishment had refused to hand over "any such information," Tabula.ge reported. “They told us not to post this [on Facebook] or they’d break the computer over our heads,” Kolbaia claimed.
In subsequent media comments, she alleged that the policemen had said the contacts were needed to create “a list.” It is not clear why the police would need such a list -- if, indeed, it is being compiled.
Some argue that it was likely intended to use against Tbilisi's LGBT community, while others wonder if it was to know whom to protect from possible attacks on May 17.
Last year, an angry mob led by priests overpowered police protecting a small rally marking IDAHO on Tbilisi's central Freedom Square. Amidst the violence, many were wounded.
Mindful of last year's controversy, the interior ministry roundly denied the café-manager’s report. They claimed that no police officers had been sent to her club, Netgazeti .ge reported. Kolbaia stood by her story, though she does not rule out the possibility that the police officers acted arbitrarily.