Turkey’s campaign against schools reportedly linked to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen got a mega-boost late last week when the Georgian government opted to suspend the license of Batumi’s Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, a private institution earlier denounced by a Turkish diplomat for supposedly “serving terrorist groups” loyal to Gülen.
Georgia’s decision to cancel the school’s operating license came just days after 270 suspects went on trial in Turkey for alleged involvement in a failed coup attempt last July that Ankara blames on the US-based Gülen, now being tried in absentia. Washington does not recognize the 75-year-old Islamic teacher as a terrorist.
Despite its strategic ties with Turkey, Georgia, unlike other Eurasian countries, previously had made no move to close institutions considered part of Gülen’s international network of schools.
The grounds for its decision to do so now are less than crystal clear. The official decision, apparently taken on February 3, may not be published until next week.
The spokesperson for the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement, the body overseeing school licenses, said only that a monitoring group had found “serious violations” of regulations, including for enrollment procedures, Interpressnews reported.
A real-estate development company in the South Caucasus state of Georgia, a close US ally, has announced plans to proceed with a long-stalled Trump-Tower project; a claim that, if realized, could raise further sticky questions about the dividing line between business and government under a Trump administration.
Plans for a Trump Tower in the popular Black-Sea casino mecca of Batumi, a town of about 130,000 people, have existed since 2010. The Trump name was expected to appear on both a 47-storey Batumi skyscraper complex and, eventually, a residence in the capital, Tbilisi.
Now, just over a week after Trump's election as US president, the Batumi skyscraper-to-be appears back on the table.
In a November 16 interview with the Georgian news agency Interpressnews, a senior executive at the Silk Road Group, the Trump Organization's original partner in the deal, stated that the company plans to proceed with the project.
“We have six years of stable relations with the Trump Organization. Together we are looking into the situation,” said Giorgi Marr, who oversees the Group's real-estate operations.
The nature of this partnership is unclear. In 2011, Trump's special counsel, Michael Cohen, told EurasiaNet.org that the two hold a licensing agreement, but neither the Silk Road Group nor he would elaborate about a closer association.
At first glance, Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shia Muslim state, seems an unlikely destination for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. But Pope Francis’ 10-hour visit to Baku on October 2 was not so much about religion as it was about PR payback.
As part of a wide-ranging clampdown in the aftermath of the failed July coup, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration has urged countries in Eurasia to shut down schools associated with the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. But outside of Azerbaijan, the call does not seem to be swaying Eurasian governments.
“Nothing. I don’t know anything,” Temur Batirashvili told a Rustavi2 correspondent who visited al-Shishani’s native village, Birkani, in the Pankisi Gorge, about a 45-minute drive outside of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. “I just came out of the house to see if perhaps someone knows something. . . This information will be a lie.”
Batirashvili added that he had not heard from his son, born Tarkhan Batirashvili, “in a long time.”
His neighbors, a primary source of information in Georgia, also know nothing, he added in a separate interview with PalitraTV on March 9. Compatriots of slain ISIS militants from the Caucasus reportedly often are the ones to relay news of their deaths to family members back home.
“God grant that he’s alive,” Batirashvili mumbled, looking down at the ground.
Omar al-Shishani's death has been reported multiple times, but never confirmed.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has announced a campaign to change Georgia’s constitution to specify that weddings are strictly between men and women only.
In a parliamentary election year in a socially conservative, marriage-centric country, the idea, perhaps, comes as no surprise.
In a March 7 briefing, Kvirikashvili stated that, while “discrimination in any form is unacceptable,” the country’s ruling Georgian Dream coalition has decided that “the defense of such an important value as marriage should be guaranteed at the level of the country’s constitution.”
MP Zviad Dzidziguri, chairperson of the coalition’s Conservative Party, got down more to brass tacks. “Those people and forces, who state that we will go over in this direction [toward same-sex marriage], that someone will force us to do something, will have every single foundation stripped out from under them.”
On March 8, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani also signed on to the initiative, telling Imedi TV news that the format for marriages in her ministry’s Houses of Justice “should be strengthened.”
A date for parliamentary hearings on the proposed constitutional change has not yet been announced. With a majority of parliament’s 150 seats, the Georgian Dream, though, in theory should be able to secure the reform without a hitch.
No widespread movement exists in Georgia in support of same-sex marriage. Popular concerns expressed in 2014 that tighter ties with the European Union would mean the country would have to allow such unions have faded into the background amidst other controversies.
Gone is the fear of betrayal, and bilateral love, once again, is in the air. Georgia, the strategic crossroads for energy alternatives to Russia, finally announced on March 4 its pick for a supplier of extra gas, and the choice is longtime partner, Azerbaijan. The decision appears to knock both Iran and Russia’s state-run Gazprom out of the running, but still leaves the door open to collaboration between all four countries in other energy spheres.
“We’re glad that the talks ended with success and that we’ve made it to a decision that will deepen our strategic partnership [with Azerbaijan] even more, about which not a single doubt ever existed,” a contented Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili declared at a meeting in Tbilisi with Rovnag Abdualayev, president of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR).
Abdullayev, in turn, underlined that SOCAR “will continue its support for Georgia’s government;” in particular, by shelling out “various forms of investment” into the country.
The total amount of this “investment” — conceivably, a deal sweetener — is not known, but Georgia did manage to squeeze Azerbaijan’s commercial gas prices down a notch, from $318 to approximately $278-$283 per 1,000 cubic meters. It will receive an additional 500 million cubic meters of gas per year, an amount which Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze now claims “satisfies the market” demand.
Georgia’s roving reformer, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, could soon be on the road again to advise a government about fighting corruption. This time, in Moldova.
At a May-7 press-conference, Moldovan Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici announced that he had invited Saakashvili and his team of consultants from Kyiv, where the former Georgian leader heads up Ukraine’s council of international advisors, to come to the Moldovan capital, Chișinău, in two weeks’ time to talk about ways for Moldova to get a grip on its own corruption woes.
Wrapped up in a money-laundering scandal that cost the country an estimated eighth of a percent of its GDP, the Moldovan government has reason to want to stamp out corruption. If only for its own interests. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Chișinău on May 3 to lambast the government for its handling of the scandal, and popular outrage appears to be growing.
Saakashvili, who’s had plenty of experience with both scandals and street-protests, shows every sign of making the trip to talk anti-corruption.
Like a PR exec with a new client, Saakashvili on May 6, after meeting with Gaburici in Kyiv, was full of praise for the 38-year-old prime minister; calling the onetime telecommunications executive, a relative newcomer to politics, “a hope for the entire region . . .”
Confronted with the most daunting security challenge since the end of the Cold War, North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders are preparing to gather in the United Kingdom for a September 4-5 summit. Officials in Georgia – which, like Ukraine at present, has direct experience with Russian aggression -- want NATO to show greater resolve in confronting the Kremlin’s creeping expansionism.
Much has changed for Central Asia and the South Caucasus since 1980, when Moscow hosted the summer Olympic Games. In this Q&A, EurasiaNet.org takes a look at what the Sochi Winter Olympics mean for the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus.