Confronted with the most daunting security challenge since the end of the Cold War, NATO 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.
The storyline might almost fit one of the Armenian epic poems in which Sedrakian is a self-described expert. Hayrikian, a Soviet-era dissident, was shot and wounded on a Yerevan street on January 31, a few weeks before the February 18 presidential election. After considerable vacillation by Hayrikian, the election was not delayed, but speculation over the shooting simmered on.
Sedrakian, who, like Hayrikian, was never considered a prime contender for presidential office, was arrested in March for allegedly arranging the shooting. He maintains his innocence and, according to his lawyer, plans to appeal the ruling against him to the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights, a body which many South Caucasus residents tend to look on as a sort of US-style Supreme Court.
He charges that prosecutors never identified his motive and that the two men who allegedly attacked Hayrikian later withdrew their confessions, RFE/RL reported.
The duo, Khachatur Poghosian, the alleged gunman, and Samvel Harutiunian, received 14 and 12-year prison sentences, respectively.
Sedrakian, an occultist who predicted his own arrest, earlier had conceded that both men had worked for him as house painters. Reasons for his admitting such a detail if he had commissioned them to kill Hayrikian have not been made clear. He initially lay blame for the shooting on the Freemasons.
Georgia's election to pick a new president to replace Mikheil Saakashvili is still more than a month away, but, already, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition bills their candidate in promo materials as "President Giorgi Margvelashvili."
That confidence -- or arrogance, depending on your point of view -- appears, however, to stem less from any new policy proposals than from the fact that Margvelashvili has the blessing of the politician who currently rules Georgia's political roost, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The question is how strongly that trust will run on October 27, election day. And what will be its substitute afterwards, when, as Ivanishvili tells us, he'll be leaving office.
While Ivanishvili still ranks as the country's most popular politician (according to a July survey for the National Democratic Institute), his polling numbers -- something the prime minister views skeptically -- have been dropping steadily. Meanwhile, in casual conversations, grumbling about the lack of jobs and uncertainty over a cocksure Russia appears to have picked up pace.
Autumn is a relatively busy time in Georgia -- the farmers are harvesting grapes, the kids are heading back to school, and the Russians are building more fences.
On September 17, Georgian journalists came within a gnat's nose of a trip to a South Ossetian prison when they arrived in a Georgian village, Ditsi, to film Russian soldiers fencing off access to a family cemetery.
Ditsi neighbors the separatist region of South Ossetia, an area babysat by Russian troops in contravention of the cease-fire agreement ending the 2008 Russia-Georgia war over the territory.
Overall since the war, in an alleged attempt to enhance security , Russian troops have erected 27 kilometers of fence through 15 Georgian villages close to South Ossetia.
Cleaning days are rarely happy times. Even less so when you've got to fight over who cleans where and with what.
For years, Armenians and Greeks have been battling over who has the right to polish a step or dust a lamp in one of the world's oldest churches -- Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, a 1,687-year-old structure built to commemorate the supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Windows, walls, the roof -- you name it, there's been conflict. In December 2011, the scuffles required police intervention when Greek and Armenian priests furiously battled each other with brooms and blows over a "new" approach to cleaning. (The Franciscans, for their part, get to give "the general cleaning" a miss.)
But, finally, hopes are surfacing that 2013 might prove the year of a ceasefire.
It's big, it's rich and it's near, so why isn't it more here? No, not Russia, the leading lady of many a former South Caucasus drama, but what some describe as a promising actor waiting in the wings -- Turkey.
At a March 2 conference in Tbilisi on "Turkey's South Caucasus Agenda: Roles of State and Non-State Actors," sponsored by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV)*, academics, analysts, NGO-niks and retired diplomats debated the likelihood of Turkey acquiring a more active role in the region as a force for peace.
But don't expect Ankara to rush at the opportunity. As one Georgian participant noted, there are more questions than answers about what Turkey's role in the South Caucasus should be.
Right now, even while "looming large" over the region, "Turkey is indeed pushing below its weight . . . politically," commented Peter Semneby, the European Union's former special representative to the South Caucasus.
The reasons are many -- the foreign-policy distractions of the Middle East and Iran, coupled with the rise of nationalist tendencies in Turkish domestic politics (and accompanying wariness about any further outreach to Armenia), plus Ankara's desire not to irritate Russia, which still sees the South Caucasus as its own backyard.
More mundane explanations also play a role; more than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, expertise in the South Caucasus still runs relatively thin among Turks, noted TESEV Assistant Foreign Policy Programme Officer Aybars Görgülü.
The Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi these days amply illustrates French novelist Marcel Proust's maxim that houses are a “fleeting” receptacle for memories. But local authorities are out to prove Proust wrong by launching a campaign to preserve historic homes and restore the resort city’s faded Tsarist-era grandeur.
It's not often that a gas station ditty sets your feet a-tappin', but the Azerbaijani filling station chain Azpetrol has given it a try with a rap-style beat that promises viewers that "This gasoline will set you on fire."
Posted with an English-language translation on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the song, which features Azerbaijani pop artist Aygun Kazimova and rapper Miri Yusif, is a no-holds-barred paean to petrol. Gasoline, we're told, "will help you when you're in trouble," "make the long roads shorter," and "our cold days warmer."
"Oh, petrol, give power to my engine/My country's growing faster," Kazimova and Yusif sing.
RFE/RL posits that the video may contain some double meanings. But don't look for a connection with climate change in the line about gasoline warming up "our cold days." Nor do "the legions of faceless, helmeted motorcycle riders" particularly evoke Azerbaijan's riot police, who have little difficulty making their presence known on foot.
This is about gasoline -- and national pride. Period. Hydrocarbons put Azerbaijan on the post-Soviet map, turned Baku into a cocky capital city, and, yes, helped make the "cold days" of the chaotic early 1990s into a memory. No Azerbaijani energy company is likely to let you forget it.
*Giorgi Lomsadze is on vacation. Elizabeth Owen is EurasiaNet.org's Caucasus news editor in Tbilisi.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner came to Georgia on July 14 with a simple message: Put the emphasis on civil society to put an end to conflicts with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"That's the way that other populations will come toward you . . . . You should concentrate on that which you do very well . . . human engagement" and civil society, he continued.
Coming from one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders, that message might find an attentive audience. With the start of talks on July 15 with the European Union about an Association Agreement, Tbilisi is eager to stress that Georgia is "a country based on European values."
Local media, however, tend to assess visiting dignitaries based on their stance toward Russia and toward the two breakaways.
While Kouchner acknowledged Russia's failure to uphold the terms of its 2008 cease-fire agreement with Georgia by withdrawing troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he effectively advised Tbilisi that it can kill more flies with honey than it can with vinegar.