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.
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.