The Syrian war is giving a headache to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, with jihadists heading into Syria from Azerbaijan and refugees heading out of Syria into Armenia. Most recently, Azerbaijani news outlets have reported that the leader of an Azerbaijani militant group has been captured by the rebel Al-Nusra Front, which recently took control of the ethnic Armenian town of Kessab, and allegedly sentenced to death.
As often happens, though, details are sparse. The individual in question, Agil Gajiyev, supposedly headed an Azerbaijani Islamist group called Sumgait Jamaat, but some news services say he was embedded with the Syrian rebel group Jund Al-Sham.
Most Azerbaijani Islamist militants travel to Syria to support the rebel forces and it is unclear why Gajiyev was sentenced to death. Facing crackdowns at home, Azerbaijan’s radical Islamists, not believed to be a particularly numerous group, long have heeded the call for jihad in places like Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Armenia appears to be settling down to a time of change -- via both the appointment of a new prime minister and, now, potentially, a new influx of refugees from Syria.
On April 13, President Serzh Sargsyan named 56-year-old Parliamentary Speaker Hovik Abrahamian, as Armenia's new prime minister. He replaces Tigran Sarkisian, who resigned on April 3 for unclear reasons.
Abrahamian, a former cognac-wine-and-brandy businessman-turned-politician, told parliament during his April 14 introduction by Sargsyan that he did not have a "clear vision" yet of the makeup of his cabinet. He has 20 days to decide.
One parliamentarian from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), however, has said that the government's goals will not change, even if the methods for attaining them do. To get a deeper line on Abrahamian, an Ararat-region villager by birth, one Armenian outlet, Epress.am, turned to leaked US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks. The assortment may not raise optimism about chances for reform under an Abrahamian cabinet.
A 2008 cable from US Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch described Abrahamian, a senior RPA official, as representative of "the type of Republican politician that makes up a large chunk of the parliament and of the ruling party establishment: politico-oligarchs who use political power to advance their business interests and vice versa."
They may be 8,000 miles apart, but Uruguay and Armenia have a history together. And, so, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Latin American country is slotted to become the first state apart from Armenia to build a museum dedicated to Ottoman Turkey's World-War-I-era slaughter of ethnic Armenians.
Armenia's tensions with Turkey over the massacre play out in various venues around the world, and national takes on the subject tend to be commensurate with the size and influence of Armenian Diasporas.
Uruguay is home to one of the oldest Armenian communities in South America and many of its members are descendants of victims of the killings. Several Armenian churches, and non-profit groups exist, along with Armenian-language radio stations and a newspaper.
In 1965, Uruguay became the first country – even ahead of Armenia itself, which was under Soviet rule at the time – to recognize the massacre as genocide. It once even mulled recognition of Nagorno Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian disputed territory that most of the world places under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction.
Turkey views the massacre as a casualty of war and resists Armenian’s struggle to secure international recognition of the slaughter as genocide. It has not yet responded to the Uruguayan museum's construction.
The exodus of Syria’s ethnic Armenian community to Armenia was seen, at least in part, as a temporary phenomenon. But it appears that the thousands of Syrian war migrants have come to Armenia to stay, Armenian officials say.
“If . . . last year, some 80-90 percent of Syrian Armenians were saying that they planned on going back to Syria, now they are thinking of making their home here,” Firdus Zakaryan, a representative of the Diaspora ministry told the Panorama news site.
Extending a helping hand to ethnic Armenian communities in trouble is a matter of national honor for the Armenian state, which maintains close ties with the far-flung Armenian Diaspora. Over the past few years, Yerevan has been carrying in and making room for thousands of ethnic Armenians caught in the crossfire between the Syrian government and rebels.
Yerevan says it is happy to have Armenia's Syrian relatives over for as long as they want. But the extended hospitality is a major humanitarian burden. The Armenian government needs to find housing, jobs and schools for the endless stream of arrivals, who have spent generations apart from Armenia, and speak Arabic and/or Western Armenian, not the official Eastern Armenian of the motherland.
But with the country still struggling to cope with massive labor migration -- disputed government data claims 49,660 citizens emigrated for good in 2012, EurasiaNet.org's Marianna Grigoryan has reported -- dealing with an influx of newcomers is a task Armenia is more than willing to take on, however.
To make sure exiles from Syria feel at home in Armenia, the government has commissioned the construction of an entire settlement called New Aleppo.
Located 20 kilometers shy of the capital, Yerevan, the residential project will accommodate some of the thousands of Syrians of Armenian descent, who escaped the war in Syria.
New Aleppo, named in honor of the wartorn northern Syrian city that houses most of Syria's ethnic Armenian population, will sit on 4.8 hectares (some 11 acres) of land in the industrial town of Ashtarak.
Armenia's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs reports that some 600 families have expressed willingness to move into the development's apartments. They will be expected to pay half the cost of the flats; the authorities and charity groups are expected to pick up the rest of the tab.
With some 7,000 Syrian-Armenians now seeking residency in Armenia, the government says that more Syrian quarters will be popping up across the country as well.
The Syrian Diaspora, estimated to be over 100,000-strong, descends from ethnic Armenians who fled World-War-I-era massacres in Ottoman Turkey. Now, a century later, the bloody rebellion in Syria has driven the community back to what is considered their ancestral homeland.
Some commentators say that preserving the Armenian community in Syria should be the main priority for Yerevan. Fears exist that the Diaspora exodus could reduce Armenia’s ability to exert any influence in the Middle East, long seen as an important Diaspora outpost.
The love survey, run by the Gallup Organization, asked respondents in 135 countries if they had experienced love the day before; the most negative responses came from Armenia. Its neighbors, Georgia and Azerbaijan, are not the world’s most amorous places, either.
Georgia is only three countries -- Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan -- ahead of Armenia on the love chart. Azerbaijan sits in the similarly love-starved 126th place.
So, if money's not it, what's the reason for Armenia's lack of love? Could communism have something to do with it?
With the exception of Morocco, the ten most loveless countries all share a Soviet past.
Whatever the case, governments and international development agencies should take note. Looks like it's time to devise national love policies, provide tax privileges for lovers and, even, love grants to encourage grassroots activity.
The return of ethnic Armenians from Syria to their ancestral homeland has born its fruit. RFE/RL has posted a video of a baby boy born in Yerevan late last month to one of the many Syrian-Armenian families who have escaped the fighting in Aleppo for refuge among their ethnic kin. In a symbolic gesture, the baby has been named "Christ" in recognition of Armenia's status as the first country in the world to adopt Christianity.
The baby Christ weighs 3.5 kilos, is 53 centimeters tall and is the first child to be born to a Syrian-Armenian family in Armenia after fleeing Syria.
There may not be three kings in Yerevan to greet and shower the baby with frankincense, gold and myrrh, but there is Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian. She visited the mother and child in the hospital, and promised state assistance should Christ decide to make Armenia his home.
But not all the Syrian-Armenian news is that heart-warming. In the hometown of Christ's parents, Aleppo, four Syrians of Armenian descent were killed and 11 were wounded on September 11 after returning from Yerevan. The rebel Free Syria Army reportedly shot at the group as they were looking for a safe way to head home from the airport, according to Armenpress.am.
France apparently has written a new chapter in its history textbooks, and in its recent history of confrontation with Turkey. The story of Ottoman Turkey's slaughter of ethnic Armenians, which Ankara claims was collateral damage from World War I, has been included in France's high-school-level world history textbooks, Armenian and Turkish media report.
The news comes just as Paris and Ankara were hesitantly trying to make up after a bitter diplomatic row over a law (eventually scrapped by France's Constitutional Court) that criminalized assertions that the massacre was not genocide.
In July, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu traveled to Paris to talk trade and ways of crafting "a new understanding" in Franco-Turkish ties.
In August, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius returned the courtesy with a trip to Turkey to discuss the Syria crisis and to visit a Syrian refugee camp.
Nonetheless, the law's influence lingers on. Before his election this year, President François Hollande told voters (and, in particular, Armenian Diaspora voters) that "a new law" would address assertions that the massacres were not genocide.
Armenia is just not big enough to accommodate all the ethnic Armenian refugees from Syria, say some concerned Armenian observers. Almost 5,200 Syrians, mostly of Armenian descent, have requested Armenian citizenship since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and the influx is touching off concerns in the small, cash-strapped Caucasus country.
Syrians with Caucasian roots continue to flee to their distant ancestral lands across the Caucasus. Even troubled spots like the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and, in Russia's North Caucasus, the regions of Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea, seem safe and welcoming places to be.
But it is Armenia that is facing the biggest Diaspora homecoming. An Aleppo-Yerevan flight keeps bringing in more and more Syrians. Some say they are moving temporarily to weather out the storm at home, while others are ready to call Armenia home.
“My ancestors moved to Syria, escaping the genocide [of Armenians] in Ottoman Turkey. Now we have fled that once peaceful country,” one Syrian migrant told Kavkazsky Uzel news service. He hopes to make it in Armenia with his family or try to move Los Angeles, home to his brother and a large ethnic Armenian community.
Armenian authorities say they are eager to take in refugees, but concerns are growing over their ability to do so. And over the dwindling ethnic Armenian presence in the Middle East. Ethnic Armenians have lived in Syria for centuries and the Armenian government should not let that community disappear, Yerevan State University's Arab studies expert Ayk Kocharian told Kavkazsky Uzel.
In case you were worrying, rest assured that Caucasus celebrity Matthew Bryza, the never-confirmed former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, has, according to Azerbaijani media, "found a new job." Or, as one news outlet from Azerbaijani enemy Armenia, put it: "The Azerbaijanis found a job for Bryza.”
Bryza, a household name for everyone in (or with an interest in) the Caucasus, left Baku in 2011 after the US Senate, with active prodding from Armenian Diaspora lobbyists, failed to uphold his appointment as US ambassador to Azerbaijan.
In opposing Bryza's appointment to Baku, Diaspora lobbyists took strong issue with what they claimed was his bias in Azerbaijan's favor -- a charge he hotly denied. Bryza, as a deputy advisor to the president and secretary of state on Caspian-Basin energy policy and, later, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, played a key role in pushing forward an Azerbaijan-Europe energy corridor that bypasses Russia.
To many anti-Bryza-ites, the Turcas Petrol board post will only appear confirmation that the career diplomat truly was one of Baku's best buddies.