Amidst all the publicity this weekend to mark the 20th anniversary of the February 25, 1992 slaughter of ethnic Azeris in the Nagorno-Karabakh village of Khojaly , one interesting bit of fresh information related to those events may easily have been overlooked.
In 1992, Sargsyan was the commander of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh's military forces, and, if anyone got the lowdown on what Armenian fighters did or did not do at Khojaly, he is, arguably, the man.
Some of his comments already have appeared in de Waal's 2003 book on the Karabakh conflict, "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War." But what was left out provides insightful reading -- not only about the details of the war, but also about the psychology of one of its main protagonists.
Asked about the slaughter at Khojaly, Sargsyan does not mince his words: " [W]hen a shell is flying through the air, it doesn't distinguish between a civilian resident and a soldier; it doesn't have eyes. If the civilian population stays there, even though there was a perfect opportunity to leave, that means that they also are taking part in military operations . . . "
Sargsyan concedes that "some form of ethnic cleansing" took place in Karabakh, adding that "It's not possible otherwise."
"But we didn't think up this method. They thought this up," he said in reference to the Azerbaijanis. "when, with the help of their militia, they kicked our people out of the Hadrut and Shusha regions" of Karabakh.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev may be returning from Russia with a promise of $15 million in outstanding rent for the Russian base at Kant – “measly,” he’s called it – but at home there’s more shock than celebration. Somehow the new president managed to upset both nationalists and the more liberal minded during his trip.
First, during the unveiling of a statue for Kyrgyz mythic hero Manas in Moscow on February 24, which Atambayev personally helped finance, the president said that Manas, in whatever distant past he inhabited, was “an ethnic Russian” because he and the ancestors of the Kyrgyz both originated in Siberia.
"Manas never divided people by ethnicity and this was his strong point. The monument to Manas is a symbol of the unity of our nations,” the KyrTAG news agency quoted him as saying. “We have common history and, certainly, a common future.”
That’s nice, but at home Manas is a rallying point for ethnic Kyrgyz identity, and has been boosted in the post-Soviet period to help coalesce the nation. “Manas mania” has gripped the country since ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010, with a costly new statue of Manas erected in Bishkek’s central square and some calling for the capital itself to be renamed Manas. In this climate, suggesting the hero of the eponymous epic was not an ethnic Kyrgyz sounds heretical.
Azerbaijan has agreed to buy $1.6 billion in weapons from Israel, a massive deal that is likely Azerbaijan's largest single arms purchase ever. The deal will include drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems, Israeli officials have told news agencies. The deal would be almost equal to Azerbaijan's stated 2012 defense budget of $1.7 billion (though will certainly be spread out over many years).
The timing of the deal is misleading: regardless of the ongoing ratcheting up of tension between Israel and Iran, and increasing attention to Israel's intelligence activities in Azerbaijan, these weapons are destined to be used not against Iran, but against Armenia, which controls the breakaway Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno Karabakh. Though it's tempting to think otherwise. The AP reports:
Israeli defense officials Sunday confirmed $1.6 billion in deals to sell drones as well as anti-aircraft and missile-defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing sophisticated Israeli technology to the doorstep of archenemy Iran.
The sales by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries come at a delicate time. Israel has been laboring hard to form diplomatic alliances in a region that seems to be growing increasingly hostile to the Jewish state.
Its most pressing concern is Iran's nuclear program, and Israeli leaders have hinted broadly they would be prepared to attack Iranian nuclear facilities if they see no other way to keep Iran from building bombs...
As Iran's nuclear showdown with the West deepens, the Islamic Republic sees the Azeri frontier as a weak point, even though both countries are mostly Shiite Muslim.
The presidents of Russia and Kyrgyzstan, Dmitry Medvedev and Almazbek Atambayev, meet in Moscow.
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has something to bring home from his visit to Moscow: $15 million in past due rents for the various military facilities that Russia operates in Central Asia. From RIA Novosti:
Both Russia and the United State have important military bases in the country. However, Washington has paid its lease "without any delays," Kyrgyz media said.
Russia has not paid "the measly rent" for its Kant air base for four years, Atambayev told Ekho Moskvy radio.
He also complained that Russia did not meet its obligations. "They should be training our pilots. Well, they're not," he said.
Russia also is looking at forgiving some of Kyrgyzstan's $500 million debt to Moscow, reports Bloomberg:
Russia’s government understands the former Soviet state is facing a “severe financial and economic situation” and is ready to look at alternatives, it said....
Kyrgyzstan hopes to repay part of its debt to Russia by transferring shares from defense company OAO Dastan, Russian news agency Interfax reported, citing an interview with Kyrgyz Finance Minister Akylbek Zhaparov.
That would be an intriguing turn in the saga over Dastan, which has been a bargaining chip between Russia and Kyrgyzstan but more recently was the subject of interest from India, so that will be something to keep an eye on.
Atambayev seems to be playing the same sort of hardball with Russia as he is with the U.S. and its Manas air base, and while in Moscow publicly suggested that Kyrgyzstan didn't need any Russian military facilities, reports ITAR-TASS:
Opposition leaders are back behind bars in Almaty, jailed for organizing a protest less than two weeks after their release from prison for rallying without official permission last month. The growing cycle of protests, arrests, and more protests appears to be encouraging the opposition, which is calling for fair elections and political reform in Kazakhstan.
OSDP Azat party co-leader Bolat Abilov and deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov were jailed for 15 days immediately after the February 25 protest. The sentence is “political revenge by the regime,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org by telephone as he was being taken to prison, announcing that he and Abilov would stage a hunger strike in protest.
The sentences add to mounting tensions in Kazakhstan, which is in the throes of what critics see as a political crackdown launched by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration following December’s deadly violence in Zhanaozen. Astana denies any crackdown.
The imprisonments followed a tense rally in central Almaty that saw scuffles between police and protestors amid cries of “Nazarbayev out!” Several demonstrators were arrested, some carried aloft to police vans as they shouted anti-government slogans.
OSDP Azat leaders Kosanov, Abilov and Zharmakhan Tuyakbay were rounded up before reaching the rally, as were three other organizers – Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, Bakhytgul Makimbay and Yermurat Bapi.
In Kyrgyzstan, it’s never quite clear whether the battle against organized crime is genuine or a covert turf war between powerful interest groups.
Whatever the case may be, this week Washington has stepped up its support in the effort to tackle one apparent kingpin. On February 23, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of Kyrgyzstan’s most wanted, alleged narkobaron Kamchybek Kolbayev. President Barack Obama had added him to a list of global drug barons in June, prohibiting US companies and citizens from doing business with him, but the sanctions didn’t kick in until now. Treasury says Kolbayev is a midlevel manager in a international operation known as the “Brothers’ Circle” -- “a multi-ethnic criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union but operating in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.”
Kamchybek Kolbayev acts for or on behalf of the Brothers' Circle by serving as the Brothers' Circle "overseer" for its Central Asian activities, including narcotics trafficking. In June 2011, President Obama identified Kolbayev as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Kolbayev is wanted in Kyrgyzstan for organized crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives, and organized/transnational crime.
Many Facebook users block other users for posting nasty comments on their wall, but few have blocked an entire country. Yet this is what happened yesterday when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev apparently decided he'd had it with angry posts from Georgia.
The onslaught against the Russian president’s Facebook page took place on the February 23 Homeland Defender’s Day, a Russian public holiday that commemorates military service. To mark the day, Georgians (and not only) in a loosely coordinated campaign bombarded Medvedev’s page with requests to withdraw Russian troops from separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories kept under heavy Russian military guard since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
The steady flow of comments ran the gamut from demands, to requests (for an IDP's return to Abkhazia, for instance) to coarse statements. “It was essentially an occupy-Medvedev’s-Facebook-page campaign to demand the de-occupation of Georgia,” one user commented to EurasiaNet.org.
At first, the comments kept disappearing almost instantly, and instead greetings from well-wishers started to pop up. “I wish you good health, Dmitry Anatoliyevich,” one kind user wrote, but her wishes got drowned in an avalanche of comments from Georgia.
Apparently unable to keep up with the stream, the Kremlin's Facebook men simply disabled the page for users from Georgia.
“They blocked users with Georgian IPs for a little bit,” said Giorgi Jakhaia, a Georgian blogger displaced from Abkhazia, and one of the organizers of the campaign. After briefly reopening, "the page got blocked again" when a fresh barrage of comments began, said Jakhaia, known by his nom de blog, Cyxymu.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili visits Afghanistan Feb. 20
A top Pentagon official is visiting Tbilisi this week, and high on the agenda will be hammering out the details of the much vaunted "new level" of defense cooperation between the U.S. and Georgia. As was the case during President Mikheil Saakashvilil's recent visit to Washington, there was a rhetorical disconnect between the U.S. and Georgian sides about what is the way ahead for military ties between the two allies.
The Georgian side again focused on the concept of "self-defense capabilities," i.e. weapons. “The United States is very much interested in increasing Georgia’s self-defense capabilities,” said Nino Kalandadze, the deputy foreign minister.
The American side, by contrast, focused on more institutional reforms in the Georgian military, as could be seen in the speech the Pentagon official, Celeste Wallander, gave at Georgia's National Defense Academy. While Wallander said that the two sides are "advancing our relationship into new areas of cooperation," she spent far more time lecturing the cadets on the need for the military to be apolitical, suggesting that was more important than any hardware:
As a complement to my Eurasianet article today about the growing regional rivalry between Turkey and Iran, you might also want to take a look at an International Crisis Group report released today about the politics surrounding Iran's nuclear program and what role Turkey might be able to play in brining about a resolution to the standoff between Tehran and the west over this issue.
The report suggests that sanctions alone might push Iran further into a corner and that diplomatic engagement -- the kind Ankara has been promoting -- should still be given a try. The report also says that Turkey, with its historic connection to Iran and its familiarity with working with the Iranians, could be an ideal country to help engage Tehran on the nuclear issue. From the report:
Placing one’s eggs almost exclusively in the sanctions basket is risky business. There is a good chance they will not persuade Iran to slow its nuclear efforts, and so – in the absence of a serious diplomatic option including a more far-reaching proposal – the U.S. might well corner itself into waging a war with high costs (such as possible Iranian retaliatory moves in Iraq, Afghanistan and, through proxies, against Israel) for uncertain gains (a delay in Iran’s nuclear progress countered by the likely expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, intensified determination to acquire a bomb and accelerated efforts to do so).
A prominent cleric from Uzbekistan is recovering after being shot several times in an apparent assassination attempt in Sweden.
Obid-kori Nazarov was attacked on February 22 by an assailant who lay in wait near his home in the small town of Stromsund, the independent Uznews.net website reported, citing an unnamed associate.
The attacker fled after Nazarov shouted for help. He was taken to a hospital for an operation and there were conflicting reports about his condition, described by Uznews.net as “serious but stable” and by RFE/RL as “critical.”
Nazarov gained popularity as an imam in Uzbekistan in the 1990s, where his fiery sermons led President Islam Karimov’s administration to cast him as an opponent at a time when the main challenge to Karimov’s rule came from clerics with wide public followings.
He still has “tens of thousands of followers and admirers” and “is considered one of the most powerful opponents of the regime,” RFE/RL commented.