GYUMRI MURDERS THREATEN TO DISRUPT ARMENIA’S RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA, by Eduard Abrahamyan
SANCTIONS, ENERGY PRICES, AND RUBLE DEPRECIATION CHALLENGE CIS GOVERNMENTS, by Stephen Blank
DAGESTAN’S JIHADISTS AND HARAM TARGETING, by Emil Souleimanov
AZERBAIJAN INVESTS IN UPGRADING ITS TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE, by John C.K. Daly
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS TURKISH INVITATION TO ATTEND GALLIPOLI ANNIVERSARY, by Erik Davtyan
POLICE ARRESTED FOR OLD MURDER CASE IN GEORGIA, by Eka Janashia
KYRGYZSTAN DEBATES ELECTORAL SYSTEM REFORM, by Arslan Sabyrbekov
TAJIK PRESIDENT REVIEWS CHALLENGES IN ANNUAL ADDRESS TO PARLIAMENT, by Oleg Salimov
By John C.K. Daly (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Caucasian post-Soviet nations, led by oil-rich Azerbaijan, are expanding their rail, road and air networks to attract rising Eurasian trade. Speaking at Davos, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili underlined the importance of the joint projects being implemented with Turkey and Azerbaijan, particularly the just opened Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway. Gharibashvili told his audience, “Once operational, it will reduce the period for shipment from China to European markets by more than half and shorten the distance by almost 7,500 km.” Given its energy revenues, Azerbaijan is the driving force behind these changes.
By Mina Muradova (01/22/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
As Azerbaijan prepares to host the first European Games this summer, new sport and non-sport venues are being constructed and infrastructure is being renovated. By investing millions to organize the games in just 30 months, Azerbaijan’s government seeks to promote the young Caspian state through an ambitious sport event.
However, against this backdrop, Azerbaijan’s government has intensified its crackdown on journalists and civil society representatives. Human Rights Watch issued a statement on January 20, saying that over the past year, the Azerbaijani government used a range of bogus criminal charges, including narcotics and weapons possession, tax evasion, hooliganism, incitement, and even treason, to convict or imprison at least 34 human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers, prompting others to flee the country or go into hiding. Following the prosecutors’ requests, courts have frozen the bank accounts of at least 50 nongovernmental groups and in some cases the accounts of their staff, as part of ongoing criminal investigations against several foreign donors.
Another human rights watchdog, the International Federation for Human Rights, stated that Azerbaijan has adopted aThe International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), whole arsenal of “anti-NGO laws” since 2013. NGOs are henceforth compelled to register their organization with the government and their funds with the Ministry of Justice in order to receive funding (whether from inside or outside the country). Those who cannot or refuse to register their subsidies from abroad therefore break the law. The use of non-registered subsidies is now deemed to be an administrative offense and the judiciary considers the funds to be a source of taxable personal income.
The latest move to silence alternative voices was a police raid on the office of U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on December 26, detaining journalists for hours. Former journalists of the station have also been questioned by police. Inspectors from the prosecutor’s office ransacked the company safe, seized computers, memory sticks, and documents, and sealed the office shut.
“This operation is clearly designed to block the activities of our Baku bureau and threaten our journalists,” Radio Azadliq director Kenan Aliyev told Reporters Without Borders. In a statement, Radio Azadliq co-director and Editor Nenad Pejic said: “The order comes from the top as retaliation for our reporting and as a thuggish effort to silence RFE/RL.” Prosecutors said the bureau’s work was to be terminated, but did not specify for how long.
Azerbaijani prosecutors have staged similar raids in recent months on other so-called foreign entities, including foreign nongovernmental organizations such as IREX, the National Democratic Institute, and Oxfam.
The Baku bureau of RFE/RL was shut down twenty days after the arrest of its prominent anchor Khadija Ismayilova. She is well-known as an investigative reporter who published several reports about government corruption and the business of the president’s family members. Ismayilova was detained for two months on heavily disputed charges of “inciting” a former colleague’s suicide. If convicted, Ismayilova may face up to seven years in prison.
Pejic said “The arrest and detention of Khadija Ismayilova is the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan … The charges brought against her today are outrageous. Khadija is being punished for her journalism.”
In 2012, the Zeit Stiftung and Fritt Ord Foundation awarded Ismayilova with the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe Award. She has received many other awards and is a respected journalist. She has published stories related to corruption in Azerbaijan, in particular within the Organized Crime and Corruption Project. Most recently, she also worked on consolidating the list of up to 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, prepared by Azerbaijani NGOs. Although her accuser, Tural Mustafayev, has withdrawn his complaint, she remains in detention.
“The arrest of Ismayilova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice,” Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, said in a written statement. Khadija Ismayilova was arrested the day after the head of the Presidential Administration Ramiz Mehdiyev published a lengthy article in which he directly calls NGOs the “fifth column.” He publicly accused Ismayilova of treason and called RFE/RL’s employees in the country spies.
“She along with her ‘friends’ prepare anti-Azerbaijani programs, make indecent statements, demonstrate an openly hostile attitude to well-known public figures and disseminate a lie. Her position has nothing in common with her journalist profession,” Mehdiyev wrote in his article and specifically noted: “It is clear that this sort of defiance pleases Ms. Ismayilova’s patrons abroad.”
This week a group of international NGOs started a campaign urging President Ilham Aliyev to release prominent human rights defenders who are currently behind bars in Azerbaijan. Another group of NGOs sent a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of her upcoming meeting with Aliyev on January 21 in Berlin. “President Aliyev is seeking a greater legitimacy by meeting the world leaders and hosting mega sporting events,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director. “Merkel should send a clear message that closer political and economic ties with Europe are directly linked to Azerbaijan’s release of unjustly jailed journalists and human rights advocates and respect for fundamental human rights.”
The “Sports for Rights” NGO coalition issued a statement saying “Azerbaijan’s partners should insist that this terrible situation in the country’s human rights record is removed before Baku plays host to the European Games, and that these people be released immediately and unconditionally. We sincerely hope that we can count on your [Merkel’s] principled leadership on this urgent matter.”
By Huseyn Aliyev (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On November 12, an Armenian combat helicopter was shot down by Azerbaijani defense forces after an attempted attack on Azerbaijani positions over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The incident took place just two weeks after the fruitless peace talks between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan, organized on the initiative of French President Francois Hollande in Paris. Although the escalation of violence on the border between the Armenian-controlled breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan has been growing steadily since the early summer, this particular incident appears to be the highest point yet in the confrontation.
By Bakhtiyar Aslanov (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On November 12, 2014, the Press Service of the Ministry of Defense in Azerbaijan made the following statement regarding the shooting down of a helicopter over Nagorno-Karabakh: “the military aviation of the enemy side has been doing provocative flights and maneuvers during the latest military trainings, implemented by the Military Forces of the Republic of Armenia within the last 3 days in the front-line between Azerbaijan and Armenia. After continuous and intensified maneuvers over our positions and posts; two military helicopters tried to attack our positions in the airspace controlled by the military of Azerbaijan. Two MI-24 helicopters owned by the Military Forces of the Republic of Armenia again tried to attack our posts at 13:45 on November 12, 2014. As a response, Air Forces of Azerbaijan shot down one of those armed helicopter, 1,700 meters northeast of Kangarli village in Agdam. The remains of the helicopter fell 500 meters from the front-line.” Armenian officials responded that the helicopter belongs to the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership, not Armenia.
The next day, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense made another statement, claiming that the Mi-24 combat helicopter belonged to the Erebuni military aerodrome close to Erevan. The dead crew members, mayor Sergey Sahakyan, senior lieutenant Sargis Nazaryan and lieutenant Azat Sahakyan are officers of the Armenian Air Force. Although denied by Armenia, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense listed the names and released detailed background information on the officers.
Emphasizing the presidents’ meeting in Paris initiated by the French President Francois Hollande on October 27, 2014, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on November 12 that Armenia embarked on large-scale military exercises in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and had continuously been violating the cease-fire along the line of contact. Hence, Azerbaijan’s MFA claims that Armenia alone carries all responsibility for the re-escalation of the conflict. An MFA spokesperson stated that by shooting down a helicopter that violated Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized airspace, Baku does not violate any liability of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan both reacted quickly to the incident. Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan immediately visited Nagorno-Karabakh and spoke in front of the soldiers on November 13. Although he used very special words targeted to the local audience, Sargsyan underlined that a re-escalation of the conflict into war will not happen. Ilham Aliyev also visited a military camp in Shamkir on November 15, and while seeming very confident and satisfied when congratulating the soldiers, he avoided using overtly inflammatory language.
In Basel, Switzerland, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and French Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Désir, expressed their concerns over violations of the cease-fire in 2014 during a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. They emphasized that the violations of the cease-fire in July and August caused several causalities; enhanced the tension and deepened mutual distrust between the parties. On December 4, the aforementioned diplomats signed a joint statement, noting that “there is no military solution to the conflict. We call on both sides to restrain from using violence and work on the concrete peaceful solution of the conflict”.
Hikmat Hajiyev, a spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s MFA, commented on the statement that the military trainings of Armenian forces with huge numbers of personnel and military equipment and their provocative maneuvers along the line of contact after the meetings of the presidents in Sochi and Paris caused the downing of the helicopter. Regarding the call from the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to speed up negotiations for a peace agreement, Hajiyev reiterated Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov’s statement on Baku’s readiness to work on the Broader Peace Agreement supported by the co-chairs after the meeting in Paris.
Officials in Yerevan have claimed that their military forces were able to claim the bodies of the dead soldiers in the helicopter incident after shooting two Azerbaijani soldiers. According to the PanArmenian news agency, the three officers were buried at St. Sargis Church in Yerevan on November 24. However, Baku has denied this information and states that Azerbaijani soldiers protect the area where the remains of the helicopter are located.
Armenia and Azerbaijan cancelled an expected meeting of the two countries’ Foreign Ministers in Basel after the incident. “We regret that the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia were unable to meet at OSCE … Dialogue is a necessary part of the peace process” the U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, James Warlick wrote on his Twitter page on December 8.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.