Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief
Bi-weekly review (27.7. – 8.8.2021)
View from Voskepar, Tavush province, Armenia. Photo: 7_11/ Shutterstock.com
Nikol Pashinyan officially appointed Armenia’s Prime Minister
Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been officially appointed to the post by the country’s president on August 2, 2021, after Pashinyan’s party won the early parliamentary election in June.
The newly elected parliament convened for the first time on Monday, August 2, and Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party, which has the majority of the seats, nominated him to be the prime minister. Shortly after, Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian signed a decree to that effect. In accordance with the country’s constitution, a cabinet must be formed within 15 days.
Already on July 6, Pashinyan addressed the upcoming activities of the new government: “the government is essentially formed, with only the foreign minister not appointed. I’d like to once again wish us all good luck in governing our country. Soon we must work on approving the list of actions of the government’s program. Our program must naturally be based on the Civil Contract’s campaigning program, the 2050 transformation strategy of Armenia, as well as the pre-election promises made during dialogue with the people during campaigning,” the prime minister said. PM Pashinyan added that they have until August 23 to submit the government program to the parliament.
Pashinyan’s party won 71 seats in the June 20 election, while 29 went to a bloc headed by former President Robert Kocharyan. A different bloc that formed around another former president, Serzh Sargsyan, won 7 seats.
Those blocs and two smaller parties appealed the election results, arguing to the Constitutional Court that they should be declared invalid because of alleged voting violations, but the court rejected the appeal and upheld the results last month.
- CTV News, „Pashinyan officially appointed Armenia’s prime minister“, https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/pashinyan-officially-appointed-armenia-s-prime-minister-1.5531783
- Armenpress.am, „PM Pashinyan prioritizes the development of new government action plan“, https://armenpress.am/eng/news/1060074/
Russian border guards in Tavush
Armenian Ministry of Defence has confirmed on August 5, 2021, that Russian border guards have been deployed to the north-eastern Armenian province of Tavush near village Voskepar, which lies on an important highway connecting Yerevan with the north-eastern part of the country and then further with neighbouring Georgia.
In a statement, the Ministry also said that “construction works are being carried out to ensure the rear facilities of the border guards”. This process is carried out on the sidelines of the Armenian-Russian cooperation.
Earlier local residents told Hetq that Russian troops are building small housing units in the area. When contacted by telephone, Tavush Governor Hayk Ghalumyan would only say that Russian servicemen are monitoring the border and “have the right to do so”.
Hetq also contacted Noyemberyan Mayor Karen Abazyan for comment. Abazyan said he learnt of the deployment of Russian troops from Voskepar residents and internet reports. “No one officially told me anything,” Abazyan said, noting that he had visited the village, which is an administrative district of Noyemberyan.
As the OC Media writes, it is not yet clear how many Russian troops will be deployed to the border or if they will be assigned from the Russian forces currently stationed in Armenia, or there will be reinforcements sent from Russia. Questions have also remained unanswered over whether they will be conducting joint patrols with Armenian border guards or will operate independently, as is the case on the Armenian border with Turkey.
- AVETISYAN Ani, OC Media, „Russian troops deployed to Armenia’s Tavush Province“, https://oc-media.org/russian-troops-deployed-to-armenias-tavush-province/
- HOVSEPYAN Gayane, MARGARYAN Amalia, Hetq.am, „Russian Troops Man Section of Armenia-Azerbaijani Border in Tavush; No Official Comment Available“, https://hetq.am/en/article/134203
The US cuts military aid to Azerbaijan
On July 26, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the “Pallone Amendment” as part of the fiscal year 2022 State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) Appropriations Bill, cutting Washington’s military aid to Azerbaijan. The House passed the bill with 217 members voting for and 212 against.
The amendment, put forward by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, states that “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act under “International Military Education and Training” and “Foreign Military Financing Program’ may be made available for Azerbaijan.”
“I am proud this funding bill includes unprecedented support for Armenia and sends a clear signal to Azerbaijan that the United States will not tolerate authoritarian regimes that threaten peace and stability,” said Pallone in a press release. “I applaud this important step that will help bolster Armenia’s democracy, improve economic development, and help alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by Azerbaijan’s unprovoked attack on Armenia.”
The Pallone Amendment to the FY2022 foreign aid bill (H.R.4373) states, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act [H.R.4373] under “International Military Education and Training” and “Foreign Military Financing Program” may be made available for Azerbaijan.” The provision, however, does not block discretionary military equipment which may be transferred by the Department of Defense under U.S. laws Section 333.
- Civilnet.am, „U.S. House approves amendment that cuts military aid to Azerbaijan“, https://www.civilnet.am/news/627487/u-s-house-approves-amendment-that-cuts-military-aid-to-azerbaijan/?lang=en
- GHAZANCHYAN Siranush, Public Radio of Armenia, „House of Representatives passes Pallone Amendment, cutting U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan“, https://en.armradio.am/2021/07/28/house-of-representatives-passes-pallone-amendment-cutting-u-s-military-aid-to-azerbaijan/
Women rights activists detained in Baku during a protest against a pike in the number of femicides
On August 4, 2021, a group of feminists organized a peaceful protest in front of the building of the police department of the Khazar district of Baku following the murder of Sevinj Maharramova by her husband the day before. Activists poured red paint on the entrance of the police headquarters, symbolizing blood, and holding up posters with the slogan “Femicides are political”, informs JAM News.
After the police seized the phones of the journalists who were broadcasting the protests live on social media, activists Gulnara Mekhtiyeva, Sevgi Ismailbeyli, and Narmin Shahmarzade, as well as journalists Ulviya Ali, Elnara Gasimova, and Nargiz Absalamova, were forcibly brought to the police station. They were held there for about an hour and subjected to physical and psychological abuse.
Sevinj Maharramova, 24, was killed on August 3, 2021, in the Zira settlement near Baku. The Khazar District Prosecutor’s Office in Baku said that Maharramova’s husband, 42-year-old Fuzuli Garayev, killed his wife in a neighbour’s house. Garayev has been arrested and charged with premeditated murder.
Following Maharramova’s death, the authorities have faced increasing anger over their apparent inability to protect Maharramova, despite her having approached them several times prior to complain of violence from her husband.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is facing a sudden spike in femicides. Already on July 30, 2021, women’s rights activists in Azerbaijan have brought a coffin to the Interior Ministry following a spate of killings of women. On July 25, a woman was strangled to death, allegedly by her husband, in the fifth murder of a woman allegedly by a man close to her in 10 days.
- JAM News, „Azerbaijani women’s rights activists detained, beaten up in police department“, https://jam-news.net/azerbaijani-womens-rights-activists-detained-beaten-up-in-police-department/
- AGHAYEV Ismi, OC Media, „Azerbaijani woman ‘murdered by husband’ despite appeals to police over abuse“, https://oc-media.org/azerbaijani-woman-murdered-by-husband-despite-appeals-to-police-over-abuse/
- AGHAYEV Ismi, OC Media, „Activists bring the coffin to Azerbaijani ministry following a spate of women’s killings“, https://oc-media.org/activists-bring-coffin-to-azerbaijani-ministry-following-spate-of-womens-killings/
The Georgian Dream Quits the EU-brokered Deal
Ruling Georgian Dream party chair Irakli Kobakhidze announced the EU-brokered April 19 deal as “annulled,” claiming it “served its purpose and exhausted itself 100 days after signing, with the majority of opposition lawmakers having refrained from joining”.
Known as the “Charles Michel agreement,” after the European Council President who personally helped broker it, the deal was supposed to pave the way for at least formal cooperation between the Georgian Dream and several leading opposition parties following last year’s disputed parliamentary elections.
Under the deal, the Georgian Dream had agreed to hold a snap parliamentary election should it fail to garner at least 43% of the vote in the local elections slated for this fall. This was meant to demonstrate that the ruling party could, in fact, get a decisive portion of the vote, following opposition claims that the 48% it won in last year’s election was ill-gotten.
Opposition parties insist that the Georgian Dream walked out on the deal after realizing that it will not be able to clear that threshold. “They realized that they have a zero chance of getting the 43%“, said Zurab Japaradize, leader of the opposition party Girchi – For Greater Freedom.
“Today, we have seen official confirmation that Georgia’s foreign policy orientation has changed,” claimed independent opposition member Salome Samadashvili.
Announcing the decision to pull out, Kobakhidze said they would call new elections if they won less than 53% of the vote in the upcoming local elections, but only if they saw a possibility of a coalition government “judging from the behaviour of the opposition”. Kobakhidze said that this was an act of “goodwill” by the Georgian Dream.
Georgian Dream, in turn, blamed the largest opposition party, the United National Movement, which has not signed the agreement but had informally agreed to another of its main tenets: to end its boycott of the parliament.
“The majority of the opposition members refused to sign the April 19 document, which primarily aimed to deescalate political polarization,” Kobakhidze said. “The Georgian Dream and the United National Movement are the two opposite poles in this polarized environment, so polarization will not be reduced or ended if one of these parties does not sign the document.”
Several Western officials criticized the government for walking back other tenets of the agreement related to electoral and judicial reforms. “To be fair: the biggest opposition party, UNM, did not even make an effort to sign this joint agreement with the EU. So, both sides are playing a terrible political game on the backs of their citizens. All this does NOT help at all,” the MEP Viola von Cramon said.
- Civil.ge, Georgian Dream Quits EU-brokered Deal, https://civil.ge/archives/434256
- LOMSADZE Giorgi, Eurasianet.org, „Georgian ruling party walks out on critical political agreement“, https://eurasianet.org/georgian-ruling-party-walks-out-on-critical-political-agreement
- OC Media, „Georgian Dream withdraws from EU-brokered deal with opposition“, https://oc-media.org/georgian-dream-withdraws-from-eu-brokered-deal-with-opposition/
- Georgia Today, „MEP Viola von Cramon: Both Sides Play Terrible Political Game on Backs of Their Citizens“, https://georgiatoday.ge/mep-viola-von-cramon-both-sides-play-terrible-political-game-on-back-of-their-citizens/
Oppositional Azerbaijani blogger found dead in Tbilisi
Khusein Bakikhanov, an Azerbaijani blogger, who had criticized Azerbaijani authorities, has died in Tbilisi. In his homeland, Bakikhanov was persecuted by law enforcement. According to the investigators, the opponent of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev has committed suicide.
Georgian Interior Ministry confirmed Bakikhanov death on July 30, 2021. The Ministry also told local media that the case is being investigated under Article 115 – “suicide”, and at least at this stage, the version of murder is not considered, as previously reported in the media.
JAM News also reported that the incident took place on July 14, although information about his death spread in the media and social media only on July 29. By this time, Bakikhanov had been dead for 15 days.
As the Ministry of Internal Affairs told JAMnews, on July 14, Bakikhanov jumped from the roof of the multi-storey high-class Rooms hotel located in the centre of Tbilisi. The Azerbaijani blogger came there to seek employment.
Avtandil Mammadov, an Azerbaijani citizen who also lives in Tbilisi said Bakikhanov arrived in Georgia in the spring of 2021 after he was detained in Baku during one of the opposition rallies. He spent 15 days in prison and said that he was beaten and insulted there.
“After his release, Bakikhanov left Azerbaijan and came to Tbilisi, where he applied for political asylum. He settled in the old part of the city. He had financial problems, he often looked for work, worked as a translator and at a construction site,” claims Mamedov.
Azerbaijani journalist Afghan Mukhtarly wrote on his Facebook that “on July 12, a group of Azerbaijanis beat up an emigrant living in Tbilisi who had been pursued by the police in Azerbaijan”. Bakikhanov himself recorded a video message on the YouTube channel entitled “Ex Muslim Tabasaran”. In the video, he claims that in Tbilisi, he had been attacked by four to five people.
“During his stay in the Georgian capital, he constantly criticized the Azerbaijani government on his YouTube channel”, added Mukhtarli on Facebook.
- NARIMANISHVILI Nino, JAM News, „Georgian Interior Ministry: Azerbaijani blogger jumped off the roof in Tbilisi two weeks ago“, https://jam-news.net/azerbaijani-blogger-jumped-off-the-roof-in-tbilisi-two-weeks-ago-new-details-of-the-case/
- Caucasian Knot, Oppositional Azerbaijani blogger, found dead in Tbilisi, https://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/56287/
The US Approves a Possible Sale of Javelin Missiles to Georgia
The US Department of State has approved the sale of the country’s anti-tank Javelin missiles and command launch units to Georgia. Now it is up to Congress to confirm the sale of 82 missiles and 46 command launch units to Georgia for $30 million, informed Agenda.ge.
According to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Georgia, which is a strategic partner and a key contributor to the security and stability of the region.
“The Javelin system will help Georgia to build its long-term defence capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity to meet its national defence requirements.
The proposed sale will improve Georgia’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its antiarmor capacity. Georgia will have no difficulty absorbing these weapons into its armed forces”, – reads the press release.
As the agency notes in its statement, the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
- Agenda.ge, „US Department of State supports sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Georgia“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2021/2209
- Georgianjournal, „US Approves a Possible Sale of Javelin Missiles to Georgia“, https://georgianjournal.ge/military/37260-us-approves-a-possible-sale-of-javelin-missiles-to-georgia.html
Georgian Dream accused of „illegal mass surveillance“ by the opposition media
As Agenda.ge informed, director of the opposition-minded Mtavari-Arkhi TV channel Nika Gvaramia released a „script obtained from the country’s State Security Service“ on August 1, 2021, which „confirms the agency is making illegal recordings of politicians, members of NGOs, foreign diplomats, as well as members of the ruling party“.
According to the above-mentioned TV channel, the SSS has gathered records of personal conversations, including about intimate life. They were wiretapping politicians from the ruling “Georgian Dream” Party, oppositionists, journalists, priests, businessmen and activists. In particular, it is reported about the non-traditional sexual orientation of a priest and a female member of an oppositional party.
The Georgian State Security Service said in its turn that the „misinformation serves to deliberately discredit the State Security Service, mislead the public and incite distrust in state institutions“. Ruling party members have responded that the script is no evidence „since everyone can make it“’, adding that Gvaramia „continues telling fairy tales“.
Following the report from Mtavari-Arkhi TV, Georgian human rights defenders demanded from the Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an investigation. A total of 18 NGOs have indicated that the information that Georgian special services were wiretapping public figures has confirmed the suspicions about the secret shadowing that exist in the society.
- Agenda.ge, „Opposition-minded Mtavari TV accuses the ruling party of ‘mass illegal surveillance’“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2021/2187
- Caucasian Knot, „Georgian rights defenders, demand to check information about the wiretapping of activists“, https://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/56373/