Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief

Review of 10.1. – 13.2.2022

Tomáš Baranec


Vardenis, Gegharkunik province, Armenia. Photo: Ana Flasker/

Armenian President resigns, citing „lack of influence.“

Armenia’s fourth president, Armen Sarkissian, has announced his resignation on January 23.

Sarkissian explained that this was not an emotional decision but one that “followed a certain logic” of the development of events. He stated that there is a crisis in the country, which he, as President and guarantor of statehood, could not overcome since, according to the constitution, he did not have real and sufficient tools for this.

„The President does not have the necessary tools to influence the radical processes of domestic and foreign policy in these difficult times for the country and the nation”, he wrote. “We have a paradoxical situation when the President has to be a guarantor of statehood without actually having any real tools,“ said Sarkissian in his statement as cited by the OC Media.

He added that the root of the problem was in the present Armenian constitution, which „presupposes the supremacy of one institution over another“ and „creates obstacles for well-known diaspora specialists“.

The solution he said he favoured to these problems was not to move from a parliamentary to a presidential republic but to „create a system based on checks and balances“.

As the Public radio of Armenia writes, President now has a week to revoke his resignation.

According to the Constitution of Armenia, the head of the National Assembly — presently Alen Simonyan — will serve as acting President before the parliament elects a new president. Members of parliament should present their nominees for the position within 35 days.

Renewed clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan claim four dead

The Fighting broke out on the Gegharkunik-Kalbajar section of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on January 11. Armenia reports three soldiers killed, two wounded, and Azerbaijan one soldier killed.

Both countries accused the other side of opening fire first and breaching the ceasefire. The Armenian Ministry of Defence also accused Azerbaijan of using artillery and suicide drones.

The Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has framed the incident as a “manifestation” of the “continuous encroachments of Azerbaijan on the territorial integrity of Armenia”. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry has blamed the “political-military leadership” of Armenia for the “bloody provocation”.

As JAM News reports, the renewed violence coincided with the anniversary of the trilateral meeting of the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in Moscow on January 11, 2021. This was the first meeting after the end of the second Karabakh war. The statement adopted at the end of the meeting concerned the decision to open transport communications in the region. The first meeting of the special representatives of Armenia and Turkey as part of the process of normalisation of relations between the two countries is scheduled for January 14, 2022. There is an opinion that the tension may be connected with the upcoming negotiations.

According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, 94 people, including one Russian peacekeeper, have been killed in Nagorno Karabakh and on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border since November 10, 2020, ceasefire agreement that brought an end to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.

  • AVETISYAN Ani, AGHAYEV Ismi, OC Media, „Four killed in renewed clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan“,
  • JAM News, „Armenian-Azerbaijani border clashes: latest information and comments“,
  • Crisis Group, „The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: A Visual Explainer“,
The first meeting of Turkish and Armenian special envoys was held in a „promising“ atmosphere

Turkish and Armenian special envoys met in Moscow on January 14, relaunching negotiations on restoration of mutual relations 13 years after the last similar attempt.

Following the meeting, the envoys – Serdar Kilic, a senior Turkish diplomat; and Ruben Rubinyan, the deputy speaker of Armenia’s parliament, issued identical, optimistically worded statements, informed

“During their first meeting, conducted in a positive and constructive atmosphere, the Special Representatives exchanged their preliminary views regarding the normalisation process through dialogue between Armenia and Turkey,” the two foreign ministries said. “Parties agreed to continue negotiations without preconditions aiming at full normalisation.”

On the eve of the first meeting of the special representatives, the press secretary of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Vahan Hunanyan, in an interview with the Armenpress agency, stated that Armenia’s expectations from this dialogue are the same as in the early 1990s.

“We expect that as a result of the process, diplomatic relations will be established between Armenia and Turkey, and the border between the two countries, which was unilaterally closed by Turkey in the early 90s, will be opened. […] In fact, this first meeting will be preliminary. It is difficult to expect that as a result of one meeting it will be possible to achieve tangible results, but the process will be launched”.

Eurasia Group director Emre Peker told Reuters in an interview that both sides were cautious. At the same time, he emphasised the dominant and key role of Russia, which acted as the host for this meeting, as well as a mediator for ending the war in Karabakh in 2020.

“Most likely, the negotiations will open the way for further discussions in the coming months. But reaching a comprehensive and long-term agreement will be difficult due to the complex nature of the negotiations and domestic political constraints in both countries. An even greater challenge will come from the theme of historic reconciliation”, said Emre Peker, as cited by JAM news. The fate of the negotiations, in his opinion, will depend on whether Ankara can “assess its ambitions correctly”.

The meeting has mobilised Armenia’s political opposition and nationalists in the global Armenian diaspora, who have been trying to portray the talks as a unilateral concession by a weak Armenian government to their enemies. And many ordinary Armenians, who might have been in favour of restoring ties with Turkey before the war, have become warier in the light of Turkey’s open, strong support of Azerbaijan’s 2020 offensive and a reawakening of anti-Armenian discourse in Turkey.

Rubinyan, in his turn, said he’s willing to listen to other perspectives on the normalisation process, but certain political forces in Armenia are manipulating the issue. “I am very open to discussions, but I regret that discussions on this topic are held in an atmosphere of extreme manipulation,” he said. Rubinyan said the National Assembly has devolved into an assemblage of meaningless parties that just make noise rather than engage in substance.

As JAM News writes, unlike politicians and experts, ordinary citizens in Turkey generally have a positive attitude towards the process of establishing relations with a neighbouring country. This is evidenced by the results of a survey conducted by the publication Gündem Ortadoğu. According to the results of the study, 67% of respondents are positive about the beginning of the process of normalising relations with Armenia, 13% have not decided on their opinion on this issue, and 20% of respondents prefer to leave everything as it was.

For additional information, see:
  • Crisis Group, „Turkey-Armenia Talks Hold Promise of Opening Long-Shut Border”,
Armenian citizen fined for insulting the Prime Minister

An Armenian citizen has been found guilty of insulting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan — the first conviction on the recently passed “grave insults law”. The unidentified person was fined 500,000 drams (902 euro), informed OC Media.

According to the Prosecutors Office, the person called a Police Station in September last year and swore towards Pashinyan and other high-ranking officials using “sexual swear words“. “In doing so, he deliberately insulted the prime minister“, they said in a statement.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of December 31, 2021, the amendment in question was used to initiate 263 criminal cases involving the insult of officials. Later 30 cases were dropped, while another 11 were combined with other criminal cases. Investigations into 214 criminal cases are underway, according to prosecutors. Thirty-one people were charged under this Penal Code article. Eight criminal cases were referred to courts.

Freedom House stated last September that the amendment criminalising “serious insults” of officials and public figures signified an evident degradation of democratic norms in Armenia, including freedom of speech. It urged the Armenian authorities to immediately stop applying this unconstitutional law criminalising libel.

Armenian President investigated over dual citizenship

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, who recently resigned from his post, is suspicious of ineligibility for the post due to secret second citizenship. On January 25, the Armenian National Security Service (NSS) launched an investigation following the article published by investigative outlet a day earlier.

Sarkissian announced his surprising resignation from the post on January 23, citing the lack of competencies of the head of the state. As OC Media writes, his resignation came, in fact, after being contacted for comment about his Saint Kitts and Nevis citizenship by journalists. wrote that Sarkissian’s dual citizenship thus prevented him from assuming the presidency based on Article 124 of Armenia’s Constitution. Article 124 states that only those forty or older, who have only been citizens of the Republic of Armenia for the last six years, who have permanently resided in the Republic of Armenia for the last six years, and who have the right to vote and speak Armenian can be elected President.

According to, when approached for comment, Sarkissian confirmed that he had been a citizen of Saint Kitts and Nevis as late as 2017. He also reportedly said that he had become a citizen of the small island country and noted tax haven unwittingly through a citizenship-for-investment scheme after he invested into a hotel. “My motivation was to make investments, and I was not interested in my passport at all”, reports him as saying.

He also claimed that he had instructed his legal counsel to initiate a process of renouncing the citizenship in 2013, but, in 2017, when he was offered the Armenian presidency, he discovered that the process was not carried out.

Sarkissian was not in Armenia when he resigned, and his whereabouts are unknown. Armenia’s National Security Service has launched a probe into Sarkisian’s citizenship issue.

  • MARTIROSYAN Samson, BAGHDASARYAN Edik,, „The Pyramid of Lies Collapsed: President Armen Sarkissian Had to Resign“,
  • MURADYAN Tirayr,, „Armenia’s Security Service to Investigate Armen Sarkissian’s Citizenship Issue“,
  • AVETISYAN Ani, OC Media, „Investigation: Armenian President was ineligible for post due to secret second citizenship“,


Mosque in Agdam town, Azerbaijan. Photo: PhotographerRM/

Baku announces regular bus trips to Nagorno Karabakh

The first passenger bus trip on the Baku-Shusha/i and Baku-Agdam routes should be carried out on January 24, informs JAM News.

As the portal writes, trips are available only to citizens of Azerbaijan once a year and without the right to spend the night there. Police officers along the entire route will accompany the buses.

  • JAM News, “Azerbaijan announces the launching of regular bus trips to Karabakh“,
EU allocates 2 billion euros to Azerbaijan

As part of the economic investment plan, the European Union (EU) will allocate a financial package of 2 billion euros to Azerbaijan, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said during a meeting with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, writes

Varhelyi also expressed the EU’s readiness to participate in the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction carried out in Azerbaijan. The sides expressed readiness to strengthen cooperation in regional security, energy partnership, economic ties, transport and communications.

Commissioner also stated that partnership relations with Azerbaijan are of great importance for the EU, and it is important to strengthen these relations even more. He said that Azerbaijan is a reliable partner of the EU.

Azerbaijan starts construction of Agdam-Fizuli highway

The Aghdam-Fizuli highway, with a total length of almost 65 kilometres, will become a continuation of the Barda-Agdam highway and will connect Aghdam, Aghjabedi and Fizuli, informs Caucasian Knot. The road will be 15 meters wide and will have four traffic lanes.

  • Caucasian Knot, „Азербайджан начал строительство трассы Агдам – Физули (Azerbaijan starts construction of Agdam-Fizuli highway)“,
Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office refuses to investigate the beating of prominent oppositionist

The Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan refused to launch an investigation into a criminal case in connection with a complaint filed by opposition politician Tofig Yagublu who claimed law enforcers had beaten him. The defence called the arguments of the Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan about the absence of corpus delicti as groundless writes Caucasian Knot.

Opposition leader Yagublu was detained on December 1 during a protest in defence of the activist, Saleh Rustamov. Yagublu, 60, later said police severely beat him while videoing him and demanding that he say on camera that he would stop criticising Azerbaijan’s leadership.

  • Caucasian Knot, „Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office refuses to investigate the beating of oppositionist Tofig“,
Azerbaijan to erase Armenian traces from churches in the Nagorno Karabakh

Azerbaijan’s Government has announced that it intends to erase Armenian inscriptions on religious sites in the territory that it reclaimed in the 2020 war with Armenia, writes

The Azerbaijani minister of culture Anar Karimov said that a working group would be set up to identify what he called “Armenian forgery” from churches, putting into practice a pseudoscientific theory that denies the churches’ Armenian origin.

“We are going to inspect those places with the working group members, and after the inspection, we will consider our next steps,” Karimov said. While he did not identify who would be in the working group, the minister stated that the group would consist of “both local and international experts.”

As explains, he justified the move by arguing that the churches, in fact, were originally the heritage of “Caucasian Albania”, an ancient kingdom once located in what is now Azerbaijan. The theory, which mainstream historians do not support, has long been propagated by nationalist Azerbaijani historians and embraced by the current Government in Baku.

  • ISAYEV Heydar,, „Azerbaijan announces plans to erase Armenian traces from churches“,


Tkibuli Town and Reservoir, Georgia Photo: Venera Koiava/

Several Georgian influential businessmen, including opposition leader Khazaradze, were found guilty of fraud

Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, the leaders of the Lelo party and the founders of TBC Bank, as well as Avtandil Tsereteli, a businessman and the father of Vakhtang Tsereteli, the founder of TV Pirveli, were found guilty by a court and sentenced to seven years in prison.

All three were on trial for the more severe offence of money laundering, but the court re-qualified the charges to fraud at the last moment. The charges revolved around transactions of $17 million made in 2008 when Khazaradze was the chair of TBC’s supervisory board, and Japaridze was the deputy chair.

An investigation was not launched until August 2018, and in July of the following year, they were charged. According to prosecutors, in April and May 2008, TBC Bank loaned almost 17 million USD to two companies owned by Avtandil Tsereteli — Samgori Trade and Samgori M. On the same days the loans were issued, the companies transferred equal sums of money into the personal accounts of Khazaradze and Japaridze.

Khazaradze and Japaridze have both admitted to the transactions but insisted the money was a loan by the companies and that they were above board. Khazaradze said the money was then reinvested into TBC, as the bank was in danger of bankruptcy at the time.

“This is a continuation of the fraud committed by the prosecution because obviously, there was never any sign of money laundering or any crime that the judge was accusing us of. He changed the article to money laundering, reclassified it to the article that applied to statute of limitations and acquitted us of all charges”, says Japaridze as cited by JAM News.

Nika Melia, the chairman of the opposition United National Movement, also responded to the court decision. According to him, arresting the Lelo leaders would be too much even by Ivanishvili’s standards; thus, he did not dare to say: “It is good that those people have fought for three years. I am glad that there are more and more such people in the political spectrum who do not give up and do not bow down [ to the Government]. This is exactly what Bidzina Ivanishvili was hoping for during these three years by launching various criminal cases against the opposition, hoping they would quit politics. However, what he ended up having is the complete opposite – all three of those people have become more and more ruthless”.

TBC Bank is one of Georgia’s leading commercial banking companies, founded in 1992 by Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, who has previously also served as its Board Chair and Deputy, respectively.

The suspects have claimed the investigation was politically motivated and an attempt to foil the construction of the Anaklia Deep Sea Port, widely regarded as a strategically and commercially crucial project. The project was implemented by the Anaklia Development Consortium (ADC) – a joint venture of TBC Holding and U.S. – based Conti International, which was awarded the contract to build and operate the port in 2016. But the ADC faced multiple setbacks, including the money-laundering allegations against Khazaradze and Japaridze. Soon after the prosecutors filed charges against the two, Conti International announced its departure from the Consortium. The development finally resulted in the Government terminating its contract with the ADC in January 2020, as the Consortium was unable to find a major investor to replace the Conti group.

Khazaradze himself has pointed accusatory fingers at Bidzina Ivanishvili, billionaire and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, arguing the tycoon was personally against the construction of the Anaklia Port to appease Moscow.

The coal mine explosion in Tkibuli claimed the life of one miner

One person was fatally injured, and eight more sustained injuries in a coal mine explosion in Tkibuli, western Georgia. Injured miners were first admitted to a local hospital and transferred to Tbilisi.

Preliminary investigation has shown the blasting operation was carried out in violation of safety rules, the Labour Inspection Service of Georgia has said. Drilling and blasting operations are prohibited at concentrations of more than one per cent methane. The second paragraph of the technical regulations was also violated, according to which the blasting works must be carried out under direct supervision of the technical supervisor,” the statement from the inspection agency said as cited by

The body also added that the investigation showed the “responsible person was not present at the time of the incident.” The inspection service has ordered a stop of the blasting works and closed the incident area off for the duration of its investigation.

For additional information see:
  • GABRITCHIDZE Nini,, „Deadly Georgian mine accident spotlights fitful progress following labour reforms“,
Attempt to impeach de facto South Ossetian President failed

Opposition lawmakers in de facto South Ossetia failed on January 19 to impeach Anatoly Bibilov over an alleged attempt on ceding 200 square kilometres of territory to the central Georgian Government, informs

The proposal was pushed forward by 14 deputies in the 34-member legislature earlier in January, hoping to garner the support of three-quarters of sitting lawmakers. But only 13 deputies backed the motion, and one went against it, while pro-Bibilov United Ossetia party, Unity of the People and communist MPs did not participate in the voting.

The opposition lawmakers claim that the draft law submitted by Bibilov to the legislature back in 2019 that sought to approve the “state border” – that did not pass back then – would lead to the region giving up claims on 200 km2 territory to Georgia proper.

The issue came into prominence only in November 2021 after the new “State Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation of Borders with Georgia” – created under Bibilov’s decree in April — found that the boundaries proposed by Bibilov’s administration contained 200 km2 less territory compared to that envisaged in April 1922 Soviet decree that created the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.

During the heated exchange in the legislature in Tskhinvali on December 30, de facto President shifted the blame to his opponents. He said Moscow recognised the region’s independence in 2008 within its current “borders,” not with the ones outlined in the 1922 Soviet decree.

Also, Bibilov noted that if the claims on the boundaries are made as per 1922 decree, the villages of Gujabauri, sandwiched between Tskhinvali and Georgia-controlled territory, as well as village Orchosani, close to Georgia’s major east-west highway, should be given to Georgia proper.

The development comes some three months before the de facto presidential elections” in the region, in which Bibilov is seeking re-election. On January 21, the de facto Parliament of South Ossetia adopted the resolution on the date of presidential elections on April 10, 2022.

Another Russian opposition leader was barred from entering Georgia

Russian opposition leader, former MP Dmitry Gudkov, was barred from entering Georgia and was deported from Tbilisi International Airport back to Kyiv on January 31.

Gudkov claimed his deportation was a “political decision” made at the level of the Georgian Government. He argued that Georgian border authorities knew his biography, did not specify reasons for the deportation and said their superiors made the decision, informed

“So much for [Georgia being] the centre of the Russian emigration. So much for half soft power and half Russian World,” noted Gudkov ironically.

According to Gudkov, he was visiting Tbilisi to hold meetings with politicians, journalists and diplomats following an “official invitation.” But the Russian opposition leader did not specify who had invited him.

The Interior Ministry told Gudkov was refused entry under Article 11 (1i) of Georgia’s law on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons. The provision envisages refusing a Georgian visa or entry into the country in “other cases provided for by the legislation of Georgia.”

Georgian Chairperson of the Parliamentary Foreign Committee, MP Nikoloz Samkharadze lashed out at Gudkov. He reminded that Gudkov is a political ally of Alexei Navalny, who — in August 2008 amid the Russo-Georgian war — likened Georgians to rodents and called on expelling all Georgian citizens from Russia.

Samkharadze also held against Gudkov for being a member of the Russian State Duma, which recognised the independence of Abkhazia and de facto South Ossetia. On October 30. 2021 Georgia refused the entry of Lyubov Sobol, another close ally of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

  •, „Russian Opposition Leader Barred from Entering Georgia“,
  •, „Georgian Dream MP Lashes Out at Deported Russian Opposition Leader“,
Georgia calls on the EU to stop using the term “South Ossetia.”

Nikoloz Samkharadze, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations, appealed to the European Union to remove the term “South Ossetia” from its official use, informs

“You and the West are fighting Stalinist manifestations. Despite this, you use the term “South Ossetia” in all your documents, which is also a Stalinist term and was coined in 1922. Before that, it did not exist. Georgian constitution does not recognise such formation as “South Ossetia”. So my request, a call, is to discuss together how we can remove this term altogether from your official documents. It is not pleasant when the European Union or even any other state use the term of Stalin’s time. If we need to make an official appeal, we will do it,” said Samkharadze at the joint sitting of the Committees on European Integration and Foreign Relations in the legislature, where the European Parliament rapporteur on Georgia Sven Mikser was present.

In this regard, Mikser claimed that the issue would be noted and taken into account in the future when the European documents will be worked out.

  •, Chairman of Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs appeals to EU to remove the term “South Ossetia” from official usage,

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