Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief

Bi-weekly review (23. 5. – 12. 6. 2022)

Tomáš Baranec 


Lori and Aragatsotn province, Armenia. Photo: Aram Atyan/

Anti-government protests in Armenia are marked by increasing police-violence

Armenia’s human rights defender has sharply criticised “disproportionate” police actions as clashes between police and protesters demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation intensify, reports the OC media.

Compared to the previous days of protests, the number of cases of bodily injuries – “from abrasions and scratches to fractures – due to law enforcers’ use of unlawful physical force has increased by order of magnitude. There were also complaints about blows to the head during detention,” the Ombudsperson, Kristine Grigoryan, has written on Facebook while also condemning the violence against law enforcers.

The Ombudsperson pointed out the unacceptability of using force against MPs whom they tried to detain. According to her story, MPs are endowed with immunity. However, she treats the use of unique means, including handcuffs, by police officers during detentions as justified.

During the May 30 protest, protesters attempted to force their way inside the government administration building. Over a dozen people were injured in the ensuing clashes; some were hospitalised, including police officers.

Daniel Ioannisyan, the Program Coordinator at the Union of Informed Citizens, an Armenia-based democracy watchdog, drew attention to the “apparent criminal actions” of the crowd trying to storm the government administration, saying that the police might be allowed to “take special measures” to stop the protesters, though only “within proportion”.

On June 3, in Yerevan, the police used stun grenades against protesters and began detentions. During a clash with the police, 42 people were injured, and later, the number of victims increased to 60. According to the opposition, such a large number of victims could be caused by the use of expired stun grenades.

Later on June 7, the Armenian opposition-held another march to the building of the EU representative office. Activists have called on the authorities of the EU countries to respond to the use of excessive force by the Armenian police against protestors.

Ishkhan Sagatelyan, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament from the “Hayastan” bloc, says that the activists demand the European Union assess the use of force against peaceful marchers during the protests. “With its double standards, with its silence, Europe helps Nikol Pashinyan establish authoritarianism in the country, which we must not allow,” Ishkhan Sagatelyan has told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.

The wave of protests, organised by the country’s parliamentary opposition, began on May 1.

Opposition MPs demanded to declare Lavrov a persona non grata in Armenia

Activists of the National Democratic Pole (NDP) and Sasna Tsrer have demanded to declare the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov persona non grata in Armenia due to his alleged pressure on the Armenian government regarding the issue of the Nagorno Karabakh. Activists said that during the anti-government protest held on June 9.

Activists believe that Lavrov is putting pressure on the Armenian authorities, demanding that they give in to Azerbaijan and Turkey on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Supporters of the NDP and “Sasna Tsrer” organised a protest action in Yerevan in connection with Sergey Lavrov’s arrival in Armenia to take part in the sitting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization).

The organisers of the action have accused Lavrov of initiating the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrendering territories to Azerbaijan. Lavrov “should be declared persona non grata in Armenia,” they have stated.

Hayk Mamidjanyan, an MP from the “I have the Honour” opposition faction, notes that the action should be taken not as a protest but as friendly demands of the allies. “In its various statements, Russia has repeatedly attached particular importance to the right of nations to self-determination. And I want to state on behalf of the Armenian people that Artsakh has the right to self-determination just like all other nations. And we hope that Russia, being a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, will be committed to the five statements of the co-chairs. We expect from the Russian Federation exactly what we agreed on. And today, we declare that Artsakh will never be part of Azerbaijan,” Hayk Mamidjanyan emphasised.

  • Caucasian Knot, „Armenian opposition supporters call on Lavrov to comply with agreements on Nagorno-Karabakh“,
  • Caucasian Knot, „Opposition blames Lavrov for pressing Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh issue“,


Kalahana village, Azerbaijan. Photo: Nikolay253/

Opposition figures among 213 people pardoned in Azerbaijan

On May 27, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree to pardon a number of convicted persons, including several opposition figures. Those pardoned on May 27 included Saleh Rustamli, one of the leaders of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) and a former governor of the Gadabay District. Rustamli’s sentencing to seven years in 2019 on money laundering charges was widely condemned by opposition supporters and rights groups, who have held protests demanding his release.

Aliyev also pardoned Pasha Umudov, the personal driver of AFPF chair Ali Karimli. Umudov was sentenced to four years and six months in prison on drug charges. Afghan Sadigov, founder of Azel TV and an outspoken critic of the government, was also pardoned.

Rasul Jafarov, the co-founder of the Baku Human Rights Club, a local rights group, told the OC Media that of the 57 people who they had suggested be pardoned, 22 were released.

“We appreciate the decree, both in this regard and because it covered 213 convicts”, said Jafarov. “At the same time, we will continue our activities and communication with government agencies as an organisation to continue the exemptions through other legal mechanisms existing in the country’s legislation”.

Elshan Gasanov, a co-rapporteur of the “Union For Freedom to Political Prisoners”, has expressed his regret that the pardoning covered only a small number of political prisoners. “Unfortunately, the current pardoning, like previous ones, has failed to solve political prisoners’ problems. Out of 126 of them (according to the list compiled by the Union), only a little more than 20 are released,” Mr Gasanov told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.

Azerbaijani activists announced Pride events for the first time in history

Azerbaijan’s small LGBT activists community gathered for a press conference for the first time in eight years, counting it as a victory amid the country’s not-so-queer-friendly social and political landscape, reports

On June 9, LGBTQ activists Javid Nabiyev and Ali Malikov and feminist and political activist Rabiyya Mammadova held a briefing for journalists “to get attention to issues facing LGBTs, to protest against the discrimination we see, and to voice our demands before the state and society.” The last such briefing was held in 2014, they said.

“We have launched this initiative together to be the voice of all those who are facing problems, are threatened by society and the government, and whose rights are being violated”, feminist activist Rabiya Mammadova said at a press conference as cited by the OC Media. The event was also co-organised by queer rights activists Javid Nabiyev and Ali Malikov.

“We thought that pride month, celebrated every year around the world, should be celebrated in Azerbaijan as well; we have good reasons for this”, Malikov told the OC Media. “The LGBTQ+ community is threatened by both society and the state. Given the existing threats, the queer community must now find its place in society”.

Mammadova told the OC Media that the exact format and dates of the events were still being decided. “In a country like Azerbaijan, it is very dangerous to plan events in advance and announce them, so our discussions are still ongoing”, she said. This is our first step in connection with the Pride Month, and we will do our best to make it sustainable in the coming years, she added.

Constitutional reforms planned by de facto Nagorno-Karabakh

De facto Nagorno-Karabakh is planning to transition to a semi-presidential system of government, according to a draft concept from the de facto Constitutional Reforms Commission.

“Taking into account the imperative for ensuring the security of the Republic of Artsakh, the challenges facing the Republic of Artsakh, as well as with the goal of ensuring flexibility of the state administration system in times of martial law or state of emergency and in emergency situations, it is proposed to transform the government system by transitioning to a semi-presidential system of government,” reads the concept, as cited by

The semi-presidential system would rely on two centres – the President and a Prime Minister – who will work with the parliament. Given the current military-political situation, the de facto commission also proposed to hold general elections gradually – parliamentary elections in 2023 and presidential elections in 2024. At the same time, the concept proposes to reserve parliament the right to elect a President in exclusive cases.

  •, “Karabakh planning to transition to the semi-presidential system of government“,
For additional information, see:
  • MARTIROSYAN Armine, JAM News, “Constitutional reforms planned by NKR and how they will strengthen the unrecognised state security“,


Jvari Monastery, Mtskheta, Georgia. Photo: Mistervlad/

European Parliament disappointed with media freedom in Georgia

On July 6, the European Parliament adopted a resolution criticising media freedom in Georgia. “We are disappointed”, “Nika Gvaramia”, “Sanctions”, “Bidzina Ivanishvili”, “July 5”, “Georgia has retreated” – these words were mainly heard today in the European Parliament, where freedom of media and the safety of journalists in Georgia were discussed, reports JAM News.

Speaking at the European Parliament, MP Anna Fotyga said that “the most prominent people” such as the third president Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia, are currently in prison in Georgia, which was one of the subjects of the debate. According to the MP, “Georgians are turning to us, the best friends of Georgia”, despite the criticism of the current government, and demand that the status of a candidate be granted so that the Georgian people are not punished and abandoned: “Look what is happening in Ukraine. I myself fought against the communist regime, and I feel the same as every Georgian. Give status to Georgia, as well as to Ukraine and Moldova”, she added.

Czech representative Marketa Gregorova said she is disappointed with the involvement of the Georgian government in the persecution of the media. According to her, the media situation in Georgia is complicated, as journalists are victims of violent attacks, intimidation, and threats. As the deputy notes, there are many cases of persecution of journalists and initiation of criminal cases against media owners or media workers.

In this respect, MEP Miriam Lexmann from Slovakia demanded sanctions against Bidzina Ivanishvili to support Georgia’s European path. “An independent judiciary needs to carry out appropriate reforms to stop political polarisation and the rollback of democracy. It is important to impose sanctions against the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili for his destructive role in Georgian politics and economy”, Lexmann said.

The resolution caused a wave of emotional reactions from Georgian politicians – both from the government and the opposition.  Archil Talakvadze, the Vice Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, said the resolution on violations of media freedom and the safety of journalists in Georgia, adopted by the European Parliament on Thursday, “diverges from reality”, “lacks fairness”, and “contains distorted facts”.

Talakvadze claimed the fact that the resolution only gained the support of 200 MEPs and showed “how fair its content” was “to some extent”. We believe that the resolution completely diverges from reality; it lacks fairness and contains distorted facts. The Georgian public and many people in Europe know very well that Nika Gvaramia [the recently imprisoned Director-General of Mtavari Arkhi channel, mentioned in the resolution] is no free media, and Mikheil Saakashvili [the imprisoned former President of Georgia] is not a guarantor of democracy or a symbol of democracy in Georgia”, the Parliament official said as cited by

On the other hand, Nika Melia, the chairperson of the United National Movement, the largest opposition party, brought attention to the fact that “every political faction, including that of which Georgian Dream is a part [EPP]”, agreed on the resolution and the current situation in Georgia.

He said the message from the European Parliament was clear, “that people are politically persecuted in Georgia, that there is no freedom of speech in Georgia, that we have political prisoners, Mikheil Saakashvili, Nika Gvaramia, and that journalists and people unacceptable to the authorities are hunted in the streets through the instruction of the authorities.”“This did not happen in a day. By maintaining its power, labelling its opponents as the enemy with a desire to physically destroy them, Georgian Dream was pursuing this result for years,” he emphasised.

Giorgi Gakharia, For Georgia party chairperson and former Prime Minister, stated that the resolution’s main message is neither sanctioning Ivanishvili nor Saakashvili’s imprisonment, but that the biggest threat is that Georgia — the erstwhile leader in the Associated Trio — could get lesser status than Ukraine and Moldova when the EU decides on the three countries’ candidacies.

“There is a real danger that the European perspective of the country, for which our ancestors fought and of which our children dream, will be missed,” Gakharia stressed. “We, the Citizens of Georgia, must unite to save the country and keep our children free and maintain a European future at all costs.”

Referring to the arguments heard at the European Parliament, “Lelo for Georgia” Chairperson Mamuka Khazaradze said the debate “once again confirmed that the Georgian Dream has no friends in the European Union.”

Georgia applied on March 3, following the footsteps of Ukraine, which sent its application bid to Brussels a few days after Russia’s full-scale invasion. Moldova also signed the application the same day. Unlike in the case of Georgia, the European Parliament has expressed unequivocal support in calling the EU Member States to grant candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine.

  • JAM News, “‚We are disappointed‘ – European Parliament on media freedom in Georgia“,
  •, “Parliament Vice-Speaker says European Parliament resolution ‚diverges from reality, lacks fairness and contains ‚distorted facts‘“,
  •, „Opposition Politicians React to European Parliament Resolution“,
Kalashnikov talks about possible discrimination against the Russian language in de facto Abkhazia and the abolishment of the checkpoint on the Psou river

Russian MP Leonid Kalashnikov, the chairperson of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, has stirred controversy in Sokhumi on May 25 after voicing concern over Abkhaz legislation making the knowledge of the Abkhaz language compulsory for lawmakers. One day earlier, the same MP proposed to close the checkpoint between Russia and de facto Abkhazia.

Russian Interfax agency cited MP Kalashnikov as saying on May 25 that the legislation, “pro-forma aimed at supporting the Abkhaz language,” in fact leads to “discrimination of the Russian language” in the occupied region. “Such initiative could result in inter-ethnic tensions considering the status of the Russian language, which is the de facto means of inter-ethnic relations,” the lawmaker warned in an expanded Committee meeting with Abkhaz chief diplomat Inal Ardzinba in attendance.

Pointing at Ukraine, the Russian MP reportedly claimed that “such superficial approach in this sector” could aggravate the situation in the region. Besides, the Russian state-controlled TASS agency reported that MP Kalashnikov pushed Sokhumi to speed up the implementation of its “common socio-economic space” deal with Moscow through harmonising Abkhaz legislation with that of Russia, particularly by introducing the law on foreign agents — fiercely resisted by local civil society leaders.

Inal Ardzinba, Abkhazian de facto Minister of foreign affairs, responded to MP Kalashnikov’s claims on May 25 in a statement stressing that existing Abkhaz legislation “reliably protects the status of the Russian language, allows all citizens to use the Russian language as much as possible and without hindrance in all spheres of activity.” He pointed out that as per the de facto Abkhazias constitution, both Abkhaz and the Russian are considered “languages of state and other institutions.”

At the same time, Kalashnikov said that the checkpoint between Russia and de facto Abkhazia might be closed. “We talked about the Psou checkpoint on the Russian – Abkhaz border because of the problem that is getting worse from year to year. We agreed to create a working group, but in addition, we discussed more serious issues such as the complete abolishment of this checkpoint – as was the case with Belarus”, Kalashnikov said, as cited by the JAM News. State Duma Vice Speaker Anna Kuznetsova added that it is necessary to do everything for a comfortable and convenient border crossing.

A similar initiative was taken by Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Russian state-owned propaganda channel RT, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On March 30, she stated that she was dissatisfied with the existence of a customs post on the Psou River. According to Simonyan, this detracts from the dignity of millions of Russians.

  • JAM News, „No checkpoint is going to be put on the border between Russia and Abkhazia” – Russian State Duma deputy“,
  •, „Duma MP Claims Russian Possibly Discriminated in Abkhazia, Stirs Controversy“,
European Parliament calls for sanctions to be considered on Ivanishvili

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for the EU to consider imposing sanctions on Georgian Dream founder and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili due to the deteriorating state of media freedom in Georgia, reports the OC Media.

“We are deeply concerned about the destructive role that oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili is playing in Georgia’s politics and economy, as well as the control he exercises over the Georgian government and its decisions, including politically motivated persecution of journalists and political opponents.” “We urge the Council and the Democratic Partners to consider imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili for his role in worsening the political process in Georgia,” the statement said, as cited by Georgia Today.

The European Parliament has adopted a joint resolution initiated by five political groups of the European Parliament on violations of media freedom and the safety of journalists in Georgia. The resolution was supported by 308 MEPs, while 218 opposed it.

Georgian Dream chair Irakli Kobakhidze quickly condemned the resolution, calling it „not worth the price of hay” and rejecting criticism for the jailing of third Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his old-time ally, Nika Gvaramia.

The resolution also called on Georgian authorities to “review” Gvaramia’s conviction and release both him and former president Mikhail Saakashvili from prison on humanitarian grounds in order to allow him to undergo proper medical treatment abroad.

Kobakhidze alleged that the text “had nothing to do with European values” and that it included “factual inconsistencies” and “lies”. “It is extremely alarming that such a high-level institution of the European Union has fallen victim to one of the world’s worst plagues, the so-called fake”, Kobakhidze complained during a press conference on Thursday.

As a result, members and supporters of Georgia’s ruling party have lept to the defence of party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, even questioning the country’s EU membership aspirations. Members and supporters of the ruling party have jumped to Ivanishvili’s defence after the resolution was passed, with some even questioning Georgia’s EU membership ambitions.

Georgian Dream MP Dimitri Khundadze described the resolution as “interference in the state’s internal affairs” and a “violation of the country’s independence”. “We won’t give up our dignity to get [candidate] status!” he said on Friday. “No one will intimidate Bidzina Ivanishvili or the Georgian state with threats of sanctions! […] If Georgia is to get [candidate country] status with unjust obligations, like those unfair accusations reflected in the resolution, then Georgia’s fair response should be its rejection”, he said.

As the  OC media reminds, the Georgian public opinion has been consistently and overwhelmingly in favour of EU membership for over a decade. Other Georgian Dream MPs, like Davit Matikashvili, underlined Ivanishvili’s philanthropic work. “What kind of sanctions are they demanding from the European Parliament — sanctions for building or reconstructing Sameba Cathedral and numerous other churches?!” he asked on Thursday. “For preserving and saving lives and health of thousands of Georgian citizens?!” he added.

Almost immediately after the content of the resolution became public, pro-government TV channels Imedi and PosTV focused overwhelmingly on allegations from the ruling party that the opposition United National Movement (UNM) had lobbied for the resolution.

Virtually no coverage was devoted to the government being criticised for their failure to deliver institutional reforms, including of the judiciary. “Sanction your own parents — parent one or parent two”, PostTV anchor Shalva Ramishvili wrote on Facebook on Thursday, parroting a common right-wing talking point claiming that the West was attempting to remove traditional family roles.

Gia Gachechiladze, a popular far-right campaigner known as Utsnobi, also weighed in. “If the path to Europe goes through sanctioning Bidzina, through involving us in war, we do not want it. We do not want that sort of Europe nor America; we will take care of ourselves”, he told Imedi on Thursday.

In response to criticism for not showing more robust support for Ukraine, Georgian Dream has consistently accused both the Ukrainian government and the UNM of seeking to involve Georgia in a war with Russia.

For additional information, see:, „European Parliament resolution on violations of media freedom and safety of journalists in Georgia“,

Planned Referendum on joining Russia cancelled by new da facto president of South Ossetia

On May 24., Alan Gagloyev has been sworn in as the new de facto president of South Ossetia. Less than a week after the inauguration, Gagloyev has suspended a referendum on joining the Russian Federation announced by his predecessor. Gagloyev swore an oath on the de facto constitution in two official languages, Ossetian and Russian, and de facto Central Elections Commission head Emilia Gagiyeva presented him with the presidential ID.

As Interfax reported, the inauguration ceremony was attended by former de facto presidents of South Ossetia, namely Lyudvig Chibirov (the first de facto president), Leonid Tibilov (the third de facto president) and Anatoly Bibilov (the fourth de facto president), as well as delegations from Russia, North Ossetia, Chechnya, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, de facto Abkhazia, the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh, the unrecognised Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic, the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics, and Nicaragua.

Alan Gagloyev said on May 30 that the decree on holding the referendum had been suspended until consultations with Moscow were complete. “Consultations are being held with the Russian side on a wide range of issues related to the further integration of the Republic of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation,” the decree of the new de facto leader says, as cited by RFE/RL.

Gagloyev’s decree on “ways of further integration of the Republic of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation” refers to “the uncertainty of the legal consequences of the issue.” It also cites the “inadmissibility of a unilateral decision to hold a referendum.”

On May 13, South Ossetia’s former de facto leader, Anatoly Bibilov, signed a decree on holding the referendum, setting July 17 as the date. As Caucasian Knot informs, a few days before the end of his presidential term, Bibilov made several new personnel appointments. These were caused by his desire to annoy his successor, Zaur Farniev, a journalist with the “Kommersant” Publishing House, has noted. “Bibilov’s desire to louder slam the door is quite predictable. The entire election campaign suggests that two people – Gagloev and Bibilov, as it seems to me, are ready to do anything to spoil each other’s lives,” Mr Farniev told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.

The appointments made by Bibilov demonstrate his desire for revenge, Murat Gukemukhov, a correspondent for the Echo of the Caucasus, is sure. “Assignment of titles, awards, appointments to positions or the decision to hold a referendum is such a signal to the society that Bibilov perceives what has happened as a temporary misunderstanding that will soon be corrected. Bibilov clearly does not intend to retire; he will continue fighting for the presidency. His recent appointments, on the one hand, are a demonstration that until the last minute of his powers, he thinks about people and takes care of them. And on the other hand, this is an opportunity to spoil Alan Gagloev’s life,” Mr Gukemukhov believes.

The latest de facto presidential election in South Ossetia took place on May 8. Gagloyev won with 56.09% of the vote or 16,134 votes cast at polling stations.


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