Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief

Bi-weekly review (03. 07. – 16. 07. 2023)

Tomáš Baranec


Mirror Radio Telescope, Armenia. Photo:

Azerbaijan, Armenia, and EU leaders negotiated in Brussels

After a trilateral meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on July 15, 2023, with the President of the Council of the European Union, Charles Michel made a statement to the press.

The EU’s top official said the exchange of views was once again frank, honest, and meaningful. “Our meeting was the latest in a series of intensive and productive high-level meetings involving the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, deputy prime ministers, and foreign ministers, which have been held since early May in Brussels, Chisinau, Washington, Moscow, and on the bilateral border. We are going through one of the most complete and energetic stages of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I commended the leaders for their strong commitment to the peace process and encouraged them to take further bold steps to ensure decisive and irreversible progress toward normalization. And while our meeting took place in the context of an alarming increase in tensions on the ground, I noted an important momentum in political discussions and efforts,” Michel said.

“The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan once again fully reaffirmed their respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other country, based on the fact that the territory of Armenia is 29,800 square kilometers, while the territory of Azerbaijan is 86,600 sq. kilometers,” he said, as cited by the Caucasus Watch.

“During the meeting, the deepening humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh caused by Azerbaijan’s illegal blocking of the Lachin Corridor, border delimitation and works for ensuring border security between the two countries, the unblocking of regional transport and economic infrastructures, the agreement on the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, addressing the rights and security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as issues related to prisoners, missing persons and other humanitarian issues were discussed. An agreement was reached to intensify the work towards the solution of the discussed issues,” says Armenian PM’s Press Service.

Azerbaijani human rights activist and lawyer Rashid Hajili expressed his opinion on the social network, highlighting topics on which there was no agreement in Brussels since Charles Michel, in his statement about the negotiations, noted only those issues on which the positions of the parties are converging.

The Azerbaijani side stated the importance of withdrawing Armenian armed formations from Karabakh. There is no such thing in Charles Michel’s statement. The topic of armed formations remained in the context of the security of the Armenian population living in Karabakh. Considering the position of Azerbaijan, Charles Michel did not speak about any international guarantees of the security of the Armenian population, stressed Hajili.

Armenia smashes all-time tourism record

According to the head of the Armenian Tourism Committee, Sisian Poghosean, the country may well pass the 2 million mark by the end of this year if the foreign tourist inflow to Armenia remains as high as it is now.

“The inflow of tourists to Armenia turned out to be unprecedented in the first half of the year, amounting to 1 million. This is the highest figure recorded in recent years. If we compare it to the first half of 2019, which was considered a record year, the figure is now 30% higher. In 2019, some 1.9 million tourists visited the country,” Poghosean said at a press conference on July 10, as cited by Business Media Georgia.

Russian tourists account for about 52% of the total number of visits. Citizens of Georgia follow them with 11% and Iran with 6%. Nevertheless, the number of tourists from other countries, particularly France, Germany, and the UAE, is also growing.

  • Business Media Georgia, “Armenia expects to host over 2 million tourists this year”,

Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo:


Gobustan City, Azerbaijan. Photo:

Azerbaijani village still under lockdown after protest

Law enforcement continues to control movement in and out of the village of Söyüdlü. More people have also been arrested, including a former MP who represented the area, reported Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Government, for the first time, acknowledged possible ecological problems.

The residents of Söyüdlü, a village in Azerbaijan’s western Gadabay district, grabbed the public’s attention on June 20 with their protest against the planned construction of an artificial lake meant to hold waste from the nearby British-operated Gadabay gold mine (also known as Gedabek). The violent police response to the demonstration, especially using chemical irritants directly in the faces of elderly female protestors, sparked outrage locally.

Police have held the village under tight control ever since. And new reports allege they are continuing to intimidate local residents.  Other media as well bring testimonies of local residents. “They allow people to enter and exit only after checking their documents”, one woman who was injured by the police in the protests told OC Media. “I work as a nurse in Gadabay District. Every day, after checking my documents at the police station, they allowed me to leave the village. We go through the same procedure when we return home from work”, she said. “Shohrat Asgarov, who was arrested while going to buy medicine for his child, was released after being beaten at the Gadabay Police Station”, another local resident told OC Media.

Meanwhile, Nazim Beydemirli, a former member of the Azerbaijani parliament, has been arrested on extortion charges. He told his lawyer that the accusation against him was fabricated and related to events in Söyüdlü. Earlier in the pro-government media, there was a series of articles in which he and several other oppositionists were accused of organising protests. This happened after the ex-deputy confirmed statements from local residents about the harmful effects on human health and the environment of the activities of a gold mining enterprise located in the village.

On July 12, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, Mukhtar Babayev, told local journalists that a “temporary suspension of operation” had been agreed with the mining company. Babayev added that tests of air quality in the region found that “dangerous substances did not exceed the norm”. Protesters claim that the drainage of acid from the mines into an artificial lake has caused significant air quality issues and damage to health.

The announcement came a day after President Aliyev acknowledged the protests for the first time since their violent suppression by police on June 20—21, criticising the Ministry of Ecology and “provocateurs”.

Speaking at a meeting attended by ministers and the vice president to discuss the “results” of the first six months of 2023, Aliyev stated on July 11 that the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources had been “at least negligent, showed a lack of control […] and as a result, a foreign investor poisoned our nature”.

  • ISAYEV Heydar,, “Azerbaijani village still under lockdown after protest, arrests continue”,

  • AGHAYEV Ismi, OC Media, “Azerbaijan’s Soyudlu enters third week under police blockade”,

  • JAM News, “Former deputy, mentioned as “organiser” of protests in Soyudlu, arrested”,

  • AGHAYEV Ismi, OC Media, “Mining to be halted in Soyudlu after Aliyev threatens ‘provocateurs’”,

Icheri, Azerbaijan. Photo:

Food shortages and fear as peacekeepers refused entry to Nagorno-Karabakh

Increasing food and fuel shortages have gripped de facto Nagorno-Karabakh after Russian peacekeeper traffic was banned from entering and leaving the region in late June. Local de facto authorities announced on July 4 that sugar and sunflower oil rations would be provided only to families with children. 

 Stepanakert’s milk processing plant has also shut down due to a shortage of raw products from Armenia, with the main supplies of dairy products to Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto capital becoming those from the surrounding villages.

 As OC Media reminds, Russian peacekeeping vehicles were blocked from entering the region in late June after a clash between de facto Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan that killed four Nagorno-Karabakh soldiers. Russian peacekeepers’ vehicles had been the only fuel supplier to the region, and their absence has led to severe fuel shortages and a ban on selling fuel.

On July 13, Azerbaijan also barred the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from using the only road connecting de facto Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and the outside world through the Lachin Pass. The State Border Service of Azerbaijan made the announcement on July 11, citing “repeated attempts to smuggle various types of contraband” on Red Cross trucks coming from the Armenian side through the Lachin corridor. These items reportedly included cigarettes, telephones, and gasoline.

The ICRC acknowledged that four of its hired drivers had transported commercial goods through the corridor. It said the drivers, who were not staff, had their service contracts terminated immediately and urged Baku to let it resume its “strictly humanitarian” work. Following a block on all humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh, thousands gathered in the region’s de facto capital of Stepanakert on July 14 to protest the blockade, vowing to continue the protests indefinitely.

On the same day, Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto State Minister, Gurgen Nersisyan, stated that while they had hoped the international community, as well as Russia and Armenia, would take decisive action to stop what he described as a “deadly disaster”, it had turned out that “everyone just watches everything as an observer”. 

He also railed against the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh being used as “coins” in conflicts and relations between states, stating that a conflict between the West and Russia was being conducted at the expense of the lives of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. “What do you need? What are you waiting for? Do you want us to have corpses of people in this square every day for you to respond?”, Nersisyan said. 

Meanwhile, both Russia and the West started to express their concern verbally. On July 6, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia called on Azerbaijan to unblock the Lachin corridor. “We express our extreme concern over the increasing cases of ceasefire violations in Nagorno-Karabakh and the ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor. According to available information, the humanitarian situation in the region is deteriorating. With regret, we have to state that due to the cessation of supply, the population of Karabakh may find itself without stocks of food, essential goods, and medicines,” Zakharova said. “This is contrary to the trilateral agreements between the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, including the provisions of the statement of November 9, 2020,” the Foreign Ministry stressed.

On July 12, following Baku’s recent decision to prohibit medical evacuations from the Armenian-populated region, the United States and the European Union reiterated their demand to remove Azerbaijan’s blockade immediately. “The United States is deeply concerned about Azerbaijan’s continued closure of the Lachin corridor,” the US Embassy in Yerevan said in a statement. “Yesterday’s halting of humanitarian traffic exacerbates a worsening humanitarian situation and undermines efforts to establish confidence in the peace process. Free and open transit through the Lachin corridor must be restored immediately,” the statement added.

Similarly, the EU’s foreign policy spokeswoman, Nabila Massrali, called on Azerbaijan to take measures to ensure the continued operations of the ICRC and prevent the potential occurrence of a humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. “The EU strongly supports the crucial role of the ICRC in the region and reiterates its call for Azerbaijan to ensure the unrestricted movement of people and goods via the Lachin corridor,” Massrali said. On July 14, Baku allowed the Red Cross to resume medical evacuations from its restive Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenia. However, it is not allowing the flow the other way – from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.



The Chronicles of Georgia. Photo:

Pride Week marked in Georgia as Government escalates homophobia

A festival planned for July 8 afternoon as part of Tbilisi Pride week has been called off after Georgian police failed to confront supporters of the far-right extremist group Alt-Info. Despite making public statements guaranteeing the safety of the event and bringing crowd-control equipment to the site, police deployed to protect the event did not use force to stop the several thousand far-right protesters from entering the festival venue just hours before it was due to start, reported OC Media.

Alt-Info celebrated as they destroyed and burnt installations on the festival grounds as the police watched on. Several were also seen looting. In its statement, Tbilisi Pride accused the Government of being complicit in the attack on the festival. “Today’s developments indicate that today’s planned events were pre-coordinated and agreed upon between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the violent group Alt-Info”, the group said.

The speaker of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, on the other hand, praised the police’s actions stating that the police had “done their job” of protecting people’s safety, as “no one was injured”. Earlier that day, Georgian President Salome Zourabishvili called on the relevant agencies to ensure the safe conduct of the Pride Festival, citing freedom of speech and expression as a “fundamental human right, and anything that contradicts this principle is unacceptable”. Following the incident, Zourabishvili criticised the Interior Ministry for being unable to prevent violence during the festival and noted two constitutional rights – freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – were violated in the country.

Several Western diplomats were quick to condemn the violence, with some appearing to criticise the authorities for their failure to protect the festival. The Czech Ambassador, Petr Mikyska, even hinted that the day’s events could impact Georgia’s EU membership bid. “Shocking pictures from Tbilisi Pride”, Mikyska tweeted on Saturday. “Constitutional rights, freedom of assembly violated, police unable to protect citizens. Is this a specific way to European Union? In my humble opinion, definitely not.”

An active campaign by the church and several government officials against LGBT week preceded the incident. On July 7, the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church and several other religious denominations in the country claimed Tbilisi Pride, the LGBT rights group that organises the annual festival of the same title, was engaged in “changing the cultural code” rather than protecting the rights of sexual minorities, and called for legal changes to address the “propaganda” and “prevent threats” to “civil peace”.

Claiming the backdrop of the ongoing Tbilisi Pride Week in the capital city to promote the rights of sexual minorities, Andria Jagmaidze, the head of the Public Relations section of the Patriarchate, claimed the “LGBT propaganda” by the domestic organisation had been a source of “severe polarisation and violence” over the years.

According to, the Georgian Government and ruling party leaders have been actively scaremongering about what they see as Western trends of targeting children with “LGBT propaganda” for several months now. The phenomenon entered a new stage in June 2023 when pro-government media and government officials, among others, raised alarms over the contents of the local McDonald’s franchise’s Happy Meals for Children.

The package came with a booklet from the Little People, Big Dreams series that includes illustrated celebrity biographies meant to inspire children. The one that touched the nerve of Georgian conservatives featured the biography of Sir Elton John, an openly-gay British musician. The fact that the biography mentioned the singer’s marriage to another man was seized on by Georgian officials as proof of “LGBT propaganda” being purveyed among children.

“The ruling party is likely pursuing several other aims, including rallying conservative voters for the crucial parliamentary elections due to be held in fall 2024. Indeed, the rhetoric has been actively used to target not only queer activist groups but also discredit political opponents and a wider spectrum of younger critics”, wrote in its commentary.


  • GABRITCHIDZE Nini,, “Pride Week marked in Georgia as government escalates homophobia”,
  • NIKURADZE Mariam, FABBRO Robin, Shoshiashvili Tata, OC Media,  “Tbilisi Pride Festival cancelled after police fail to confront extremists”,
  •, “Police arrest several participants of Tbilisi Pride Week counter-protests”,
  •, Orthodox Church Patriarchate, religious denominations call for legal regulations on “LGBT propaganda”,
Easier travel agreement between Georgia and Armenia enters into force

The agreement “On bilateral visa-free movement of citizens between the Republic of Georgia and the Republic of Armenia” officially entered into force on July 13. Now citizens of Georgia and Armenia have the right to travel back and forth using their identity documents through the designated border crossing allowed for international travel.

Prime Ministers of Georgia and Armenia, Irakli Garibashvili and Nikol Pashinyan signed the agreement to facilitate crossing the Georgian-Armenian border for citizens of both countries on January 12, 2023, in Yerevan. “The agreement aims to provide even more favourable conditions for the mutual movement of citizens of Georgia and Armenia,” the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia reads.

The new agreement replaces the visa-free movement agreement signed on May 19, 1993, between the Republic of Georgia and Armenia.


  • JAM News, “The bilateral visa-free regime for citizens of Armenia and Georgia has gone into effect”,
  •, “Visa-Free Travel Agreement Between Georgia and Armenia Enters into Force”,
Renewed diplomatic tensions between Kyiv and Tbilisi

Ukraine has summoned the Georgian Ambassador to the country and ordered him to return to Georgia to consult with his Government over Ukraine’s demand to hand over Mikheil Saakashvili. Meanwhile, Georgian Airways and its chairman were added to the Ukrainian sanction list for resuming flights to Russian destinations in May 2023. 

On July 3, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again called on the Georgian authorities to hand over the imprisoned third president of Georgia, who holds Ukrainian citizenship. Zelensky said that Georgian Ambassador Giorgi Zakarashvili would be asked to return to Georgia within 48 hours. In a tweet on Monday, Zelensky attached an image of Saakashvili from his remote court appearance on July 3, in which the former President had visibly lost weight.

Since his arrest in October 2021, Saakashvili has several times gone on hunger strikes, leading to his transfer to a hospital in Tbilisi, where he remains. “Once again, I call on the Georgian authorities to hand over Ukrainian citizen Mykhailo Saakashvili to Ukraine for the necessary treatment and care”, Zelensky wrote.

 According to the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, Ukrainian authorities are “behaving improperly” towards Georgia: “The Ukrainian Government recalled its Ambassador from Georgia, even though they still had an ambassador in Belarus. And the Ukrainian Government effectively expelled the Georgian Ambassador from Ukraine. This is an undiplomatic gesture towards our people…”

The Chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, told journalists that the Ukrainian Government’s position was “offensive”. “It was insulting in itself that, as our opponents themselves admitted, specific high-ranking officials of the Ukrainian Government were involved in sending Saakashvili to Georgia, and today, when the same Government demands Saakashvili’s return to Ukraine, this, of course, shows the signs of an insult. However, I don’t want to go deeper than that. We desire to remain even in a one-sided friendship mode with the Ukrainian authorities because this country is currently in a state of war”, said Kobakhidze.

 On July 1, Ukraine’s President put sanctions into effect on 190 new individuals and 290 legal entities as part of its ongoing effort to punish Russia and its perceived enablers in the current war. The new targets include Georgian Airways and its chairman.  In his reaction, Georgian Economy Minister Levan Davitashvili said the decision of the Ukrainian Government to put the flagship Georgian Airways carrier on its list of sanctioned companies was an “entirely political decision”.

The Ministry of Economy cited Davitashvili as saying “many airlines” operated flights from “many countries” to Russia, adding their operations had not led to “similar reaction or decision from the Ukrainian authorities”. He also called the move “another very unfriendly” step by the Ukrainian authorities and said he suspected the involvement of Georgian opposition in the decision. 

  • SHOSHIASHVILI Tata, OC Media, “Zelensky orders Georgian ambassador to return to Tbilisi to consult over Saakashvili”,
  • JAM News, “Chairman of the Georgian Parliament: ‘The Ukrainian government is behaving improperly’”,
  • RFE/RL, New Ukrainian Sanctions Targets Include Georgia’s Flagship Airline, Kazakh And Belarusian Companies,
  •, „Economy Minister: Ukraine’s decision to sanction Georgian Airways ‘entirely political’”, Economy Minister: Ukraine’s decision to sanction Georgian Airways “entirely political”,

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