Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief
Bi-weekly review (17. 01. – 30. 01. 2023)
Republic Square, Yerevan. Photo: Andrei Bortnikau/ Shutterstock.com
EU approves new monitoring mission for Armenia over Russian and Azerbaijani objections
In January 2023, the European Union approved deploying a new civilian monitoring mission in Armenia. In a statement announcing the decision, the EU Council said it would “build confidence on the ground and ensure an environment conducive to normalisation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan supported by the EU”.
The civilian mission, which Yerevan requested, will “conduct routine patrolling and reporting on the situation”. Headquartered in Armenia, the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) will have a two-year mandate. Armenia’s foreign minister welcomed the move, saying the mission “will contribute to the peace, stability and security of the region.” “We will readily cooperate with the mission and support its activities,” Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan tweeted.
On the other hand, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Yerevan against deploying a “civil monitoring mission” on the border with Azerbaijan without Baku’s consent. “The Armenian side prefers to negotiate with the EU so that a civilian observer mission can be stationed there (in Armenia) on a long-term basis. This is the border with Azerbaijan, so if this mission unfolds without the consent of Azerbaijan, it may simply be counterproductive. Instead of building trust at the border, it can create additional irritants,” Lavrov said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan expressed dissatisfaction with the EU’s decision, saying in a statement that “the deployment of the EU mission in Armenia should take into account the legitimate interests of Azerbaijan, and its activities by the EU should not undermine mutual trust”. Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev agreed to the deployment of the previous two-month mission in October 2022 during a quadripartite meeting in Prague, “believing that this will help the process of normalising relations” with Armenia. “However, the activities of the monitoring mission were accompanied by serious deviations from the agreements reached in Prague due to the biased approach of some EU member states,” the statement says.
- FABBRO Robin, OC Media, “EU approves 2-year monitoring mission to Armenia–Azerbaijan border“, https://oc-media.org/eu-approves-2-year-monitoring-mission-to-armenia-azerbaijan-border/
- DONMEZ Binnur Beyza, AA.com, “New EU civilian mission in Armenia to boost border security, efforts for normalisation with Azerbaijan“, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/new-eu-civilian-mission-in-armenia-to-boost-border-security-efforts-for-normalization-with-azerbaijan/2795441
- JAM News,” ‘Attack on Baku and Moscow‘: a new EU monitoring mission in Armenia“, https://jam-news.net/new-eu-mission-in-armenia/
Court denies bail to Azerbaijani activist despite „deteriorating health“.
A Baku Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s refusal to release an Azerbaijani human rights activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev on bail, the activist’s lawyer, Rovshana Rahimli, told VOA. Rahimli said the health of Hajiyev, who has been on a hunger strike since January 9, is deteriorating. “Hajiyev is feeling weaker compared to previous days. He is experiencing dizziness,” she said. Rahimli added Hajiyev has experienced increased headaches and aches in his heart.
She said a doctor at the detention centre examined him and warned of serious damage to his brain. “Unfortunately, the detention centre does not have a computer tomography or echocardiogram equipment. He [the doctor] asked them to consider this matter. [Hajiyev] must undergo computer tomography and echocardiogram,” Rahimli said.
Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was detained on December 9 on charges of hooliganism and contempt of court. On the same day, the Khatai District Court arrested him for 1 month and 20 days. On December 15, Hajiyev went on a hunger strike, demanding his release. On December 28, he ended his hunger strike after persistent calls from the public and family members. However, on January 9, he resumed his hunger strike after the appeal court refused to release him, and it continues to this day. On January 21, the court extended Hajiyev’s arrest for another 1 month.
Bahruz Maharramov, a member of the Azerbaijan parliament, dismissed the claims that Hajiyev’s imprisonment is related to his political activities and said criminal prosecution against him was carried out in accordance with the criminal procedural legislation. “Political stance, work, profession, reputation, social status of any citizen does not give them any advantage. In Azerbaijan, the criminal process is carried out on the basis of equality of rights of everyone before the law and the court,” Maharramov said.
Numerous local and international organisations have condemned Hajiyev’s arrest and demanded his release. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on January 23, 2023, and raised concerns about human rights in Azerbaijan.
- AGHAYEV Ismi, OC Media, “Court denies bail to Azerbaijani activist despite ‘deteriorating health’“, https://oc-media.org/court-denies-bail-to-azerbaijani-activist-despite-deteriorating-health/
- Voanews.com, “Azerbaijani Activist’s Appeal Rejected“, https://www.voanews.com/a/azerbaijani-activist-s-appeal-rejected-/6932512.html
- Turan.az, „Bakhtiyar Hajiyev often loses consciousness, he has shortness of breath – lawyer“, https://www.turan.az/ext/news/2023/1/free/Social/en/828.htm
Blinken urges Aliyev to open Lachin Corridor
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a telephone conversation on January 23 with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, urged the Azerbaijani leader to open the Lachin Corridor to commercial traffic immediately. “He stressed that the risk of a humanitarian crisis in the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh undermines the peace prospects between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The State Secretary encouraged President Aliyev to redouble his efforts in bilateral peace talks with Armenia. He also expressed concerns about human rights in Azerbaijan,” Ned Price, the Spokesperson of the State Department, said in the statement.
According to the Press Service of the President of Azerbaijan, during a telephone conversation, the US Secretary of State expressed his concern about the situation in the Lachin Corridor in the territory of Azerbaijan. “Antony Blinken expressed the commitment of the United States to the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and expressed his support for the negotiations on a peace treaty,” the report said.
- Caucasus Watch, „Blinken Urges Aliyev to Open Lachin Corridor“, https://caucasuswatch.de/en/news/blinken-urges-aliyev-to-open-lachin-corridor.html
- Caucasus Watch, „European Parliament Urges Azerbaijan to ‘Immediately Reopen‘ Lachin corridor; Azerbaijan partly restores gas supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh“, https://caucasuswatch.de/en/news/european-parliament-urges-azerbaijan-to-immediately-reopen-lachin-corridor-azerbaijan-partly-restores-gas-supplies-to-nagorno-karabakh.html
Deadly attack on Azerbaijani embassy in Teheran
The embassy’s security chief was shot dead, and two other staff were wounded. The attack comes amid Azerbaijan’s increasingly strained relations with Iran and blossoming friendship with Iran’s archrival Israel, writes Eurasianet.org.
On January 27, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry reported that a man holding a Kalashnikov rifle broke through the security post of its embassy in Tehran at just after 8 a.m. and killed the security chief. “Two embassy security guards were also injured while preventing the attack. Their condition is satisfactory,” the statement read. “An investigation is currently underway into this treacherous attack.”
A video circulated on Telegram channels shows a gunman abruptly parking his car in front of the embassy, bypassing a security guard, and forcibly entering behind two employees. In another video from inside the entrance, the employees are confronted by the gunman and flee into a side room. The gunman fires shots into the room until another employee approaches him from behind and attempts to wrestle the weapon from him. The video ends at this point.
Local police soon arrested a suspect. Tehran police chief Brigadier-General Hossein Rahimi told Iranian media that the gunman entered the embassy with his two young children and that “the preliminary investigation shows that the attacker’s motive was personal and family problems.” There are no children visible in the video footage, though.
According to a Tehran criminal court prosecutor, the detainee claimed that in April last year, his wife “went to the Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran and did not return home.” As the individual had not “received any response from the embassy during his repeated visits to the compound in Tehran,” he decided to go there with a rifle, the official stated.
However, Baku dismissed this version and claimed Teheran bears responsibility for the attack. “The attacker broke through the guard post, killing the head of security with a Kalashnikov assault rifle,” the Ministry said. Staff at the embassy have been evacuated, according to officials.
“All responsibility for the attack lies with Iran,” a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry told reporters. The Ministry added that there had been attempts to threaten its diplomatic mission in Iran before, and “measures to prevent such situations and to ensure the safety of our diplomatic missions have been constantly raised before Iran.”
Azerbaijani news site Caliber.az, connected with the country’s Defense Ministry, went so far as to claim that the Iranian special forces were behind the attack. According to the outlet, the Tehran police’s theory is “a fiction and an attempt to present the terrorist attack planned by the Iranian special services as a ‘household accident.’” President Ilham Aliyev himself refrained from blaming Iran for the attack, however.
Following the attack, Iran appointed a new Police Chief for Teheran. It was unclear if the attack influenced the appointment. Abbas-Ali Mohammadian has been named the new police commander of Tehran, replacing Hossein Rahimi, who will now head a police department tasked with countering economic crimes.
- ISAYEV Heydar, Eurasianet.org, „Azerbaijani embassy in Iran comes under deadly attack“, https://eurasianet.org/azerbaijani-embassy-in-iran-comes-under-deadly-attack
- Caucasus Watch, “Armed Attack on Azerbaijani Embassy in Iran; Baku Accuses Iran of Spreading Lies“, https://caucasuswatch.de/en/news/armed-attack-on-azerbaijani-embassy-in-iran-baku-accuses-iran-of-lies.html
- DW, Gunman kills 1 in attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Iran“, https://www.dw.com/en/gunman-kills-1-in-attack-on-azerbaijan-embassy-in-iran/a-64532933
Levan Khabeishvili Elected New UNM Chairman
MP Levan Khabeishvili has beaten the incumbent, Nika Melia, to be elected as the new Chairman of the opposition United National Movement (UNM). The winner got 52.58% (21,656 votes), against Melia’s 40% (16,476 votes), reported civil.ge.
The UNM party held the polls through an electronic voting system from January 28 to January 30. Some 49,638 party members were registered to vote, out of which 41,264 took part.
Koba Nakopia, Chairman of the UNM political council, announced the results at a news briefing on January 30. Other candidates were trailing the leaders, with Nona Mamulashvili getting 3.73% (1,537 votes) and Giorgi Mumladze – 3.68% (1,516 votes).
Nakopia noted that according to the party’s rules, the UNM would hold its Congress to adopt the results, after which the new Chairman will formally take office. The elections followed intra-party tensions between the camps of Khabeishvili and Melia over their position regarding the imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili, the founder of the party.
Khabeishvili had pledged to take “all necessary actions”, including “storming” the clinic where Saakashvili is receiving treatment, to ensure his release. On his part, Melia had accused the winning candidate of being a part of a ploy of former UNM officials affiliated with Saakashvili to “run the party from the backstage”.
After his defeat on January 30, Melia congratulated Khabeishvili on his victory in the party chairman’s election. He said he stayed in the party as long as Saakashvili was in custody. “I congratulate Levan Khabeishvili on his victory. I wish him to rule the party with dignity and truth”, Melia said. As OC Media reminds us, back in 2020, Melia defeated Saakashvili-favourite Levan Varshalomidze and has since retained strained relations with the former president.
The issue of helping Saakashvili, who remains hospitalised in a Tbilisi clinic and faces at least five years in prison, has remained the central issue for many UNM supporters since the former president arrived in Georgia in September 2021. The UNM agreed to hold interim internal party elections after criticism of Melia’s perceived failure to do enough to free Saakashvili culminated in November.
- Civil.ge, „Levan Khabeishvili Elected New UNM Chairman“, https://civil.ge/archives/522969,
- KINCHA Shota, “UNM elects new leader following criticism for failing to free Saakashvili“, https://oc-media.org/unm-elects-new-leader-following-criticism-for-failing-to-free-saakashvili/
- Agenda.ge, „Incumbent Chair of UNM opposition party defeated in controversial race“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2023/355
The controversy within United National Movement
Nika Melia, the embattled chairman of the United National Movement (UNM), said in an interview with TV Pirveli on January 17 that former Interior and Defense Ministers Vano Merabishvili and Davit Kezerashvili, respectively, used “vicious, KGB-like methods” in an attempt to gain informal control over the party, reports Civil.ge.
The hard-hitting interview came as UNM plans a three-day online poll on January 28-30 to elect the new party chairman. Levan Khabeishvili, Nona Mamulashvili, and Giorgi Mumladze challenge Melia. The two shadowy strongmen, Merabishvili and Kezerashvili, reportedly back Khabeishvili in his bid.
As a compelling example of dirty tactics allegedly used by his opponents, he named the recently publicised covert audio recordings, where Melia refers to UNM founder and leader Mikheil Saakashvili with vulgar expletives. Melia said former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili spread the recordings as an attempt “to influence the results of [party] elections.” He maintained that these tactics were doomed to fail since “a large portion of the UNM voters want to live under a democratic, developed, formalised rule, where such dirty tricks will be over, once and for all.”
Melia attacked Khabeishvili as being motivated only by “money and self-interest.” He admitted to having personally poached off Khabeishvili himself from Giorgi Vashadze’s “Strategy Agmashenebeli” in an effort that “took less than half an hour. “Now, it seems he received more profitable proposals from someone else,” Melia stressed.
On January 21, Members of the UNM faction in Zugdidi City Assembly (Sakrebulo) said at a briefing that they support Nika Melia’s candidacy for the post of UNM Chairman. The faction members claimed that the ongoing processes in the party are not “pleasant,” however, saving ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s life and Georgia’s European integration are among the party’s key priorities.
The UNM members remarked on the statement of Levan Khabeishvili (another UNM chairmanship candidate), saying that Melia asks regional organisation members to support his candidacy. Zugdidi Sakrebulo UNM representatives claimed that “Melia has no time to make such calls.”
In reaction to the internal strife in the UNM, Georgian Dream MP Irakli Zarkua said: “Looking at them, I think we will be in power at least until 2030! Of course, society will decide, but everyone was convinced that the Georgian Dream, despite its problems and flaws, is the force guided by Georgia’s interests.”
According to him, the candidates for the chairmanship of the UNM need more resources to make changes. “I listened to Nika Melia yesterday. To tell the truth, I felt sorry for this person. It seems he is in trouble. It has been confirmed once again, and they have already admitted that they cannot change; they have the same handwriting—eavesdropping, blackmailing each other, etc. As a result of this process, Georgian society will win and has already won,” Zarkua said.
- Caucasus Watch, „Controversy Within United National Movement Continues“, https://caucasuswatch.de/en/news/controversy-within-united-national-movement-continues.html
- Civil.ge, „Nika Melia Fights Back UNM Leadership Challenge“, https://civil.ge/archives/521906
- 1TV.ge, „Zugdidi Sakrebulo UNM faction supports Nika Melia“, https://1tv.ge/lang/en/news/zugdidi-sakrebulo-unm-faction-supports-nika-melia/
Georgian authorities must pay €25,000 over Temirlan Machalikashvili’s murder
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Georgian State Security Services (SSG) violated the right to life of 19-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili, who was shot dead in a raid on his home in the Pankisi Valley in December 2017.
According to the ruling, the Court found in particular that the authorities had failed to comply with the requirements of an effective and thorough investigation. Especially in the way the important evidence was collected and handled. It also found that the investigative activities were conducted superficially. But at the same time, the Court considered that there was insufficient evidence to conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that TM had died in the circumstances engaging the responsibility of the State.
“The Court found that the version of events provided by the authorities was plausible and that it could not assess the conflicting versions due in part to the shortcomings of the investigation and in part because no judicial assessment of the exact circumstances had been carried out at the domestic level,” the ruling reads.
Moreover, the Court rejected the applicants’ complaint of ill-treatment under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) as manifestly ill-founded. “The Court observed that there was no evidence in the case file that TM’s family had suffered stress and anxiety beyond what could have been expected in that type of law-enforcement operation, particularly given how the operation unfolded,” the Court explained.
The Court finally held that Georgia was to pay the applicants jointly 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 15,000 in respect of costs and expenses. Reacting to the ruling, Temirlan Machalikashvili’s father, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, expressed disappointment that the court did not find his son was unlawfully killed but said he was nevertheless “satisfied”. “With today’s decision, I received an answer that this case is investigated very rudely and ineffectively”, – Malkhaz Machalikashvili said when evaluating today’s decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Machalakashvili and others v. Georgia.
As he told InterPressNews, the investigation should resume into the case.
“For me, the main thing is that they discovered too many gross violations, and ineffective investigation, which is directly stated in the decision of the Court. There are many issues that can be mentioned. From what I saw and what I see, the investigation should resume into the case, the ministerial committee should discuss it, and finally, we should get answers. The case will be appealed again”.
“The family had no access to anything, no power to appeal, and no victim status. The investigation was launched by the one who committed this crime – the State Security Service, and now all this means to me is that I am right. The case should be returned to the investigation,” added Machalikashvili.
Temirlan Machalikashvili was shot dead in his bed in the town of Duisi by heavily armed and masked security officers during a counterterror sweep in 2017. The ruling follows a years-long campaign by the family for justice. Temirlan’s father, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, spent a year and a half protesting around the clock outside parliament following the killing before being evicted by police to make room for New Year decorations in December 2019. ECtHR finding a procedural violation of Article 2 may become grounds for re-opening the national investigation.
- FABBRO Robin, OC Media, „Georgia violated Pankisi teen Machalikashvili’s right to life, the court finds“, https://oc-media.org/georgia-violated-pankisi-teen-machalikashvilis-right-to-life-court-finds/
- Civil.ge, „ECtHR Rules on Machalikashvili Case“, https://civil.ge/archives/521881
- Interpressnews, „Malkhaz Machalikashvili: With today’s decision, I received an answer that this case is investigated very rudely and ineffectively“, https://www.interpressnews.ge/en/article/123478-malkhaz-machalikashvili-with-todays-decision-i-received-an-answer-that-this-case-is-investigated-very-rudely-and-ineffectively/
Georgian officials face backlash for welcoming restored flights with Russia
The Georgian government’s willingness to resume flights to Russia has sparked anger at home and in Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on July 20 that he would resume direct flights with Georgia, which were suspended in July 2019, as a majority of Georgians “have seen the negative sides “of the “provocation staged “in the Georgian parliament.
Lavrov stated that now there are “reasonable politicians” in the Georgian government and expressed hope for improved relations with the country “for which I have always lobbied.” He stated that Russia had plans to abolish the visa regime with Georgia in the summer of 2019, which was delayed due to the June unrest in Tbilisi.
The chair of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, Irakli Kobakhidze, welcomed the possibility of resumed flights, citing its “importance” to Georgians. “When it comes to alleviating the situation of our citizens, any such decision is welcome for us “, Kobakhidze said, adding that Russia’s 2019 suspension of flights to Georgia had “damaged the citizens of Georgia “. Other members of the ruling party similarly praised Lavrov’s statement.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has denounced the government’s position on restoring direct flights to Russia. “At a time when all our partner countries, in word or deed, maximum express solidarity with the selfless struggle of Ukraine, for me and, I am sure, for the majority of society, the position of the government and the ruling party is incomprehensible,” Zurabishvili wrote on Facebook on January 20. Zurabishivili wrote that she cannot agree with the argument being used to support the resumption of direct air service — that it would ease the problems of Georgians living in Russia. “We must remember the old tricks of Russia. We must understand that the Kremlin deliberately raises such issues, hoping to create a split between Georgia and our Western partners.”
A similar reaction came from Kyiv. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko labelled the “lack of solidarity” from “some” Georgian politicians, including Kobakhidze, “politically vile”. “We also believe that such pro-Russian rhetoric is not in line with the spirit of Ukraine and Georgia’s friendly and strategic relations and is contrary to Georgia’s path towards European Union membership”, he said.
Major opposition parties also categorically rejected the proposal. Khatia Dekanoidze, a prominent United National Movement party member, said it was “unacceptable” to talk about restoring flights. “This not only contradicts our strategic relations with Ukraine and the Western world but is also a step against national interests”, said Dekanoidze. She added that renewed flights and the government’s refusal to join sanctions against Russia would cost Georgia and represent a deepening of the government’s “pro-Russian policy”.
US Ambassador to Georgia, Kelly Degnan, also aimed a thinly veiled barb at the authorities’ response to Lavrov. “I think most Georgians would rather hear that Russia was withdrawing its troops from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and finally complying with its obligations under the 2008 Treaty rather than direct flights”, she said.
- Shoshiashvili Tamta, OC Media, „Georgian officials labelled ‘politically vile’ for welcoming restored flights with Russia“, https://oc-media.org/georgian-government-labelled-politically-vile-for-welcoming-restored-flights-with-russia/
- JAM News, „President of Georgia opposes resumption of flights with Russia“, https://jam-news.net/zurabishvili-contra-flights-with-russia/
- Agenda.ge, „Russian FM Lavrov supports the resumption of flights to Georgia as Georgians ‘realised consequences’ of June 20“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2019/2582