Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief
Bi-weekly review (30. 01. – 12. 02. 2023)
Vineyards, Aragatsotn province, Armenia. Photo: Elena Diego/ Shutterstock.com
Senior Armenian opposition MP stripped of immunity to face charges
The Armenian parliament has stripped Seyran Ohanyan, the parliamentary leader of Armenia’s most prominent opposition faction and a former minister of defence, of his parliamentary immunity, reported OC Media. Members of the ruling party voted to strip the Armenia Alliance leader of his immunity on February 8 in a session boycotted by opposition members. Sixty-eight of the 107 MPs participated in the voting. The Prosecutor General had previously submitted three mediations asking for the lawmaker’s consent to initiate criminal proceedings against the former Defense Minister.
Ohanyan is accused of „use of official position in large embezzlement“ and „use of one’s official position contrary to the interests of the state, based on personal interest and group interests, which through negligence entailed grave consequences“. Ohanyan is suspected of illegally approving the sale of a military base’s land plot owned by the ministry below market value to be used as collateral for a loan. He was also implicated in a classified case concerning providing faulty ammunition supplies to the Armenian military.
However, Prosecutor General Anna Vardapetyan has stated that Ohanyan might not receive a prison sentence if convicted because the cases would have passed their statute of limitations.
The Armenia Alliance, the largest opposition bloc in parliament, maintains that Ohanyan’s prosecution was politically motivated. Ohanyan was elected the parliamentary leader of the Armenia Alliance following the 2021 snap elections. The bloc, founded and led by former president Robert Kocharyan, includes the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and several other independent MPs.
- AVETISYAN Ani, OC Media, “Senior Armenian opposition MP stripped of immunity to face charges“, https://oc-media.org/senior-armenian-opposition-mp-stripped-of-immunity-to-face-charges/
- Armenpress.am, “MP Seyran Ohanyan stripped of immunity from prosecution“, https://armenpress.am/eng/news/1103657.html
- JAM News, “What the ex-minister of defence, now one of the leaders of the opposition in Armenia is, accused of?“, https://jam-news.net/seyran-ohanyan-stripped-of-immunity/
Lavrov says Azerbaijan retook territories occupied by Armenia
In an interview with the Russian state-owned TV Russia 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Azerbaijan had retaken seven regions of its country that Armenia had occupied for years. “The history of the Karabakh war goes back decades. And when Armenia kept the seven regions around Azerbaijan for many years, and then when there was desperation to resolve the issues politically, Russia was proposing many options, which the former leadership of Armenia did not perceive positively—wanting to keep the territories it never claimed,” said Lavrov on February 2.
Russian foreign minister also hinted that EU involvement in a peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan complicates the situation. “Yes, Azerbaijan returned the lands that belong to it. Now, when both Armenia and Azerbaijan, together with the European Union, have signed a document on their readiness to conclude a peace treaty under the conditions specified in the Almaty Declaration of December 1990, well, it is difficult for us to decide on the future steps because the Almaty Declaration states that the borders between the independent states will pass through the administrative borders of the Soviet Union, the union republics, including the Armenian SSR and the Azerbaijan SSR. The Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region was part of the Azerbaijan SSR. So, there is a multi-layered situation here,” added Lavrov.
- MIRZOYAN Armen, Hetq.am, „Lavrov Says Azerbaijan Retook Territories Occupied by Armenia“, https://hetq.am/en/article/152764
- News.am, „Lavrov: Armenia occupied 7 regions, Azerbaijan returned its lands“, https://news.am/eng/news/742628.html
Azerbaijani government to compensate detainees during “Nardaran events”
The European Court of Human Rights has announced its decision in three cases based on more than ten applications from Azerbaijani citizens. By the decision of the European Court, the Azerbaijani government is compelled to pay a total of 64,000 EUR to eight detainees during the Nardaran events of 2015.
The court’s decision was made despite the plaintiffs’ protests, who considered the amount of compensation insignificant and demanded clarification of how the Azerbaijani authorities would fulfil their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
In the “Case of Jabbar Jabbarov and others v. Azerbaijan”, the applicants were eight members of the “Muslim Unity Movement” who were arrested and convicted in connection with the Nardaran events of 2015. All applicants complained of ill-treatment during detention and arrest. Local courts did not investigate their complaints of ill-treatment, Agaliyev said.
Of these individuals, Jabbar Jabbarov and Abbas Huseynov still remain in prison. In addition, Etibar Ismailov was again arrested a week ago on charges of drug trafficking on a large scale. The “Muslim Unity Movement” believes the criminal case against him was fabricated.
In the case of Ilgar Rzayev v. Azerbaijan, the applicant complained that he had been arrested because his mother, at a rally in 2012, had sharply criticised the country’s authorities. In this case, the parties reached an amicable agreement – the government agreed to pay compensation to the applicant of 5,000 EUR and another 1,500 EUR for legal costs.
In the case of Zohra Hajiyeva v. Azerbaijan, the ECHR recognised the violation of the applicant’s property rights. The applicant’s property was expropriated for public use, but she was dissatisfied with the amount of compensation.‘
The bloody clash that occurred on November 26, 2015, in the Baku suburb of Nardaran entered the modern history of Azerbaijan as the “Nardaran events”. Seven people were killed, four were injured, and fourteen were arrested.
Two of the dead were police officers, and the rest were local residents. After the incident, the people of Nardaran held a protest, set up barricades and closed the entrances and exits to the village. Both sides blamed each other for what happened.
Three days after the bloody clash, the council of elders of Nardaran decided to stop the protest at Imam Hussein Square. Only after that, on December 1-2, 2015, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of State Security and the Prosecutor General’s Office conducted a joint operation, during which religious flags, posters and inscriptions were removed from the streets and squares of the village. Another nineteen people were arrested on the pretext of weapons possession.
Seven years later, one must still go through a police checkpoint. When entering the village, you must indicate exactly who you are there to see, and you will be allowed into Nardaran only if this information is confirmed, writes JAM News
- JAM News, „Azerbaijani government to compensate detainees during Nardaran events”, https://jam-news.net/echr-and-the-nardaran-events/
- Tura.az, „ECHR awarded compensation to 8 defendants in the Nardaran case“, https://www.turan.az/ext/news/2023/2/free/politics_news/en/1379.htm
Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: irakli/Shutterstock.com
Corridor blockade continues; more than 5,000 in de facto Nagorno-Karabakh have lost their jobs
At least 5,100 people have lost their jobs due to the difficult situation in de facto Nagorno-Karabakh. This is the data of the local information headquarters. The government of the unrecognised republic has developed a program to support all those who have found themselves without work, reports JAM News.
The blockade in the Lachin corridor has continued for over two months now. There was a reported shortage of food and medicine. Humanitarian aid continues to flow in small numbers through Russian peacekeepers and the Red Cross. The gas supply was again halted on February 6.
Meanwhile, the U.S. repeated a call for reopening the corridor. In a written statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, the U.S. Embassy reiterated previous warnings by the U.S. State Department that the Azerbaijani blockade “sets back the peace process and undermines international confidence.”
The U.S. diplomatic mission also said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is trying to address “the needs of displaced persons in Armenia.” It did not elaborate.
- JAM News, “Corridor blockade continues; more than 5,000 in NK have lost their jobs“, https://jam-news.net/nagorno-karabkh-blokade/
- RFE/RL, „U.S. Repeats Call For Reopening Lachin Corridor To Armenia, Blockaded By Azerbaijan“, https://www.rferl.org/a/karabakh-lachin-corridor-reopening-armenia-azerbaijan/32216806.html
For additional information, see:
- Amnesty International, „Azerbaijan: Blockade of Lachin corridor putting thousands of lives in peril must be immediately lifted“, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/02/azerbaijan-blockade-of-lachin-corridor-putting-thousands-of-lives-in-peril-must-be-immediately-lifted/
Street in Icheri, Azerbaijan. Photo: ivone/Shutterstock.com
Panoramic View of Sheki, Azerbaijan. Photo: mirakli/ Shutterstock.com
Azerbaijan detains 46 on suspicion of spying for Iran
On January 31, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs carried out a special operation to neutralise the “Iranian intelligence network.” Law enforcement officers carried out operational measures at the Salam News news agency and the InterAz TV channel. The detentions came less than a week after an attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran by a lone gunman, which has worsened already strained relations between Tehran and Baku.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Elshad Hajiyev told Meydan TV that the 39 people had propagated pro-Iranian propaganda on Azerbaijani social networks, passed the information on to Iran’s special services, and carried out “acts of sabotage” in Azerbaijan “under the veil of religion”. Local media reported that the individuals attempted to “undermine established traditions of tolerance” in Azerbaijan.
Local media added that detained persons “pretended themselves as religious, but have carried out propaganda in favour of Iran on social networks, abused the freedom of religious belief in our country, and fulfilled the tasks of the Iranian special services to undermine the traditions of tolerance formed in Azerbaijan “.
- AGHAYEV Ismi, OC Media, „Azerbaijan detains 46 on suspicion of spying for Iran“, https://oc-media.org/azerbaijan-detains-46-on-suspicion-of-spying-for-iran/
- Caucasus Watch, „Recent Developments in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Iran“, https://caucasuswatch.de/en/news/recent-developments-in-the-conflict-between-azerbaijan-and-iran.html
- Apa.az, „Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry continues operation against the Iranian spy network: 39 people detained“, https://apa.az/en/incident/azerbaijans-interior-ministry-continues-operation-against-the-iranian-spy-network-39-people-detained-395190
International Geneva delegation banned from entering Abkhazia
De facto Abkhazia has declared that it will not let in the co-chairs of the Geneva discussions, who planned to visit on February 8-9 to hold meetings with de facto officials of the republic. This was a response to the cancellation of the next round of Georgian-Abkhazian negotiations. But experts believe this is a kind of “sacrifice” in deference to Russia, writes JAM News.
The 57th meeting of the forum on Stability and Security in the South Caucasus was scheduled for February 21-22, but on January 31, it was announced that it would be postponed to April. Why the negotiations were then cancelled was not publicly reported, although it is possible that participants in the discussions were informed behind the scenes about the reasons for the postponement. The authorities of Abkhazia were highly dissatisfied with this decision.
In his reaction, Abkhazia’s de facto Foreign Minister, Inal Ardzinba, said the measure was in response to the „unilateral“ decision by the co-chairing organisations to cancel the negotiations scheduled for February 21–22. Ardzinba said that in 2022 only one of the four scheduled meetings took place.
„This is not the first case when the co-chairs make unilateral decisions to cancel or postpone a round [of discussions] without any objective reasons and without agreement with the participants in the negotiation process“, said Ardzinba. „We maintain that such actions by the co-chairs are biased in nature and impede the work of this essential international format of negotiations, creating additional threats to stability and security in our region,“ he added.
Olesya Vartanyan, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, says the cancellations are “clearly coordinated with Moscow”. Also, Abkhazian journalist Inal Khashig believes cancelling the meetings was “not very logical” from the Abkhazian perspective. According to him, de facto authorities either plan to raise the stake in negotiations or are taking advantage of the cancellation, are gradually curtailing their participation in the Geneva negotiations.
Many public figures, activists, and citizens expressed disappointment with Ardzinba’s decision, warning that Abkhazia was increasingly isolated. “We are building a state, seeking international recognition, talking about the need to de-isolate Abkhazia”, public activist Levan Lagvilava told OC Media. “And at the same time, we are not letting the delegation of the co-chairs of the international Geneva discussions into the country, essentially declaring them persona non grata”. “I don’t understand,” Lagvilava added, “was an unspoken competition announced in the government of Abkhazia as to who will harm the country most?”.
- KUCERA Joshua, „Talks between Georgia and breakaway regions under threat amid Ukraine war“, https://eurasianet.org/talks-between-georgia-and-breakaway-regions-under-threat-amid-ukraine-war
- OC Media, “International Geneva delegation banned from entering Abkhazia“, https://oc-media.org/international-geneva-delegation-banned-from-entering-abkhazia/
- JAM News, „Abkhazia refuses entry to co-chairs of Geneva discussions“, https://jam-news.net/abkhazia-and-the-geneva-discussions/
Panoramic view of Tbilisi.
Court denies ex-Pres. Saakashvili release or term postponement
On February 6, the judge of the Tbilisi City Court, Giorgi Arevadze, ruled not to release former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from custody due to his deteriorating health. He also didn’t defer the sentence of the third president, reports civil.ge.
The court ruling on the request – made on December 1, based on a medical report on the former official’s health, commissioned by the non-governmental organisation Empathy – involved 15 trials and 24 witnesses. They included Doctor Shahin Lahan, an American professional who contributed to the report claiming dementia was a “major health issue” for the former official’s condition in detention.
Due to his health circumstances, Saakashvili did not attend the court in person but appeared via video link in some sessions. The former President’s legal team can appeal the ruling at the Tbilisi Court of Appeal.
After the court’s decision, the country’s main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), declared a state of emergency. “Officers from the Georgian Dream [Georgian ruling party] will not rest,” UNM chairman Levan Khabeishvili said. After meeting with other party leaders, he talked about plans for the future and said that the UNM would stop working in the country’s parliament and begin mass protests in the streets and near the houses of members of the ruling party.” I appeal to the leaders of local organisations of our party. Tomorrow we are waiting for everyone in Tbilisi. The capital of Georgia will become the centre of the protest. Actions will also be planned in the regions. In addition, the National Movement is no longer going to participate in parliament. We are going to meet with our international partners and ambassadors to increase pressure on the Georgian Dream and save the life of Mikheil Saakashvili,” Khabeishvili said on February 7.
Saakashvili was arrested in Tbilisi in October 2021 after his clandestine return to the country, where he was wanted for charges related to cases dating back to his time in office. He is now serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power on a case dating back to his time in office, on which he had been convicted in absentia in 2018. Three other cases against him are pending.
- JAM News, „Georgian opposition party United National Movement begins protests“, https://jam-news.net/unm-boycotts-parliament/
- Civil.ge, „The Judge Has Ruled against Release of Saakashvili or Deferral of his Sentence“, https://civil.ge/archives/524327
- Agenda.ge, „Court denies ex-Pres. Saakashvili release or term postponement“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2023/492
Pankisi Gorge, Georgia. Photo: NKhodan/ Shutterstock.com
Georgia received a positive assessment from the European Commission
Based on responses to an EU questionnaire sent to Georgia in the spring of 2022, the document refers to Georgia’s application for EU membership and to what extent the country is fulfilling its obligations. According to the report, Georgia has attained a certain level of preparation for implementing legislation in justice, freedom and security. There are also essential strategies regarding terrorism and migration.
Public procurement, statistics, financial control, consumer protection and health are assessed as having a “certain level of training”, but problems are highlighted.
According to the report, the competition policy in Georgia is at the initial stage of preparation, and the legal framework needs to be improved. The independence of the National Bank is established by law and is confirmed in practice, although some provisions regarding autonomy need to be clarified. Also, in foreign affairs, security and defence, Georgia is “moderately prepared”, and more efforts are required in order to move closer to the European Union.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili responded to the newly published European Commission report on the country’s alignment with the European Union by stressing the document had “once again demonstrated” his country deserved the membership candidate status as a “top reformer”.
Khatia Dekanoidze from the opposition United National Movement emphasised: “The positive report of the European Commission is significant for our country because we are at the most crucial stage when the country is striving to get the EU candidate status. But the fulfilment of 12 recommendations remains a challenge for the Georgian state and government, particularly in a democracy, media freedom, and political justice.”
Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova jointly applied for EU membership on March 3, 2022. The 57-page analytical report on Georgia was released on February 9, 2023 focusing on the country’s alignment of EU laws in 33 chapters following the country’s application for membership last year.
- JAM News, „The European Commission assesses Georgia’s fitness for the EU as moderately prepared”, https://jam-news.net/ec-report-on-georgia/
- Agenda.ge, „EU Commission report shows Georgia deserves candidate status as top reformer – PM“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2023/443
- Caucasus Watch, “European Commission Releases Assessment of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine’s Compliance with EU Acquis“, https://caucasuswatch.de/en/news/european-commission-releases-assessment-of-georgia-moldova-and-ukraines-compliance-with-eu-acquis.html