In February 2016, 5,000 Salafi Muslims marched into the centre of Khasavyurt, the second-largest city of the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, to protest the forced closure of their mosque. Dagestan’s Salafi community, orthodox Muslims who practice a revivalist Islam that originated in the Gulf, is one of Russia’s largest. It has long faced discrimination from the Dagestani authorities.
In this instance, few expected those authorities to bend to the marchers’ demands. But, in a rare gesture of compromise, the mosque was reopened the next day.
The apparent victory, however, did not come cheap. One protest leader, a popular and charismatic Salafi imam, was subsequently arrested by security forces, reportedly tortured and sentenced to serve five years in a penal colony, accused of justifying jihadist (what the authorities deride as “Wahhabi”) violence.… Seguir leyendo »
Armenia has plunged into an unprecedented political crisis. On 1 May, parliament voted against the nomination for prime minister of Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of protests that compelled long-time leader Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation on 23 April. The ruling Republican Party proposed no alternative candidate but insisted its deputies vote against Pashinyan. On 2 May, large numbers of protesters poured into the streets again, this time in support of Pashinyan’s bid to win the repeat vote, scheduled for 8 May. In the evening of 2 May, after the ruling Republican Party unexpectedly indicated it might endorse Pashinyan’s bid for prime minister, he has tentatively put the protests on hold.… Seguir leyendo »
The war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region will soon enter its fifth year. In September 2017, talk of a settlement picked up after Russia circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution proposing the deployment of UN forces along the front line separating Kyiv’s forces, on one side, from Kremlin-backed separatists, on the other.
Moscow had ignored Kyiv’s calls for peacekeepers since early 2015, so its proposal was regarded with suspicion by Ukraine and its Western allies. Most saw the small force envisaged along the front as a non-starter, more likely to freeze the conflict than end it. Nonetheless, the proposal spurred fresh thinking about ways out of the stalemate.… Seguir leyendo »
Sniper fire can hit almost every open-air spot in Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, an Armenian village in the Tavush region on the border with Azerbaijan. Nargiza, who runs a well-stocked shop out of an abandoned railway coach in the village centre, laments the locals’ fate: “We never feel safe. We hear shooting at night, and fear it during the day. My neighbours have stopped cultivating their vineyards. They were being shot at while at work.”
Nargiza means “daffodil”. It’s a common name in Azerbaijan and other Muslim cultures, but not in her native Armenia, especially since the start of the three-decade-long conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.… Seguir leyendo »
Washington is considering providing Kyiv with lethal weapons, worrying many residents of eastern Ukraine – and not just separatist rebels or pro-Russian sympathisers. “Most people here don’t think about what these weapons would mean in practice – but of course I am scared”, an outspoken city council member generally loyal to Kyiv told me in Severodonetsk. The town has been Kyiv’s administrative centre for the Luhansk oblast since 2014 when its main city and former administrative centre, Luhansk, fell into Russia-backed rebel hands.
Another new dimension to the international struggle over Ukraine are competing proposals from Moscow and Kyiv for a new UN peacekeeping operation that would keep armed forces apart in the main conflict areas in eastern Ukraine.… Seguir leyendo »
The room housing refugees in the former Soviet sanatorium just outside Baku was getting a much-needed facelift: new black-and-silver floral wallpaper “to make it more attractive to the future in-laws of my daughter who are not displaced like us”, said Bayram, an Azeri veteran of the 1988-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Bayram remained steadfast in his support for Azerbaijan’s role in last spring’s violent clash with Armenia. “Of course I know what war is and what the consequences can be”, he explained. He pointed to his leg, maimed by artillery fire almost 25 years ago, and to the poor conditions of the refugee shelter where his family has lived for over twenty years.… Seguir leyendo »
Renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine in the first weeks of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has laid bare fears in Europe’s East about Russia’s declared intent to restore its former dominance in the region – and about whether or not the U.S. will continue to provide a counterweight to Moscow’s assertiveness.
Fighting that broke out on 29 January in eastern Ukraine, around the Kyiv government-controlled industrial town of Avdiivka and separatist-controlled railway hub of Yasynuvata, has continued for six days. Violence has also swept from this traditional hotspot across the whole Donetsk region: the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has registered more than 7,000 ceasefire violations in the area on 1 February alone.… Seguir leyendo »
The lung specialist I consulted for bronchitis recently in Abkhazia exuded competence, warmth and the poetic courtesy of Soviet-era intelligentsia. She apologised for the hospital as she flicked through a notebook from a year-old seminar on the latest treatment protocols in Russia. She said she had been lucky to attend the briefing: most doctors from Abkhazia or other conflict or breakaway regions in the former Soviet space do not learn about modern treatments. Most teachers have little access to new international best practices and methods. Police still work according to old manuals.
A policy called “isolation” by residents of such regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have sought to secede from Georgia, and the Nagorno-Karabakh region at the heart of the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia – severely restricts their links with the world and contributes to a sense of living under siege, sometimes for over two decades.… Seguir leyendo »
The small front-line town in eastern Ukraine is called Schastia, or Ukrainian for “Happiness”. Four grandmothers sit outside in the early autumn sun, fussing over tea and homemade pickles and singing old Slavic songs. The early October moment is filled with joy and serenity and golden light.
But a mere 20 meters away, between their communal pergola and their four-storey Soviet block of flats, a fresh artillery crater recalls the heavy shelling that took Schastia by surprise on 30 August. It killed their young neighbour as she ran to hide her son in the cellar. It also brings back memories: One of the four women had lost her daughter to a heart attack when bombs fell on the village in 2014, the year warfare broke out in eastern Ukraine; others say they can tell by the sound whether to expect incoming artillery fire, and how many seconds it takes for the shell to arrive.… Seguir leyendo »