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Magomed Aligadjiev, the father of Islamist militant Akhmed Aligadjiev, who is believed to be in Syria, points at a mosque near the village of Gimry in Dagestan, Russia, 27 January, 2016. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova

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 »

Je m’appelle Alexandre Lapshin. Je suis un blogueur globe-trotteur qui a visité plus de cent trente pays. Je ne m’intéresse pas à la politique mais j’aime la paix, la nature, l’histoire, les jolies femmes et la bonne chère. Même dans mes pires cauchemars, je n’aurais pu imaginer être victime d’un jeu politique entre deux dictateurs brutaux : l’ancien président des fermes collectives soviétiques – le président biélorusse Alexandre Loukachenko et l’homme fort d’Azerbaïdjan, Ilham Aliev, qui a hérité du pouvoir de son père, comme dans les anciens sultanats arabes décrits par le conte des « Mille et une nuits ».

Le 15 décembre 2016, lors d’un voyage dans l’ex-URSS, j’ai été soudainement arrêté par la police au Belarus.…  Seguir leyendo »

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan poses for pictures with locals during his visit to the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh on 9 May. Photo: Getty Images.

Armenia’s new prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, sensibly avoided foreign policy issues during his protest campaign. As his new government takes office, this will be a harder balancing act, nowhere more so than with the part-foreign, part-domestic issue of Karabakh. He is right to be wary: in the 1990s the conflict in Karabakh was the undoing of several leaders on both sides of the divide.

Recent history has seen surges of public euphoria on both sides. Azerbaijan’s army, in the ‘four-day war’ of 2–5 April 2016, reclaimed occupied territory for the first time since 1994. Armenia’s Velvet Revolution has fired up Armenians to believe that anything is possible.…  Seguir leyendo »

The springtime political upheaval in Armenia stunned neighbouring governments – not least that of Azerbaijan. Since 23 April, when mass demonstrations impelled Armenia’s long-time leader Serzh Sargsyan to resign, the Azerbaijani authorities have struggled to understand the implications for the three-decade-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Prior to Armenia’s “velvet revolution”, observers in the Azerbaijani capital Baku believed Sargsyan would continue indefinitely as prime minister. At the outset of the anti-Sargsyan unrest, the demonstrations were small, and Azerbaijanis remained doubtful that the unrest would force a change in Armenian politics. They drew comparisons to “electric Yerevan” – the 2015 protests in the Armenian capital against electricity rate hikes.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of the Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan at a rally on Tuesday after his bid to become prime minister was blocked by Parliament.CreditGleb Garanich/Reuters

On Tuesday, electoral arithmetic defeated democratic sentiment in Armenia after the Republican Party of Armenia, the majority party, used its numerical strength to back a discredited government and block the election of the opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as the new prime minister.

A chorus of defiant honks expressing the collective angst filled the streets of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, as the disappointing result became public. Tens of thousands of people had been singing and chanting at the Republic Square near Parliament throughout the day in support of Mr. Pashinyan’s election.

Mr. Pashinyan, a former crusading journalist and opposition leader, had led the massive protests against the government in April, which culminated in the resignation of the former president and prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Armenia’s protest leader Nikol Pashinyan attends a rally of his supporters in downtown Yerevan on April 26. (Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images)

Armenia appears at last to be breaking with its post-Soviet malaise and embracing democratic change, thanks to a grass-roots movement that has found a way, for now, to straddle Russia and the West.

Tens of thousands of people thronged Yerevan’s central square Wednesday night, chanting “Victory! Victory!” in what one Armenian reform supporter in the United States told me was “a celebration of the country as much as a protest.” The movement’s mass street demonstrations over the past month have deposed the prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, and this week appeared ready to topple his long-entrenched ruling party.

Videos circulating on social media Wednesday captured a country embracing the reform movement headed by Nikol Pashinyan, who is seeking to replace Sargsyan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan attends a rally with supporters in the country's second largest city of Gyumri, Armenia, on 27 April 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

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 »

Supporters of Armenia’s protest leader Nikol Pashinyan rally in downtown Yerevan on Thursday. (Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images)

This month, mass protests in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, have forced the prime minister to resign — and put this nation’s political future up in the air.

The unrest began in March after then-President Serzh Sargsyan, leader of the ruling party, tried to circumvent limits on his power. Facing term limits as president, Sargsyan changed the government to a parliamentary system and stepped into the position of prime minister. Nikol Pashinyan, a member of the Armenian legislature, launched a public campaign to stop him. Intense street protests forced Sargsyan to resign after less than a week in the post of prime minister.…  Seguir leyendo »

En Arménie, la ligne rouge n’a pas été franchie. Mais l’Azerbaïdjan franchira-t-il la ligne de démarcation ? En Arménie, depuis le 13 avril, tout au long du mouvement #Im Kayle (ma démarche), initié par Nikol Pachinian contre le gouvernement de Serge Sarkissian et favorable à un changement de pouvoir, une question circule dans toutes les têtes : le conflit du Haut-Karabakh, province arménienne rattachée à l’Azerbaïdjan en 1921 et théâtre d’une guerre entre Arméniens et Azerbaïdjanais (1990-1994) – dont le règlement de paix est placé sous l’égide du Groupe de Minsk de l’OSCE (Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe) coprésidé par la France, les Etats-Unis et la Russie – va-t-il dégénérer ?…  Seguir leyendo »

En Arménie, des dizaines de milliers de manifestants pacifiques ont réussi l’exploit de contraindre le leadeur du pays à quitter le pouvoir. Au terme d’à peine onze jours de protestations, la démission de Serge Sarkissian est aussi significative que soudaine.

La situation actuelle en Arménie est exceptionnelle à maints égards. Tout d’abord, c’est l’un des rares pays au monde où le peuple a réussi à prendre le pouvoir, et ce après des manifestations non violentes. Après deux mandats passés à la présidence (2008-2018) puis quelques jours en tant que premier ministre, Serge Sarkissian ne semblait pas près de quitter le devant de la scène si rapidement ni si facilement.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dimanche 22 avril à Erevan, sur la place de la République noire de monde, un de mes anciens étudiants m’a demandé si nous avions une chance de gagner. Je lui ai répondu que je ne le pensais pas. Le lendemain, le premier ministre arménien, Serge Sarkissian, a démissionné. Comme moi, beaucoup de gens ont été surpris par la rapidité des événements et par les foules, de plus en plus importantes, qui ont participé aux rassemblements.

Comment des marches de protestation, lancées à l’initiative de Nikol Pachinian, député au Parlement et dirigeant du parti d’opposition Contrat civil, ont-elles pu entraîner le pays dans la situation de crise politique qu’il connaît actuellement ?…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of Armenia's protest leader Nikol Pashinyan attend a rally in downtown Yerevan, Armenia, on April 26. (Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images)

“When I saw the masses of East German citizens there, I knew they were in the right.” A quarter-century later, that was how Lt. Col. Harald Jäger explained his decision to open the gates and let his fellow citizens through the Berlin Wall. Jäger was guarding a border checkpoint on Nov. 9, 1989, in the hours after East German leaders had announced that the travel rules were changing. As Berliners flocked to the wall, demanding to cross into the West, he asked repeatedly for clarification from his superiors, but nothing was forthcoming.

In the end, the crowds persuaded him to act: “At the moment it became so clear to me . …  Seguir leyendo »

People celebrate after Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan resigned following almost two weeks of mass street protests, in central Yerevan, Armenia, on 23 April 2018. REUTERS/Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure

When opposition Member of Parliament Nikol Pashinyan led a knot of marchers through northern Armenia in April to protest the return to power of long-serving leader Serzh Sargsyan, no one guessed his campaign would prompt the country to take a leap into the unknown.

One of a mere handful of opposition parliamentarians, Pashinyan has never been a popular leader in this country of three million people. His criticism of the government resonated with those parts of society that oppose Sargsyan and reflected real problems. But when he set out on his march, the former journalist and publicist was a marginal figure.…  Seguir leyendo »

People celebrate Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation in downtown Yerevan on 23 April 23. Photo: Getty Images.

Armenia’s former president and just appointed prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, resigned Monday after a 10-day campaign of nationwide protest and civil disobedience. Protests began as soon as Sargsyan announced 11 April that he would, after previously stating otherwise, seek the ruling Republican Party’s nomination to the newly created post of prime minister.

By doing so, he laid to rest any lingering doubt about the reasons for Armenia’s switch to a parliamentary system. Introduced through a contested constitutional referendum in December 2015, the new system came online just as Sargsyan’s second, and by law final, presidential term ended. Executive powers now lie with the prime minister, and the president is relegated to a largely ceremonial role.…  Seguir leyendo »

Politics and Security Hold Each Other Hostage in Nagorno-Karabakh

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 »

Georgia is on the cusp of a very important decision about nuclear energy. We shouldn’t miss what’s at stake.

The Georgia Public Service Commission will probably rule this week on whether work should continue on two nuclear reactors under construction near Augusta, the only commercial nuclear project underway in the United States. The commission has been enthusiastic about nuclear power for years, but since it authorized Georgia Power in 2009 to break ground for two new reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle generating station, the financial calculus has changed. Mainly, the price of natural gas, an important competing fuel for electricity generation, has dropped sharply, and taken the wholesale price of electricity down with it.…  Seguir leyendo »

After 21 years of negotiations, the littoral countries of the Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – are apparently close to agreeing the sea’s legal status. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the text of a convention on delimitation was settled at a December meeting with his four counterparts. According to Lavrov, the Caspian presidents will meet in the first half of 2018 in Astana to finally sign.

Russia has been trying a change of tack. Rather than carrying out unwieldy five-sided negotiations, President Vladimir Putin now seems to be favouring bilateral and trilateral approaches. This may be yielding results beyond mere carving up of the sea: Russia has had more effective and flexible separated dialogue with neighbouring countries, based on common interests with each of them, but which are not necessarily shared by all five countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

For almost three months now, there has been an astonishing lull along the Karabakh frontline. Instead of grenade launchers, guided missiles, drones, and guns, the sound of relatively less harmful small arms has been heard. For the first time since the clash of April 2016, both sides have put their weapons aside to take a breather before the long-awaited meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

There have been no negotiations at the presidential level for more than a year. All prior requests to resume meetings by international mediators yielded no results. Instead of conversing at the negotiation table, the leaders occasionally donned military uniforms, and set out with binoculars to examine each other’s military positions.…  Seguir leyendo »

During the last two weeks of September, Azerbaijani police launched a violent campaign of “arresting and torturing men presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women,” according to Human Rights Watch and local advocacy organizations. On Oct. 2, by all accounts, police released all the detainees, officially acknowledging that 83 had been detained. Local advocacy organizations claim that beatings, electroshock, coercion, blackmail and other abuses were carried out based entirely on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Azerbaijan is “the worst place to be gay in Europe,” the 2015 and 2016 Rainbow Europe reports by ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association) concluded.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dans mon pays, le journalisme est un crime. Les chiffres le montrent : sur les 158 prisonniers politiques actuellement détenus en Azerbaïdjan, 10 sont des journalistes. La semaine dernière, la dernière agence de presse indépendante, Turan, a cessé son activité. Braver cet interdit se paie le prix fort. On m’a fait chanter à coups de vidéos filmées à mon insu par les services secrets dans l’intimité de mon foyer. J’ai été jetée en prison pour une longue liste d’accusations inventées de toutes pièces. Et je ne suis pas la seule.

Le régime azéri a de bonnes raisons de mener une telle répression.…  Seguir leyendo »