Azerbaijanis vote Sunday in a snap election that resulted from a sudden political housecleaning last fall. In October, President Ilham Aliyev dismissed his chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev, and replaced a set of top officials linked to Mehdiyev’s “old guard” with younger technocrats. Azerbaijan’s National Assembly then agreed to dissolve the legislature and hold new elections on Feb. 9.
This was big news in an authoritarian regime where a single leader and his circle of close associates have structured the country’s politics for the past 16 years. Here’s what you need to know.
1. This could be a power play
Some analysts see the political shake-up as the sign of the demise of Azerbaijan’s old guard — and a consolidation of power within the family of first lady and First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva (nee Pashayeva).… Seguir leyendo »
What does Britain’s departure from the EU mean for the country’s policy towards the South Caucasus, a small region on the periphery of Europe, fractured by conflict? Although Britain is not directly involved in any of the region’s peace processes (except in the case of the Geneva International Discussions on conflicts involving Georgia, as an EU member state), it has been a significant stakeholder in South Caucasian stability since the mid-1990s.
Most obviously, Britain has been the single largest foreign investor in Caspian oil and gas. Yet beyond pipelines, Britain also has been a significant investor in long-term civil society-led strategies to build peace in the South Caucasus.… Seguir leyendo »
The main thoroughfare of Tbilisi, known as Rustaveli Avenue, has borne witness to many a political reversal, from civil war to revolution. Since this summer, the tree-lined boulevard has once again seen throngs of protesters rise up against eccentric billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has ruled the country, both formally as prime minister and informally as the ultimate decision-maker behind his Georgian Dream party, since 2012. The protests are entering a critical phrase this week, and their success or failure could determine the democratic trajectory and geopolitical future of Georgia.
Since his ascent to power, Ivanishvili — an oligarch-turned-politician — has attempted to warm relations with Russia, which occupies 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.… Seguir leyendo »
Nearly 11 years ago, on 14 August 2008, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the preliminary examination of the situation in Georgia. The matter referred to the international armed conflict in Georgia’s breakaway region, South Ossetia, in what some commentators have named the first European war of the 21st century.
The region had been under the control of pro-Russian separatists since the early 1990s. Ongoing tensions and periodic armed clashes between the Georgian army and separatist forces escalated during July to early August 2008 with a series of explosions targeting, among others, both Georgian and separatist military and political leaders in South Ossetia.… Seguir leyendo »
At their first official summit on 29 March, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan exchanged views on several key issues relating to the settlement process and ‘ideas of substance’. They committed themselves to maintaining the ceasefire, developing humanitarian measures and the continuation of direct dialogue. This follows on from the surprising announcement by the OSCE Minsk Group in January that Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Elmar Mammadyarov had agreed on the necessity of preparing their peoples for peace.
These outcomes sustain a positive outlook for the long-stagnant peace talks. Leadership rapport is of course crucial.… Seguir leyendo »
Thirty years ago today, the dying Soviet empire lashed out at the people of Georgia. April 9, 1989, launched our country on its path to independence, freedom and democracy.
I was a teenager attending Public School No. 1, on the central avenue in my hometown of Tbilisi. The school stood just a short distance from the spot from where, on that fateful spring day, Soviet troops assaulted my countrymen in an attempt to crush our thirst for freedom. Thousands of people — some of them on hunger strikes — gathered spontaneously to demand independence from Russian rule. Moscow dispatched Soviet troops under the command of Russian general Igor Rodionov to stop it.… Seguir leyendo »
Days before the hotly contested Ukrainian presidential election on March 31, incumbent Petro Poroshenko’s party faces credible allegations of voter bribery. It’s not hard to guess what will happen next. The oligarchic clique will steal the election, and in response, international observers will accuse local authorities of vote-rigging. But instead of addressing the symptoms of democratic backsliding, it’s time to treat the root cause: informal power.
Moldova offers a textbook example. Oil and banking tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc bankrolls the country’s second-largest political force and has forged alliances with other parties to consolidate power. Although Plahotniuc exerts total control over parliament, law enforcement and the courts, he has no interest in running for office.… Seguir leyendo »
A series of direct contacts between Azerbaijan and Armenia have brought hope to the two countries’ decades-long impasse over Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict that began as the Soviet Union collapsed. But while these meetings, on the heels of a change in power in the Armenian capital, bring new dynamism, much has to be done before true progress is possible.
The Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan, last met in person on 22 January 2019 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, their third meeting since the latter came to power in Yerevan last April. Their January discussion, held without mediators, came just six days after the two countries’ foreign ministers met in Paris, where they agreed to take concrete measures to prepare their populations for peace.… Seguir leyendo »
Is the long-stagnant Armenia–Azerbaijan peace process finally moving forward? The 16 January meeting in Paris between foreign ministers Elmar Mammadyarov and Zohrab Mnatsakanyan was the fourth in nine months. It followed measures that in recent months have defused the considerable tensions of the last few years. These include the establishment of an ‘operative channel’ between the armed forces deployed along the Line of Contact and a sustained reduction in the number of ceasefire violations.
Against this backdrop, the press statement issued on 16 January by the OSCE’s Minsk Group, the international body mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan, was remarkably positive. Noting the stabilization of the political environment around the negotiations, it also stated that Mammadyarov and Mnatsakanyan had ‘agreed upon the necessity of taking concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace’.… Seguir leyendo »
By almost any measure, 2018 has been a disastrous year for democracy. Authoritarian leaders have made decisive moves to tighten their grip on power by eroding practices indispensable to a functioning democracy, such as the rule of law and a free press, and blithely ignoring or violently suppressing mass protests in places such as Hungary, Nicaragua, the Philippines and elsewhere.
And yet, there are parts of the world where, quite unexpectedly, the struggle for democratic reform made giant strides — a reminder that the right mix of activism, leadership and circumstances can suddenly change the course of history. The good news came from starkly different countries, where undemocratic practices had been playing out in unique ways.… Seguir leyendo »
One of the windows in Sonya Matinyan’s home is filled in with bricks. The glass of the other is splintered by a rifle bullet. The roof has taken a few missile hits and leaking water has stained the ceilings in the interior. But, unusually, the 57-year-old Armenian is staying home this winter.
That’s because things are changing for the better in Berkaber, on Armenia’s north-eastern border with Azerbaijan. No gunfire has sounded here in the region of Tavush for almost two months, a welcome change from clashes that in the past two winters drove inhabitants into fortified cellars or to distant relatives’ homes.… Seguir leyendo »
Georgia’s election on 28 November of former French diplomat and Georgian foreign minister Salome Zurabishvili as the region’s first elected female head of state since independence might appear to be a substantial achievement for a country that has been positively cited in its moves towards a more democratic culture.
But the election was marred by physical violence, vote-buying, misuse of state resources and a substantial imbalance in donations between the parties. And the presidency itself is, after constitutional changes, largely ceremonial. The assumption that Georgia continues to move along a trajectory of democratic governance is far from the reality.
Although mostly free, with voters having a genuine choice between a record number of first round participants, the elections were not fair.… Seguir leyendo »
The stakes in the second round of Georgia’s presidential elections, scheduled for Wednesday, could not be higher — for Georgia and the West. Either Georgia will demonstrate that it has passed the point of being a transitional, post-Soviet democracy and earned its place in the European family, or its image as a modernizing democracy will suffer a major blow, pulling Georgia back into a post-Soviet limbo.
Most important is that this election be peaceful, free and fair, and that both sides must accept the outcome, regardless of who wins. In the first round of the election on Oct. 28, emotions ran high, political debate often turned into ugly personal attacks, and the threat of violence and popular unrest came close to becoming a reality.… Seguir leyendo »
In April, the Georgian government made a new attempt to formulate a policy towards the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, publishing a peace initiative intended to help improve economic and educational opportunities for their residents. It has been welcomed by several European capitals for its commitment to peaceful means of conflict resolution and its pragmatic approach, but has attracted little interest and much scorn from its supposed main target audiences in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The economic component of the initiative is related to new trade links between Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Georgia, as well as with the wider European Market through the existing Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Georgia.… Seguir leyendo »
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 »
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 »
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 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 »