Saturday, 30 August 2008

Report: Turkish president accepts Sargsyan invitation to visit Armenia

Breaking news

So far this is the only Turkish paper reporting it:

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has accepted an invitation from his Armenian counterpart to watch the World Cup qualifier between the Turkish-Armenian national teams in Yerevan as the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the visit would contribute to renewed relations between the two countries, Vatan daily reported on Saturday.

Armenia however has not yet been informed of Gul’s decision, the report said, adding that the president is expected to make an official announcement next week.

Armenia President Serz Sargsyan invited Gul to watch the World Cup qualifying match between the two country's national teams on Sept. 6 to mark "a new symbolic start in the two countries' relations".

Gul had previously said that Sargsyan’s invitation is an example of contributions towards solving the problems that exist between the two countries and that an evaluation of the invitation was underway taking every possibility into account.

In a gesture of good faith, Armenia offered to lift all visa requirements and payments for Turkish citizens traveling to the capital Yerevan for the match, the report also said.

*Thanks to A.P. for the link.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Maturity of Armenian opposition: upcoming rally postponed till 12 September, sit-in protest ends ahead of Armenia - Turkey football game

Ter-Petrosyan led opposition announced its decision to postpone upcoming opposition rally from 5 September to 12 September and to end sit-it protest on the Northern Avenue from 31 August. Instead, there will be only “political walks” daily 7pm-10pm.

This decision which displayed maturity of opposition leaders was made considering current escalated geopolitical situation and complex developments in the region, and particularly upcoming visit of thousands of Turkish citizens (football fans) – and possibly Turkish president, for the first time ever – to Armenia for 6 September Armenia-Turkey World Cup qualifying football match. The importance of that game went well beyond sporting significance and considered a possibly key moment in opening up a new page in relationships between our countries.

Opposition does not want its actions to interfere in any way with the importance of developments in Armenia – Turkey relations and objective necessity by the authorities to take all the necessary security actions.

I can only welcome this decision and join opposition representative Levon Zurabyan in his call to people to avoid nationalistic provocations around football game and diplomacy. In the meantime, governing coalition member nationalist ARF Dashnaktsutyun party plans its rally on 2 September.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Armenia, region: latest news/reports that grabbed my attention

1. Fuel crisis in Armenia - no petrol or its limited rationing in petrol stations throughout the country. (more info - here and here)

2. Armenian Foreign Ministry latest statement - there could be no military solution of the conflicts in the South Caucasus; they should be resolved based on the principles of free will and self-determination. (news)

3. Ministry of Defence of Armenia: no changes in its relationships with NATO; NATO military drill in September in Armenia will go ahead. (Radio Liberty, more info)

4. Armenia to take part in military monitoring in the zone of Georgia-South Ossetia conflict (

Member-countries of Collective Security Treaty Organization will take part in the OSCE military monitoring mission in the zone of Georgia- South Ossetia conflict. According to the Secretary General of the CSTO Nikolay Bordyuzha, several countries among them Armenia, Belarus, Kazakstan and Russia, have already agreed to join the mission. Moreover, the participation of other countries in OSCE military monitoring is also possible. The CSTO encourages the paticipation of its member-countries, because this will make the monitoring mission more objective and transparent, Bordyuzha says.

5. Amberin Zaman (writer for The Economist, wife of the acting US Ambassador to Armenia) - “The moment for Ankara” (link)

6. Armenian Public TV and Turkish TRT signed a memorandum for cooperation. (news)

'Good old days' for Armenia’s Public TV main information programme

After some minor positive temporary improvements under the European pressures, Armenian Public TV’s main Haylur information programme returned back to its 'good old' broadcasting policy - effectively, no or almost no opposition related or alternative news on the air. Radio Liberty remains the main source of independent and opposition related information for Armenians. Perhaps, the authorities think that Europe is busy with more important things right now and will not pay attention to Armenia’s fulfilling its obligations. Soon we will get the answers. But what I care most is Armenian authorities’ obligations towards its own citizens, and restoration of freedoms and rights not just because of international obligations, but because that’s the only way forward for Armenia.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Very important quote from the Russian Foreign Ministry statement re legal aspects of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence

This quote is important as Russia tries justifying the legality of recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia independence by Soviet law of succession of a state. This is one of the main legal justifications which Armenian side brings about in relation to Karabakh independence too.

From the statement by Russian Foreign Ministry (emphasis mine):

"Since the outbreak of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in early 1990s, as a result of Tbilisi actions, Russia has been doing its utmost to contribute to their settlement on the basis of recognition of the territorial integrity of Georgia. Russia has taken this position despite the fact that the proclamation by Georgia of its independence violated the right of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to self-determination. In accordance with the Law of the USSR "On the procedure for addressing the issues related to the secession of a Union's Republic", autonomous entities that formed part of Union's Republics were entitled to resolve themselves the issues of their stay within the Union and their state legal status in case of the secession of the Republic. Georgia prevented Abkhazia and South Ossetia from exercising that right."

*see also Russian parliament recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence

Intrigue of the day: works began to restore Armenia - Turkey railway station

"Caucasian Union", Armenia-Turkey football match...



The group of specialists of the South Caucasian Railways is repairing the railway station Akhuryan 2 on the railway Kars-Gyumri, the secretary of the South Caucasian Railways Vahe Davtyan told ARKA on Tuesday.

“We are preparing the station for receiving Turkish trains directly. Restoration of communication between Armenia and Turkey does not depend on us. This issue should be solved on a government level. Our job is to deal with the operation of the station,” Davtyan said.

According to him, presently the deadline of completion of reconstruction of the station is not known. Davtyan said every day new workers arrive at the station, who are directed by the head of the department of cargo shipment of the South Caucasian Railways Vladimir Khachatryan.

It's official: Russia recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Breaking news: President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia has formally recognised the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

For more on the subject and possible implications for the region, Armenia and Karabakh - see my post and comments here: Russian parliament recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence

Armenian police: fighting... posters

Police in Yerevan used force on Monday to remove anti-government posters and other agitation material from the scene of a non-stop sit-in launched by the Armenian opposition nearly two months ago.

They said that they were acting so to protect “rights of property owners”. What a noble cause, one may think. One may be wrong.

As I commented on The Armenian Observer Blog:
  • unless democracy is restored in Armenia,
  • unless freedom of assembly is restored in Armenia,
  • unless freedom of expression and media fully restored in Armenia,
all talks by the authorities about “infringing rights of owners” in this and similar cases would be viewed as merely an excuse (a lame excuse!) for oppressing further dissent and a sign of intolerance.

*photos - Aravot daily

Monday, 25 August 2008

Russian parliament recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence

Breaking news: President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia has formally recognised the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. (26 August 2008)

Russian parliament unanimously recognised the independence of Georgia’s two breakaway regions in an extraordinary session. The decision, which is non-binding, will now be sent to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev for approval.

Should this move gets materialised by Kremlin, i.e. should Russian president formally recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, this could serve an important precedent for other breakaway regions in a post-Soviet space. Regardless of differences, this move would strengthen Karabakh positions in its quest for independence.

In the meantime, BBC wonders whether this would end up as new Kosovo when independence was recognised by a substantial number of states or North Cyprus when only Turkey has done so.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, currently holding EU presidency, has called for a special EU summit on Georgia on 1 September to discuss the situation.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Vardan Oskanian’s “The Caucasus moment”: a historic opportunity which should not get lost

Vardan Oskanian, Armenia’s former foreign minister has a piece in the International Herald Tribune on the situation in South Caucasus and the ways out of it. His proposal seems to me the most pragmatic and cold-headed approach to come out from a politician in South Caucasus. He is effectively advocating for a neutrality of the South Caucasus, “free of security memberships and adversarial alliances”. Difficult to implement, but worth listening to and considering.

"...Conflicts in the region would be viewed in a wholly different, more reassuring and tolerant context if there were a binding and strong security pact that assured non-use of force.

These conflicts are not frozen. In the absence of a security pact, there is an arms build up that is in itself destabilizing, distorting national budgets and hampering the normal development of civil society.

Yet in the Caucasus, our countries and peoples have lived under a common umbrella far more than we have been divided. Today, we share a common vision of European integration, a vision that is greater and more enduring than issues that divide us. It is in the broader context of European integration that our issues should be resolved.

Although integration with Europe is not controversial, NATO expansion is. Never in history has a grand coalition formed to defeat a particular enemy survived after the task was completed. Not after the Napoleonic wars, not after World War I and not after World War II.

After the West's Cold War victory, two things happened. NATO tried to reinvent itself by directing its attention and resources to other regions and addressing other problems. Containing Russia was not a declared intention. And NATO created the Euro Atlantic Partnership Council, which invited all Eastern Bloc and former Soviet republics to participate.

This was visionary and potentially sustainable. After all, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe extended their efficacy in that way by including the remnants of the USSR. Not only did they remain relevant and viable, they contributed immeasurably to our own growth and development.

But NATO also planned to continue and even expand in the same form, even after its stated goal had long been met. Given the changed security environment and Russia's great security sensitivities, this was, it appears, a strategic mistake.

Georgia's eagerness to get into NATO is understandable. But the security benefits to Georgia that NATO membership would bring would be offset by the creation of a dividing line in the Caucasus, and its attendant security challenges.

Perhaps this is the Caucasus moment: A historic opportunity, in the context of a new regional security pact, for Brussels, Washington and Moscow to meet with Tbilisi, Yerevan and Baku and create a nonaligned Caucasus, free of security memberships and adversarial alliances. Such positive, engaged, inclusive neutrality will be possible and beneficial all around.

This would be in the best interest of this highly combustible region. A U.S.-Russia confrontation at the Georgia-Russia level will make life very difficult, not just for us here in Armenia but also for Azerbaijan and Turkey.

It is in the context of these existential security issues that we must view the recent Turkish proposal for a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform. […]

The Black Sea Economic Cooperation pact, for example, was created precisely for the purpose of bringing together those who otherwise shared no common forum for economic cooperation and the resolution of problems. But it's effectiveness has been limited because Turkey lacked the commitment to use the forum as a way to relate with a country like Armenia, with whom its borders are closed.

The proposal today, in this new tense environment, must be more serious and sustained. It must marginalize no one. Security issues are intertwined, and they ought to be addressed in a stability pact with a comprehensive, strong security component.

During his visit to Baku last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the Turkish plan and publicly made reference to Armenia's inclusion. It is also a fortuitous coincidence that President Abdullah Gul of Turkey has been invited by President Serzh Sargsian of Armenia to watch the Turkey-Armenia FIFA World Cup qualifying match on Sept. 6 together.

This offers an opportunity for these two neighbors to discuss common security challenges and pave the way for a region of peace."

Vardan Oskanian was foreign minister of Armenia from 1998 to April 2008. He is the founder of the Civilitas Foundation in Yerevan, which addresses foreign policy, democracy and development issues in the Caucasus.

Olympics scandal: Ara Abrahamian was right!

I posted earlier about Ara Abrahamian, Swedish Armenian wrestler, who "threw down his 84kg greco-roman bronze in disgust after his shot at gold was ended by a decision denounced by the Swedish coach as "politics". He then has been stripped of his medal by the International Olympic Committee.

As AP now reports, Ara Abrahamian had all the reasons for being angry. This story is among top most popular stories on Yahoo’s new Digg-style service.

Court: Wrestler who dropped medal was right

BEIJING (AP)—It turns out that the Greco-Roman wrestler who was stripped of his bronze medal for dropping it in disgust on the mat had reason for being angry, according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Ara Abrahamian of Sweden complained to CAS that a penalty in the second round of his 84-kilogram bout on Aug. 14 against Italian Andrea Minguzzi wasn’t assessed until after the round ended. Once factored in, Abrahamian automatically lost the match. Minguzzi went on to win the gold medal.

Abrahamian’s coach was then denied a request for a video review, then the wrestling federation—the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, or FILA—refused to consider a protest.

The 28-year-old Abrahamian had to be restrained from going after matside officials following his loss to Minguzzi. He stormed away from the area where interviews are conducted and slammed a door to the dressing rooms.

After he was given his bronze during the medals ceremony, Abrahamian walked off the podium, went over to mat and dropped it in disgust and walked away. On Aug. 15, the International Olympic Committee disqualified Abrahamian and stripped his medal for violating the spirit of fair play during the medal ceremony.

The Armenian-born Abrahamian—who also lost a 2004 Olympic semifinal match on a disputed call—initially wanted judges in the bout tossed out and his medal restored. But in the end, he only wanted CAS to verify that the lack of an immediate appeals process is a loophole that needs to be fixed. It also was referred to as a violation of “the Olympic Charter and FILA’s own rules about fair play.”

Judges said Abrahamian was right.

“We limit ourselves to ruling that FILA must, consistently with the (Olympic) Charter and general principles of fairness, establish for the future a jury of appeal to determine the validity or otherwise of complaints of the kind ventilated by (Abrahamian),” the judges wrote.

Elsewhere in the 20-page ruling, judges noted several times that FILA did not appear at a hearing.

In this picture made available Friday, Aug. 15, 2008, Greco-Roman men's 74-84Kg bronze medalist, Sweden's Ara Abrahamian leaves his medal on the mat during the medal ceremony to protest against a decision in the semi-finals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008. In the background at left second bronze medalist Nazmi Avluca from Turkey receives his medal. (AP, via Yahoo)

Sweden's Ara Abrahamian, top, wrestles France's Melonin Noumonvi in the bronze medal bout of the men's 84kg Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008. Abrahamian won the bronze medal but refused to take it in protest to a semi-final's judge decision. (AP, via Yahoo)

Sweden's Ara Abrahamian shouts at wrestling officials after a controversial match decision during his 84 kilogram greco-roman wrestling match against Italy's Andrea Minguzzi at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008. (AP, via Yahoo)

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Civil Society Organisations from Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and the US call for opening the Turkey - Armenia border

A number of Civil Society Organisations from Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and the USA have signed a statement urging to open the Turkish-Armenian border for at least 10-15 days.

“Open up to your neighbors!”
Call of the civil society representatives upon the Governments in Ankara, Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan.

The war in Georgia has left the countries of the South Caucasus struggling with substantial risks and challenges. As a consequence of the recent crisis, which further exacerbated an impasse created by the existence of the protracted conflicts, the region is deprived of a vital vain to transport goods through the countries of the region. That is a matter of our strongest concern. The railroad running through Georgia is practically useless today because of the destruction of the bridge near Gori, whereas reconstruction is being delayed for different reasons. This situation and its consequences threaten to deprive people in our countries of their basic rights and endanger their hopes for stability, security and prosperity.

This crisis should make us assess the situation realistically and initiate a new age of cooperation. The Governments in Ankara, Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan have a unique chance to prove their credentials of good neighbors willing to contribute positively to the regional peace and stability. We request them to take a collective action and unblock immediately railroad communication networks in the region.

We made our own calculations that we would like to share with the public. Any train can reach from Samsun on the Black Sea coast of Turkey to Yerevan in 34 hours, to Tbilisi in 36 hours and to Baku in 49 hours. From Mersin, which is on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, it will take 37, 39 and 52 hours respectively. This simple. The railroad can become functional in few hours, once a political decision is made.

Thus, we urge to open the Turkish-Armenian border at least for 10-15 days to address the urgency in the Caucasus.

For years we have been engaged in Track Two Diplomacy projects and have been able to build excellent working relations with our colleagues across those borders. Having enjoyed the positive experience of cooperation, we would like to take this opportunity to call upon the Governments in Ankara, Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan to reconsider their positions on that matter. We urge our leaders to demonstrate their statecraft in these times of turbulence and uncertainty and prevent possible escalation of distrust in this region.

Tevan Poghosyan, International Center for Human Development, Armenia
Noyan Soyak, Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council, Turkey
Natela Sakhokia, Strategic research Centre, Georgia
David L. Phillips, Columbia University, Visiting Scholar, Center for the Study of Human Rights
Co-Director, Study Group on U.S.-Russian and Georgian Relations, the USA
Dr. Murat Cagatay, GAYA Research Institute, Turkey
Artush Mkrtchyan, Chairman, Caucasian Center for Proposing Non-Traditional Conflict Resolution Methods, Gyumri, Armenia
Guran Abashidze, Caucasus Business and Development Network, Tbilisi, Georgia
Klara Galstyan, Director, Gyumri Development Foundation, Armenia
Levon Barseghyan, “Asparez” Journalist Club, Gyumri, Armenia
Alu Gamakharia, Caucasus Business and Development Network, Kutaisi, Georgia
Betty J. Sitka, American University, Center for Global Peace, the USA


Robert Fisk: A voice recovered from Armenia's bitter past (book review)

"It's a tiny book, only 116 pages long, but it contains a monumental truth, another sign that one and a half million dead Armenians will not go away. It's called My Grandmother: a Memoir and it's written by Fethiye Cetin and it opens up graves. For when she was growing up in the Turkish town of Marden, Fethiye's grandmother Seher was known as a respected Muslim housewife. It wasn't true. She was a Christian Armenian and her real name was Heranus. We all know that the modern Turkish state will not acknowledge the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, but this humble book may help to change that. Because an estimated two million Turks – alive in Turkey today – had an Armenian grandparent." More... (The Independent)

In July, The Armenian Odar posted fellow bookblogger's review on Fethiye Cetin's book.

Turkey – Armenia: “Positive gestures” amid activated diplomacy

Reports in Turkish press indicate that there is active behind the scene diplomacy going on (direct and indirect) between Armenian and Turkish counterparts under the framework of discussions for the ‘Caucasian Union’ Turkey-led initiative. While many rightfully doubt the viability of the proposal considering conflicts between member states, there are some indications that Georgia-Russia war led to the softening of rhetoric in Ankara and Baku. Moreover, as Turkish Daily News reports, “Turkey has prioritized Armenia's involvement in the regional cooperation mechanism.” (Perhaps, a sign of admission that their policy of imposing transport blockade to Armenia failed.) Whether this will remain a declaration or will get transformed into something more substantial remains to be seen. In any case, there are some “positive gestures” on the table, for now at least.

Turkey's proposal to create a stability pact in the Caucasus is helping improve Turkish-Armenian ties amid low-profile diplomatic contacts that have commenced between the two neighbors.

As questions linger over the fate of the Turkish-led proposal, due to conflicts between the potential members, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to communicate Turkey's proposal for a Caucasus stability pact with Armenia after a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan, this week.

On another front, the deputy undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Ünal Çeviköz, is expected to hold talks with his Armenian counterparts regarding the Caucasus plan. Çeviköz was one of the Turkish diplomats who held secret talks with Armenian officials in Switzerland.

Turkey has prioritized Armenia's involvement in the regional cooperation mechanism. Diplomatic sources earlier told the Turkish Daily News that it was Armenia that was most negatively affected by the Georgian-Russian war in the region and highlighted the importance of Yerevan joining the platform. […]

Turkey continues practice to ease airspace quota

Ankara's move to relax its airspace quota for Armenia is also considered another positive gesture toward Yerevan, in addition to considerations of aid to civilians.

Turkey decided to loosen its airspace quota for Armenia to allow easier access for humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia. The most visible aim is to contribute to aid efforts by facilitating the transfer of material via Armenia and to help civilians leave Georgia by using Yerevan as an alternative to Baku, which is already overcrowded.

European countries mostly used Georgian and Russian air space before the war. Charter flights from Istanbul and Trabzon to Yerevan were already available; now all planes flying to and from Yerevan are granted flight permission. The TDN learned that the practice is still ongoing and this liberal air space quota may be kept in place while progress in the betterment of Turkish-Armenian ties gets clearer in the upcoming period.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Armenia – Turkey ‘dress rehearsal’: Armenian national youth football team beats Turkey 2:1

Henrik Mkhitaryan scored the late winner in Yerevan (© Khachik Chakhoyan)

I was speaking over the phone with my relatives in Yerevan when during the last minutes of Armenia-Turkey football match 2 goals by Armenian side ensured, as UEFA puts it, a “shock win” (Armenia surprise Turkey in Yerevan) by Armenia’s national youth team (European Championship Qualifying Stage of the Under 21 Championship).

I could then hear cheers of thousands of Armenian fans coming back from the stadium and celebrating the win in central Yerevan. Unfortunately, this win has only emotional significance as Armenian youth football team has no chance to advance further via this qualifying stage. But it was important match for Turkish side which they failed to deliver.

As usual with the youth teams, they are not considered as important as the main national ones. That’s the reason, perhaps, that there were no Turkish fans present there, and the entry to the stadium was free of charge(!).

It promises to be a different story on 6 September when for the first time national teams of Armenia and Turkey will meet in Yerevan over World Cup qualifying match. Thousands of Turkish fans are expected to arrive in Yerevan. It is not clear yet whether Turkish president will accept an invitation of his Armenian counterpart and visit Yerevan, for the first time ever.

And about newly renovated Hrazdan stadium… At least from the perspective of some TV viewers, newly renovated Hrazdan stadium looks very good. I will have a chance to check it out myself on 6 September, already got tickets for the match, can’t wait.

(video via Turkish TV)

Levon Ter-Petrosyan: “Russian intervention saved South Ossetian people from genocide”

In an exclusive interview with A1+, leader of opposition movement Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenia’s first president and presidential hopeful during recent disputed presidential election, voiced the most straightforward support for Russian position expressed by any Armenian politician. Very interesting. Highly recommend it. (interview in Armenian)
(brief Russian version)
(RFE/RL reflection in English)

He speaks about local, regional and global politics, Russia, Georgia, US, EU, and lessons for Armenia. According to Ter-Petrosyan, Armenia’s official position of “positive neutrality” and readiness to provide humanitarian assistance to all sides of the conflict displayed by the authorities was the only acceptable position taking into account our country’s neighbourly relationships with Georgia and Russia.

*photo - by Photolur, via A1+

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Assaults on journalists continue in Armenia

Only a week ago Lusine Barseghian of the [opposition] “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily was briefly hospitalized after being assaulted by unknown men as she left her parents’ apartment block in Yerevan in the morning:

The journalist, whose newspaper boasts the highest circulation in the country, linked the attack to a recent series of articles by her that scrutinized the allegedly illicit activities of influential individuals close to the government. Those included the chief of President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff, Hovik Abrahamian, tycoon Samvel Aleksanian and the controversial mayor of Yerevan’s Erebuni district, Mher Sedrakian. All three men have repeatedly been branded as crime figures by “Haykakan Zhamanak” and opposition politicians.
No news that anyone was charged for this attack.

And here we are... It was emerged today that Hrach Melkumian, current Yerevan Bureau chief of Radio Liberty was assaulted last night in central Yerevan. Physical assault was accompanied by verbal attacks towards Radio Liberty.

New (old) kind of 'freedom' is establishing itself in Armenia - freedom from punishment for assaulting journalists. Impunity rules!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Two Polish journalists denied entry to Armenia in past six days

I never heard before about the "list of undesirable journalists" allegedly in a circulation within the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). Bizarre, to say the least. Armenian Foreign Ministry and government has to respond to this.

Reporters Without Borders calls on Armenia to lift bans on two Polish journalists who have been denied entry in the past six days. The most recent case was that of Wojciech Jagielski, a well-known foreign correspondent working for the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, on 14 August. An immigration official said he was on a list of journalists banned throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Jagielski was turned back at the land border between Armenia and Georgia, where he had been covering the war. He had planned to drive from Tbilisi to the Armenian capital of Yerevan in order to get a flight to Warsaw from there. He was forced to return by road to Tbilisi.

He blames the ban on Russia, which did not like the Polish media’s coverage of the war in Georgia. Russia’s ambassador to Warsaw, Vladimir Grinin, accused the Polish media of bias on 16 August.

Reporter Marcin Manon of TVP, the Polish public TV station, was turned back on arriving in Yerevan on 12 August on a flight from Warsaw which the Polish government had chartered to evacuate its citizens from Georgia. He had hoped to continue to Georgia but immigration officials told him he was persona non grata in Armenia and had to return to Warsaw. Manon also blamed the Russian authorities for the ban.

Gazeta Wyborcza told Reporters Without Borders it believes there is a list of undesirable journalists that is used by all the countries that are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Georgia has just pulled out of the CIS, while Ukraine is no longer a full member.

“We urge the Armenian authorities to grant access to all journalists who want to enter the country,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Journalists cannot be held responsible for their government’s policies. They are just independent observers of wars and do not participate in them.”

Russian official calls for the “full demilitarisation” of Georgia and holds up Karabakh as an example for South Ossetia

"I think the Russian side should strictly insist on the demilitarization of Georgia under international supervision" - says Sergei Mironov, head of the Council of Federation, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament.

He also suggests establishing a buffer zone of 10-15 km along the administrative border of South Ossetia following the example of Nagorno-Karabakh.


Lake Sevan: Armenian government gave in to oligarchs

There were times when Armenian environmentalists trying hard to find ways to increase shrinking water level of Lake Sevan. I remember even the slightest increase in the water level made into the headlines of the main news programme on Armenian TV. This was considered a sign that Armenian ecologists and other specialists along with the government were on the right path and doing whatever possible to reach the aim and preserve the lake which is among favourite holiday destinations in Armenia. There were times…

Now it’s all about business interests. Apparently, recent raise in the water level of Lake Sevan ‘threatens’ coastal buildings which belong to various Armenian oligarchs. Solution? Armenian government decided to increase water supply from Lake Sevan “for agricultural irrigation and other purposes”, an argument which is dismissed by environmental specialists.

"Despite the dry weather during the growing season, we get information about the extremely high yield" - says Karine Danielyan, well known environmentalist, representative of the National Committee of UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme). "If water needed for irrigation, why it is needed more in August than during the harvest season? One of the answers to the question could be that raising the water level is not desirable for owners of coastal buildings and so-called recreation zones, number of which is constantly growing."

Tomorrow Armenian parliament intends to discuss and approve government’s decision. Environmentalists are calling for a protest demonstration in front of the parliament on 19 August, 11.30 - SOS Sevan!

Human Rights Watch: 'Mounting evidence of crime against civilians by Georgian and Russian military'

(Tbilisi, August 18, 2008) – Mounting evidence that Russian and Georgian military used armed force unlawfully during the South Ossetian conflict highlights the need for international fact-finding missions in Georgia, Human Rights Watch said today. Ongoing militia attacks and a growing humanitarian crisis also indicate the urgent need for the deployment of a mission to enhance civilian protection.

At the start of the military conflict on August 7, 2008, Georgian military used indiscriminate and disproportionate force resulting in civilian deaths in South Ossetia. The Russian military has since used indiscriminate force in attacks in South Ossetia and in the Gori district, and has apparently targeted convoys of civilians attempting to flee the conflict zones. Ongoing looting, arson attacks, and abductions by militia are terrorizing the civilian population, forcing them to flee their homes and preventing displaced people from returning home.

“This conflict has been a disaster for civilians,” said Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “An international security mission should be deployed to help protect civilians and create a safe environment for the displaced to return home. And international organizations should also send fact-finding missions to establish the facts, report on human rights, and urge the authorities to account for any crimes.” More...

'The bear is back' (cartoons)

Cartoonists have returned to the theme of the Russian bear as the Georgian crisis unfolded. Cartoonist Dave Brown created this for the Independent newspaper. (BBC)

The bear is such a powerful symbol - such great visual shorthand - that you only need to depict it with a shadow, Kal explains. Drawn for the latest edition of The Economist. (BBC)

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Caucasian union?

Unless Turkey opens its borders with Armenia without any precondition, all talks about “Caucasian union”, Turkey-sponsored “economic partnership” in the region will sound nothing more than a PR action to try to increase Turkey’s influence and importance in the South Caucasus dominated now by Russia and partly US/EU. I am not even talking about so many seemingly irreconcilable differences between countries in the South Caucasus which makes this whole idea looking more like an encouraging but fairy tale proposal, for now at least.

On the other hand, there are already voices in Turkey admitting that the policy of economic isolation of Armenia failed. It made Armenia’s dependence on Russia even stronger, without any advantage for Turkey or its ally Azerbaijan.

I wonder if pushing “Caucasian union” idea is (among others) a Turkey’s attempt to rectify its failed policies towards Armenia without ‘hurting’ too much Azeri feelings. I wonder if Turkey is ready to open its borders as a first step to push forward and make the “economic partnership” idea at least plausible?

via Hurriyet:

Turkey-sponsored Caucasian union to start as an economic partnership

Turkey has mapped out the details of the proposed Caucasian union and plans to launch the association on the basis of the economic partnership.

Turkey had proposed the formation of a Caucasian union after the clashes erupted between Georgia and Russia. Turkey, as a neighboring country of the region, has close interest in the Caucasus in its efforts to ensure energy supply safety.

Ankara had stepped in to resolve the conflict with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan had visited both Moscow and Tbilisi.

Turkey's proposal to establish a Caucasian union was widely accepted. The union, called by Turkey as "Caucasus Stability and Partnership Platform", is envisaged to bring Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia under the same roof.

Sources from Turkish foreign ministry told local media the union is planned to have common security and executive bodies, and would be similar to the neighboring countries of Iraq but in a more complex structure.

The works on the unions would start next week.


Although the idea was widely accepted, there is a tough task ahead of Turkey as almost every country, who would take part in this establishment, has bilateral conflicts.

Turkey hopes this union would contribute to the strengthening of the relations between Ankara and Yerevan as well as the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. [...]

Bush's mouthpiece and 12 yrs old Ossetian girl

FOX news, the main mouthpiece of Bush administration rudely cut off a 12 yrs old Ossetian girl Amanda (and her aunt) for simply telling their side of the story which is different from what FOX propaganda machine wants the audience to hear...

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Georgia: first apparent signs of internal discontent

...and this will grow making Saakashvili's position as head of state unattainable. The sooner the better for Georgia and South Caucasus. reports:

A group of villagers from the areas in and around the South Ossetian conflict zone, who have fled the region, were gathered outside the Parliament on Wednesday evening.

A Georgian-language website posted a video showing several dozen of displaced persons on the Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare complaining angrily about, what they called, the Georgian authorities failure to protect them and expressing desperate disappointment with the west and in particular with the Unites States.

One woman in the footage shouts angrily: “We pinned our hopes on America; did not we? Our soldiers were in Iraq; where is America now, where is it?”

Another woman says: “They are holding concerts. Is it time for concerts now? People are dieing.”

She was making a reference to a mass gathering in Tbilisi on August 12, when tens of thousands of people were gathered outside the Parliament in, what President Saakashvili said, was show of unity amid Russia’s aggression. Senior governmental members were delivering patriotic speeches at the rally vowing not to surrender and fight to the end, while singers were performing patriotic songs.

The video also shows another man speaking with the patrol police officer complaining: “Why did they [the authorities] leave us alone? Why did the troops pulled out? Why did they leave the villages and people there unprotected?”

“They are strong,” a police officer replies, apparently referring to the Russian troops.

“Oh really?” the man continued, “then why starting all these things at all? Did it have any sense? Why so many people die for?”

Vice-Mayor of Tbilisi Mamuka Akhvlediani came at the scene later trying to calm angry displaced people by vowing to provide them with shelter. But people who surrounded him responded even more angrily telling him shelter was not as important for them as the need “to save those still remaining” in the villages now controlled by the Russian forces and the South Ossetian militias.

“Why did not you give us arms, we could have at least defended ourselves,” a woman was shouting at Akhvlediani. “We were left unprotected there.”

Akhvlediani then again tried to allay them by saying that he was only in charge of taking care of them and finding a shelter for them.

Officials say over 23,000 displaced persons have been registered as of August 13. Most of them found shelter in public schools and kindergartens and hundreds of tents are being installed by the authorities in the outskirt of Tbilisi.

Meanwhile, UN Resident Coordinator in Georgia, Robert Watkins, said on August 14 that the UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations had no access to the conflict zones, particularly South Ossetia. He called on all sides to establish a humanitarian corridor, as agreed in the ceasefire plan.

*photo - via

Armenian government waves visa requirement for Turkish football fans: 20-25 000 are expected

Apparently, rumours (which I wrote about) circulating in Yerevan that up to 10 000 Turkish fans intend to come to World Cup qualifying match between Armenia and Turkey on 6 September in Yerevan, are likely to be true. Even more...

According to Armenia police chief Alik Sargsyan, it is expected that around 20-25 thousands Turkish fans will visit Armenia.

It is announced today that Armenian government waves visa requirements for Turkish citizens to visit Armenia from 1 to 6 September. A welcome decision, and a gesture of good will from Armenian government side.

There are no diplomatic relationships between Armenia and Turkey. It is expected that Turkish president might accept his Armenian counterpart’s invitation and visit Armenia, for the first time ever.

Armenia: one-sided condolences

Regardless of our attitude to Georgia’s policy towards South Ossetia (I made my opinion very clear about this in previous posts) and very tricky situation for Armenia in relation to Georgia-Russia war, it seems bizarre to me and totally unacceptable, to say the least, that Armenian head of state Serj Sargsyan offered condolences for casualties only to its Russian counterpart, whereas both Russia and Georgia were observing a day of mourning yesterday.

And here is why it is essential to keep Galust Sahakyan, deputy chief of governing Republican party of Armenia, as far away from the foreign policy of Armenia as possible (if you add here internal politics too, would be even better): link (in Armenian).

Swedish Armenian wrestler at the centre of Olympics scandal

Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian throws away medal in Olympic hissy fit

While an Olympic medal would be seen by most athletes as the ultimate reward for a lifetime's work, Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian was less than pleased with the bronze he won at the Chinese Agricultural University Gym

Abrahamian threw down his 84kg greco-roman bronze in disgust after his shot at gold was ended by a decision denounced by the Swedish coach as "politics".

Abrahamian took the medal from around his neck during the medal ceremony, stepped from the podium and dropped it in the middle of the mat before storming off.

The Swedish wrestler had to be restrained by team-mates earlier as a row erupted with judges over the decision in a semi-final bout with Andrea Minguzzi of Italy, who went on the take gold.

Abrhamian, who won silver at the Athens 2004 Games, shouted at the referee and judges then went over to confront judges, angrily throwing off the restraining arm of a team official.

Swedish fans booed loudly as the judges filed out of the arena. Abrahamian said nothing to waiting reporters but whacked an aluminium barricade with his fist as he left the hall.

"It's all politics," said Swedish coach Leo Myllari.

*photo: Reuters - Unwanted: Abrahamian's discarded medal

The real winner at the Olympics is... Armenia

This news made my day! Go Armenia! :)

BEIJING (Reuters) - With a population of 1.3 billion some might argue that China should be leading the medal tally at the Olympics but the real winner is ... Armenia.

The Los Angeles Times has compiled a tongue-in-cheek list of winning nations based on medals per capita and six days into the August 8-24 Games the former Soviet republic of Armenia, with population of nearly 3 million, leads with three bronze medals.

Georgia, with 4.6 million people, is in second place with two gold medals -- in men's judo and Greco-Roman wrestling -- and one bronze, while at home the nation is at loggerheads with Russia over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

Australia, with a population of 20.5 million, is standing firmly in third place with 16 medals, including five gold medals, three of them won by rising star of the pool Stephanie Rice.

Switzerland, with 7.6 million people, won a cluster of cycling medals to ride into fourth place, with Roger Federer still in the hunt for the men's tennis title.

The alternative medal table by the Los Angeles Times had the Bahamas, with a population of 300,000, winning the medal count at both the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the Athens Games in 2004.

*photo - Bronze medalist Gevorg Davtyan, of Armenia, acknowledges the applause of the crowd from the podium in the men's 77 kg of the weightlifting competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008.
(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Georgia: Government’s misadventure, total defeat, but winning PR war (The Times)

British The Times newspaper reveals the inside story of PR war won by Georgia. Other than that, it’s total defeat for Saakashvili’s adminstration and disaster for people in the region.

via The Times /emphasis mine/:

[...] President Saakashvili, who came to power in the Rose Revolution, never lacked for a punchy warning about the threat to world order. Comparisons with Soviet interventions in Hungary (1956) and Afghanistan (1979) were liberally sprinkled with appeals for aid in the hope of galvanising public opinion in the United States and Europe to demand action from their leaders.

Mr Saakashvili was flanked by the Georgian and European Union flags, even though Georgia is not a member. The message was clear – Georgia was aligning itself with the West against its former Soviet master.

As foreign correspondents poured into Tbilisi a team of Belgian PR advisers launched a slick operation to keep them updated with e-mail alerts detailing the latest alleged aggressions by Russia and the Georgian Government’s reaction. On Sunday, for example, more than 20 e-mails went out to shape Georgia’s message that Russia had launched an invasion.

Some of the claims veered into outright exaggeration – such as stating that Russian jets were “intensively bombing Tbilisi” or that Russian troops had taken Gori – but the 24-hour news culture meant that many organisations repeated them without independent verification.

Russian officials were made to look defensive and clumsy, but their ace card was Vladimir Putin, who was intent on demonstrating that actions speak louder than words. Stern-faced, while dressed in casual street clothes, Mr Putin’s action-man persona transmitted a determination to prevail.

State-controlled TV gave coverage to the grief of Georgia’s victims in South Ossetia, while glossing over Russia’s actions. The aim was to maintain support for the Kremlin at home, with little thought for the international message. Viewers saw one woman claiming that Georgian troops had set a building with people inside on fire. “They drove them in like animals, closed the house and set it alight,” she said. “We saw in another place how a tank ran over an old woman, running away with two children.”

At the end of the military campaign Mr Saakashvili was photogenically surrounded by a huge crowd of supporters in a sea of Georgian flags. It was a message of defiant unity for the cameras, even though the outcome in South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been disastrous for Georgia. Mr Putin needed no props. Russia’s Army had already delivered his message directly into Georgia.

Victors and vanquished


— Vladimir Putin: he made it clear to the world that Georgia had been the aggressor and that his soldiers were intervening to stop “genocide”

— Dmitri Medvedev: he announced the end of the war to coincide with the arrival in Moscow of President Sarkozy, providing him with a diplomatic coup

— Russian military might: as a contest it was Russia 10, Georgia 0


— Mikhail Saakashvili: the picture of the Georgian President cowering from a Russian helicopter said it all

— The Georgian people: thousands paid with their lives or had their homes destroyed because of their Government’s misadventure

— Nato membership: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Secretary-General, insisted that the war did not mean that Georgia had sacrificed its chance of joining the alliance, but it will not have improved its chances

— Western leaders: despite the diplomatic efforts and statements of outrage, they were outmanoeuvred by Moscow, unable to offer even a hint of military combat assistance for the would-be Nato member

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Georgia lost Abkhazia too

It is now confirmed by both sides that following South Ossetia, Abkhazia is no longer under Tbilisi's control.

Devastated, weakened Georgia, weakened South Caucasus, hugely increased Russian influence over the region, and most importantly - thousands of casualties... A disastrous result of reckless adventurous politics by Georgian president Saakashvili. You may add here other 'players' too, but at the end of the day it's Saakashvili who is the head of state, it's him who bears ultimate responsibility for this total disaster. reports:

Authorities in breakaway Abkhazia said their forces were in full control of upper Kodori Gorge.

Officials in Tbilisi have confirmed it.

However, there are conflicting reports about how the process took place.

The Abkhaz side has claimed that its troops took over the area after fighting with the Georgian forces throughout the day, on August 12.

Shota Utiashvili, the Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman, told Civil.Ge that the Georgian forces were withdrawn from the gorge last night.

CNN aired brief footage showing an Abkhaz militia taking down the Georgia’s national flag from the administrative building in the gorge.

Meanwhile, President Saakashvili told a group of foreign journalists on August 12: “Within a well-prepared plan, several hundred pieces of the Russian [military] equipment, Russian airborne troops, commanded by the airborne troops of Russia landed there [in the Kodori Gorge] and expelled and certainly killed part of the population. Whole population from that place is gone. This is classical case of ethnic cleansing.”

Upper Kodori gorge was the only part of breakaway Abkhazia under Tbilisi’s control.

LOL Bush (The Guardian)

*source of photo; thanks to K.P. for the link.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Open Letter To Stop War


Women’s Coalition for Peace in South Caucasus

11 August 2008

In light of the recent events in South Ossetia and Georgia, we at the Women’s Resource Center are taking action as part of the Women’s Coalition for Peace in the South Caucasus. The Coalition is composed of women’s groups in Armenia, Azerbaijan, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia that are united in a call for peace in our region. We work towards stopping all types of violence against women in conflict zones, and we believe that the voices of women need to be represented to realize this goal.

The Women’s Resource Center engages in mobilizing Armenian women to stand in solidarity with our sisters in Georgia and South Ossetia. The war of the past few days in that region is having a profound impact on the general civilian population as seen by the destruction of property, livelihood, normality and the senseless loss of life. The ongoing violence is exacerbating an already unstable situation as well as adding to the existing problems and dangers of the entire region in terms of creating countless refugees and internally displaced persons.

We condemn the actions of both Georgian and Russian authorities in harming peaceful citizens. We urge all sides of the conflict to return to non-violent processes in reaching a peaceful resolution. We also call on the international community to swiftly intervene in this situation and ensure that peace prevails in the South Caucasus region.

CALL FOR ACTION: in solidarity, we invite everyone believing in reinstating peace in our region to wear red and white ribbons and join our peaceful collective actions.

For upcoming peaceful actions in Yerevan, please contact the Women’s Resource Center.

Contact info:

Women’s Resource Center, NGO

34 Zarubyan st.

Yerevan, Armenia

Tel: + 374 – 93 -99-22-44

+ 374 -01- 51-91-68


Apparently, it's 'business as usual' for some...

Sarkisian Continues China Vacation

Sunday, 10 August 2008

'Communist ambitions in Armenia' (BBC)

You have to watch this! :)

A small town in Armenia is argued to be the last stronghold of Communism in the former Soviet Union.

The BBC's Rayhan Demytrie reports from Lernamerdz.

*Thanks to S.H. for the link!

Olympics - Georgia and Russia embrace on podium

Russian silver medallist Natalia Paderina and Georgian Nino Salukvadze, who won bronze, embrace on the podium at the 10m air pistol event at the Olympics.

*source of photo - Georgian and Russian athletes share emotional embrace (BBC)

"Did the U.S. Prep Georgia for War with Russia?"

by Nathan Hodge, Danger Room from

[...] Since early 2002, the U.S. government has given a healthy amount of military aid to Georgia. When I last visited South Ossetia, Georgian troops manned a checkpoint outside Tskhinvali decked out in surplus U.S. Army uniforms and new body armor.

The first U.S. aid came under the rubric of the Georgia Train and Equip Program (ostensibly to counter alleged Al Qaeda influence in the Pankisi Gorge); then, under the Sustainment and Stability Operations Program. Georgia returned the favor, committing thousands of troops to the multi-national coalition in Iraq. Last fall, the Georgians doubled their contingent, making them the third-largest contributor to the coalition. Not bad for a nation of 4.6 million people.

Leaving aside the question of Russian interference, the larger concern has been that Georgia might be tempted to use its newfound military prowess to resolve domestic conflicts by force.

As Sergei Shamba, the foreign affairs minister of Abkhazia, told me in 2006: “The Georgians are euphoric because they have been equipped, trained, that they have gained military experience in Iraq. It feeds this revanchist mood… How can South Ossetia be demilitarized, when all of Georgia is bristling with weaponry, and it’s only an hour’s ride by tank from Tbilisi to Tskhinvali?”

One of the U.S. military trainers put it to me a bit more bluntly. “We’re giving them the knife,” he said. “Will they use it?”

*source of photo

Georgia - Russia war: Latest news

1. Georgia says it has pulled out of South Ossetia. Russia disputes this claim, and as confirmed by BBC correspondents in the region, it appears that Georgian troops withdrew from the capital Tskhinvali, but not other parts of South Ossetia. This is not going to satisfy Russia which demands complete withdrawal.

2. Reports indicate that Russian warships deployed to impose a naval blockade of Georgian Black Sea ports “to prevent arm shipment”. As Georgian ports are effectively one of the main routes for Armenia to outside world, this may result in severe impairment of transport links for our country, at least for the near future.

Escalation continues...

Saturday, 9 August 2008

US Congressman Cohen shoves Armenian-American cameraman

According to The Scorecard, "Cohen has been one of the top congressional targets for the Armenian-American community because he opposed legislation that would have condemned Turkey for committing genocide against Armenians during World War I. Armenian-Americans have given Cohen’s opponent, Nikki Tinker, about $30,000 in campaign donations."

Citing Armenian National Committee of America - Western Region (ANCA - Western Region, reports that "Capitol Hill Police and local Memphis law enforcement have launched separate investigations of Congressman Steve Cohen’s forced removal of Armenian American journalist Peter Musurlian from an August 6th press conference."

Reuters: Azerbaijan halts oil exports from 2 Georgian ports

BAKU, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Shipments of oil and oil products from two of Georgia's ports have been suspended because of fighting in the ex-Soviet state's breakaway South Ossetia region, Azeri state energy firm SOCAR said on Saturday.

"There have been no shipments coming to or from the Batumi and Kulevi ports since last night," SOCAR head Rovnag Abdullayev said on Azeri television.

SOCAR uses the ports to export crude and refined products. [...]

"These circumstances amount to force majeure and tomorrow, together with BP, we will examine the situation," Abdullayev said.

British oil company BP and SOCAR have a production-sharing deal in the Caspian Sea.

SOCAR would consider using the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline which exports oil via Russia to Europe, he said, although its relatively small capacity of between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes per day could pose a problem.

"All 47 people we have working in Kulevi left the area today due to the problem," Abdullayev added.

All Azerbaijan's ports are on the landlocked Caspian Sea, which means it has to use Georgian or Russian ports on the Black Sea or Turkey's Mediterranean outlet at Ceyhan.

SOCAR opened the Kulevi oil terminal in May after buying it two years ago. It planned to ship 5 million tonnes of oil and oil products annually through the facility.

Earlier citing Georgian sources AFP reported that Russian jets targeted major oil pipeline.

TBILISI (AFP) — Russian warplanes on Saturday staged a raid near a major international oil pipeline that runs through Georgia but did not damage it, Georgia's prime minister said.

The 1,774-kilometre (1,109-mile) Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline is the world's second longest and takes oil from Azerbaijan to Western markets.

Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told Georgian television: "The area of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline was bombed by Russian planes. Miraculously, the pipeline was not damaged."

The BTC has a capacity of 1.2 million barrels of oil a day but is currently shut down after an explosion in a Turkish section which has been claimed by Kurdish rebels.
*map - by AFP; /emphasis mine/

New blog on Georgia-Russia war

Georgian office of the Institute for War And Peace Reporting (IWPR) has just launched new blog (in Russian) on situation in South Ossetia and Georgia-Russia war:

Regional Reporters

Armenian citizens in Georgia: no casualties so far, some evacuated back home

According to Armenian Foreign Ministry, as of 12:30 9 August, there are no casualties among Armenian citizens in Georgia.

150 Armenian citizens in Batumi (Ajarian Autonomous Republic of Georgia) have been evacuated:

"Today, Armenia's Consulate General in Batumi organized return to their homeland of 150 Armenian citizens. Buses are provided with the Georgian police escort." More details (in Armenian).

Ajarian cities Batumi, Kobuleti and others are very popular and affordable summer holiday destinations for Armenians. I expect in this peak holiday season there will be thousands of holidaymakers from Armenia there, and in other parts of Georgia too. Along with the escalation of war between Georgia and Russia, more evacuations could be expected.

Georgia - Russia: War Is On

It is too painful to read and see Russian air strikes at Georgia or tanks on the ground… But it is impossible for me to sympathise with Georgia’s state level militaristic-nationalistic stance towards Ossetia… It is impossible to sympathise with Georgia’s not infrequent discriminatory policies towards ethnic minorities, including Armenians. At the end of the day, some may say this is not really about Ossetia or Georgia, it’s about USA and Russia. While international politics play key roles in escalating the conflict, there are some essential local issues and responsibilities which Georgian authorities prefer us not to notice.

Last year when president Saakashvili ordered violent dispersal of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi, I wrote about the end of Saakashvili’s fairy tale (People under attack: the real face of Georgian ‘democracy’.) I believed back then that Georgians would not forgive him, although now he may become a kind of national hero fighting Russians... There is no way, I wrote, that Georgia will have future with this guy. (If you need any additional proof, have a look at Saakashvili’s interview with the CNN)

*source of photo

"This is not about plucky Georgian democrats versus Russian tyrants. The players in this drama are more devious than that"

The Guardian (Editorial), 9 August 2008

[…] there can be little doubt that Georgia's attack with assault troops, multiple-rocket launchers and artillery was a planned military operation. It was not just a reaction to Russian bombing the day before, or a ceasefire that somehow went wrong. The timing of the offensive, when Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was in Beijing for the opening of the Olympic games, was also significant. Georgia may have calculated that Mr Putin might be constrained by the company he was keeping in Beijing, not to order an instant counterattack.

Anyone familiar with the history of the region could have predicted that Russia would hit back hard. First, the majority of the 75,000 Ossetians are pro-Russian, and have long been angling to join North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation. Second, many Ossetians have now got Russian citizenship and passports. Third, this is a dispute that predates both the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, and the Putin era. Fourth, rushing to the aid of separatists was a precedent set by the west in Kosovo. Russia gave us fair warning of the consequences.

Rather than keep the dispute within a local compass, Mr Saakashvili has done everything in his power to internationalise it. He has banged loudly on Nato's door, and some US leaders have been taken in. The Republican candidate John McCain got a St George's Cross for visiting the Georgian part of South Ossetia last year. The Germans and the French on the other hand resisted Georgia's demand for a membership action plan at the last Nato summit in Bucharest. Georgia's actions yesterday show just how wise Berlin was.

Russia is far from blameless. Its official role as peacekeeper in South Ossetia is questionable. It has a history of destabilising independent countries and refusing to accept retreat from empire. But this does not mean that Nato governments should take everything they see at face value. This is not about plucky Georgian democrats versus Russian tyrants. The players in this drama are more devious than that.

"It is crudely simplistic to cast Russia as the sole villain in the clashes over South Ossetia. The west would be wise to stay out"

Mark Almond, The Guardian, 9 August 2009

[…] To date the west has operated radically different approaches to secession in the Balkans, where pro-western microstates get embassies, and the Caucasus, where the Caucasian boundaries drawn up by Stalin, are deemed sacrosanct.

In the Balkans, the west promoted the disintegration of multiethnic Yugoslavia, climaxing with their recognition of Kosovo's independence in February. If a mafia-dominated microstate like Montenegro can get western recognition, why shouldn't flawed, pro-Russian, unrecognised states aspire to independence, too?

Given its extraordinary ethnic complexity, Georgia is a post-Soviet Union in miniature. If westerners readily conceded non-Russian republics' right to secede from the USSR in 1991, what is the logic of insisting that non-Georgians must remain inside a microempire which happens to be pro-western?

Other people's nationalisms are like other people's love affairs, or, indeed, like dog fights. These are things wise people don't get involved in. A war in the Caucasus is never a straightforward moral crusade - but then, how many wars are?

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Rumours: 10 000 Turkish football fans in Yerevan?

Rumours circulating in Yerevan that up to 10 000 Turkish fans intend to come to World Cup qualifying match between Armenia and Turkey on 6 September in Yerevan. The hope is that the main Hrazdan stadium reconstruction would be finished by then. Otherwise, it would be a tough task to accommodate local and Turkish fans in much smaller Republican stadium. The other tough task, unrelated to the stadium issue, is to prevent any possible nationalist outburst from both sides, and especially from host’s side of course. All eyes will be on nationalist ARF Dashnaktsutyun party. It’s like a ‘dream coming true’ for them. At last they would have a chance to ‘show-off’ themselves (as a ‘substitute’ for their failed internal standing). Hopefully, more mature and cold-headed fraction in the party would prevail.

The importance of this football match went well beyond sporting significance as it is expected that Turkish president might accept his Armenian counterpart’s invitation and visit Armenia, for the first time ever. “Football diplomacy” between our countries became THE topic of discussion in recent months in what some consider as a possibility of a “breakthrough” in Armenia-Turkey relations.

Related posts:

Armenia-Turkey: a breakthrough? (Serj Sargsyan - 100 days in the office)

Armenia head of state proposes a 'fresh start' to Turkey via football diplomacy

Will football help to ease the tension in Armenia-Turkey relations?

Armenia - Turkey: a little bit of football history was made in Armenian town Abovyan

Armenia vs Turkey: 2010 FIFA World Cup draw

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Policy Forum Armenia - Election Report

Policy Forum Armenia (PFA) is an independent think tank “to offer alternative views and professional analysis containing innovative and practical recommendations for public policy design and implementation.” Recently PFA published a comprehensive critical analysis on February presidential election in Armenia, including instances of reported fraud, statistical analysis of the official election outcome (which provides additional indication on unavoidability of the 2nd round of voting), and the role of civil society (including blogs).

They concluded that “unless the authorities undertake credible confidence-building measures and genuinely attempt a dialogue with the opposition, the current government is doomed to become the government of some Armenians rather than of Armenia as a whole.”

Main recommendations include independent inquiry into 1 March events, release of political prisoners and early parliamentary elections under the oversight of a joint Armenia-Diaspora body.

Chief among those confidence-building measures should be an independent inquiry into the February 19 and March 1-2 affairs. This should result in credible and transparent legal cases against the perpetrators of the election fraud—including at the higher levels of the political pyramid—and subsequent crimes. This process should be preceded by the release of all political prisoners as a confidence-building measure to allow the society to heal. Once this is under way, a task force could be formed to look into the conduct of early parliamentary elections and into the design of measures to prevent any large-scale fraud from repeating itself. This process could perhaps be overseen by a credible joint body of local and Diaspora individuals with high social standing. To the extent that managing this process would require executive powers and ability to legislate (on a limited basis, to do away with any loopholes in the current election-related legislation that effectively allowed the fraud to take root), this joint body may be given status of provisional (election) administrators, with a clear mandate of securing a free and fair election within a fixed timetable. These administrators will then be certainly well advised to reverse the ban on the voting at the embassies abroad, allowing Armenia’s sizable yet largely disenfranchised non-resident citizenry to participate in country’s governance.
Unfortunately, currently PFA website has became hacked and non-operational. In the meantime, as PFA administrators trying to resolve the issue, you may access the Election Report by clicking on this link.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Hetq Online on Armenian blogosphere

Overall, one of the rare articles in Armenian media which depicts Armenian blogosphere, bloggers and blogs as they are. Shushan Harutyunyan, the author of this report, is a blogger herself, and knows blogging perfectly from the inside. She is the author of A1+ blog, as well as a more personal one. Hetq’s article contains interviews with Kornelij, Ditord, Reporter-arm and myself. I recommend it.

Armenian version

English version

EU hopeful Turkey steps up Internet censorship: Dailymotion becomes second leading video site to be blocked

Reporters Without Borders condemns the stubborn insistence of the Turkish authorities in censoring video-sharing websites. After blocking access to YouTube for the past three months, the authorities began blocking the Paris-based Dailymotion two days ago as well. More...

Kind of ‘news of the day'

I like the way reported this ‘joke of the day’. To be honest, I do not feel like laughing. Look at this guy. Can you see here a top Armenian diplomat who should prevent and respond to challenges our country faces internationally? Couldn't they 'reward' him somewhere else?


The press office of the president reports that Serge Sargsyan signed a decree on August 2, appointing Shavarsh Kocharyan as the deputy foreign minister of Armenia.

Shavarsh’ efforts were not in vain. The government appreciated his “obvious” favors to the amendments to the Constitution, the NKR presidential election and the Armenian presidential election.

*photo - via Lragir

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The power of blogs (Quote of The Day)

"Contrary to popular belief in the US, it appears that Brazil and East Asia are leading the way in internet usage and the most popular activity online is watching videos and... wait for it... reading blogs, which Universal Mccann admits can safely rival MSM nowadays... so anyone that tells you that blogs don’t matter is an idiot."

*source: Hrag Vartanian (Major Report on Global Internet Use)

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Armenian opposition gets organised: protests to heat up in September

Despite unbearable heat and vacation season almost at its height, thousands joined the opposition rally in central Yerevan sending a very clear message to the authorities that discontent with the current state of affairs has no signs of fading away. It was despite reportedly blocking the roads to the capital (surprise-surprise!) to prevent people from the regions to attend the rally. It was despite the ‘killing’ heat which forced many people to gather in surrounding areas, under the shade, and then join the post-rally march, which was impressive by any standards. With its inability to alleviate political crisis, administration of Armenia’s incumbent president Serj Sargsyan faces the very real possibility of high scale popular upheaval in months to come.

There was one pretty simple step that Serj’s administration could have done to relieve the situation and take the initiative – to release all political prisoners – but they failed to do so. With their actions, the authorities managed to beget the modern day Armenian martyrs even among those who under any other circumstances could easily be questioned for human rights violations, but now considered political prisoners, and rightly so. I should congratulate Armenian government and president for such an ‘achievement’.

Consequently, the opposition rhetoric became more radical, and they are now taking steps to make their movement more organised. The announcement of the Armenian National Congress (ANC), signed by various parties who supported former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan during the February presidential election came as no surprise. Even parties which refrained from signing the ANC declaration for now, including the influential opposition Heritage party, made it clear that they consider themselves as part of the movement and showed no signs of stepping down from initially stated aims, as commentary published by the newly elected head of Heritage party Anahit Bakhshyan proved.

In an apparent reference mainly to the Heritage party (but others too), the ANC declaration clearly states that parties united in the Congress remain independent, including their right to participate in any elections separately. Formal programme of the ANC would be finilised during the upcoming conference. As it is not a unified political party but rather a kind of confederation, other political parties or NGOs in Armenia and Diaspora are eligible to join, and in fact encouraged to do so by the opposition.

Main demands stated by the newly formed ANC are not new:
- release of all political prisoners;
- freedom of speech and assemblies;
- independent investigation of 1 March events with international presence;
- snap elections (of president and parliament)

Despite reiterated calls for resignation of incumbent president Serj Sargsyan (as one of the key objectives of the protest movement), the opposition stated its readiness to engage in a dialogue with the authorities to discuss reforms aimed at democratic development of Armenia provided that at least the first point on the release of all political prisoners is met.

P.S. This rally was noticeable by the absence (as much as I followed the speeches) of divisive - unacceptable! - language which occasionally happened during previous rallies. It’s clearly a consequence of recent call by one of current Ter-Petrosyan allies, recently released from serving a politically motivated prison sentence, Karabakh war hero Jirayr Sefilyan who urged (along with others) for immediate stop of using any language which may cause divisions between various segments of Armenians, and particularly Armenians from Armenia proper and Karabakh (reference to Karabakh origin of former and current serving presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serj Sargsyan and some other high level officials).

Next rally is scheduled for 5 September, and sit-in protest will continue till then to coincide with the crucial Council of Europe hearings on Armenia’s progress (or lack of it as such) in meeting its European obligations and PACE resolutions.

I will blog about next rally directly from Yerevan.

*photo - via