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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From January 1 to January 7, 2022

12/30/2021: End of the embargo on Turkish imports in Armenia

Implemented on January 1, 2021 following the military defeat of Armenia against Azerbaijan and extended once beyond the six months authorized by the rules of the Eurasian Economic Union, the embargo on Turkish imports at destination of Armenia was lifted on December 30 by the Ministry of Economy headed by Vahan Kerobyan due to inflation and the difficulties of Armenian businesses, as the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to turn Armenia to the China due to logistical obstacles. The first meeting between Turkey and Armenia will take place on January 14 in Moscow in the presence of the two special representatives appointed to normalize relations between the two countries, namely Serdar Kilic, former Turkish Ambassador to Armenia, and Ruben Rubinian, President of the Armenian Parliament, both appointed on December 15.
It should be noted that the Armenian airline FlyOne Armenia received, in December, the authorization to operate Yerevan-Istanbul flights while the Turkish company Pegasus Airlines is awaiting the authorization of the civil aviation company from Armenia to start exploiting Armenian airspace from February for flights between the two cities.

01/01/2022: Armenia leaves EU preferential trade regime on January 1, 2022

On January 1, Armenia leaves the EU’s preferential trade regime due to its classification for three consecutive years as a high middle-income country by the World Bank. Until now, Armenia has been exempt from customs duties on more than 6,000 items due to its membership of the “Generalized System of Preferences +” (GSP +) since 2009, which notably enabled it to establish an export record to the EU by 197 million euros in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. It started trading with the EU on the basis of the “Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement” since March 1. However, its exports to the EU are expected to decline by 20% in 2022.

01/01/2022: Azerbaijan takes over the Chairmanship of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation until April 2022

As of January 1, Azerbaijan takes over the chairmanship of the OSCE Forum on Security Co-operation for a period of four months.

01/03/2022: US criticism of the Georgian government over the suppression of the State Inspector’s Service.

Following the abolition of the State Inspector’s Service voted in the Georgian Parliament on December 30, the ruling party “Georgian Dream” has been the subject of sharp criticism from the American embassy who accused it to “undermine government accountability” and confidence in the justice system by appointing a new judge to the Supreme Court through an “flawful selection process”. She also weighed Georgia’s aspirations to join NATO and the EU by recalling that “strong democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law are the best defenses against Russian aggression“. Former US Ambassador Ian Kelly also said that the “Georgian government seeks one-party rule” and that “Georgia’s friends question the sincerity of their government’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” These statements were called “unfair” and “wrong” by Irakli Kobakhidze, leader of the targeted party, who said that they “undermined the confidence of the Georgian public in its Western partners“.
Nonetheless, Wendy Sherman, Assistant Secretary of State, reaffirmed on January 5, in a telephone conversation with Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, the United States support for independence, sovereignty and Georgia’s territorial integrity while ensuring that its country would continue to put pressure on Russia for the withdrawal of its forces from the self-proclaimed Abkhaz and South Ossetian republics.

01/03/2022: Demonstrations in Gori to demand the release of Georgians imprisoned in Ossetia and new arrest for “illegal border crossing“.

On January 3, a demonstration by residents of the town of Gori took place to demand more sustained efforts from their government and more transparency in the actions carried out regarding the release of Mamuka Chkhivadze, arrested by the Russian occupying forces in South Ossetia on December 12. On January 5, another Georgian citizen, Lasha Khetereli, was arrested for the sixth time in South Ossetia for “illegal border crossing“.

01/03/2022: Telephone discussion between Iranian and Armenian leaders and launch of new Tehran – Yerevan airline

On January 3, a telephone conversation took place between Iranian leader Ibrahim Raisi and his Armenian counterpart Nikol Pashinian, during which Iranian support for Armenian territorial integrity was renewed as well as Iran’s commitment to the settlement of the conflict within the framework of international law. The Armenian prime minister, meanwhile, praised the Iranian regime for its policy of preserving the identity of Iranian Armenians. Both agreed to strengthen their cooperation and economic exchanges. On January 1, the air flights of the company AirTour were launched between Tehran and Yerevan, which operate twice a week.

01/04/2022: Georgia declare they will not participate in 3 + 3 format in Turkey

Georgian Ambassador to Turkey Giorgi Janjgava said on January 4 that his country would not participate in the second meeting of the 3 + 3 format on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict planned in Turkey, due to the Russian presence on this platform for negotiations.

01/05-07/2022: Mobilization of Nikol Pashinyan on the crisis in Kazakhstan and criticism of Armenian civil society

Following a telephone conversation by Nikol Pashinian with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokaiev, who called for intervention by the CSTO to combat the “terrorist threat” he faces, thus qualifying the mass protests and violent clashes which resulted in the resignation of his government on January 5, the Armenian Prime Minister, who himself came to power in 2018 following street protests, announced on the same day that he was beginning, as President of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO, negotiations with other members of the organization. On January 6, he thus signed the decision of the Armenian government to participate in the CSTO peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan, that is to say a hundred soldiers, dedicated to the protection of strategic sites, out of the 2,500 planned in the total for this deployment (the CSTO includes 3600 peacekeepers in total) led by the commander of the Russian airborne troops, Andrei Sierdukov.

This mobilization was the subject of strong criticism from the opposition parties “National Democratic Party” and “Citizen Decision”, as from Armenian civil society whose organizations denounced “short-sighted behavior“, “harmful to the reputation of Armenia” and damaging Armenians in Kazakhstan in a joint statement on January 6. Armen Grigoryan, Secretary of the Armenian Security Council, responded to these criticisms on January 7, explaining that CSTO member states had “for the first time used existing mechanisms to respond to crisis situations,” saying “we hope that, if Armenia finds itself in such a situation, it will receive appropriate assistance “and specifying that at the time of Armenia’s decision-making “there were no revolutionary actions but actions terrorists in Kazakhstan”.

For their part, the foreign ministers of the Organization of Turkic States have scheduled an emergency meeting on January 11.

01/06/2021: Former Georgian Chief of Staff Giorgi Kalandadze released on bail in Germany

Former Georgian Chief of Staff, Giorgi Kalandadze, arrested in Germany on December 19 and for whom the Georgian Prosecutor General intends to request extradition, on charges against him of “unlawful imprisonment” and “torture” committed in July 2012, was released on bail in Germany on January 6.

01/01-07/2021: Human rights in Azerbaijan: a former political prisoner tries to immolate himself alive in front of the presidential administration building, a journalist goes on hunger strike in prison, and the mother of a general killed during the war accuses the State.

On January 1, Samaya Hashimova, the mother of General Polad Hashimov who died in July 2020, formally accused Karim Valiyev, current chief of staff of the Azerbaijani armed forces, of having killed her son during the last war against Armenia in order to obtain his post and also pointed to the responsibility of the Minister of Defense, Zakir Hasanov.
On January 6, the Azerbaijani journalist and editor of the sites “xeberman.com” and “press-az.com”, imprisoned since November 2020 for “high treason” began a hunger strike following the delay in the examination of his complaint to the Supreme Court.
On January 7, former political prisoner Giyas Ibrahimov attempted to sacrifice himself in front of the presidential administration building in Baku. He was arrested and then released the same day. Sentenced to ten years in prison with Bayram Mammadov for drug possession (although it was known that they had tagged the monument to Heydar Aliev’s glory in Baku on his birthday on May 10, 2016), then pardoned in 2019, he has been waiting for two years for the payment of compensation of € 36,000 from the State, an amount set by the ECHR on February 13, 2020. The body of Bayram Mammadov was found on May 5 in the sea, in Istanbul, before being repatriated to Azerbaijan.

01/07/2021: Publication of the autopsy report of Georgian cameraman Alexander Lashkarava following his inclusion on the UNESCO list of journalists killed in 2021

Following the publication, on January 6, of the UNESCO list of journalists killed in 2021, which features Alexandre Lakashvara, cameraman, who died on July 11, 2021 as a result of his injuries, the Georgian Ministry of the Interior published a 37-page autopsy report which had been in his possession for a week and aimed at proving that he had died of a heroin overdose, even before having communicated it to the journalist’s family or to his lawyers. After his death, several government-linked websites had already mentioned this lead while the family recalled that this journalist had morphine-based treatment. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, called on the Georgian authorities to “ensure that the announced investigation into his death is transparent and complete“.
Alexander Lashkarava was covering an LGBT protest during Tbilisi Pride Week on July 5, when he was attacked on the premises of the Shame organization with a colleague by around 20 people, including clergymen according to eyewitnesses. The violence of this day, carried out by far-right anti-homosexual groups, and in particular the assault of 53 journalists, is attributed by many observers to the ambiguous statements of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili before the event accusing the organizers of this “March of Dignity” to “complicate the situation in the country“. The lack of police protection for the procession was widely denounced following these events.

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