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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from April 23 to April 29, 2022

04/24/2022: Commemoration of the 107th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

The commemoration of the 107th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide took place on April 24 and resulted in a statement by the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh” calling the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 “the first genocide at the level of the state in the history of mankind” and denouncing the fact that “after 107 years of constantly denying the Armenian Genocide and trying to neutralize any attempt by the international community to recognize it, Turkey and Azerbaijan have not stopped their criminal policy towards the Armenians“.

On the same day, Joe Biden, like last year, used the term “genocide” in a statement written on this occasion and in which he declared: “Today we remember the million and a half Armenians who deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination, and we mourn the tragic loss of so many lives. […] On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman authorities arrested Armenian intellectuals and leaders in Constantinople. Thus began the Armenian Genocide – one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.”

The following day, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev commented on the US President’s statement saying, “It is unfortunate that US President Joe Biden’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day has once again distorted historical facts about the events of 1915. Attempts to distort events that happened a century ago and to politicize the so-called “Armenian Genocide” are unacceptable. The US President’s statement is not in line with negotiations aimed at normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia. The events of 1915 should be studied by historians, not politicians. Attempts to falsify history and use it for political pressure purposes are unacceptable.

04/23-29/2022: Continued anti-government protests in Armenia amid negotiations over an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty.

Anti-government protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan which started last week continued throughout the week especially from April 25 and the launch by the opposition parliamentary party “Hayastan” of a series of “awareness marches”. in the streets of Yerevan under the slogan “Arise, Armenia!” “Arise, Artsakh!” while the other opposition party “I have the honor” and its leader Arthur Vanetsian continued its sit-in in Place of Liberty which began on April 17. On April 25, a group of opponents also embarked on a march towards Yerevan from the town of Ijevan in the Tavush region while another group embarked on a similar action the next day from the village of Tigranashen in the Ararat district. On April 26, the organizers of the march organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Dashnaktsutiun” in Yerevan claimed the mobilization of 3000 people against 1000 according to the police.

On April 25, Arayik Harutiunian, the “President of the Republic of Artsakh” convened an extended government meeting during which he stressed that no document on the status of Artsakh was under discussion, his press stating: “There is a clear agreement with the Prime Minister of Armenia, according to which, in case of discussion on the future status of Artsakh at the international level, the position of the Armenian side must be agreed with the authorities and the people of the NKR“. On April 27, he also said during a meeting with the employees of the commission of inquiry and the prosecutor’s office: “The authorities of the republic have chosen the agenda of peace. However, as I noted in my statement late last year, full recognition of the right of Artsakh Armenians to self-determination is not subject to any reservations or concessions. Karabakh Armenians are the exclusive addressees of this question.

On April 29, Nikol Pashinian held a meeting with members of the “Government of Artsakh” headed by President Arayik Harutiunian during which he declared that the primary beneficiary of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was “Artsakh and the people of Artsakh“. He added: “It is simply illogical that such content is negotiated and implemented in secret. It is simply impossible to imagine such a thing […] The agenda for peace is not at all an agenda for defeat, the agenda for peace is an agenda for overcoming the horrors of war, the difficulties that followed the war, the security of the people, the rights and the future“.

While President Ilham Aliyev announced on April 29 an upcoming meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives in early May in Brussels, this information was first denied by the Armenian Foreign Ministry on the same day before being confirmed for April 2. May by the Secretary of the Armenian Security Council, Armen Grigoryan. Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan also accepted the Russian proposal for a tripartite meeting on May 13 in Dushanbe within the framework of the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the CIS, following a telephone conversation with his counterpart Russian, Sergei Lavrov, the same day.

04/22-29/2022: Multiplication of international meetings of the Azerbaijani President within the framework of the resolution of the conflict with Armenia.

On April 22, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told the 5th World Congress of Azerbaijanis in Shusha that the Minsk Group “[was] created not to solve the problem, but to perpetuate the fact of occupation” but that “the European Union [was] currently very active in the process of normalizing relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia [and that] the OSCE [understands] perfectly that the Minsk Group no longer exists“. He also claimed that Armenia had accepted the “five principles” proposed by Azerbaijan as part of the peace process and that the Armenian leadership had “officially declared that they recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and do not had no territorial claim on Azerbaijan and would not do so in the future” which he called a “pivotal moment for the post-conflict period“. He finally warned the “revengeful forces sometimes raising their voices in Armenia” before warning: “if they refuse [the proposal in five principles] we will not recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia either and we will officially declare. Considering the consequences of the second Karabakh war, the Armenian side should understand what this could lead to.

On April 23, Ilham Aliyev spoke by telephone with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to whom he announced that he had “determined the composition of the national commission for the delimitation and demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and a delegation responsible for drafting the peace agreement between the two countries” and that Azerbaijan was ready for negotiations with Armenia in the “Baku-Yerevan” format. On the same day, Azerbaijan denounced the attack of an Armenian “sabotage group” on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border trying to go in the direction of Zangilan, the National Border Service presenting it as “a provocation of the side against the establishment of boundary commissions between countries and the conduct of related work“. An Armenian soldier was reportedly taken prisoner.

On April 25, Ilham Aliyev met with the Special Representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation for promoting the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and former co-chairman of the Minsk Group, Igor Khokaiev, in which he renewed the announcements made to Charles Michel two days earlier. On April 26, he lamented during his meeting in Baku with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Alexei Overchuk, that despite the construction of a 60km section of railway and a roadway project, “no measure [had not] been taken by Armenia in this regard, since it [had] not yet determined the geographical coordinates of the route of the highway to cross its territory”.

On April 28, he also met with a large US delegation meeting in Baku, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office for European and Eurasian Affairs Erika Olson, and including US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Earle D. Litzenberger, US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly C. Degnan, US Ambassador to Armenia Lynne M. Tracy, USAID Deputy Administrator Mark Simakovsky, Acting Coordinator for US Assistance to Europe and Eurasia Greg Naarden , and senior adviser for Caucasus negotiations Andrew Schofer. According to the Azerbaijani presidential administration, he would have denounced in particular “the devastation that Armenia unleashed on the Azerbaijani territories during the nearly 30 years of occupation, the destruction of material and cultural traditions, including more than 60 mosques, and their use as stables” as well as the mining of many territories. He also reportedly drew attention to the “more than 4,000 Azerbaijanis […] missing since the first Karabakh war” and “the importance of providing information on the location of these cemeteries by Armenia“.

04/25/2022: Russian reaction to the cancellation of the 56th round of the Geneva International Discussions

The words of the director of the 4th CIS department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Denis Gonchar, were reported on April 25 by RIA Novosti. The latter declared that the Geneva International Discussions were “on hold” and that “the initiative in this case [belonged] to the “troika” of co-chairs (UN, EU and OSCE)” which he explained in these words: “These participants in the Discussions have effectively hijacked this very important negotiation format. […] They are entirely responsible for the disruption of the negotiations. There are also logistical difficulties that have arisen due to the restrictive measures imposed on Russia by the European Union […] and Switzerland. […] Hostile and politicized moves by Western “partners” do not contribute to the cause of strengthening stability and security in the South Caucasus and may lead to uncertainty in this region”.

The State Counsellor of the “President of South Ossetia”, Konstantin Kochiev, also shared his thoughts on the same day, stating: “In the context of a set of discriminatory measures taken against Russia, a group of States created artificial logistical problems, however, even under these circumstances, a solution could be found, but no proposal was received”.

Following these accusations from the Russian side, Toivo Klaar, European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus justified this decision by stating: “The decision to postpone the recent round was taken in order to protect the process and to avoid a situation where the international environment, in particular the war in Ukraine, would negatively affect the course of the round itself and therefore of the GID as a whole […] the co-chairs remain firmly committed to the Geneva process. It is indeed important to resume the discussion in Geneva as soon as possible and we are constantly reviewing the situation […] I am fully aware of the importance that the populations also attach to this process and I hope that it will be possible to resume face-to-face consultations will soon benefit trust-building and peace-building efforts in the Geneva international talks.” The latter met on May 28 with the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, in Tbilisi, with whom he underlined the importance of obtaining “effective and tangible” results in the format of the Geneva International Discussions, as well as the need to relaunch the meetings of the Gali incident prevention and response mechanism.

04/25/2022: Georgian citizen freed from South Ossetia

On April 25, the Georgian State Security Service announced the release of Kakhaber Merebashvili, arrested near the village of Mejvriskhevi, following the use of the European Union Monitoring Mission hotline.

04/25/2022: Postponement of the second round of “presidential” elections in South Ossetia

Following the decision of the South Ossetia Court on April 23 that the date of the second round of the “presidential” elections set for April 28 was illegal, the electoral administration set April 25 a new date for next May 8. for the holding of this election which opposes the outgoing “president” Anatoli Bibilov to his rival Alan Gagloev of the “Nykhas” party. During a pre-election meeting held in Akhalgori, an ethnically Georgian majority district of South Ossetia (which represents 55.5% of the population, or about 2,500 people), Anatoli Bibilov attacked his opponent over of his promise to open the crossings with Georgia stating, “There are two ways to open the checkpoints: diplomatically and by joining Russia. It is impossible to open the way by deception […] For me now, opening the way is a humanitarian issue. I know that almost everyone on the other side of the border has parents, grandchildren, children to whom the inhabitants of Leningor [Ossetian name for Akhalgori] bring food, which they want to see. […] Don’t you think I knew that if I closed the road, the Leningor district would not vote for me? I knew it. And I also knew it had to be closed. But I won’t lie and feed people false promises of votes.”

04/27/2022: Report by Transparency International on “Russian companies of Bidzina Ivanishvili and his relatives”: economic relations between Georgia and Russia under Ukrainian pressure

Transparency International released a report on April 27 titled “Russian Businesses of Bidzina Ivanishvili and Associates” which claimed that the billionaire, former Prime Minister of Georgia and founder of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party continued to “own at least 10 Russian companies through offshore entities in 2012-2019” contrary to its commitment to sell all its Russian companies. According to this report “Bidzina Ivanishvili’s relatives are also doing business in Russia, with family members of former and current senior Russian officials“. It states that “the news here is that one of the Russian trading partners has recently been sanctioned by the United States. Specifically, through a company called Geo Organics, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brother, Alexander Ivanishvili, and his cousin Ucha Mamatsashvili do business with a former KGB general and governor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, as well as with former senior Volgograd official Roland Kherianov”. The report also recalls that “although he has officially left politics, Bidzina Ivanishvili retains influence over Georgia’s ruling party and a number of key institutions, which are still led by people who had worked for his businesses or directly for his family“.

On the same day, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili publicly denied accusations against him that he had met in March with Russian tycoon Ali Uzdenov, who was sent by the sanctioned oligarch and former majority shareholder of Sistema JSFC Vladimir Yevtushenkov who would have had a commercial proposal to Georgia, while conceding to have been approached but to have declined the request to meet.

On April 28, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podoliak reacted by stating that this report “[had] shown why the [Georgian] government [had] refused to consider sanctions against [Russia]”. The “Georgian Dream” party called the report a “classic example of manipulation aimed at discrediting the Georgian government” and accused the civil society organization of acting with “the radical opposition agenda“.

It should be noted that on April 29, the Russian company “IDS Borjomi Georgia” marketing Georgian Borjomi mineral waters, belonging to the Alfa group, one of the largest private financial investment conglomerates in Russia, declared to suspend the production of its two Georgian factories due to restricted access to its bank accounts “depriving the company of the possibility of receiving income in [foreign] currency and settling its creditors“.

On April 23, Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said of his country’s relations with Georgia: “I don’t understand why sanctions are not being imposed. I heard the message “we must protect our economy”. What economy? [The Russians] have already taken part of Georgian territory, almost reached Tbilisi. […] We will definitely send our ambassador back to friendly Georgia as soon as we feel your government’s support for Ukraine”. On April 25, the Georgian Defence Minister, Juansher Burchuladze declared on this subject that the recall of the Ukrainian ambassador from Georgia in March was a “mistake” and the two States should put the past “upheavals” behind them.

04/27/2022: Passage of the Georgia Support Act by the House of Representatives in the United States.

The US House of Representatives approved the Georgia Support Act on April 27 by 406 votes in favour and 20 against. According to this bipartisan bill, which according to the Georgian Foreign Ministry “establishes a strong strategic partnership between the countries at the legislative level“, the US President should impose entry and property blocking sanctions on foreigners responsible for or complicit in serious human rights violations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The bill also calls for reporting to Congress on US aid to Georgia, and assessing threats to its independence. The State Department is also expected to prepare reports on cybersecurity cooperation as well as a strategy to help the country expand its capabilities to “counter Russian disinformation and propaganda.” This document still needs to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden.

The Voice of America media announced on April 27 that the United States would provide Georgia with a $35 million allocation to strengthen its defence capabilities. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the same day, “We’ve been saying for about 15 years now that we support Georgia’s NATO aspirations, a Georgia fully integrated into the family of Euro-Atlantic nations and part of a Europe whole, free and hopefully at peace. And it’s a vision that takes hard work; It needs patience. It takes significant resources to realize this. That’s why we sought to do our part.” On the same day, Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili met NATO Special Representative for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, Javier Colomina, in Tbilisi, to whom he expressed the wish that Georgia’s progress would be recognized at the next NATO summit in Madrid. The next day, Jens Soltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said Russia’s “brutal invasion” of Ukraine demonstrated the need for NATO to provide support to countries like Moldova and Georgia.

04/29/2022: An oil mill on fire in Baku after humanitarian aid left for Ukraine.

The day after the seventh batch of humanitarian cargo, consisting of 170 tons of medicines and foodstuffs worth 2 million dollars, was sent to Ukraine from Azerbaijan, an oil mill of the Azersun company which produces the majority of food sent to Ukraine, with an area of ​​5000 m², and located near Sumgait, was destroyed by fire on 29 April. A criminal investigation has been launched by the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan.

This event comes the day after the denunciations made by Ekin Gadirli, member of the Azerbaijani party “Republican Alternative” to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, vis-à-vis the “impunity” of Russia in Ukraine and the “crimes of war” committed in this country while insisting particularly on cases of rape. He recalled on this occasion the recent threats of a deputy of the Duma, Mikheil Deliyagin, who urged the Russian authorities to use tactical nuclear weapons against Azerbaijan, which Ekin Fadirli explained by the Azerbaijani humanitarian assistance to the Ukraine.

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