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South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From December 25 to December 31, 2021

12/23/2021: Protest note from Azerbaijan regarding Valérie Pecresse’s visit to Karabakh

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a protest note on December 23 following the December 22 visit without Azerbaijani permission by French presidential candidate Valérie Pecresse to Khankendi in the Armenian-majority Karabakh territories currently occupied by Russian peacekeepers. She notably met with representatives of the Armenian authorities of the internationally unrecognized Republic. The visit was described as “illegal” by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, who said it was damaging bilateral relations between the two countries and France’s reputation in the region as well as the role it can play in normalizing relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Valérie Pecresse has now joined the list of French politicians persona non grata in Azerbaijan. As a reminder, Eric Zemmour, another candidate for the French presidential elections, went to Armenia, accompanied by Philippe de Villiers, on December 13 and 14, without going to Karabakh and this, according to his words, “to defend a Christian land ”.

24/12/2021: Four Georgian citizens freed from South Ossetia for two captured the same week.

On December 24, four Georgians held in police custody near the village of Adzvi in the municipality of Gori were released from South Ossetia while two others were jailed on December 27 near the village of Lopani.

12/27/2021: Special session of the Parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh in response to statements by Nikol Pashinyan

The de facto authorities of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic strongly criticized, during a special session of the Parliament, the speech of the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, during his online press conference of December 24 during which he notably asserted that “Karabakh could not be an exclusively Armenian land” and that the rights of Azerbaijanis living in the region had “never been contested by any government or negotiator“, declarations contrary to those of 2019 before the last war where he had notably argued that “Artsakh is Armenia and that’s it“. The parliamentarians called the statements “disturbing and dangerous” and “contempt for the Armenian origin of Artsakh” while the de facto President of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, declared that “only the authorities of the ‘Artsakh are allowed to speak on behalf of the people of Artsakh” while firmly defending the right to self-determination of Armenians in the region and reaffirming its project of international recognition of the independence of the Republic of Artsakh. The words of the Armenian Prime Minister were also the subject of criticism of the two mediators of the Republic of Armenia and of Artsakh, Arman Tatoyan and Gegham Stepanian, during a joint declaration on December 26, as well as of the former president and political opponent, Robert Kotcharian.

28/12/2021: Informal meeting of CIS heads of state in St Petersburg

At the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, an informal meeting of CIS heads of state took place in St Petersburg on December 28, notably bringing together Ilham Aliev and Nikol Pashinian, the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, without any information does not filter concerning the possible exchanges that they could have had.

28/12/2021: Protest by Azerbaijani journalists against new media law

On December 28, a demonstration of around 15 Azerbaijani journalists took place in front of the Azerbaijani Parliament to protest the new media bill, adopted at first reading on December 14. In particular, this law provides for significant restrictions on press freedom and the exercise of independent journalism in the country. Following police intervention, the protest continued in the streets of Baku.

12/29/2021: 5 Armenians released from Azerbaijan following Hungarian mediation

On December 29, following a Hungarian mediation, five Armenian prisoners, arrested on November 16, were handed over by Azerbaijan to the Armenian side.

12/30/2021: Georgian Parliament votes to end the State Inspector’s Service for good despite international criticism from the United States and Europe.

Following the public media announcement on December 24 of the Georgian state’s plan to dissolve the State Inspector’s service, the Parliament voted on December 30 with 81 votes in favor and only 7 against. This independent agency, which had notably launched an investigation into possible inhuman treatment of Mikheïl Saakashvili during his transfer to the Gldani prison clinic and which had fined the Ministry of Justice for breach of the law on the protection of personal data at the beginning of December, will therefore be dissolved from March 2022, following which two separate agencies will be created: the Special Investigation Service concerning the abuse of power by the police and the Service protection of personal data. On December 29, the ruling party “Georgian Dream” nevertheless proposed to retain the staff of this body, that is to say around 120 employees, in the new bodies with the exception of its leaders, the State Inspector, Ms. Londa Toloraia. and his assistants.
This decision is therefore ratified thanks to the support of the two parliamentary committees, that of human rights and that of procedures, and despite the unanimous criticism which followed one another all week on the part of the American ambassador, Kelly Degnan, of the Acting Head of the EU Delegation, Asuncion Sanchez Ruiz, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria who denounces a punishment sanctioning the independence of the agency, and the President of the Republic, Salomé Zurabishvili.

Mikheïl Saakashvili was transferred on December 30 from Gori military hospital, where he has been treated since November 19, to Rustavi prison, the day after the prison authorities refused to allow access by a group of expert from the Office of the Public Defender, and while on December 27 his state of health had deteriorated causing him to lose consciousness while resisting his transfer, which gave rise to appeals from the Ukrainian foreign ministry to the government to treat him “with respect and not to authorize actions which put his life and health in danger” while qualifying the conditions of his transfer as “inappropriate“.

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