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South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From January 15 to January 21, 2022

01/16/2021: Suicide of a Internally Displaced Person from Abkhazia in Tbilisi: the housing conditions of IDPs in question.

Zurab Chichochvili, a 52-year-old man displaced from Abkhazia, committed suicide in Tbilisi on January 16 by jumping from the roof of the dilapidated former Kartli sanatorium where he was housed with 120 families in the same situation as him. This incident comes as requests for relocation and demonstrations had recently increased on their part. At a press conference on January 17, Zurab Azarashvili, Minister for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs, asked the public not to link his death to problems of IDPs and to await the results of the ongoing investigation. The ministry in question has, despite everything, committed after the tragedy to provide all the inhabitants of this sanatorium with new accommodation in 2022. A group of residents of this building held a press conference and described the declaration of the minister as a “shameful” and “immoral” attempt to hide the reasons for his death while declaring in a statement “Mr. Minister…people are dying in this country because of neglect and desperation. This is exactly what caused this tragedy and you will not escape your responsibilities.
The latter remain wary of government announcements consisting of offering temporary rehousing with rent payments from public subsidies pending the end of work in the apartments already purchased by the State. They thus evoke interruptions of rent payment after two months for many IDPs. The public defender’s office urged the state on January 17 to increase IDPs’ confidence in the relocation process and recalled that it had already concluded that the ministry’s livelihood agency had “unreasonably” refused to inspect the technical stability of the building in question while stressing that 90 buildings of this type threaten the life and health of IDPs throughout the country. As a reminder, Tbilisi hosts more than 112,000 IDPs for thirty years.

01/17-21/2022: Russian warning against Georgian strengthening of its Western partnerships

Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani was in Brussels on January 17-18 to meet NATO Secretary General Jens Soltenberg and representatives of allied states. In particular, he said that all of Georgia’s expectations had been met during last week’s US-Russian meetings on security in Europe, during which the decisions of the 2008 Bucharest summit were not called into question. On this occasion, he also condemned the cyberattacks against Ukraine while reaffirming his solidarity with this country. On January 18, a meeting between the Head of the Georgian Defense Forces, Major General Giorgi Matiashvili, and his Polish counterpart Rajmind Andrzejczak, also took place, during which Poland’s support in the implementation of the substantial NATO-Georgia package and Georgian capacity building in military police and special forces, cyber security and air defense was reiterated. Kelly Degnan, the United States Ambassador to Georgia, said at a security conference at the Rondeli Foundation on January 18 : “We stand with Georgia, Ukraine and the Europeans as Russia seeks to undermine European security. It is important to say, from Georgia, that strength lies in unity” or “we will not negotiate on Europe without the Europeans, on NATO without NATO, on Ukraine without the Ukrainians, on Georgia without the Georgians”. On 20 January David Zalkaliani also met Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, as part of his trip to Vilnius, who assured him of his support while insisting on the need for democratic reforms, particularly in the judicial field, and on respect of the April 19 agreement negotiated by the EU.

Faced with this strengthening of Georgia’s Western alliances, the Russian Foreign Minister said on January 21, barely concealing his threats, that he “hoped that Georgia would learn from the lessons of the past and pursue a more balanced policy towards Russia” while affirming that Moscow remained committed to normalizing relations with Georgia, “overcoming existing differences, restoring and developing bilateral relations” and emphasizing that the process should be a “two-way street“. He referred to Vladimir Putin’s 2019 ban on flights to and from Georgia “to protect Russian citizens from violence and other illegal actions” while calling for “stabilizing the situation in Georgia, stopping the Russophobic campaign and eliminate threats to the security of our citizens“. On January 20, the “United Front of Georgian Patriots”, a newly established coalition bringing together the “Alliance of Patriots”, a pro-Russia party holding 4 seats in Parliament, and some 40 mostly unknown political organizations and formations, issued a statement calling on Georgia to remove from the Constitution the provision that “constitutional bodies shall take all measures within their competence to ensure the full integration of Georgia into the EU and NATO “.

01/18/2022: Victory of Nikol Pashinyan against the Armenian State at the European Court of Human Rights

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on January 18 won his case against the Armenian state at the ECHR, which recognized the violation by the authorities of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, to the personal integrity and freedom and security. No material compensation has been sought by Nikol Pashinyan in this latest decision in a series of judgments related to the crackdown on anti-government protests from February 20 to March 2, 2008 contesting the results of the presidential election that carried Serge Sarkissian in power. He was arrested in July 2009 and sentenced to 7 years in prison before being released in 2011, pardoned on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence. As a reminder, the accusations of “attempts to overthrow the constitutional order” brought by Nikol Pashinyan, upon his accession to power in 2018, against Robert Kocharian, his main political opponent and outgoing president in 2008, and for the same reason as the one who had allowed his own conviction, had been rejected in March 2021 by the Armenian Constitutional Court.

01/19/2021: Azerbaijan warns against France: the soap opera Pécresse poisons relations between the two countries.

The spokesperson of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Leyla Abdullayeva, reacted on January 19 to the declaration made by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves le Drian, on January 18, in the National Assembly, concerning the remarks held by Ilham Aliev, the Azerbaijani President about the visit of Valérie Pécresse to Karabakh without Azerbaijani authorization. Leyla Abdullayeva thus declared that her statement that “the comments made by the President of Azerbaijan were unacceptable in substance and form” were “inappropriate for a diplomat” and that “the irresponsible and unacceptable interpretation of the statement of the President of another country by Minister Le Drian is contrary to diplomatic tradition“. She thus recalled that President Ilham Aliyev’s statement was “legitimate” and that it was an “adequate response to those who violate the laws of Azerbaijan. The candidacy of Valérie Pécresse for the presidency of France does not give her the privilege of not complying with the laws of Azerbaijan”. She stressed that “if a representative of France or another country illegally travels to the territories of Azerbaijan within the framework recognized by the international community, Azerbaijan will provide an appropriate response in accordance with its Constitution and to the relevant legislation“. A similar statement was made by Samad Seyidov, chairman of the International and Interparliamentary Relations Committee of the Azerbaijani Parliament, on January 19.
As a reminder, Valérie Pécresse, president of the regional council of Île de France and candidate for the French presidential elections of 2022, went accompanied by the former European commissioner and former French foreign minister Michel Barnier as well as Bruno Retailleau, chairman of the group “The Republicans” in the Senate, in the territory of Karabakh on December 22 without prior authorization from the Azerbaijani authorities and circumventing the international principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. Following this trip, a protest note was given to the French ambassador to Azerbaijan, Zacharie Gross, and Valérie Pécresse was declared persona non grata in the country.

Ilham Aliyev, in an interview with Azerbaijani television channels on January 12, said, “It became known after their return because probably they were afraid that they would be arrested in the Lachin corridor. Because if we had known they were there, we wouldn’t have let them go. The Lachin Corridor is under our control.” During this interview, Ilham Aliyev also strongly criticized and questioned the words of the Russian side and its peacekeeping forces in these terms: “In case of illegal visits [to Karabakh] we officially express our dissatisfaction with the Russian side […] We were told “we didn’t see anything, we don’t know, we didn’t pay attention” […] but we can’t believe [this version of the facts]. In this case, it was an organized visit.”
The candidate for the French presidential elections had then denounced on January 14 from Athens where she was traveling “the seriousness of this threat to a candidate for the presidential election who would not be free to go where she wants” while judging “the deafening silence from the French government very shocking ” before publishing on January 16 with representatives of the Republican Party an appeal to Emmanuel Macron, the French President, asking him to “demand an official apology from the Republic of Azerbaijan, and also, in case of refusal to consider as soon as possible the possibility of recalling our ambassador” by adding “The honor of France depends on it“, following the requests of the Coordination Council of the Armenians of France (CCAF) dated January 17 . In an interview with Europe1 radio on January 17, she also announced that she had filed a complaint for “death threats” and she explained that she “went to Armenia” because she was “concerned about the question of Christians in the Middle East »
On January 18, the Embassy of Azerbaijan in France published a letter on this subject in which one can read “It is appalling to note that the candidate of the party “The Republicans”, heir to the RPF created by General de Gaulle ignores the national law of his own country so as not to displease some of his constituents. The contempt displayed by Madame Pécresse for the principles referred to above which underlie the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is unbearable and must end. Electoral blindness not only risks jeopardizing the old friendly relations with Azerbaijan built on the principles of international law, but also harms the stability and development of the Caucasus region.
On the same day, Jean-Yves Le Drian said in response to questions to the government in the National Assembly that President Ilham Aliev’s remarks were “unacceptable” while conceding that it was “regrettable that the trip did not make the object of any information with regard to the authorities of the Republic” which was “not suitable” and that such a step was “not superfluous”.

The Russian representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, meanwhile, said on January 20, during her weekly briefing, that the order of visits of foreign citizens to Nagorno-Karabakh to international organizations had been defined and that it was planned “to inform the blue helmets of these visits within a reasonable time” while recalling that the Lachin corridor, in accordance with point 6 of the ceasefire declaration of November 9, 2020, is “under control Russian peacekeeping forces” and that “Azerbaijan guarantees the freedom of movement of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions“.

01/19/2022: Failed impeachment of President Antoni Bibilov in South Ossetia

Deputies of the parliament of the self-proclaimed South Ossetian republic failed to impeach incumbent President Antoni Bibilov, gathering only 13 deputies to support the motion motivated by accusations of handing over 200km2 of land to Georgia: these want to support Decree No. 2 of April 20, 1922 relating to the formation of the Autonomous Oblast of South Ossetia, while the President recalls that their independence has been recognized by Russia within its current borders and that compliance with the said decree would be at the expense of their de facto republic since it would force it to return several villages to Georgia in return for those it would claim to recover.

01/19/2022: Abkhaz criticism of EU-UNDP COBERM program

Abkhaz Foreign Minister Inal Ardzinba declared “inadmissible” on January 19, the COBERM program (“rapid reaction and confidence-building mechanism”) funded by the EU and implemented by UNDP since 2010 for communities affected by the conflict in Abkhazia and Georgia. He thus complained in particular about a sociological survey carried out in the summer of 2021 among the Abkhaz population and relating to internal politics and the means of establishing relations with Georgia while declaring to a UNDP official during meeting: “The implementation of this project is unacceptable. Take note and don’t start any more similar projects! We don’t allow you to do that.” These statements against the informal Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue come a month and a half after it asked NGOs operating in the de facto republic to seek prior approval before implementing their program, to submit reports relating thereto and to provide precise information on their employees and their financing.

19/01/2022: Opening meeting of OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation chaired by Azerbaijan brings to light Armenian-Azerbaijani differences over border delimitation and demarcation: protagonists play with words.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov attended the opening meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation in Vienna on 19 January, which he chaired and which gave rise to several bilateral meetings, in particular with the Secretary General of the OSCE, Helga Maria Schmidt, with whom he discussed the question of the implementation of the trilateral agreements signed under the aegis of Russia. In particular, he declared that the delimitation of the borders was the key element for the normalization of the relationship between the two countries but that “the position adopted by Armenia on this issue and the presentation of a number of preconditions for the launch of the delimitation process, is absolutely unacceptable“. In response, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vahan Hounanian said the following day that there was a misunderstanding on the matter and that the side had no “preconditions” but that there were “discussions on agreements” between the two countries and that a prior withdrawal of troops was necessary in accordance with the common ground reached on December 14 in Brussels with the President of the European Council.
The Azerbaijani side asked Armenia on January 20, through the voice of Hikmet Hadjiyev, head of the foreign policy department of the presidential administration to “draw the right conclusions from the new geopolitical realities of the region” while the secretary of the Armenian Security Council, Armen Grigorian said the same day that he was awaiting “a written response to his proposals“.

01/20/2022: Azerbaijan commemorates victims of “Black January”

On January 20, Azerbaijan commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the events of “Black January” and in particular the 134 dead, since buried in the Alley of Martyrs in Baku, and the more than 700 injured, mostly civilian victims following the intervention of several Soviet Union units comprising 35,000 soldiers on the night of January 19 to 20, 1990 in Baku, bloodily repressing the popular movement demanding the country’s independence. These events which, according to the statement of the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, “must be qualified as crimes against humanity [and whose] perpetrators must be punished” took place in the context of the crisis in the USSR and the escalation of the conflict. Armenian-Azerbaijani over Nagorno-Karabakh, with thousands of demonstrators gathering daily to protest Soviet policies deemed pro-Armenian. This “Black January” had also been the scene of massacres of Armenians in Baku between January 13 and 15, 1990, Azeri refugees taking advantage of a meeting of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, despite the arrangements it had made with the police, to expel Armenian families from their homes, massacres which resulted in the death of 32 Armenians and an unknown number of Azeris. Aman Tatoyan, the Armenian mediator, and Gregori Aivazian, head of the Assembly of Armenians of Azerbaijan called on this occasion for the recognition by the Armenian authorities of this pogrom as “genocide“.

20-21/01/2022: Visit of EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar with Isabelle Dumont, French Presidential Advisor to Azerbaijan and Armenia.

EU Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar arrived in Azerbaijan to meet Ilham Aliev, the Azerbaijani President, on January 20, the Azerbaijani national day of mourning, accompanied by Isabelle Dumont the adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron and former French Ambassador to Ukraine and Cyprus. The Azerbaijani President recalled his satisfaction with the discussions he had with the French President and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on December 15, while supporting this format of discussion which, according to him, “created positive opportunities for the development of the peace agenda discussed in Brussels“.
The following day, they traveled to Yerevan in the company of Magdalena Grono, Foreign Policy Advisor to the European Council, the French Ambassador for the Eastern Partnership and the Black Sea, Brice Roquefeuil, the EU Ambassador in Armenia, Andrea Wiktorin and the French Ambassador to Armenia, Anne Louyot, where they met the Secretary of the Armenian Security Council, Armen Grigorian, with whom they welcomed the partnership between the EU and Armenia and with whom they addressed humanitarian issues related in particular to the prisoners of war detained in Baku. They also met Ararat Mirzoyan, the Armenian Foreign Minister, who called for the respect of the agreements reached on December 14 in Brussels and the resumption of negotiations under the mandate of the co-presidents of the Minsk group, such as Nikol Pashinian, the Armenian Prime Minister whom Toivo Klaar and Isabelle Dumont also met.

01/20/2022: 104th meeting of the Mechanism for Prevention and Response to Incidents (MPRI) in Ergneti in South Ossetia.

On January 20, the 104th meeting of the MPRI took place, moderated by the head of the EU observation mission, Marek Szczygiel, and by the special representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office for the South Caucasus, Viorel Mosanu , in the village of Ergneti, near the occupation line of the de facto republic of South Ossetia. The cases of arbitrary detention which have multiplied in recent months, the cases of “bordering“, the situation in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi region, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic were discussed. Some procedures are said to be underway to release 6 Georgian detainees. The South Ossetian authorities reiterated their demand for the withdrawal of a police checkpoint in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi region and denounced the cases of overflight of the airspace by drones launched from Georgian territory.

01/20/2022: Refusal of victim status for Mikheïl Saakashvili, the ex-president imprisoned in Georgia.

Following the decision of the Tbilisi City Court on January 17 to cancel the decision of the State Inspector’s Service against the prison service for disclosing personal information, as well as the related fines, the prosecutor’s office of Georgia on January 20 rejected a request by lawyers for former President Mikheil Saakashvili, imprisoned since his return to Georgia following the troubled local elections last October, to grant him “victim” status. due to “degrading and inhuman” treatment during his forcible transfer from Rustavi prison to Gldani prison hospital on 8 November. On the same day, medical experts summoned by the public defender said that his psychotherapeutic and physical rehabilitation following his interrupted 50-day hunger strike in November remained a “substantial” problem and that no significant improvement or deterioration had occurred. could be observed during their last visits, the last being on January 11, while the alleged accomplices of the former president during his “illegal border crossing” on September 29 were released on bail this week.

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