South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from July 2 to July 8, 2022

07/01/2022: Azerbaijan closes its 13km border with Turkey.

Following the Turkish-Armenian announcement to reopen a portion of the land border of the two countries, during the meeting in Vienna on July 1 between the representatives of the two countries for the normalization of relations, Azerbaijan proceeded to close its 13km border with Turkey in the Nakhitchevan region. The National Border Service explained this decision as an extension of the “special quarantine regime” until September 1, which has already applied to Iran, Russia and Georgia since the start of the pandemic, and citing the decision of the Council of Ministers dated June 20, 2022 “on additional measures related to the extension of the special quarantine regime and the lifting of certain restrictions” where Turkey did not however appear.

Ruben Rubinian, the Armenian Representative and Deputy Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly, said on July 4: “I think it makes sense that these agreements will be put into practice this summer.” These also concern the resumption of direct air flight between the two countries. The latter also met the ambassadors of Sweden, Patrick Svensson, of Finland, Kirsti Narinen, of Lithuania, Inga Stanite-Tolochkiene, and of Estonia, Rina Kalyurandi to whom he presented the developments in the process of regulating Armenian- Turkey and the specific agreements concluded following the fourth meeting of the special representatives.

07/01-03/2022: Georgian government unveils plan to respond to EU demands amid mass protests.

On July 1, the ruling Georgian Dream party unveiled its plan to meet EU requirements for its application for candidate status. These are twelve in number: reducing political polarization; the effective functioning of state institutions, parliamentary oversight and electoral legislation; judicial reform; the fight against corruption; desoligarchization; the fight against organized crime and the control of law enforcement; ensuring an appropriate media environment; gender equality and violence against women; involvement of civil society; proactive review of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights; election of the public defender. A moratorium on “aggressive rhetoric” and the establishment of a “polarization watchdog” in Parliament were thus proposed, and a call was made for the opposition not to challenge the political legitimacy of the ruling party for the next 6 months, as tens of thousands of protesters backed by civil society gathered to demand the resignation of the current government. Most of the proposed plan consists of setting up working groups and committees in parliament.

On July 3, it was civil society organizations that proposed an action plan containing power sharing in parliament as foreseen in the agreement negotiated with the EU while President Salome Zourabishvili said that the plans of the diverging ruling and opposition parties “had nothing in common with the real national accord or the action plan needed to achieve EU candidate status“. On the same day, the deadline that the “Shame” movement had given for the resignation of the government, a third mass demonstration took place, after those of June 20 and 24 which brought together 100,000 people in the streets of the capital, the most large gatherings since 2012.

On July 6, “Georgian Dream” chairman Irakli Kobakhidze asserted that if Georgia went to war with Russia before December, the country would be guaranteed EU candidate status, adding: “If the war ends in Ukraine by December, this emotional context, which notably led to the decision of the European Union against Georgia, will disappear. That is to say, there was a certain emotional context for which Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status, while Georgia was not.” In addition, he announced on July 7 that the government would vote for a fully proportional system with the establishment of an electoral threshold of 2% in accordance with the April 19 agreement under the aegis of the EU abandoned by the party in power in July 2021, only within a month of the EU accepting his candidate status. This declaration was the subject of criticism from the opposition denouncing this “ultimatum“, in particular several members of the party “MNU”, “Droa”, “Aghmashenebeli Strategy”, and “European Georgia”.

Note that Tbilisi Pride Week, which ended on July 2 with a music festival in Mtatsminda Park in Tbilisi, was marked by the arrest of 26 far-right activists, including several leaders of the “Alt Info” party on July 1. Last year’s protests were the subject of outrage over the lack of protection for participants and journalists covering the event in the face of manifestations of homophobic violence, including the attack on around 50 journalists. The European Court of Human Rights rightly accepted on July 5 a case filed by the LGBT+ rights group against the Georgian authorities for these events of July 5, 2021. Its president Robert Spano went on July 6 to Tbilisi where he met Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to discuss cooperation between the Georgian judiciary and the Strasbourg-based court, along with Georgian national ECHR judge Lado Chanturia, ECHR division head Victor Soloveytchik , Georgian Minister of Justice Rati Bregadze and Head of the Georgian Government Administration Revaz Javelidze.

07/04/2022: Armenian-Indian meeting on the occasion of the 8th session of the intergovernmental commission on cooperation between the two countries.

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan met on July 4 with the Secretary of the Western Department of the Indian Foreign Ministry, Sanjay Verma. Both attended the opening ceremony of the 8th Session of the Armenian-Indian Intergovernmental Commission on Cooperation in the Fields of Trade, Economy, Technology, Science, Education and Culture, which was also attended by First Deputy Minister of High-Tech Industry Gevorg Mantashian, First Deputy Minister of Health Lena Nanoushian, Deputy Minister of Economy Armen Arzumanyan, Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, Zhanna Andreasian, Deputy Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure, Hovhannes Haroutiounan and Deputy Minister of Emergency Situations Davit Hambarian.

On this occasion, Ararat Mirzoyan said that “full deepening and development of relations with India [was] one of the priorities of Armenia’s foreign policy” while insisting on increasing the volume of between the two countries (from $21 million in 2016 to $181 million in 2021) and recalling the many bilateral meetings, such as the one with Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar last year in Dushanbe, who also paid a visit last fall to Armenia, and finally highlighting the “rich Armenian cultural heritage in India under state protection“. While calling India “the largest democracy in the world“, the Armenian minister discussed “the prospects for cooperation in the implementation of regional transport communication projects, in particular, within the framework of the transport corridor project “North-South” international project, the port of Chabahar, as well as the international project “Persian Gulf-Black Sea“.

He also reiterated Armenia’s support for India in Jammu and Kashmir issues. It should be noted that on June 30, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received the President of the Senate of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani, during which he praised “the brotherly support of Pakistan” during the occupation of the Azerbaijani lands, the second Karabakh war and the post-war period. Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani then insisted on “the importance of the Baku conference of the Parliamentary Network of the Non-Aligned Movement“.

04/07/2022: Armenia’s Attorney General proposes internet access restriction law citing Russia as an example.

On July 4, the Attorney General of Armenia appealed through a letter to the government regarding the legal regulation and control of information security on online platforms, stating: “The study of national legislation revealed that the security of information disseminated via widely visible Internet resources is not legally guaranteed in RA, there are no legal regulations and no body has the power to control the security of the information and to take the measures resulting therefrom“. He thus referred to “the Russian law “On information, information technology and information protection” [which] established a list of prohibited information on the Internet throughout the territory of the Federation of Russia, including information on methods of suicide and incitement to suicide, preparation and use of narcotics, psychoactive substances, involvement of minors in illegal behaviour, sale of information containing the offer for sale in detail of restricted or prohibited drugs, alcoholic products” while continuing: “in the event of discovery of such information, the request of the Russian Prosecutor General or his deputies to the federal body of executive power Roskomnadzor is subject to the deletion immediate access to the information provided and the restriction of access to Internet resources. If the owner of the Internet resource does not delete the information within one day of receipt of the information by the competent body, access to the given Internet resource is limited”. It should be recalled that on April 19, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of information security.

07/04-08/2022: Iranian-Azerbaijani and Iranian-Armenian meetings.

As part of his visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Djeyhoun Bayramov met President Ebrahim Raisi on July 4, with whom he discussed the cultural, religious and historical ties between the two countries as well as as the joint projects implemented between the two countries in the fields of energy, transport and communications. In particular, “the importance of creating new communication links between the economic region of Eastern Zangezur and the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan, as well as the implementation of joint projects” in the territories reconquered by Azerbaijan were mentioned. Jeyhoun Bayramov also met with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, as well as the President of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who declared that Iran was ready to “support the establishment of communication between East Zangezur Economic Region and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic” and interested in “participating in reconstruction and restoration works in East Zangezur and Karabakh Economic Regions in Azerbaijan“.

On July 7, the Armenian Prime Minister received in Yerevan a delegation led by the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Shamkhani in order to address several issues on the agenda. bilateral cooperation. Ali Shamkhani reiterated that he considers “unacceptable any attempt to change the geopolitical situation in the region” and that Iran supports the unblocking of communication channels in the region as part of maintaining territorial integrity and state sovereignty. It was thus agreed to maintain the dialogue regarding the cooperation within the framework of the free economic zone on the Armenian-Iranian border and the construction of the North-South highway, and the importance of the Iranian port of Chabahar in the context of the development of the southern region of Siounik in Armenia.

On July 8, Deputy Commander of the Iranian Naval Forces, Admiral Hamza Ali Kaviani, said that the Iranian Naval Forces began an annual exercise dubbed “Sustainable Security” in the Caspian Sea on Friday.

05/07/2022: New Azerbaijani humanitarian batch to Ukraine.

Azerbaijan sent to Ukraine on July 5 a new batch of humanitarian aid of 50 tons of foodstuffs, medicines, clothes and household items for the inhabitants of the town of Cherkasy, a town twinned with Sougayit, in Apsheron Peninsula. According to the Ukrainian ambassador to Azerbaijan, this convoy brings to 1500 tons the total of humanitarian aid (worth 20 million dollars) provided by the country since the beginning of the Russian invasion, to which must be added the provision until stocks are exhausted of the sixty service stations of the Azerbaijani company SOCAR for ambulance, health and emergency vehicles.

06/07/2022: Visit of the Armenian Foreign Minister to Spain.

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan paid a visit to Madrid on July 6 to meet his Spanish counterpart José Manuel Albares Bueno and together explore the potential for cooperation in the fields of trade and economy, industry, transport and infrastructure, renewable energy, and information technology. They agreed on the organization of business forums and insisted on strengthening ties in the field of tourism or educational exchange programs. The Armenian MFA also welcomed the launch of the first Armenian satellite, the result of cooperation between the Armenian company “Geocosmos” and the Spanish company “Satlantis”.

07/07/2022: Pessimistic statement by the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister regarding the progress of negotiations with Armenia.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Djeyhun Bayramov said on July 7: “I cannot say that there is any significant progress in the peace treaty negotiations with Armenia. Nevertheless, there are posts, discussions are ongoing” criticizing “revenge calls in Armenian society”. The Armenian side denounced Azerbaijani fire in the direction of the village of Khachik on July 4 and in the direction of the village of Elpin on July 8, while the Azerbaijani side denounced Armenian fire in the direction of the village of Zarkand in the Basarkechar region and in the village of Yukhari Ayrim in the Kelbajar region on 5 and 7 July. On July 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, while Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev spoke on July 4 with European Council President Charles Michel. On July 6, a demonstration of Armenian refugees from Karabakh took place in front of the government building to demand official refugee status.

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