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South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from March 19 to March 25, 2022

03/19/2022: Armenia protests against the visit of the UN representative to the Shusha conference for the 30th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s accession to the UN.

The conference organized in Shusha on March 18 by the Azerbaijani authorities to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s accession to the United Nations has been the subject of strong criticism from the Armenian side. The Armenian Foreign Ministry delivered a letter of protest to the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Armenia, Lila Pieters Yahia, asking her to “take steps to restore the position of neutrality of the United Nations in the context of the conflict in Upper -Karabakh“. In turn, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry responded on March 20 through its spokesperson Leyla Abdullayeva who declared that “the organization of any event on the sovereign territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the participation of representatives international organizations to this event are not within the jurisdiction of Armenia“. “Armenia’s interference in the internal affairs of another state is unfounded and unacceptable […] The UN has never taken a neutral position on the former Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, but has upheld the integrity territory of Azerbaijan,” she added.

03/21-25/2022: Security situation in Karabakh: new gas cut and skirmishes in the Askeran region.

Following the restoration of the gas pipeline supplying the homes of 120,000 Armenians in Karabakh on March 18, the gas supply was again interrupted on March 21. The Armenian authorities have thus pointed the responsibility of Azerbaijan by evoking the Azerbaijani installation of a valve making it possible to close the flow of gas. Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian denounced a “policy of ethnic cleansing” and Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said “we consider this outrageous policy of systematic violence against the Armenians of Artsakh unacceptable” while calling a “clear response” from the international community and “immediate and unhindered involvement of international humanitarian organizations“. The MFA of “Nagorno-Karabakh”, meanwhile, spoke of “humanitarian terrorism“, “another manifestation of hatred and nationalism“. Armenia human rights defender Kristine Grigorian and “Artsakh” human rights defender Gegham Stepanian denounced in a joint statement “an instrument of mean revenge”. The EU’s External Action Service called for the “immediate resumption of gas supplies to affected local populations particularly in the context of extreme weather conditions“.

In addition, the Armenian side denounced Azerbaijani fire using the Bayraktar TB-2 drone on March 25 as well as an illegal crossing of the line of contact towards the village of Parukh in the Askeran region on March 24. Women and children from the villages of Khramort and Parukh were reportedly evacuated. The Armenian Defense Army would have to deplore 2 dead and 5 wounded.

These allegations were denied by the Azerbaijani MFA on March 25 with a statement claiming that these accusations were “another attempt [by Armenia] to mislead the international community” and that “the Armenian side [was] engaged in misinformation, artificially inflating the problem”. He thus explained the disruption of gas supply by the difficult weather conditions. Regarding troop movements, he said, “our posts clarify positions and locations; no incident occurred.”

On March 21, the Russian MFA, Sergey Lavrov, met with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Ararat Mirzoyan and Djeyhun Bayramov. On March 23, Ararat Mirzoyan addressed Azerbaijan’s recent proposals saying, “There is nothing unacceptable to Armenia in Azerbaijan’s proposals but they are not comprehensive.” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held separate talks on March 24-25 with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts Suren Papikian and Zakir Hasanov to discuss “ways to stabilize the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and maintaining security in the Caucasus“. On March 22, Azerbaijani Deputy Defense Minister Karim Valiyev received a delegation led by Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Peacekeeping Forces Alexei Kim and discussed the issue of the withdrawal of ” illegal Armenian armed groups” in Karabakh. On March 25, Ararat Mirzoyan met with OSCE Chairman-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk, and also spoke on the phone with Karen Donfried, US Under Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Armenia has seized the International Court of Justice for violation of the “rights of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh” concerning the Azerbaijani stationing near the village of Khramort, the harassment of its population and the disruption of gas supply to the region, after having seized the ECHR for the same reasons.

03/22/2022: Russian denunciation of the ICC arrest warrant against 3 South Ossetian officials and visit of the Abkhaz MFA to Moscow.

The spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, denounced on March 22 the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, concerning the arrest warrants of March 10 issued against three South Ossetian officials for crimes of war by claiming that he had decided to “contribute to the anti-Russian hysteria raging in the United States, the EU and the bodies they control“. According to her, “the timing of issuing the arrest warrants and the choice of the accused parties made it clear that the ICC has always been and remains an obedient tool of the West“. She also recalled that Russia was not required to cooperate with the Court since it is not part of the Rome Statute. The South Ossetian authorities had declared the day before, through their Minister of Foreign Affairs, that they “categorically” rejected any interaction with the ICC and that this “biased platform in the political sense adopted by this organization as a basis for investigation into the events of August 2008 [had] nothing to do with justice” while assuring that the persons named in this case had done “everything possible to save the lives of these people [Georgian prisoners of war and civilians ], to ensure their safety […] and later to transfer them to the Georgian side”.

On March 22, the de facto Foreign Minister of Abkhazia, Inal Arzinba, met in Moscow with Duma deputies and State Secretary of the State of the Union between Russia and Belarus, Dmitry Mezentsev. While these meetings addressed the strengthening of political and economic ties with Russia, there was also talk of simplifying the procedures for crossing the Psou checkpoint for Russian nationals in the northwestern part of Abkhazia. This issue was deemed by him to be relevant in the context of the “emerging international situation” alluding to the war in Ukraine. Russian support for the restoration of Sokhoumi airport was also discussed or the development of educational, cultural and humanitarian ties with the State of the Belarus-Russia Union.

03/22/2022: Armenian commemoration of the Choucha massacre.

The 102nd anniversary of the Shusha massacre was the subject of a statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry on March 22, introducing these words: “Today we bow to the memory of the innocent victims of the genocide of the Armenian population of the city of Shushi, perpetrated by the authorities of the artificially created Azerbaijan Democratic Republic 102 years ago, from March 22 to 26, 1920” and claiming that “the Shushi massacres, to which Turkish officers and emissaries took an active part, aimed to transfer the Armenian Genocide to Eastern Armenia as part of the implementation of pan-Turkish ideology […] Both in 1920 and 2020, Azerbaijan sought not only to annihilate the population of the city of Shushi and Artsakh as a whole” before concluding “it is impossible to destroy the Armenian spirit of Shushi, which is inextricably linked to Artsakh. It was relaunched in May 1992 and will be relaunched again.

03/23-24/2022: Statement by Salomé Zurabishvili in the context of the NATO-Georgia meetings and the 3rd joint exercise: the President increasingly at odds with the government.

NATO Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence and Security David Cattler met on March 23 in Tbilisi with Georgian Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze and State Security Chief Grigol Liluashvili. Several points of cooperation were thus discussed: hybrid challenges and disinformation, impact of the war in Ukraine, substantial NATO-Georgia package, situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This visit took place in the midst of the 3rd NATO-Georgia exercise which took place from 22 to 24 March. David Cattler also met Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Chairman of the Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee Irakli Beraia. Enhanced cooperation between NATO and Georgia has been agreed for the modernization of the Georgian army.

On March 24, a ceremony bringing together the President of the Republic, Salomé Zurabishvili, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, took place at the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center. Salomé Zurabishvili insisted on the challenges that the “ongoing Russian aggression” poses to “peace and international security“. The participation of 20 NATO member countries in these exercises was highlighted during his speech to argue that it was “in itself a response to repeated threats from Russia“.

The latter has been increasingly in the sights of the government since her speech in Parliament on March 14, very critical of the government and reproaching it for its lack of firmness with regard to Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine. . She spoke by telephone on March 22 with Josep Borell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to discuss “Georgia’s accelerated European integration path and security , including security in the Black Sea“. The latter declared that the EU was ready “to intensify its cooperation with Georgia“. Separately, in a video address dated March 24, she addressed the people of Ukraine saying, “We Georgians, support you, stand with you against Russian aggression.” These various outings by the President resulted in a wave of declarations from the government majority renewing support for Ukraine, through the voice of the Vice-President of Parliament, Archil Talakvadze, of the MFA, David Zalkaliani, and the President of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, all of whom again refrained from mentioning Russia by name.

Irakli Garibashvili, Prime Minister of Georgia, spoke by telephone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on March 22 to ask for “strong support” from Germany in the process of examining the application for membership from Georgia. This move received renewed support from Polish President Andrzej Duda and Romanian MFA Bogdan Aurescu this week.

03/22/2022: Sudden withdrawal of citizenship law in Abkhazia.

On March 22, following pressure from the Aruaa party of veterans, Abkhazian deputies met in an extraordinary session in order to cancel the series of amendments to article 47 of the “Civil Code” and the “law on acts of civil status” adopted the day before by the “People’s Assembly of Abkhazia” in second and third reading. Assembly Speaker Valery Kvarchia initiated the move in March 2021 and said the day before: “In the 1930s, thousands of Abkhazians changed their nationality overnight and no one asked their opinion [ …] Our vote for these amendments today will make us go down in history”.

This law was, he said, to allow “citizens of Abkhazia, foreign citizens and stateless persons who have reached the age of eighteen and live in Abkhazia to restore their Abkhaz ethnicity” and avoid “the restrictions to the rights of citizens of a certain category who wish to recover their nationality“. This law was to concern “Abkhazians living in different countries of the world and representatives of the Samurzakan people who were forced to change their nationality” but also the 30,000 Georgian inhabitants of the Gali district. It is this point that has raised opposition and a sudden reversal of the passage of the aforementioned law, with several deputies refusing that the Georgians of Gali automatically accede to Abkhaz citizenship if they choose Abkhaz ethnicity. They were stripped of their citizenship in 2014 and 2017 under the previous administration of Raul Khajimba.

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