Sticks, stones and homemade smoke-bombs flew in downtown Yerevan on November 5 as police brawled with a few dozen anti-establishment protesters, some wearing Guy-Fawkes masks.
Flamboyant activist Shant Harutyunian’s call for a revolution ended with police breaking up his small, but ambitiously billed "March of a Million Masks" rally, and making 37 arrests. Few in number, protesters nonetheless put up a tough fight battling police officers. Footage carried by several news outlets showed groups of policemen failing to hold down even individual protesters. The activists were eventually overpowered after riot-police reinforcements arrived.
An outspoken nationalist who claims the government is undemocratic, corrupt and controlled by Moscow, Harutiunian began his movement with “occupying” the city's central Liberty Square for about a week. He vowed to bring down the president and lead the people to take over main government offices. The clash broke out when police tried to prevent the protesters from marching through the city.
Video from the scene show riot police dragging activists and stacking them in vehicles as onlookers booed. Several protesters and policemen were hospitalized.
Harutiunian, who spent a year in jail after Yerevan's deadly 2008 protests, blames police for the violence, and was among those detained. Charging that the protesters were anarchists, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia defended the police's actions.
The commander of Russia's troops in Armenia has said those troops could be used in a conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh, the first time that a Russian officer has publicly made such a claim. The commander of Russia's 102nd military base, Colonel Andrey Ruzinsky, made the comments in an interview with the Russian military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (via RFE/RL):
“If Azerbaijan decides to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh by force the [Russian] military base may join in the armed conflict in accordance with the Russian Federation’s obligations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)."
It's never been entirely clear how Russia would see the collective security provisions of the CSTO in the event of a conflict over Karabakh. While they would seem to clearly obtain if Azerbaijan attacked Armenia itself, since Karabakh is in de jure Azerbaijani territory, one could easily imagine Russia saying that a conflict restricted to that territory would be none of its business. But there really isn't any room for interpretation there, and this seems like a clear Russian shot across Azerbaijan's bow.
Azerbaijan took a while to respond, prompting the opposition news agency Turan to criticize official Baku for ignoring Col. Ruzinsky's statement. But when Baku finally did respond, it naturally, blamed Armenia:
“No treaty envisages the involvement of the Russian base into the hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh on Armenian part”, MP and political scientist Rasim Musabayov....
The monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had to suspend its activities last week because of an as-yet unexplained shooting:
Following the usual exchange of security guarantees by local commanders on both sides of the Line of Contact, members of both OSCE teams heard shooting as they approached their observation points. It was not possible to determine from where the shots were fired. Safety and security concerns prompted the Personal Representative to abandon the exercise.
Naturally, both sides blamed the other. Azerbaijan's APA reported:
The Armenians violated ceasefire while the contact line was being monitored by the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office.
Defense Ministry Spokesman Eldar Sabiroghlu told APA that today the Armenian Army units violated ceasefire..
A planned monitoring of the Line of Contact between the armed forces of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan to be conducted by the OSCE Mission in the Hadrut direction, scheduled for October 17, was stopped because of the submachine gun shots from the Azerbaijani side towards the positions of the NKR Defense Army.
A colossal, bronze Jesus Christ, cast in Armenia, has appeared in war-ravaged Syria “to save the world.”
Soaring higher than Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer, the statue stands 39 meters tall in the mountaintop, Byzantine-era Cherubim Monastery, lording it over the city of Saidnaya, 27 kilometers north of Damascus, Armenian news outlets reported. Some Russian outlets said that the statue is one meter shorter than its Brazilian counterpart.
From its vantage point above the sea, the statue overlooks an historic pilgrimage route from Istanbul to Jerusalem. The statue, created by Armenian sculptor Artush Papoian, was installed on October 14, when Orthodox Christians celebrate a commemoration of the Virgin Mary, whose icon is a chief draw for the monastery.
But the statue was not born of recent events in Syria. While Syria's ethnic Armenian population has been fleeing the country in droves -- including to Armenia itself, which has built a "New Aleppo" to accommodate the arrivals -- the project has been in the works since 2005, Russia's Komsomol'skaya Pravda reports.
The Armenian capital is throwing a birthday party today. Yerevan has turned 2,975 years-old, but, like any millenarian, would have you believe that “the old girl,” as one news outlet put it, is still looking good.
The city, which is believed to have more gray hair than Rome and is regarded Babylon’s peer, is not hiding her age. She is celebrating it with a song and dance. And a spot of windsurfing.
She's been through it all, after all: a difficult childhood marked by complicated relations with abusive neighbors; riotous teen years spent mingling with Persians, Turks and other so-called shady characters; a mid-life crisis under Tsarist and, then, Soviet rule, and, finally, a late bloom in her 2,900s, but not without some criticism of her face-lifts.
"Numerous cafés and restaurants have been built instead of trees and bushes, often clashing with the surrounding planned environment," complained one United Nations Economic Commission for Europe report. "The most important concept of the city’s plan – viewpoints of the natural environment – has been lost," and the "environmental situation has drastically declined."
The risk of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is increasing and international meditors need to step up efforts to make sure that conflict doesn't arise in the "coming weeks and months," says the International Crisis Group in a new report.
The report (pdf), Armenia and Azerbaijan: A Season of Risks, argues that internal tension in both Baku and Yerevan could cause a small conflict on the border -- which occur nearly constantly -- to spiral into a full-fledged war. In Azerbaijan, presidential elections will be held next month, and Armenia's recent abrupt announcement that it is joining Russia's Customs Union has thrown that country's political scene into turmoil, the report argues. This, combined with the arms both sides (but especially Azerbaijan) have been acquiring, could be a deadly mixture, the ICG argues: "Confrontation, low-intensity but volatile, between Azerbaijan and Armenia has entered a period of heightened sensitivity. The ICG "does not predict a second war is either imminent or more likely than not. It does suggest the near-term threats to stability are becoming more acute... Vigorous international engagement is needed to lessen chances of violent escalation during coming weeks and months."
Presidents of CSTO member states (except Kazakhstan, which sent its prime minister) at the CSTO summit in Sochi. (photo: CSTO)
The Collective Security Treaty Organization held its annual summit in Sochi, Russia, on Monday and the hottest topic (other than Syria) was how to strengthen the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. The group, in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, resolved to "provide additional collective assistance to Tajikistan to reinforce its national border with Afghanistan." The aid will include "constructing new buildings of frontier posts, restoring warning and signaling systems and providing border troops with means of air patrol and surveillance as well as radar," said Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, speaking at the event.
According to the official CSTO statement, "On the basis of a request from Tajikistan the member states of the CSTO will, according to their abilities, within three months render military-technical assistance to the border forces of the State Committee for National Security of the Republic of Tajikistan." Interestingly, the aid package appears not to include Russian troops, which no doubt the Russian side was pushing for. Russia has been pushing the CSTO as its primary tool for preventing the spread of instability from Afghanistan after U.S. and NATO forces leave the country starting next year. Said Putin:
We discussed the situation in Afghanistan in light of the international coalition’s troop withdrawal planned for 2014. Unfortunately, there is reason to expect a considerable rise in Afghan drug trafficking activity and in terrorist groups’ activeness.
Extremists are already attempting to spread their activity into neighbouring countries, including the Central Asian countries that are CSTO members.
Armenia is seeking to become an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as Yerevan seems to be establishing its own unique brand of multivector diplomacy.
Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan made the announcement on a visit to China, and Chinese PM Li Keqiang said he would bring the issue up with other SCO members.
The SCO is a China-dominated political-military bloc that also includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO has been expanding west, though, recently: Turkey became a "dialogue partner" earlier this year, a status Belarus also holds.
Sargsyan offered no explanation of what Armenia might be looking for with the SCO, so it's up to us to speculate. Armenia, of course, raised eyebrows when it came out that it had gotten multiple-launch rocket systems from China, and Armenia could be casting around for new partners, Emil Sanamyan, editor of the newspaper Armenian Reporter, told The Bug Pit. "My sense of this is an extension of the outreach to China that is made relevant by the recent diplomatic setbacks with both Europe and Russia. The recent leak re fresh weapons purchase from China seems to also be part of that," Sanamyan said. "With the EU association document killed by Russian pressure, there will be some new entity to fill the airwaves with." (Sanamyan also noted that Armenia is an observer in the Arab League, another organization whose connection to Armenia looks somewhat tenuous.)
The many benefits of being a high-profile public official or his scion in Armenia apparently include getting away with violence and murder. At least that is how human rights defenders have reacted to the September 8 decision to drop all murder charges against the son of former strongman governor, Suren Khachatrian.
In a Quentin-Tarantino-esque shootout near the ex-governor’s mansion in the southeastern town of Goris, Khachatrian fils this June shot dead local businessman Avetik Budaghian. Budaghian’s brother Artak, a military officer, was wounded in the clash with Kachatrian’s son, Tigran, and his bodyguards.
Tigran Khachatrian and one of the bodyguards were arrested on murder and illegal weapons possession charges, but were released after the military police, which are handling the case, decided that all the shots fired by Khachatrian were made in self-defense. Human rights activists, the victims' family and the family's lawyer all have condemned the ruling. A local representative of Human Rights Watch alleged in a conversation with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a former defense minister, may personally have pushed for the ex-gubernatorial son.
Suren Khachatrian, who used to run the province as his personal fiefdom, is believed to have been a vote hoarder for President Sargsyan and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.Voter support for the duo reportedly ran stronger in Syunik than anywhere else in Armenia.
The impending attack by the U.S. on Syria has dominated the world's attention for the last week or so. And the powers surrounding the Caucasus and Central Asia -- notably Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- have been among the most active in discussing Syria, with Russia and Iran backing the government of Bashar al-Assad and Turkey one of the strongest supporters of the rebels. In spite of, or perhaps as a result, of that, the countries in between have taken a cautious approach to the possibility of U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Befitting its strong attachment to the U.S., Georgia's foreign ministry made a statement that appeared to endorse the American position that Assad's government should be punished for the use of chemical weapons:
“Georgia welcomes and supports readiness of the international community to play more active role in resolving humanitarian crisis in Syria and to hold the regime that committed this crime accountable for violating the fundamental international humanitarian norm."
Georgia's position is largely a factor of its ties to Turkey and the U.S., Michael Cecire, a Washington-based analyst of Georgia and the Caucasus, told The Bug Pit:
The Georgian government is happy to defer to their partners in the West and in nearby Turkey to take the lead on the issue. When it comes to Syria, Tbilisi's primary geopolitical concerns would be to ensure that the consequences from an intervention did not lead to destabilization in the South Caucasus. The Assad regime's closeness to Hezbollah and Iran, which both operate in the Caucasus to varying extents, makes this at least a possibility -- particularly in light of Hezbollah's alleged role in an early 2012 disarmed bombing attempt in Tbilisi.