The two big post-Soviet military blocs, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, have announced their respective plans for large-scale exercises this year. The CSTO's will take place in September in Armenia, while the SCO's will happen in Tajikistan in June.
Last September's CSTO exercises were a pretty big deal, involving 24,000 troops and taking place amid a concerted Kremlin effort to gin up the threat from Afghanistan, prompting a lot of observers to speculate that Moscow was trying to use the CSTO as a means of exerting a heavier hand in Central Asia. This year's exercises were still months away, and there are few details available about them, so it's hard to compare yet. But the choice of location in Armenia is curious, given that last year so much of the rhetoric justifying the organization's existence related to Afghanistan. So now is the shift toward the Caucasus, or is it just Armenia's turn?
Meanwhile, the choice of Tajikistan for the SCO exercise, Peace Mission 2012, has prompted one dropout already: Uzbekistan won't be taking part in the exercise, Regnum reports (in Russian):
"During the exercises, a special anti-terror operation in a mountainous area will be worked on. New methods will be used to detect, block and destroy mock outlawed armed formations that have captured a mountain village, according to the legend," the [Tajikistan Ministry of Defense] press centre said.
One Tajikistan member of parliament interviewed by Regnum had harsh words for Uzbekistan's decision:
The resemblance, far-fetched as it may sound, was also detected inside Armenia itself, where, as in many other small countries, there is sometimes an eagerness to trace various things around the world back to Armenia. One Armenian blogger, no doubt with thoughts of former Armenian-populated territory that's now part of Turkey in mind, even called the new lira design a Freudian slip on the part of the Turks.
The voice of reason came from the designer of the Armenian dram, Karen Kamendarian, who told Mediamax he'd already discussed the similarity with some concerned Turks on Facebook. The design of the Turkish lira symbol is clearly based on the Latin letters "t" for "Turkish" and "l" for "lira," he asserted, and its two intersecting lines are also sported by the Mongolian tugrik and the euro as well as the dram.
But amidst the jingoistic shouting on either side, don't expect anybody necessarily to listen.
Amidst all the publicity this weekend to mark the 20th anniversary of the February 25, 1992 slaughter of ethnic Azeris in the Nagorno-Karabakh village of Khojaly , one interesting bit of fresh information related to those events may easily have been overlooked.
In 1992, Sargsyan was the commander of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh's military forces, and, if anyone got the lowdown on what Armenian fighters did or did not do at Khojaly, he is, arguably, the man.
Some of his comments already have appeared in de Waal's 2003 book on the Karabakh conflict, "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War." But what was left out provides insightful reading -- not only about the details of the war, but also about the psychology of one of its main protagonists.
Asked about the slaughter at Khojaly, Sargsyan does not mince his words: " [W]hen a shell is flying through the air, it doesn't distinguish between a civilian resident and a soldier; it doesn't have eyes. If the civilian population stays there, even though there was a perfect opportunity to leave, that means that they also are taking part in military operations . . . "
Sargsyan concedes that "some form of ethnic cleansing" took place in Karabakh, adding that "It's not possible otherwise."
"But we didn't think up this method. They thought this up," he said in reference to the Azerbaijanis. "when, with the help of their militia, they kicked our people out of the Hadrut and Shusha regions" of Karabakh.
Last week, EurasiaNet.org reported on plans to turn breakaway Nagorno Karabakh into a correctional facility for Armenian convicts. To some, mindful of Armenia's extensive presence in and support for the predominantly ethnic Armenian territory, that may bring to mind the colonial-era relationship between Great Britain and Australia, the British Empire's convict colony of choice. But the Australia references do not end there.
Just as was the case with British convicts in Australia, outcasts from Armenia can also find ostriches in their new homeland. These are not going to be the squint-eyed Australian emus, but, rather, their taller African cousins.
Karabakhi entrepreneur Ararat Bagirian imported the birds from Kenya last August and plans to farm them for eggs, meat and feathers, the Russian news agency Regnum reported. New businesses in Karabakh are not a dime a dozen, so, to encourage the venture along, the de facto government gave Bagirian a 25-million-dram (about $65,000) credit for his new business.
After all, as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Azerbaijan continues to take the flak for roughshod treatment of the media and political critics. But sitting on an embarrassment of hydrocarbon wealth, the country is in no hurry to change its ways. Behind the maquillage of spruced-up buildings and streets in Baku, rights groups see a ruling political dynasty plagued by rampant nepotism and corruption.
Georgia has released its new "National Security Concept" document, updating it from the 2005 version which said there was “little possibility of open military aggression against Georgia." Now, unsurprisingly, Russia dominates the document (pdf): of the twelve "Threats, Risks and Challenges to the National Security of Georgia" it identifies, ten are tied to Russia and its role in the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Equally unsurprisingly, the U.S. tops the list in the document's section on "Strengthening foreign relationships." But the rest of the list is interesting to peruse. Ukraine is the second country mentioned, ranking as a "strategic partner." Turkey is next, as "Georgia’s leading partner in the region," with cooperation in trade, energy and military spheres. It then cites the importance of relations with "Central and Southeast European and Scandinavian states," as well as Moldova and Belarus, but for whatever reason doesn't mention Western Europe at all (though of course the EU and NATO as organizations are prominently featured). There is a whole paragraph on Latin America and the Caribbean, but no mention of France, Germany, the UK? No doubt the Western European reluctance to admit Georgia into NATO is the major factor there.
Selective birth control, a practice sometimes termed gendricide, is widespread in the South Caucasus for a mix of economic and cultural reasons. Armenia is believed to have the region’s highest rate of female foeticide. The gender ratio at birth is as high as 120 boys to 110 girls, 20 percent above the accepted norm, according to UNFPA's Armenia office. The ratio is lower, but also skewed in neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia.
“Every year, Armenia is losing about 1,400 potential mothers [because of prenatal sex selection],” said the country’s gynecologist-in-chief Razmik Abramian. “In 10 to 20 years from now, we will face a deficit of women,” UNFPA Armenia official Gagik Hairapetian told a Yerevan press-conference, AFP reported.
The Global Gender Gap report put Armenia in second place after China in terms of the most distorted gender ratios. Azerbaijan and Georgia came only three countries away from Armenia on that list.
The saga of the mysterious drone shot down over Nagorno-Karabakh keeps getting more and more intriguing. You'll recall that the Armenian de facto authorities of Karabakh released photos of the downed UAV and claimed that the drone was from Azerbaijan. Makes sense: Azerbaijan operates drone similar to the one shown in photos, with which they try to surveil the area of the line of contact between them and the Armenians. Azerbaijan's state news agency countered with another theory: that the drone was actually Israel's. That was last month, and the story has gone cold since then.
But now, an Israeli website, DEBKAfile, has a new scoop/conspiracy theory: it was Russia! Their take:
Western sources believe Moscow had the Azerbaijani drone shot down as a one-off incident for four objectives:
1. A hands-off road sign to Israel to stay out of the Caspian Sea region and its conflicts. Moscow has taken note of Israel's deepening economic and military footholds in four countries: Azerbaijan, which is the largest, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Georgia, and regards its supply of arms to these countries as unwanted interference in Russia's backyard.
2. Revenge for Israel reneging on its 2009 commitment to build a drone factory in Russia. Moscow decided to confront Israeli drone technicians with Russian antiaircraft crews with an unwinnable ambush.
3. Moscow was also telling Tehran that it was serious about cooperating with Iran to safeguard its rights in the Caspian Sea and willing to use diplomatic, military and intelligence means to halt the spread of Azerbaijani and Israeli influence in the region.
The strange case of the Armenian-Moldovan-Libyan-Latvian arms deal has reached a sort of conclusion: Moldova's ambassador to Baku has apologized for the deal, reports News.az:
'Those responsible for arms sale have been called to the Security Committee of Moldova and commission for security issues of the parliament and brought to responsibility.
Though no sanctions have been applied in Moldova related to arms sales to any country, it was politically incorrect to sell arms to Armenia. We will try not to tolerate such cases anymore', the ambassador said.
That's some pretty serious groveling. At least from the official Azerbaijani perspective, relations between them and Moldova are not all that strong, with just $1 million in trade: "The products imported into Moldova from Azerbaijan were natural juice and medicines." They do have a common cause as countries with territories occupied by another country. But there is likely some nuance to Moldovan-Azerbaijan relations I'm missing, that would explain why it is so "politically incorrect" to sell arms to their neighbor. Anyone with the answer, let me know.
Ex-Chief of General Staff of the Moldovan Army, Iurie Dominic, sacked after an arms deal with Armenia
Armenia has bought some weapons from Moldova, and Azerbaijan is not happy about it, reports RFE/RL:
Azerbaijan has expressed serious concern over Armenia’s reported purchase from Moldova last month of rockets and other weapons worth millions of dollars, saying that it will complicate a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Elnur Aslanov, head of an analytical unit at President Ilham Aliyev’s administration, on Friday described this and other arms acquisitions by Yerevan as a “serious destabilizing factor” in the region.
“The policy on Nagorno-Karabakh pursued by Armenia testifies to the destructive position of that state in the region,” Russian and Azerbaijani news agencies quoted him as telling journalists in Baku. “Any arms acquisition, any increase in the number of weapons in the region certainly does not lay the groundwork for establishing peace and stability and, on the contrary, impedes that.”