Amid a growing awareness of Western-style civil rights in Georgia, journalists are wrestling with a thorny question: where is the line between reporting and social activism? A recent tussle in the Georgian capital Tbilisi between police and protesters illustrates the trouble that many have in answering.
California’s Fresno County has become entangled in a conflict from another world.
Late last month, on the eve of the April 24 anniversary of the 1915 slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, the county government felt the urge to weigh in on the decades-long dispute over the predominantly ethnic-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region and recognize Karabakh's independence from Azerbaijan. Soon enough, angry Azerbaijan, which has vowed to reclaim the territory, came knocking on the county’s door.
The Fresno Bee has the story:“The resolution [supporting Karabakh's independence], even if symbolic and from a seemingly irrelevant county government, undermines Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, wrote the nation’s officials in a recent letter to the county. The [county] supervisors’ support, they wrote, contradicts even the US government’s official position that Nagorno-Karabakh is rightfully part of Azerbaijan.”
But Fresno has snapped its fingers back at Azerbaijan, saying the energy power picked the wrong guy. “We will not be muscled by a well-funded lobbying effort by the Azerbaijanis," Supervisor Andreas Borgeas, who penned the Karabakh resolution, proudly commented to The Fresno Bee.
Georgia has begun thinking of banning abortions after influential Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II pitched the idea in his Easter sermon on May 5.
Many churches may be pro-life, but in this devotedly Christian country, which cherishes the church leader above any other public figure, words from the patriarch can carry as much power as papal bulls once did in Europe.
During his sermon, the patriarch called on the government to stop the “terrible sin” of abortion and “filicide,” aside from a few circumstantial exceptions. He blamed both Bolshevik “atheists” from the past and modern liberal philosophy for the prevalence of abortions.
Georgia tops the South Caucasus for abortions, with 408 performed per 1,000 live births, according to a study by the World Health Organization, the Caucasus Research Resource Centers reported. (By comparison, the European Union rate is 222.)
Georgian government officials, who cannot hold a candle to the patriarch in terms of public support, quickly gave the nod to the church on considering an abortion ban. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili responded by saying that baby-boosting legislation is in order. He carefully suggested, however, that to improve the country’s bleak demographic situation, the main focus should be on economic incentives rather than abortions.
Iranian police have arrested a visiting Azerbaijani scholar, prompting a fresh round in the ongoing ping-pong of diplomatic notes between the two Muslim Shi'a neighbors.
On April 30, Iranian security police raided a gathering of literati in Tabriz, the capital of Iran's predominantly ethnic Azeri northwest, confiscating books and making arrests, APA reported. Among the detained was Khalida Khalid, an Azerbaijani researcher of oriental literature, who had traveled to Iran on a research trip.
Her assistant, also an Azerbaijani, was arrested along with several Iranian writers who promote Azeri culture and the rights of Iran's Azeri minority, the country's largest.
Baku has demanded an explanation from Tehran; the whereabouts of the two arrested Azerbaijanis remain unknown.
Tabriz long has been the site of frictions between the two Muslim neighbors, who routinely vacillate between mutual arrests and mutual declarations of friendship. Last year, two Azerbaijani poets were arrested in the city on spy charges and spent four months in prison.
But, this time, another ingredient has been added to the mix.
Although no direct line has been drawn between the mission to Israel and the Tabriz arrests -- and direct lines don't happen much in either Azerbaijani or Iranian affairs -- the timing of the incident leaves the field wide open to interpretation.
Azerbaijanis better start watching their online language. Any unkind word thrown into cyber space may soon result in a legal action if plans to censor publicly accessible virtual conversations go through.
The new draft law proposes making web-based profanity and libel a criminal offense. The amendments, brought to the Milli Majli's floor by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, suggest equalizing offline and online insults and libel. Depending on how hard and at whom an Azerbaijani Internet user swears, he/she could face a fine up to 1,000 manats (upwards of $1,274), 240 hours of community service or even incarceration. An online libel offense would result in a similar assortment of punishments.
Legislating about the Internet may be a global trend, but, conceivably, this could spell trouble for online political dissent in tightly governed Azerbaijan. Police are believed to be watching the Facebook activity of government critics and have not been shy in the past about clapping people into jail after certain differences of opinion with the government.
If it’s any consolation, Azerbaijanis most likely would be able to watch the court proceedings on such or any other offenses online. With financial assistance from the World Bank, the country is making court hearings available online, Trend (http://www.trend.az/life/crime/1993850.html) reported.
No word yet whether the Azerbaijani government would consider including a Miranda-warning-style message that pops up every time someone logs onto the Internet to make sure everybody stays out of trouble.
In a departure from its usual fascination with President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration, Georgia plans to take a fresh look at the 1993 killing of CIA station chief Freddie Woodruff during the murky, riotous epoch of President Eduard Shevardnadze.
"We have some serious doubts about what really happened, " Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani told The New York Times in reference to the shooting.
Investigators at the time said that Woodruff was killed by a pot shot fired by a drunken ex-soldier, a frequent occurrence in Georgia those days. But the circumstances and the timing led to many theories -- some straight from a film noir plot -- that linked the death to Washington-Moscow turf wars over the newly independent South Caucasus.
The man blamed for Woodruff's murder, Anzor Sharmaidze, spent 12 years in prison before being released in 2008 after witnesses claimed police had tortured them into implicating Sharmaidze. Tsulukiani commented to the Times that she suspects that Sharmaidze was jailed just because Tbilisi was under pressure to present Washington with a killer.
Aside from its profession of "serious doubts," it is unclear what has motivated the Georgian government to take a second look into the Woodruff case just now. Prosecutors already are facing a series of high-profile investigations into senior officials under the nearly nine-year rule of President Saakashvili’s United National Movement -- including a potential questioning of Saakashvili himself about the 2008 war with Russia -- that alone could prove a hefty burden.
As many as 145 Syrians have collectively moved to breakaway Abkhazia this week as part of the region’s latest social engineering experiment.
Entire peoples have for centuries been moved in, out and around in the Caucasus at imperial whims. The Abkhaz were among the nations banished from the Caucasus in the 19th century as Russia tried to consolidate its conquest of the region.
After the war with Tbilisi two decades ago resulted in the ousting of most of Abkhazia’s ethnic Georgian population -- again, not without Russia playing a role – the territory's separatist authorities tried to reconnect with Abkhaz Diasporas scattered around the Middle East in hopes they could help repopulate the area. No significant number of these groups took up the invite until war broke out in Syria.
The latest arrivals bring the total number of Syrian-Abkhaz migrants up to over 300 and Abkhazia’s de-facto government hopes to bring in thousands more. The breakaway authorities are paying for transportation, residences and the assimilation of the transplants, who are invariably described as “returnees” even if they have never been to Abkhazia and do not speak the Abkhaz language.
But, as elsewhere in the South Caucasus, in Abkhazia it is common to discuss century-old events as if they happened yesterday.
The Boston Marathon bombings seem to have provided one Kremlin-friendly Russian media outlet with an opportunity to take a jab at a prominent American critic of Russian policies in the South Caucasus and at Georgia, a key regional US partner and longtime Russian foe.
Russia’s major newspaper Izvestia alleged on April 24 that Tamerlan Tsarnayev, the assumed Boston bombing mastermind, had "cooperated" with Tbilisi's Caucasus Foundation, a non-governmental organization, prior to a series of seminars for young people supposedly co-staged in Tbilisi last summer with the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think-tank.
The Caucasus Foundation, which has held events covering the mistreatment of North Caucasus ethnic groups under Tsarist Russian and Soviet rule, describes its mission as promoting peace and cooperation among Caucasus peoples via cultural and sports events.
But to hear Izvestia tell it, its seminars were, in fact, meant to foster instability in Russia’s restive North Caucasus.
Such allegations fit with the Kremlin’s old line of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili making trouble in the North Caucasus for Russia -- a charge not always dismissed in Tbilisi.
The paper reported that its claims are based on supposed Georgian interior ministry documents, which reporter Anastasia Koshevarova told Ekho Kavkaza were obtained via "my longtime acquaintances connected to the intelligence services of Abkhazia, Abashidze [?], South Ossetia, and to the Russian intelligence service."
It's not often that a prime minister of one country announces his citizenship in another country to justify addressing an international body in a language other than his own.
But when the prime minister is Georgia's Bidzina Ivanishvili and the venue is in Europe, what matters is showing you can fit in.
And so, at his April 23 début before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Ivanishvili, "as a citizen of France . . . ," spoke to the European parliamentarians in French before switching into his native Georgian.
If the PACE deputies, who politely applauded his French intro, found his citizenship odd, it did not register.
After a long and bitter fight to regain his Georgian citizenship, Ivanishvili announced in February that he still is not a Georgian citizen. For that reason, he says, he has not, as previously expected, renounced his French citizenship, which, he claims, under Georgian law, allows him to remain prime minister.
Now it could, conceivably, also provide him with a useful PR tool.
Throwing in a little French, heavily accented as it was, may well have been meant to help make a good first impression at the gathering, and add, along with his profession of French citizenship, a slight punch to the pledges that he will keep Georgia on the track to European and trans-Atlantic integration.
Once again, Azerbaijan, the region's energy giant, led the pack with diagnoses of chronic cases of intolerance for freedom of expression, corruption in the judiciary system and abuse of detainees by police.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s senior political advisor, Ali Hasanov, did temper his response with elaborations about the importance of Baku's strategic partnership with the US, but he could not help noticing an alleged double-standard in the American criticism.
A country that, as he sees it, had no qualms about folding the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City is in no position to lecture a country that does not want to allow similarly impromptu demonstrations in the heart of its capital, he implied.