The case of Azerbaijani political activist Ilgar Mammedov is fast becoming a test-case of the resilience and integrity of those European institutions that are meant to be the guardians of human rights on the continent. Mammedov was arrested earlier this year after visiting the town of Ismaili at a time when rioting was taking place. Mammedov is accused of inciting the riot.
Unrests in Ismailli district began on the evening of January 23, after an accident involving the nephew of the head of the local administration Nizami Alekperov, and the son of the Minister of Labor Fizuli Alekperov - Vugar Alekperov, triggering a riot. The participants set fire to a number of commercial entities belonging to officials. Special Forces and internal troops entered the district using rubber bullets and tear gas There were dozens of arrests and many injured as a result of clashes. Mammedov, who is also Director of the Council of Europe Schgool for Political Studies in Baku and co-Chair of the social movement “Real”, went to Ismaili to investigate the incident and was subsequently arrested and accused of inciting the riot.
His case was raised this week by the Council of Europe, an institution that has traditionally been the beacon of human rights on the continent. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council and will take over its rotating chairmanship in 2014. There is great unease in European circles about the message this will send, and frustration at a deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan at this juncture. More…
The President of the European Council Herman Van
Rompuy (r) greets OSCE Secretary General Lamberto
Zannier during the latter’s official visit to the EU,
Brussels, 10 April 2013.
Picture courtesy of the European Union
The current challenging political and economic environment calls for focused international response, said OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy during their meeting on 10 April 2013.
According to the web portal osce.org they discussed a wide range of issues related to the European security dialogue, including the role the OSCE can play as a forum to build bridges between different countries to create a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community. They also exchanged views on regional issues on the OSCE agenda including recent developments related to the protracted conflicts. In Brussels the Secretary General also met with Commissioner Štefan Füle responsible for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy and senior officials from the European External Action Service.
Whilst the EU and the OSCE are two organisations that are very different in nature they face many common challenges and the overlap of membership of the 27 EU member states who form nearly half the membership of the OSCE calls for a more harmonised and more focused relationship. Nowhere is this more the case than in the South Caucasus where the two organisations are involved in multiple ways on wide spectrum of issues involving Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, from conflict resolution to democracy and human rights issues. More…
The Armenian opposition activists that rallied around defeated presidential candidate Raffi Hovannesian in the aftermath of the 18 February Presidential elections have been faced with a common dilemma – their protests are large, but not as yet large enough to force the government’s hand. In political events in the South Caucasus this has proved a critical factor before. More…
A protestor being detained in Baku on 10 March 2013. (Picture courtesy of RFE/RL)
Police tactics in dealing with street protests are often subject to criticism, in democratic countries as much as in totalitarian ones. The use of water cannon and rubber bullets is allowed under standard operating procedures in many countries. Usually it means that either the number of demonstrators was so huge that the police felt that they were losing control and that there was a threat to public order, or that the protest had become violent and there was danger to safety of citizens or property. It could also mean that the police were unprofessional or under instructions to use heavy handed tactics.
The protest held in Baku on 10 March was neither huge nor violent yet the police responded with tear gas, water-canon and rubber bullets, and arrested around eighty protestors.. The use of overwhelming force to break up a protest mainly by young people angry at the number of deaths in the Azerbaijani Army as a result of abuse by senior officers is a sign of the jittery mood in the Azerbaijani leadership ahead of presidential elections in October. The protestors were calling for the resignation of the Defence Minister. Amongst them were relatives of some of the hundreds soldiers who died in the Azerbaijani military in non combat situations over the last years.
Azerbaijan is at a crossroads. The government has a choice: dialogue and reform or confrontation. It seems it has opted for the latter. If things do not change very fast the October election will be an irrelevance. The squeeze on the opposition continues; a leading Presidential contender, Ilgar Mammedov, is in jail; and the space for peaceful dissent shrinking by the minute. More…
The Armenian Constitutional Court in session. (picture courtesy of news.am).
The Armenian Constitutional Court has started considering an appeal by Raffi Hovannisian and other contestants in last months’ presidential election to annul the result because of election fraud.
The Constitutional Court
is expected to give its judgment to the challenge to the election results by Thursday, 15 March when Hovannisian plans to hold another rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
The Elections Observation Missions of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (ODIHR) have become a regular feature of the electoral process on the European continent, and a model for others world-wide. The Missions, consisting of a core team and a handful of long term observers deploy a month ahead of the poll and are joined for election-day by several hundred short term observers and delegations from the Parliamentary Assemblies of the continent’s leading institutions. Whilst not perfect, the ODIHR model remains the best.
One feature that has often caused concern is the way that these missions report their findings. It has now been a long standing habit (it would be wrong to call it anything else), for the Election Observation Missions to issue two interim reports prior to election-day. They are often very technical in nature. On election day the Mission then joins up with the parliamentary delegations from the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, sometimes the NATO PA and until recently with the OSCE’s own Parliamentary Assembly, for the day-after Press Conference, usually held at 3.00 or 4.00 in the afternoon. This has traditionally been the most high profile part of the process. The atmosphere is usually highly charged, the journalists coming from overseas to cover the election would still be around, and everybody is waiting for the key phrase or phrases which would indicate that the election has been deemed free and/or fair, although in recent years the wording has become increasingly more ambiguous. The Parliamentarians then leave as quickly as they had arrived, and the ODIHR mission lingers on in-country for a while to observe the post-election environment. Rarely, as was the case in Armenia after the 2008 Presidential election and again this month, it issues a third interim report. The Mission then departs and two months after the Mission issues a final report.
Many feel that these habits are due for review. ODIHR, in an effort one suspects to insulate itself from the pressures of its political masters – the OSCE member states represented by the Permanent Council in Vienna, increasingly depicts its work and its reports as “technical”, checking performance against compliance. They may very well be, but there is no denying that the consequences of the reports are political, and the way that ODIHR is communicating its findings is, in that sense, not very efficient. More…
Unofficial results in the Armenian Elections show a victory for the incumbent Serzh Sargsyan, with around 59% of the votes cast. Raffi Hovhanessian is runner up with around 37%
The 6th presidential Election of independent Armenia was held on Monday 18th February 2013. There was never any doubt who was going to win this election, but candidates, voters, election officials, journalists and observers – local and international, went through the necessary motions to conduct what technically was a good election ritual. A few of the seven candidates did not play the game according to the established rules and there was, a still unexplained, attempt on the life of another. One of the original eight candidates registered pulled out completely. The process was calm, peaceful, efficient and largely transparent. But while we always knew who the winner of this election was going to be, the question of who were going to be the losers was not always that clear. More…
Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev signing the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975. The Act made the subject of human rights a matter of legitimate concern to all.
Over the last few weeks it has become common to hear officials in Azerbaijan, and to a lesser extent in Armenia, complaining that the European Union is interfering in the internal affairs of their countries. This happens whenever EU officials or diplomats raise issues connected with human rights, rule of law and free elections. The chorus started first with some pro government journalists and commentators, but by last week senior officials in the two countries had joined the fray.
These officials clearly do not understand the processes that have been going on in Europe in the last forty years. The historic Helsinki Final Act adopted by all the European states (with the exception of Albania) in 1975 laid the foundation of a new European order which recognised the indivisibility of security and that human rights on the continent were not simply an internal matter but a matter of legitimate concern for all. More…
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
The Foreign Minister of Armenia, Edward Nalbandian led a chorus of criticism against views expressed by diplomats from EU member states ahead of the presidential elections. The diplomats, namely British Ambassador Katharine Leach and Polish Ambassador Zdzisław Raczyski’s had made mild criticisms and expressed hope for free and fair elections. Pro government politicians lined up to criticise the two Ambassadors and accusing them of interfering in internal affairs. The Foreign Minister then weighed in suggesting that the two Ambassadors had crossed the boundaries of diplomatic practise, with Nalbandian citing his experience as long time Armenian Ambassador to France to show how diplomacy should be done. Diplomatic circles in Yerevan are surprised by the audacity of this criticism given that Armenian diplomats in France, the United States and other countries are often involved in supporting candidates who are sympathetic to pro Armenian issues in the countries they are accredited to, whilst the Polish and British diplomats in Tbilisi were simply making comments about how the democratic process could be consolidated. More…
Dennis Sammut looks back at the life of one of the most outstanding politicians in the Caucasus in modern times.
On Sunday, 3rd February Georgia marked the 8th anniversary of the death in mysterious circumstances of Zurab Zhvania, a liberal and progressive politician who is best remembered for his work to establish the Georgian parliament as a credible and model institution, in the mid-1990s.
Zhvania started his political career as an environmental activist in the last years of the Soviet Union, and in the years of perestroika set up the Green Party of Georgia which became a focal point for many similarly minded young Georgian intellectuals. In 1992 he was appointed a member of the State Council, a body that had been created after the end of the 1991-2 civil war. Zhvania became an ally of Edward Shevardnadze after the latter returned from Moscow to head the State Council and lead Georgia out of the chaos in which it had found itself. In 1993 he became the head of the Citizens Union of Georgia, a broad based political force which aimed to support Shevardndze’s endeavours for reform and stability.
In November 1995 Zhvania was elected Chairman of the Georgian parliament. In a very short period of time he managed to introduce a parliamentary tradition in the post-Soviet country, justifiably earning for himself the title of father of the modern Georgian Parliament. He steered Georgia’s membership to the Council of Europe, which it joined in 1999, well ahead of its neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Georgian Parliament in this period was considered a model not only for other post-Soviet countries but for parliaments in other transition countries far beyond. He was well respected in European and North American political circles, as well as in the region for his visionary ideas that combined with astute pragmatism. His belief in Georgia’s European vocation was never at the exclusion of its Caucasian roots. More…
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, (centre), in military fatigues on the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline in 2012.
The incumbent Armenian President and favorite in next month’s Presidential election, Serzh Sargsyan, was born on 30 June 1954 in the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, where he was an active member of the Komsomol Communist Youth organisation and Secretary of its local branch and later became Assistant to Genrikh Poghosyan, the First Secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Communist Party Regional Committee.
During 1972-1974, he served in the USSR armed forces. In 1979, he graduated from the Philological Department of Yerevan State University.
As Head of the Nagorno-Karabakh self-defence forces Committee from 1989-93 he was an active participant in the fighting with Azerbaijani forces that led to the region’s separation from Azerbaijan. In 1990, Serzh Sargsyan was elected as a deputy to the Supreme Council of Armenia. From 1993 to 1995, he was the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Armenia. From 1995 to 1996, he was the Head of the Republic of Armenia State Security Department and, later, the Minister of National Security. From 1996 to 1999, he was the Republic of Armenia Minister of Interior and National Security. In this position he was instrumental in helping his old friend from Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharian, who was then the President of the territory, to move to Yerevan where he eventually became President after President Levon Ter Petrosyan was forced to resign.
Under Kocharian, Sargsyan served as Minister of Defence and Secretary of the National Security Council and was appointed Prime Minister in 2007. After Kocharian second term ended Sargsyan contested the 2008 election which he won in the second round, amidst opposition claims of election fraud.
Those who have observed Serzh Sargsyan political career over the last two decades say that he is essentially a “soviet style military man who has understood the need for reform”. He has been able to manage expertly the rough and tumble of Armenia political life, managing first the transition from Ter Petrosyan to Kocharian, and later his own transition to the Presidency. He is well aware of Armenia’s challenges and limitations and is subsequently a pragmatist. When in 2007 he emerged from the relative shadow of appointments in the military and security sides of government to become Prime Minister, he embraced reform as a necessity. He pursued it cautiously but not without vigor. This has also been the hallmark of his presidency since 2008. More…
President Ilham Aliev addressing a meeting of the cabinet of Ministers in Baku on 15 January 2013.
Azerbaijan has become the latest country to shed off its “post-soviet label”. The term long frowned upon by the Baltic states and Georgia amongst others, is often used to describe those countries that emerged from the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, who later this year will seek re-election for the third term, told a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers that Azerbaijan had made great achievements in the economic field and in the sphere of international diplomacy. the President said that next month the country will also launch its first telecommunications satellite into orbit. Aliev said, “ Azerbaijan is becoming a space-faring nation, we are developing a space industry. a few years ago it was hard to imagine that there would come a time when Azerbaijan would become a space-faring nation. But that time is coming, and in the next few days we will celebrate this historic event. this, in itself, is a great achievement in every sense – for the prestige of the country, for its modernization and for the development of new technologies. It is also beneficial for business, because it is an economically viable project.
But most importantly, it demonstrates the development and intentions of our country. It demonstrates our overall outlook and policy because we are building a modern and strong state. We have long gone beyond regional boundaries. We have long left in the past the notion of a post-Soviet country. We are not a post-Soviet country. Sometimes in meetings with foreign partners the phrase “post-Soviet country” is used. I say to them, “Wait. Azerbaijan is not a post-Soviet country. Perhaps some countries are post-Soviet, but we are not. We are the independent state of Azerbaijan.” More…
On 18 February 2013 Armenians go to the polls to elect their President for the next five years. All three South Caucasus countries will have presidential elections this year, but in Georgia and Azerbaijan polling is expected to be in October.
Armenia held parliamentary elections not so long ago, in May 2012. These elections were considered a step forward in the country’s transition to democracy. Some aspects of the poll were problematic, but a result which enabled all the main political forces in the country to enter parliament was positively assessed. February’s Presidential election was considered the logical next step forward. The stakes here are however higher.
Unlike in the Parliamentary elections this time the winner takes all, and in the circumstances that have developed since May, there is little doubt who that winner is going to be.
So far everybody has been going through the motions. The Central Elections Commission worked through the New Year and Christmas holidays to accept the nominations. It then went through the process of weeding out those of the 15 candidates who were initially registered but who could not make the approximately 20,000 USD deposit that is required by law (and which will be forfeited if the candidate does not get 5% of the vote). Seven of the fifteen candidates did not, and have been eliminated leaving eight: incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan and seven others. It is difficult to describe the seven others as non-entities, since they are not that. Some have long and distinguished political careers, such as former Foreign Ministers Raffi Hovhanessian and former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian. Others also are recognisable personalities due to their political activity (Melikyan ) or civil society or patriotic work (Harutyunyan, Hayrikyan, Sedrakyan and Ghukasyan). More…
In an end of year essay on the state of play in the South Caucasus, long time regional analyst Dennis Sammut says that democrats in the South Caucasus, and their friends, need not be ecstatic about the achievements of 2012. But they can allow themselves a moment of optimism and satisfaction.
Fragile gains give hope
There has not been a single revolution. The three Presidents who held office at the beginning of the year were still sitting in their palaces as the year end approached. Yet in many respects 2012 has been an unprecedented and momentous year for the countries of the South Caucasus and one that is bound to leave its mark on the future politics of the region.
By and large democracy has won. An opposition party thrashed the ruling party in parliamentary elections in Georgia. Parliamentary elections in Armenia were deemed better than previous ones and five political forces gained seats in the new National Assembly, and in Azerbaijan pro-democracy activists carved a larger space for their activity through clever use of new media, whilst a much predicted post Eurovision crack-down on dissent failed to materialise.
The fragile gains of 2012 give hope that the region has turned the corner in its efforts towards democratic state-building, but democracy is far from secure. There remains a serious democratic deficit and none of this year’s gains are as yet consolidated, so they can easily be swept away. But for once, it does no harm to be optimistic. More…
The Maidan Tower in Baku. A symbol of Azerbaijani history.
With the democratic transition of power progressing in Georgia, the focus of the regional and international community is increasingly shifting to the upcoming elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Notably, Azerbaijan has scheduled presidential elections for October 2013, which are regarded by many observers as crucial for the democratic development of the country.
Marion Kipiani was recently in Baku and she spoke with four experts about their perceptions of the political system, the upcoming elections, and the possible impacts of the change of government in Georgia on the electoral environment in Azerbaijan. The political and electoral systems in Azerbaijan are still under development, this was one of the few statements that the four experts unanimously agreed on. Farhad Mammedov, Razi Nurullayev, Anar Mammadli and Arastun Orujlu tell her why. More…
No soft touch. Bidhzina Ivanishvili is a shrewd self-made man.
Most new governments enjoy a brief honeymoon period at the start of their administration: a time when they can bask in the glory of their victory and a period of grace that the public that elected them allows them before they start demanding that they deliver on their electoral promises. It has now become clear that the government of Bidhzina Ivanishvili in Georgia, which was confirmed by parliament on 25 October, is not going to have such a luxury, as it starts to come to terms with a wide range of problems that they inherited from the previous government.
At the same time as it walks the delicate tightrope of political co-habitation, the new Georgian government is facing challenges in a number of fields, ranging from a tense situation in the prisons , to strike action in some key industries, to having to deal with a financial gap in the budget. The government had not even been properly approved by parliament when a number of problems started emerging, none so far resulting from anything of its own doing. The victory of the Georgian Dream coalition in the 1 October elections raised expectations amongst vast sections of the Georgian population. More…
The first meeting of the new Georgian Government held in Kutaisi on 25 October 2012.
It has been a month since the 1 October Georgian elections which resulted in a landslide victory for the Georgian Dream coalition of Bidhzina Ivanishvili. In terms of Georgian politics, and indeed region wide, this has been a political earthquake.
Not only has an incumbent government in the region been defeated through the ballot box for the first time, and not only has the transfer of power been done in a by and large proper fashion; It is also an earthquake because very few saw it coming.
Many diplomats in Tbilisi are with egg on their face. Their political reporting to their respective capitals over the last year failed to prepare their governments for the change of power. This flaw is particularly acute amongst Embassies of the European Union member states and institutions. The somewhat clumsy way in which the EU acted in the period immediately before and after the election raises some questions. Lessons need to be learned because if people think that this has not been noticed they are wrong. More…
Karina Gould has been reading a paper proposing a new approach to election monitoring. She sees value in the arguments but warns about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“A more sophisticated and perhaps fairer way of observing elections is also to take into account the direction of political developments,” notes a recent paper released by the Caspian Information Centre (CiC), a privately funded research group based in London dedicated to the study of the Caspian region, in a critique of the electoral observation regime currently in place.
The paper, titled “Oh Dear, ODIHR! Why the OSCE’s Election Monitors Don’t Always Get It Right”, takes aim at the contemporary framework and tools to assess democratisation, particularly with regard to Azerbaijan. The authors of the paper suggest that instead of focusing on the “gold standard” of elections – a standard most “established” democracies such as the United States and Great Britain would not meet – it might actually be more useful to implement what is referred to as “Developmental Observation”. This technique “assumes that what is important is the way things are moving, rather than how they appear in a snapshot.” More…