The EU and the elusive quest for freedom of speech in the South Caucasus: Keep the message simple and consistent.

The European Union has few tools at its disposal when responding to threats to freedom of speech in the South Caucasus, except for its moral authority. The institution and its member states are not perfect by far, but together they represent the best practise on issues related to human rights and democratic traditions. Governments and people in the South Caucasus recognise this even if they do not always admit it.

eu flagThe events of the last few days in the three South Caucasus countries caused concern. None was serious enough to trigger a crisis but all were serious enough to raise alarm bells and to highlight the question as to what is the end game of the EU with regards to the region on this issue. The soul searching has started and it will continue, probably until November or thereabouts when the EU expects either to welcome Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia closer to it through Association Agreements, or relegate all or some of them to the status of trade partners. More…

Armenia: Oh so diplomatic!

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.

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…

Georgia: Oh so democratic!

scuffles outside national library in GeorgiaGeorgian civil society organisations had tough words for politicians following incidents at a protest in front of the National Library where President Saakashvili was due to speak. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International – Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Open Society – Georgia Foundation condemned the acts of violence that ensued. In their statement the four NGOs said

“We believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has failed to take preventive measures in an effective manner to avoid injuring of guests of the event. The situation could only be de-escalated after the Interior Minister arrived at the scene. It is clearly a positive fact that the minister personally got involved in the developments; however, we believe that the Interior Ministry has failed to plan adequate measures for ensuring safety of participants, resulting in the necessity to postpone the presidential address.” The NGOs warned that “freedom of assembly and expression is one of the most important values of a democratic society but it must be realized within the legal constraints. We understand that some people have been suffering from the sense of injustice for over the years; nevertheless, this may not justify such illegal acts.”

Azerbaijan: Oh so modern!

Books of Akram Ayisli being burnt in the city of Ganja.

Books of Akram Ayisli being burnt in the city of Ganja.

Azerbaijan chose the week in which it launched its first communication satellite into space to crack down on a writer who dared challenge the official narrative of history and relations with Armenia. Observers could not fail to notice the irony that whilst the space launch was being hailed as an example of Azerbaijan’s success as a modern state the burning of the books of Akram Ayisli and threats by a pro government politician to put up a prize for the author’s ears, sounded more like medieval acts of intolerance. Akram Aylisli was last week officially stripped of his “People’s Writer” title and his presidentially awarded pension. He was also expelled from the Union of Azerbaijani Writers. The actions were taken because of Aylisli’s novel “Stone Dreams,” published in a popular Russian magazine last year. It focuses on clashes between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Baku and Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s and challenges stereotypical characterisations that have been part of the official narrative of events. “Spontaneous” public protests against Aylisli and rituals in which Ayisli’s books were burned have now been followed by a bizarre offer by a pro government politician to pay a prize of 10,000 manats (around US$12,700) for the ear of Ayisli. Aysili is now saying he is considering leaving the country because he is afraid for his life.

source: CEW staff

Armenia’s peculiar election.

electios13The OSCE/ODIHR Election Monitoring Mission issued an interim report on 7 February in which it described the first two weeks of the presidential Election Campaign in Armenia as “low-key and of limited visibility”. The Mission has strived to go through the motions of monitoring the campaign despite the somewhat bizarre circumstances that have surrounded this election.

One of the eight candidates in the election formally withdrew from the race on 8 February. The Central Elections Commission duly accepted his withdrawal and cancelled his candidature. Aram Harutyunyan call for the other six candidates challenging incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan to withdraw from the race has so far been unheeded. Another Presidential candidate Andreas Ghukasyan has been on hunger strike since the campaign started on 21 January. Speaking to journalists two weeks later Ghukasyan lambasted the OSCE/ODIHR Election Mission which he said was there to legitimise a fraudulent election. He accused the mission of misleading the Armenian people and called on them to pack up their bags and leave. More…