Turkey allowed Armenians to hold mass Sept. 19 at the Church of the Holy Cross—an iconic 10th century landmark on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, southeast Anatolia—for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Turkish officials hailed the service as a sign of tolerance and reconciliation. But the mass was attended by only some 1,000—a fraction of the 5,000 expected. An Armenian boycott saw thousands cancel their trips after Turkish authorities refused to display a 440-pound cross on the church's roof, claiming it was too heavy and could damage the structure. The 16.5-foot-tall cross instead was displayed next to the church's bell-tower. Worshippers were largely from the Armenian diaspora. Protests against the event were held at the Armenian genocide memorial at Tsitsernakaberd in Yerevan, Armenia's capital; and among Armenians in Jerusalem.
Protesters in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinval, symbolically demolished a "Wall of Lies" attached with news clips from the Western media about the Georgia war of two years ago. The wall was built near the former site of the local parliament building, demolished by Georgian forces in August 2008. The action came one day before the 20th anniversary South Ossetia's declaration of independence from Georgia, to be marked on Sept. 20. (Voice of Russia, Sept. 19) A car bomb in Vladikavkaz's central market Sept. 9 left 17 dead and scores wounded. The aftermath of the blast has seen protests by Ossetians against ethnic Ingush, who are apparently being blamed for the attack. (RFE/RL, Sept. 16; RT, Sept. 15)
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on March 13 jointly denounced the Swedish Parliament's March 11 passage of a resolution recognizing the Ottoman Empire's killing of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as genocide. At a meeting of European foreign ministers in Finland, Davutoglu questioned the rationale of the move, one that Bildt characterized as the "politicization of history." Both ministers noted concerns that the resolution would undermine the progress that Armenia and Turkey have made toward stabilizing their relations.
The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs voted 23-22 March 2 to adopt a resolution that recognizes the Ottoman Empire's treatment of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as genocide. In his opening remarks, committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), noted that every country must face uncomfortable issues its past, stating, "It is now time for Turkey to accept the reality of the Armenian Genocide."
Police in Russia's south killed two suspected militants Jan. 7 in a "counter-terrorism operation" launched in response to a checkpoint suicide attack that took the lives of six officers. The area on the outskirts of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, has been under curfew since the attack. Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, all predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus, saw a sharp rise in violence last year, with near-daily attacks mostly targeting police and other officials. The violence sweeping the impoverished southern region is increasingly described as a civil war between Kremlin-supported administrations and Islamic militants. (AP, Jan. 7) A Dec. 18 suicide car attack on a group of police and soldiers in Nazran, Ingushetia, wounded at least 23 people, including civilians. (AP, Dec. 18)
The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers met in Zurich Oct. 10 to sign a landmark accord to normalize diplomatic ties between the two nations. The deal, which calls for the border to be reopened within two months, follows six weeks of negotiations mediated by Switzerland. The agreement calls for an international commission to research World War I-era archives to clarify the extent of Turkish massacres of Armenians. Many Armenians fear this will produce a revisionist history that dilutes the enormity of the killing. Some 10,000 protesters rallied in Armenia's capital Oct. 9 to oppose the planned signing.
Russian human rights group Memorial has suspended operations in Chechnya following the murder of one of its most prominent activists, Natalya Estemirova. The group said its work in Chechnya had become "life-threatening." The office of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has also announced plans to sue Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, for defamation. "I have prepared and will file to court a complaint on protecting the honor, worthiness and professional reputation of the president of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov," Kadyrov's lawyer told the Interfax news agency. (Deutsche Welle, July 19)
A suicide bomber severely wounded Yunus Bek Yevkurov, president of Russia's volatile southern republic of Ingushetia—an assassination attempt that undermines the Kremlin's claim that it has brought stability to the restive North Caucasus. A car rigged with TNT exploded as the presidential convoy traveled outside the regional capital, Nazran. The blast tore Yevkurov's armored sedan to pieces and killed two of his bodyguards. Yevkurov was the third high official to be wounded or killed in the last three weeks in the North Caucasus region. (AP, June 22)