Caucasus Theater

Protest, polarization in ex-Soviet Georgia

A massive protest encampment erected in front of Tbilisi's parliament building demanding the resignation of Georgia's government prompted President Georgi Margvelashvili to meet with demonstration leaders June 1, and remove his chief prosecutor. The latest round of mass protests began May 31, over accusations of a government cover-up in the slaying of two youths. But pressure had been building for weeks. The first protests broke out in mid-May to demand drug legalization after a series of police raids on nightclubs. Gay rights advocates took to the streets to mark the Inter­na­tion­al Day Against Homo­pho­bia May 17—but were confronted by organized gangs of neo-Nazis, who tried to intimidate them into dispersing, giving Hitler salutes and chanting "death to the enemy!" Georgia’s State Security Service issued a warning the group calling itself the "Nation­al­ist Socialist Movement—National Unity of Georgia" to abstain from using Nazi symbols in public. Public display of either Nazi or Soviet symbols is illegal in Georgia. The protest wave indicates a new generation tired of rule by ex-Soviet elites coming of age—but starkly divided between more liberal and harshly reactionary currents. (RFE/RL, OC Media, June 1; RFE/RL, May 30; OC Media, May 18)

Chechen police state turns ire on druggies

You could smell this one coming. Last year, horrific reports emerged from the southern Russian republic of Chechnya that authorities were rounding up gays in detainment camps and subjecting them to torture —the first time this kind of thing has happened in Europe since Nazi Germany. Now the reign of terror is being extended to drug users and small-time dealers, who are facing grisly torture at the hands of Chechen security forces as part of the same ultra-puritanical campaign. Reports describe electric current being applied to suspects' fingertips to induce them to "confess." No one has survived such questioning without eventually admitting their crime, the victims were told.

Chechnya: concentration camps for gays?

Alarming reports are emerging that Chechyna has opened "the first concentration camp for homosexuals since Hitler," following a "gay purge" in the southern Russian republic. Russian newspapers and human rights groups say more than 100 gay men have been detained "in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such" over the past weeks. Campaigners say gay men are being tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death. The principal camp is reportedly at a former military barracks in the town of Argun.

Alania re-emerges from history, Georgia pist

Russian state propaganda outlet Sputnik is crowing about the referendum results in Georgia's separatist enclave of South Ossetia, which has just voted to change its name to "Alania"—technically, the hybrid name of "Republic of South Ossetia—State of Alania." As Civil Georgia website explains, the political logic here is that it is a move toward union with the adjoining Russian province of North Ossetia-Alania. Pravda openly boasts in a headline: "South Ossetia wants to join Russia like Crimea." Kyiv Post informs us that Ukraine is not recognizing the "pseudo-elections in South Ossetia." NATO is also rejecting the "illegitimate elections and referendum in Georgia’s occupied territories." The US State Department likewise issued a statement condemnining the "illegitimate elections and referenda in Georgia's occupied territories." So it is pretty clear how the autonomist aspirations of the Ossetians (however legitimate) have been successfully exploited in the Great Game.

Nagorno-Karabakh at issue in Armenian uprising

Armenian security forces on July 31 stormed a police station that had been seized by opposition militants in the capital Yerevan, amid growing protests in the city. Authorities said some 20 militants were arrested and several injured. Gunmen calling themselves the Daredevils of Sassoun seized the police station and took hostages on July 17, and protesters subsequently took to the streets in their support. Security forces have responded with stun grenades and tear-gas leaving scores injured. Militants and protesters alike are demanding release of Jirair Sefilian, leader of the opposition Founding Parliament movement. 

Nagorno-Karabakh in Russo-Turkish game

At least 30 soldiers—possibly far more—have been killed in two days of renewed fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Azerbaijan claims it has now retaken land occupied by Armenian forces, destroying six tanks and killing more than 100 troops. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of violating international law in launching a new offensive. His government also refuted a statement by the Armenia-backed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic that the fighting has ceased; Baku says active military operations continue. Seen as Armenia's de facto protector, Russian President Vladimir Putin nonetheless urged both sides to stop fighting and "show restraint." Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, asserted his role as Azerbaijan's protector. He told the press: "We pray our Azerbaijani brothers will prevail in these clashes with the least casualties... We will support Azerbaijan to the end."

Slain ISIS 'war minister' trained by US in Georgia?

An ISIS commander described by the Pentagon as the group's "minister of war" was announced to have been likely killed in a US air-strike in Syria on March 8. Abu Omar al-Shishani AKA "Omar the Chechen" ranked among the most-wanted militants under a US program that offered up to $5 million for information leading to his removal from the battlefield, Reuters reports. The conspiranoid website Levant Report responds to this development with the headline "ISIS Leader Omar al-Shishani Fought Under US Umbrella as Late as 2013." As is often the case with conspiranoid claims, there is a grain of truth here worthy of examination, but it hardly justifies the click-bait headline...

Russia fights ISIS militants in Dagestan?

Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee announced Nov. 29 that security forces in Dagestan killed three militants who had sworn allegiance to ISIS, including one who had returned from Syria earlier this year. The three, identified as members of the "Suleiman-Stal bandit group," were slain when they fired on troops sent to arrest them in the district of that name. A "security alert" was insated throughout Dagestan Republic for 48 hours. The raid may have been realted to a Nov. 7 incident in which unidentified gunmen opened fire on railway workers who were inspecting tracks near Novy Khuchet village on the outskirts of Makhachkala, killing one and wounding another. Security forces responded, and the assailants were killed when the refused to surrender. (TASS, Nov. 30; TASS, AP, Nov. 29; TASS, Nov. 7)

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