At least 32 Azeri activists were arrested in the lead-up to an annual July protest at the historic Babak Fort in Iran's East Azerbaijan province against discrimination targeting the ethnic minority. The arrests took place in several citiese, including Tabriz and Ahar in East Azerbaijan and Meshgin Shahr in neighboring Ardabil province, usually following home raids. Security officials contacted a large number of local activists and warned them to not attend the annual ceremony. Dozens more were summoned and threatened with arrest if they attended the ceremony. Babak Fort, also known as the Immortal Castle or Republic Castle, is a mountaintop citadel said to have been the stronghold of Babak Khorramdin, the leader of the Khurramite rebellion who fought the Abbassid caliphate in the ninth century CE. Babak is revered as a national hero by ethnic Azeris and Iranians alike. Azeris, also known as Azarbaijani Turks, have for several years gathered at the citadel on the first weekend in July for the annual ceremony. (Iran Human Rights Monitor via UNPO)
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.
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."
Georgia's Foreign Ministry on Aug. 20 protested a violation of the country's airspace by a Russian military helicopter near the border with the contested South Ossetia enclave. The incursion came as Russia is carrying out military exercises in the border zone, and is accused by Georgia of having unilaterally moved border markers last month. On July 10, Russian troops reportedly placed new demarcation signposts along the de facto boundary between Russian-controlled South Ossetia, which was separated from Georgia in the 2008 war, and Tbilisi-controlled territory. Critically, the newly seized territory includes a kilometer-long section of the Baku-Supsa pipeline, which brings oil from Azerbaijan to BP's Supsa terminal in Georgia. Russia is among a handful of countries that have recognized the "independence" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both of the breakaway regions rely heavily on military and financial aid from Russia, which does not allow European Union monitors to access either enclave. (InterFax, Aug. 20; RFE/RL, Aug. 19; BBC News, Aug. 10)