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February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

January 23 2014

Goodbye Alexandros Petersen, Prodigious Guide to China in Central Asia

With a sprinkle of humor, Alex slipped seamlessly and gracefully into a region of stories and storytellers, abundance and poverty, toasts and toast-makers. 

The 29 year-old go-to-scholar and commentator was eloquent and big-hearted in everything he did. 

It was with great shock that I comprehended the loss of Alexandros Petersen, co-author of the excellent Eurasian affairs blog ChinainCentralAsia.com, in a suicide bomb attack carried out by the Taliban at a restaurant in central Kabul on January 17, 2014. 

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

This is not an obituary.

Alex was so well-traveled and well-affiliated that compiling his biography would probably be a task beyond any single person, and certainly the author of this post. A great number of people knew Alex in a great number of capacities, all of whom lost something in this brutal, highly coordinated and premeditated attack.

America-born to a Greek mother and a Danish father, he had friends and admirers across the world, with a notable concentration of both in lands sandwiched between the shores of the Black Sea and the sands of the Taklamakan desert.

As an occasional journalist, I had known ‘Alex the source’ – always reliable for an astute and erudite quote – for some time before I knew Alex the person.

While the first Alex will leave a gaping hole in the rolodex of many analysts and reporters covering Central Asia and the Caucasus, it is the second Alex, known by family, friends, colleagues and students, that will be missed even more. 

As a noted expert in energy politics, Alex's scope was global, yet like many that have traveled through, lived and worked in, or wrote about the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, there was a specific set of countries he found infectious. As he emphasized in his book The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, and later through the ChinainCentralAsia blog and book project, this is a region that western policy-makers ignore at their peril.

Many people that knew Alex, even as briefly as I knew him, will know that he had an aptitude for anecdotes. Through the warm fuzzy memory of one of several excellent dinner evenings at a well-known Georgian restaurant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (a dash of the Caucasus in Central Asia) I can still hear his tale of the duplicitous Azerbaijani ambassador that summoned him for a dressing down after he had written a critical article about that country, only to promptly stop, smile, and break out a teapot and tea cups. The dressing down, it emerged, had been recorded for the benefit of a political high-up in Baku, while the teapot and tea cups were symbols of the perennial hospitality with which any visitor to the region rapidly becomes familiar. 

On a good night, Alex could reel off a dozen such recollections from his years traveling through countries in Europe and Asia, nearly all of which were outrageously funny. A Petersen punch line could leave your ribs hurting from laughter, a potent and particular gift that the Taliban stole from the world.

China in Central Asia

Through ChinainCentralAsia.com, one of the most readable English-language blogs covering geopolitics in the Eurasian region, Alex had begun in combination with co-writer Raffaello Pantucci and photojournalist Sue Anne Tay, to document what he was convinced, with good reason, would be one of the stories of the 21st century, namely China's giant economic push through the countries lying west of its own restive Xinjiang province. These countries, cobbled together as “the stans” by the western media, lie at the historical heart of some of the greatest land empires the world has known, but are now isolated states increasingly shorn of options. Hamstrung by geography, corruption and various other internal problems, they have few reasons to reject Chinese largesse, and even fewer means to resist it.

Belatedly the chronicle of exponentially increasing Chinese trade and investment in Central Asia has started to turn heads beyond the region and its regular gaggle of foreign observers. Last September, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's whirlwind tour through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan raised eyebrows across the world by virtue of the sheer size of the deals struck for oil, gas and other giant infrastructure projects in the region. For Petersen, Pantucci and others, this is a plot that has been bubbling for some time, and one that is increasingly central to the epic that is China's rise towards superpower status.   

While Alex diligently tracked every stretch of pipeline built by the Chinese in the region, he also knew that China's influence in Central Asia could not be measured in kilometers of road, barrels of oil, and cubic meters of gas alone. Many of the articles on ChinainCentralAsia.com are enjoyable to read precisely because they gather the testimonies of ordinary Central Asians being affected by the changes that have accompanied China's expanding clout; from university teachers observing the installation of Confucius Institutes in their places of work, to local businessmen whose bank accounts have been swelled by trade with China, and villagers who believe the roads Chinese companies are building in their country – paid for by cheap Chinese credit – are designed to support the weight of Chinese tanks in a future military invasion.

The practitioners of Beijing's westward pivot, and the protagonists in the emergence of what ChinainCentral Asia.com has labelled China's “inadvertant empire” are also human beings rather than mere pawns on a chessboard, a fact Petersen captured in an October article in the Atlantic: 

These actors include Chinese owners of market stalls in Central Asia’s largest bazaars. One I spoke to had lived for years in a shipping container he shared with four other men at the back of a clothes market in Kazakhstan’s largest bazaar. A multi-millionaire, he provided for his children’s Western education, multiple apartments in Shanghai, and even overseas property investments. To him, Central Asia is the land of opportunity. These actors also include Chinese teachers sent to staff the many Confucius Institutes sprouting up around the region. Some I spoke with missed home, but many said they preferred the exciting “frontier life.” CNPC engineers across the region know that they are in for the long haul, as their company and its many subsidiaries build imposing structures in every Eurasian capital. The immense pipeline network CNPC is threading through the region consists of infrastructure set to last half a century.

Alex the Guide

Beyond his writing Alex also inspired as a teacher, and it was during his semester-long stint at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that I got to know him on a personal level. Among the juniors and seniors in the International and Comparative Politics department (many of whom have written articles for Global Voices) that took his elective courses, and freshmen of all departments undertaking the First Year Seminar, Alex was a universally admired guide and friend, as well as a teller of fantastic stories. To both students and colleagues at the university, he was open, approachable, and a great person to bounce ideas off.

We are thinking of his family.  

A man of many temporary homes, Alex was in Kabul to embark on another research and teaching stint at the American University of Afghanistan. Writing to him a few days before he died I told him I was looking forward to a new series of dispatches on the nature and shape of Chinese influence in this fascinating, beautiful, tortured country. Now those dispatches will never be written and the students he was teaching will miss out on the tremendous wealth of knowledge, experience and color he brought to a classroom. When the Taliban cut his life short so brutally, it was fellow Afghans they punished. 

As his friend and writing partner Raffaello Pantucci communicated via email, “a bright light has gone out.”

Chris Rickleton manages the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

May 28 2013

VIDEO: Impromptu Georgian Chorus at Kyiv Airport

A screenshot of a video with Georgian traditional singing and dancing at Boryspil

A screenshot of the video of the four Georgians singing and dancing at Boryspil

On May 21, YouTube user Yevgeni Melnik shared this video of a group of four anonymous Georgian men doing an impromptu performance of traditional Georgian singing and dancing at Terminal F of Kiev Boryspil International Airport. The video has gone viral among Ukrainian Internet users: as of May 28, it has been watched 47,450 times.

January 17 2013

Georgia's Gay Rights Activists Protest Broadcast of Secret Sex Tapes

On January 14, 2013, the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia announced [ka] that the previous chief of the Military Police Megis Kardava, secretly filmed videos of public figures having sex with homosexual partners. The office alleges these videotapes were used to blackmail the public figures into cooperation with President Mikheil Saakashvili's government.

Prosecutors released blurred versions of the videos to Georgian TV stations, to dispel any doubts about the veracity of their claims. But their broadcast has sparked an outcry over invasion of privacy.

Image by Eric Politzer for Identoba. From their Facebook page.

Image by Eric Politzer for Identoba. From their Facebook page.

Despite the blurring, some say, the men in the videos can still be identified and minority rights groups argue in a highly orthodox country like Georgia, the videos could put those filmed at risk. 

Many human rights organizations, including LGBT Georgia [ka] have asked the officials to stop broadcasting the videos through TV channels:

 @Dato_Shubladze: The Association “LGBT Georgia” appeals to the Georgian President, Prime Minister, Public Defender and Prosecutor General. http://bit.ly/11yOttZ

According to Transparency International Georgia:

 In our opinion, there is no public interest in seeing these secretly recorded videos, while there is a strong interest of the people affected by this case to have their privacy protected.

The organization also claims that Georgia's TV stations failed to comply with the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters [pdf], according to which they:

shall not show sex in programs aired before midnight and shall only portray sex or discussions about sex between 20:00 and 23:00 if this is justified by public interested and edited in a proper form.

The code also stipulates when reporting on crime “broadcasters shall seek to balance the freedom of expression with the presumption of innocence and respect for the privacy of suspect, accused, convict, witness and victim.”

Following this criticism, on January 15, Archil Kbilashvili, the Prosecutor General of Georgia explained that the Prosecutor’s Office didn't violate human rights by showing the videotapes, as it was impossible to identify the people in the released videos.

Explanation is not a relief, on the contrary, existence of such incriminating videos is and always will be the reason for permanent fear for those who were taped and for those who are not taped as well:

 @lishtotah  Systemic homophobia - still alive RT@CivilGe: Public Defender criticizes release of ‘gay honey trap' videoshttp://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25644 … #tbilisi

LGBT organizations in Georgia scheduled a Facebook event [ka] to protest the blackmailing, entrapment and humiliation of people for their sexuality, in front of the Persecutor’s Office of Georgia. Recently, the Organization “IDENTOBA” [ka] also launched an online campaign “Trap Me” [ka].

September 27 2012

September 23 2012

Georgia: ‘Broom Revolution' as Elections Approach

Thousands have protested in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, after videos showing physical abuse in the country's prison system aired on some television stations and were shared on YouTube. Although widely detailed in various human rights reports, the footage surfacing on 18 September, 2012, was the first that many Georgians had actually seen.

This video showing the physical abuse of a prisoner was uploaded to YouTube by vfor georgia on September 18 [WARNING: Graphic content]:

Social media reactions

According to media reports, Georgia has the sixth-highest prison population per capita in the world along with a high mortality rate. Commentary on Facebook reflected the widespread anger at the videos while others such as Eka Rostomashvili ‏updated followers on Twitter as to developments during the first evening of protests.

@ERostomashvili: Horrific, inhuman things happening in Georgian penitentiary. Ppl gather outside Philharmonics to protest against violence in prison #Tbilisi

@ERostomashvili: Protestors have blocked Melikishvili. Drivers don't seem to object terribly and turn around. #Tbilisi #gldaniprison

@ERostomashvili: Journalists estimate 500 ppl are protesting against violence in prison outside Philharmonics. #Tbilisi #gldaniprison

@ERostomashvili: Protestors request resignation of ministers of interior #Akhalaia + penitentiary #Kalmakhelidze. #Tbilisi #gldaniprison

@ERostomashvili: Protestors ask drivers to join them. Estimated turnout at the moment: 1000 people. #Tbilisi #gldaniprison

@ERostomashvili: Protestors take turn to make speeches. Emotional speech was made by a mother of two prisoners. #Tbilisi #gldaniprison

@lingelien: Famous Theater director Sturua comments on prison abuses: “We, the Georgian people, are deeply shocked by the events. ” (1) #gldaniprison

‘Broom Revolution'

The following day, with momentum building behind calls for the resignation of high profile ministers, the protests increased in size and were also reported in other urban centers in Georgia. Referring to scenes of a prisoner being raped with a broom handle, Georgian Photographers, as well as others, dubbed the protests a “Broom Revolution.”

It was the video broadcast On TV about prison torture in Georgia.

Footage shows prisoners being beaten, kicked and abused by a group of staff members.

Additional footage allegedly shows prisoners being sexually assaulted.

Hundreds gathered in central Tbilisi today after two pro-opposition channels broadcast the video.

In case you are wondering why BROOM revolution. One of the videos shows half-naked man, crying and begging for mercy as he is beaten and after raped with a broom.

Protesters burn brooms in Tbilisi, Georgia © Georgian Photographers

Protesters burn brooms in Tbilisi, Georgia © Georgian Photographers

Protesters burn brooms in Tbilisi, Georgia © Georgian Photographers

Protesters burn brooms in Tbilisi, Georgia © Georgian Photographers

With the Minister of Corrections, Probation, and Legal Assistance resigning a day after the videos aired, The Young Georgians updated its readers to new demands from protesters:

Thousands of students marched in streets of Tbilisi on Wednesday to protest abuse and rape in Georgian prisons. Disturbing videos of prisoners being tortured by guards leaked on TV and immediately sparkled Georgians to come out and stand against violence. A protest was organized by the Tbilisi State University students, however they were joined by all major universities. At 3:30 pm students moved to the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) where they demanded the later to air abuse videos. After negotiating with the General Director of GPB students marched towards the Ministry of Internal Affairs where they were joined by drivers and local neighbors. Students demanded the Minister of Internal Affairs Bacho Akhalia and several other officials to step down. Protests were held in all major Georgian cities and across Europe.

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Tamada Tales reported that their demands were met:

In a move signalling the seriousness of the political crisis facing the Georgian government over videos documenting the sexual and physical abuse of Georgian prisoners, Georgian Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia late on September 20 submitted his resignation to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Rustavi2 television reported.

[…]

The news of his resignation was greeted by raucous cheers and car-horn-honking from outside Tbilisi's Philharmonia, where a late-night protest was underway.

As did Twitter:

@ZoeReyners: Resignation of the minister of interior Akhalaia

@SabineICG: Significant: MIA Akhalaia who is resigning was head of prisons during last prison scandal in 2006 when 7 died. End of impunity? #Georgia

Global Voices' outgoing Caucasus Editor, Onnik Krikorian, also documented the protests, especially those involving students. Meanwhile, at time of writing and despite visibly reducing in size in the evenings, protests continue.

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian 2012

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian 2012

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Gldani Prison Abuse Protest, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

August 27 2012

Russia's War Games Make Georgia Nervous

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

In June and July Russia held several military exercises with its regional partners. There are more to come in August and September. Of course, none of the planned events are quite as extensive as the one that an Iranian news agency falsely reported on June 19, 2012 in a bit of wishful thinking. There won’t be joint war games involving 90,000 troops held in Syria by Russia, China and Iran.

Even then, the exercises are numerous and heavily concentrated in Central Asia. In June there was Peaceful Mission-2012 [ru], held by five Shanghai Group countries (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) in Tajikistan. There were 2000 troops involved in the antiterrorist themed war game, of which Russia contributed 350.

In July Russia held Aldaspan-2012 [ru], this time bilaterally with Kazakhstan. Then, in early August there was the Frontier-2012 [ru]exercise held jointly by members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). [Uzbekistan, one of the members of CSTO, withdrew from the organization on June 28th. Right before its exit it refused to allow Kazakh troops transit to Tajikistan for the Peaceful Mission-2012 war games.]

Russian Military Exercise 2010. Photo by George Malets. Copyright Demotix (08/26/2010)

Russian Military Exercise 2010. Photo by George Malets. Copyright Demotix (08/26/2010)

So far the only non Central Asia exercise was Slavic Fellowship-2012 [ru], the first military exercise held between Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in a while. It went by relatively unnoticed in July. In general, none of these exercises have generated much buzz on RuNet, and some of the ones still to come - Selenga-2012 [ru] with Mongolia or Cooperation-2012 [ru] with CSTO, both scheduled for September - are also unlikely to become major news items.

This may not be the case with for this September’s Caucasus-2012 [ru], which Russia is planning to hold with forces from the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Caucasus-2012 will take place in North Caucasus region, and will involve [ru] 8,000 troops, as well as heavy machinery, artillery, navy, and air force. This makes it Russia’s largest exercise this year.

Caucasus-2012 is only nominally international in scope, since Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence isn’t recognized by many countries. The Russian military is quick to reassure [ru] that bases south of the border will not be involved, even though some forces from those bases will participate in the exercise on Russian territory. However, it is still too close to comfort for the Georgians, who are wary [ru] of an August 2008 scenario. Then too, Russia held war games in the Caucasus just days prior to the invasion.

Some Georgian bloggers, like popular Russian-speaking cyxymu [ru], note that Russia’s mobilization in the region comes right before Georgia’s parliamentary elections on October 1st. Georgia oriented blogger, zabugina [ru], believes that the goal of Russia’s military is to destabilize the region and sway the elections. She thinks that Russia would not have to invade again, in order to exert its influence and manipulate the Georgian public to vote for Russia-friendly parties. Nevertheless, Russian journalist and blogger podrabinek [ru], thinks that Putin might actually launch a small border war as a way to boost his popularity.

However, not all of Russia’s military exercises are generating as much concern as Caucasus 2012. Currently, Russia and India are in the middle of joint exercise Indra-2012 [ru] in Russia’s Republic of Buryatia, on the Mongolian border. One Russian blogger recounts [ru] a humorous story of how people reacted in a bus when a radio announcer misspoke and said that 500,000, rather than 500, Indian troops would be involved in the exercise:

На этом месте в салоне автобуса наступает покусывающая за пятки тишина. Гробовая.

At this point the bus becomes silent - a stomach chilling sort of silence. A deathly silence.
ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

August 21 2012

Georgia: Ancient Fortress Discovered in Tbilisi

During construction to one of Tbilisi's main streets, parts of a 5th century fortress used to defend the city were unearthed. The Young Georgians has a series of photos of the remarkable discovery, which appears on Georgian cartographer Vakkshuti's map of the capital from 1735.

 

 

August 18 2012

The South Caucasus at the 2012 Olympics

Arsen Julfalakyan of Armenia, Roman Vlasov of Russia, Aleksandr Kazakevic of Lithuania and Emin Ahmadov of Azerbaijan after the Men's Greco-Roman 74 kg Wrestling match/ via London 2012

The three South Caucasus countries have been participating  independently in the Olympics since 1996, and they each followed up their records in Beijing this summer in London to walk away with gold, silver and bronze in the physically strenuous activities the region generally excels in, much to the enjoyment of fans and fellow country men and women.

Armenia walked away with one silver and bronze in Men's Greco-Roman wrestling and a surprise bronze medal in women's weightlifting by Hripsime Khurshudyan, which caused a flurry of social media activity. The win even elicited a comment, albeit in transliterated Armenian, from  a member of America's most famous Armenian family, the Kardashians.

@RobKardashian: Yes shat hupart yev uraxem mer bolor Hye marsiknerits vor masnaktsumen 2012 tvi Olympiadayum. #Armenia

 ”I am very proud and happy with all of our Armenian athletes who are participating in the 2012 Olympics.”

@RobKardashian: Armenian Woman KHURSHUDYAN just medaled in Women's Weightlifting (Clean & Jerk)! #ArmenianPride#LondonOlympics2012

Azerbaijan on the other hand took 10 medals home, including two gold in men's freestyle wrestling by Toghrul Asgarov and Sharif Sharifov. This year's Eurovision host country also earned two silver (both in wrestling) and six bronze (wrestling, weightlifting and boxing).

@Farida_Aliyeva: London brought us luck! Azerbaijan got its greatest number of medals - 10 with 2 gold, 2 silver and 6 bronze. #Azerbaijan #AZE#Olympics

@RogerMamedov:  #Azerbaijan wrestling team did really in the Olympics. Maybe now people will know where I'm from.

Georgia won seven medals, with three silver and three bronze (all of them in wrestling) and one gold in Judo, thanks to Lasha Shavdatuashvili

@MirianJugheli: 20-year old Judoist Lasha Shavdatuashvili becomes an olympic champion! #georgia #caucasus #tbilisi #judo #london2012

The Caucasus Tumblr, in a photo montage and round up of the Olympics made an astute observation based on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia's superior abilities in strength sports:

Never ever, under no circumstances pick up a street fight in the Caucasus.

Athletes with South and North Caucasian descent also participated in London 2012 for Russia as the tumblr notes. Three of Russia's gold medals in judo were won by Tagir Khaybulaev, Mansur Mustafaevich Isaev , both ethnic Avars and Arsen Galstyan, an ethnic Armenian.
The wins prompted an “outpouring of hate from Russian nationalists,” wrote Global Voices author Andrey Tselikov in a post titled, “Russia: The Ugly Side of Olympic Nationalism.”

August 08 2012

August 03 2012

Georgia: Civil Society Mobilizes After Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes

With tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the rise in recent weeks, civil society activists and journalists from both countries last month convened in a small ethnic Azeri village in neighboring Georgia to elaborate an independent mechanism for monitoring clashes on the Line of Contact (LOC).

Despite a ceasefire signed in 1994 which put the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh on hold, thousands have died in frontline skirmishes in the 18 years since. And, with no lasting peace agreement in sight, the International Crisis Group (ICG) continues to warn of the danger of an ‘accidental war‘ breaking out.

The event held in Tekali was co-organized by Armenian actor and director turned peace activist Georgi Vanyan, himself recently targeted by nationalists for attempting to screen non-politicized films from Azerbaijan in Armenia, was a small step in trying to defuse tensions and to prevent civilian casualties along the LOC.

Writing on the Caucasian Circle of Peace Journalism, Armenian journalist and editor Yura Manvelyan commented on the initiative.

There was something else that set the meeting in Tekali apart from many other Armenian-Azerbaijani projects: None of the speakers took on the role of spokesperson for official policies, no-one took up the positions held by the presidents, ministers and their spin doctors. The speakers' statements seemed not to target their “opponents” from the other side, but mostly focussed on themselves and their “own people”. The recent deaths on the border were a stark reminder of the high price paid for the atmosphere of hatred and showed the distance between those who shed the blood and others who give the orders and seek to consolidate their power and wealth by exploiting the “external enemy” and delaying justice.

[…]

The overwhelming majority of those present voted in favour of action by citizens. Moreover, they reached an initial agreement on creating a rapid reaction group that will take steps to prevent armed clashes on the border and to investigate the situation in the area directly around the border. If necessary, Georgians might also be included in the group. To start with it might include the residents of two border villages: Doctors, taxi drivers, farmers and village elders, who would establish and stay in constant contact with each other. Due to the open nature of the project, anyone who wanted to could become a part of it.

Georgi Vanyan, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Yura Manvelyan, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Ilgar Velizade, a journalist and analyst from Azerbaijan, also made a blog post.

This meeting saw the first urgent discussion of the prospects of public intervention to manage the Karabakh conflict. In the opinion of the participants, society has, to this day, taken no steps to end hostilities, and remains far removed from what goes on at the border. Participants emphasized that over the course of the 24 years of conflict, a huge divide has emerged between the two peoples, and that Armenian and Azerbaijani civil society organizations now need to cooperate with one another in order to resolve the situation.

[…]

And so the meeting in Tekali demonstrated once more the Armenian and Azerbaijani public desire for peace to be established in the conflict zone as quickly as possible – and that hope for an effective means to regulate the conflict lives in the hearts of many of the two countries' citizens. As we say, hope never dies.

Malkhaz Chemia showing a design for a new peacebuilding center, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Azerbaijani analyst Zardusht Alizade, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

The International Crisis Group's Sabine Freizer also remarked on Twitter about the event, as did others observing the peace building processes underway in the South Caucasus.

@peaceforsale: an innovative effort for peace - create a zone for it http://fb.me/23yx8yl1q

@SabineICG: […] @onewmphoto whether war or peace between Armenia + Azerbaijan, civil society can play a key bridging role. Great idea: […]

Global Voices' Caucasus Editor was also in attendance, and commented on Velizade's post along with Vanyan's initiative for Ararat Magazine.

Whether that intent is as widespread, as Velizade says or as much as Vanyan hopes, remains to be seen, but the first meeting to establish the Monitoring and Rapid Reaction Group was held in Tekali on July 21. Present were representatives from the NGOs and the International Crisis Group. So too were Bernard O’Sullivan and Stephen Young from the Brussels-based Nonviolent Peaceforce, an organization already working in Georgia, Mindanao/Philippines, South Sudan, and elsewhere. O’Sullivan spoke to Ararat Magazine following the public discussion.

“The Tekali Process first of all attracts our interest because clearly people have a need for civil society to act amongst and protect themselves,” he said. “However, we work on the principle of acceptance. We only go to conflict zones where we’re accepted and obviously this includes civil society, but critically it also means the political leadership, i.e. the governments, of all sides. What will come out of the Tekali Process? I see there is very good will here. The Tekali group said it’s not in their interest to get involved in military or political outcomes, but it is for civilians across ethnic groups to protect themselves in a non-violent way. That’s why we’re very interested.”

According to the organizers of the Tekali event, a Caucasus Film Festival will be staged this month in the small village turned regional peacemaking center.

Ethnic Azeri child, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

August 01 2012

Georgia: Philanthropic Blogging

Net Prophet interviews Givi Avaliani, a Georgian blogger [GE] focusing on online campaigning and charitable activities, and who says that human rights protection and highlighting the poverty around him are his main inspirations. The Transitions Online blog says that more than 120,000 people have visited Avaliani's blog in the past year.

July 30 2012

Caucasus: Olympic Women

Ianyan introduces its readers to the female athletes representing the three countries of the South Caucasus in the Olympic games in London.

‘Small' Georgia Takes on ‘Big' Russia with New Media

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Georgia, located to the south of Russia, is your typical small state: it has a tiny population, a developing economy, and territorial disputes with its largest neighbor Russia. In August 2008 when, Russia briefly invaded the tiny country, no one was particularly surprised that Georgia was unable to counter this show of force.

A small state by definition cannot project sufficient military or economic power to meet a security threat. Since such “hard power” options are unavailable to them, small states are often left with “soft power” as an only means of influencing their adversaries. Soft power, comes in many flavors, not the least of which are public diplomacy and propaganda, traditionally costly endeavors. Fortunately for Georgia, soft power is easier to exercise in this global communication age.

For a politically hostile state (it wants to join NATO and has long opposed Russia's entry into the WTO), Georgia enjoys surpringly good standing among the Russian public. This is partly because of Russia's historical relationship with the country, and Russian affinity for Georgian food and wine. Another reason, however, is Georgian use of online communities to project soft power.

Image uploaded by Flicker user Summersso CC BY-ND 2.0

Image uploaded by Flicker user Summersso CC BY-ND 2.0

Even though most Georgians blog in Georgian, there is a sizable contingent of Russian speaking Georgians on Russia's most popular blogging platform LiveJournal (LJ) (a list of 200 such bloggers can be found here [ru]. If ever there is a poster boy of these bloggers, it's cyxymu [ru].) This Abkhazian blogger leaves an average of forty comments per day, which makes him a familiar “face” to followers of the RuNet (Russia's Internet).

cyxymu often engages Russian bloggers in polemics about Russo-Georgian relations. For example, he extensively covered the 2008 conflict, and has apparently made it onto someone's radar as a result. In 2009 his Twitter and blog suffered a DDoS attack,  in a similar vein to what Russian opposition members have recently faced.

Coincidentally, one member of the Russian opposition currently lives and blogs in Georgia, Oleg Panfilov [ru] (olegpanfilov2). His original blog was hacked by the notorious hacker Hell, he now writes seven posts a day, in which he either castigates the Kremlin, or extols the virtues of its Georgian counterpart.

In general, these and other bloggers give Russians an idea of everyday life in Georgia, often with pictures [ru]. Although some of them can be critical of the Saakashvilli government, they often give glowing reviews of the reforms it has initiated. Georgian bloggers are aware of their Russian readers, in fact, as described in a June 14th Tbilisi roundtable [ru], many of them write in Russian precisely to attract this audience.

Meanwhile, the Georgian government takes a different approach. Recently, top rated Russian photo-blogger Rustem Adagamov was invited to visit Georgia by the Ministry of the Economy. The several posts he wrote after his return are a mixture of travel writing and great advertisement copy for the revamped Georgian Justice Department and police force [ru].

Adagamov is just the latest in a steady stream of Russian bloggers invited to Georgia by various government agencies. The apparently corruption-free Georgian police is a particularly popular subject. Last year, another photo-blogger, zyalt, made a very similar post, [ru] which was collated from the posts of previous writers [ru], attracting accusations of blogging-for-hire.

Although the Georgian government seems to be following a conscious strategy of co-opting the Russian public through smart use of new media, it's unclear if it will soon see results. After all, public diplomacy works best under a functioning democracy.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

June 28 2012

June 21 2012

Georgia: Bloggers Against Homophobia

Unzipped: Gay Armenia posts a video by Georgian bloggers against homophobia set to the song F*ck You by Lily Allen. The move comes less than a month after a Gay Pride march in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, was disrupted by priests and conservative elements in society. The same month a gay-friendly bar in neighboring Armenia was firebombed by Neo-Nazis highlighting the problem with intolerance and homophobia in the South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan: British Embassy Awards 4,000th Facebook Page Member

The British Embassy in Azerbaijan has awarded the 4,000th member of its Facebook page with a certificate and a small prize. With the British Embassy in Armenia and Georgia boasting 1,526 and 2,581 likes respectively at time of writing, the announcement shows how diplomatic missions in the Caucasus are increasingly turning to social media as a medium for engagement. In October 2011, for example, the British Ambassador to Azerbaijan answered questions on Twitter while two months later his counterpart in Armenia used Facebook.

June 20 2012

Caucasus: Photo Reports by a Belarusian Blogger

Ani Wandaryan (@GoldenTent) links to this photo report [ru] from Armenia by Anton Motolko, a photographer, blogger and traveller from Minsk, Belarus (LJ user toxaby, @Motolko). More of his photos [ru] - from Azerbaijan and from Georgia.

May 04 2012

May 02 2012

Georgia: Face Control

Evolutsia comments on a new policy of face control for entry into many of the Georgian capital's clubs. The analytical site also ponders how such a policy might affect the revenue of those Tbilisi establishments that have introduced it.

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