By Erik Davtyan (05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On July 20, the President of the European Council (EC) Donald Tusk launched his regional trip to the South Caucasus, starting with high level meetings in Yerevan, Armenia. Tusk’s first visit to Yerevan took place in 2010 when he was the Prime Minister of Poland. During the one-day visit, Tusk met with Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan. Tusk and Sargsyan discussed EU-Armenia relations and their current cooperation, as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. They also discussed regional issues, especially the Iranian nuclear deal which was reached on July 14. Regarding the Greek financial crisis and its relevance to the European Union, Sargsyan expressed hope that the problems will be resolved quickly and confirmed that “Armenia favors both stability in the EU, a key partner of our country, and the normal development of Armenia’s centuries-old friend, Greece.” In turn, Tusk appreciated the initiation of the process of constitutional reform in Armenia and asked the President to present the goal of the amendments.
During the joint press conference, Sargsyan stressed that “we [Armenia] are keen on broadening relations with the European Union, one of our key partners, during Mr. Tusk’s tenure, which, I am sure will contribute to the long-lasting constructive dialogue existing between us.” The EC President welcomed the progress on mobility partnership and stated that the EU fully respects Armenia’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement, including the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement). Moreover, Tusk reaffirmed that the EU is ready to continue the bilateral cooperation in a myriad of spheres of mutual interest. At the same time, the EC President touched upon the possibility of a visa-free regime with Armenia as a “final goal”. Answering questions raised by journalists, Tusk declared that the main goal of his visit was to reiterate that “the EU wants to strengthen cooperation with Armenia in all areas of mutual interest,” despite Armenia’s membership to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
After the successful conclusion of the first phase of negotiations, the parties stated their expectation that in the near future a new comprehensive agreement will regulate EU-Armenia relations. Tusk did not exclude the possibility of a new free trade agreement, which may open new opportunities for the bilateral economic relations. In May 2015, the economic aspect of the future format of EU-Armenia relations was also highlighted by Morten Enberg, Swedish chargé d’affaires in Armenia. Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the European official confirmed the EU’s support for the OSCE Minsk Group.
Tusk also met with Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, as well as representatives of opposition parties. The Armenian Prime Minister mentioned that “the EU has been and remains a major partner of Armenia due to the fact that our cooperation is first and foremost underpinned by shared values. Armenia is prepared to continue cooperating with the EU in a bid to promote reforms, efficient governance, democracy, human rights, as well as to boost economic exchanges and cooperate in other fields of mutual interest.” During the meeting Tusk confirmed that the EU “will continue to provide reform-targeted financial assistance to Armenia.” During Tusk’s meeting with Armenia’s political opposition, the parties generally discussed the project of constitutional reforms. Representatives of five political parties expressed different approaches toward the project. For example, Mher Shahgeldyan, the secretary of the “Rule of Law” Faction of Armenia’s National Assembly, criticized the project and said that it would strongly increase the functions of the Prime Minister and lead to a monopolization of power. Shahgeldyan also informed Tusk that the opposition parties of the National Assembly have prepared a program on electoral reforms and submitted it to the Venice Commission.
Tusk’s regional visit to the South Caucasus relations follows the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga on May 21-22. Summarizing all issues of the Yerevan agenda, Donald Tusk left for Tbilisi and Baku and held respective meetings with high officials of Georgia (July 21) and Azerbaijan (July 22).
THE UZBEK-TAJIK DÉTENTE: CAN IT LAST?, by George Voloshin
AGRI’S PROGRESS ADVANCES BRUSSELS’ AND BAKU’S ENERGY AGENDAS, by Micha’el Tanchum
ISLAMIC STATE IN CENTRAL ASIA: THREAT OR OPPORTUNITY, by Charlie Smith
IS THE NORTH CAUCASUS BECOMING ANOTHER BATTLEFIELD IN THE GLOBAL JIHAD?, by Tomáš Baranec
TAJIKISTAN’S GOVERNMENT MISSES THE REAL PROBLEM OF LABOR MIGRANTS, by Oleg Salimov
RULING COALITION TO CUT FUNCTION OF GEORGIA’S NATIONAL BANK, by Eka Janashia
KYRGYZSTAN’S CONSTITUTIONAL CHAMBER DISMISSES JUDGE, by Arslan Sabyrbekov
BAKU CRACKS DOWN ON ALTERNATIVE MEDIA AFTER CONCLUDING EUROPEAN GAMES, by Mina Muradova
By Mina Muradova (08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
After 17 days of competition, the first European Games have ended in Baku. Yet the crackdown on dissenting voices continues in Azerbaijan. The country will be remembered not only for its capable hosting of a major sporting event, but also for its silencing of critical voices in connection with the event.
Azerbaijan’s government hailed the games as a triumph and is now considering bidding for the Olympics. “The first European Games will go down in sporting history,” the Minister of Youth and Sport Azad Rahimov said in a statement on July 3. “I’m very proud of what has been achieved in Baku and the positive feedback we have been getting … It has been a success for Azerbaijan and will be a launch pad for future sporting events we will host. The coverage ... and the positive messages we have sent have really highlighted Azerbaijan on the world and European map.”
Next year, Azerbaijan will host the 42nd Chess Olympiad and a Formula One race through the streets of Baku. It will also stage the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017 and soccer matches in the Euro 2020 competition.
According to Rahimov, “There is a new culture growing, this is very important, of supporting the development of sport … Every ticket sold is an important contribution to sustain and maintain our sporting arenas and develop our athletes in different sports.” Azerbaijan, enjoying loud support at every venue, has surprised many and was second in the medal table with 18 golds. Nearly 6,000 athletes from 50 countries competed in 20 sporting events at the Games that ended on June 28.
However, Azerbaijan was widely criticized before and during the games for politically motivated arrests and for banning the Guardian, along with a number of media outlets and human rights activists, from entering the country to cover the games.
Two days after the closing ceremony in the Baku Olympic Stadium, seating 68,000, the prominent human rights activist and director of Meydan TV Emin Milli posted that “It is remarkable that the government has started repressions against Meydan TV the day after the European Games’ closing ceremony. Several journalists from Meydan TV have been banned from leaving Azerbaijan, stopped at the border and were not allowed to come for a short trip to Tbilisi, Georgia. … from past cases, we may conclude that there is now a criminal case opened and an investigation going on against Meydan TV.”
On June 26, Milli reported that he had received a threat from Minister Rahimov, in connection with his critical reporting on the European Games. Meydan TV is a Berlin-based online television station that provides alternative news coverage of Azerbaijan. During the European Games, Meydan TV’s materials were widely used by international media, including critical cartoons, stories on an Azerbaijani bus driver who crashed into three Austrian swimmers and an interview by a national television station of a fake British tourist – both of which were highly embarrassing to the ruling regime.
International human rights watchdog organizations expressed their concerns over “an increase in the government harassment of independent journalists” in Azerbaijan in the wake of the European Games. “We fear that this growing harassment is a forerunner of a new crackdown targeting Meydan TV’s staff,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. There are currently about 100 political detainees, at least 20 of whom are identified as “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International.
Sport for Rights calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to put an end to their ongoing attempts to silence critical reporting, and to take immediate steps to improve fundamental freedoms in the country, including by releasing all the journalists and human rights defenders currently behind bars for political reasons.
The campaign further calls on the European Olympic Committees to speak out, publicly condemning the threat against Milli, as well as the broader human rights crackdown taking place in the country. Finally, Sport for Rights calls on German authorities to provide Milli with immediate and full protection.
By Micha’el Tanchum (08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On June 24, 2015, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania signed a declaration committing to advance the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector (AGRI) project that will transport Azerbaijani LNG across the Black Sea to Romania for re-gasification and sale in European markets. The project creates a theoretical possibility for Turkmen LNG to reach Europe through a modified use of the system. Of great geopolitical consequence, the option requires a commensurate amount of political will to implement. Independent of potential Turkmen gas exports, the furtherance of the AGRI project constitutes an important advance for Azerbaijan’s strategic policy to develop European Union stakeholders in its political sovereignty.
By Natalia Konarzewska (06/24/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev made a last-minute decision not to attend the European Union’s May 21–22 Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Riga, citing the need to focus on the upcoming European Olympic Games, which were about to start in Baku. However, high-ranking officials quoted in the media asserted that president Aliyev did not attend the summit due to Western criticism towards Azerbaijan. Baku also expressed dissatisfaction with the summit’s results as Azerbaijan hoped to receive more vocal Western support for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Instead, attention was focused on human rights violations in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s relationship with the EU is becoming increasingly strained and displays growing disappointment from both sides.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.