Caucasus Theater

Azerbaijan arrests four soldiers for war crimes

The Azerbaijan Prosecutor General's Office announced Dec. 14 that it has detained four soldiers accused of war crimes against Armenians in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The office denounced the alleged actions of the soldiers, calling them "unacceptable" and contradictory to "the mentality of the Azerbaijani people." The Prosecutor General's report was careful to exonerate Azerbaijani officials, including President Ilham Aliyev. The report claims that the alleged war crimes were due to a "regrettable" misunderstanding "of the methods and techniques" condoned by Aliyev in "the struggle against the enemy by some servicemen under the influence of the severe psychological state caused by the war."

Azerbaijan to investigate possible war crimes

The prosecutor-general of Azerbaijan announced Nov. 25 that his office is looking into allegations of war crimes during the recent conflict between his nation and Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has already raised the alarm about possible war crimes, issuing a statement on Nov. 2 decrying indiscriminate artillery shelling of populated areas, use of cluster munitions by both sides, and videos on social media that appear to show summary executions of captured Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijani troops. The two nations agreed to a Russian-brokered peace agreement on Nov. 10, under which several districts that Armenia had seized from Azerbaijan after the fall of the Soviet Union would be returned by December.

Campaign to recognize Republic of Artsakh

Ten days into renewed heavy fighting over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the enclave's capital, Stepanakert, is coming under heavy shelling by Azerbaijan, with some 20 civilians killed. The self-governing enclave within Azerbaijan has since 1994 been under the control of ethnic Armenians, who constitute the majority there, and have declared the de facto Republic of Artsakh. The National Assembly of Artsakh on Oct. 5 issued a statement accusing Azerbaijan of intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure and using banned weaponry such as cluster munitions. The statement also accused Turkey of directing the offensive, and backing it up with mercenary fighters. The National Assembly called upon the international community to formally recognize the Republic of Artsakh as "the most effective way to put an end to the ongoing grave crimes against the peaceful population of Artsakh, and to protect their rights."

Armenia-Azerbaijan border as regional flashpoint

At least 16 have been killed on both sides in ongoing clashes that broke out along the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan July 12. An Azerbaijani general is among the dead in the heaviest fighting between the two nations in years. The skirmishes are mostly being fought with heavy artillery and drones. Villages in Azerbaijan's northern Tovuz rayon (district) have come under artillery fire by Armenian forces, causing property damage. (APAxar.az

Russia: raids on rights defenders in Dagestan

Police in southern Russia on Feb. 13 raided the homes and office of activists who provide legal and psychological assistance to survivors of human rights abuses and domestic violence, Human Rights Watch reports. The raids took place in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt, two cities in Dagestan, a republic in Russia's Northern Caucasus region. The activists targeted are members of the Stichting Justice Initiative (SJI), a nongovernmental organization representing victims of rights abuses in the North Caucasus and survivors of domestic violence. Police seized computers and electronics containing documentation pertaining to their work. The court order sanctioning the search and seizure contained no information about any specific alleged offense that would have justified the action. Instead, it quoted generic provisions of the Law on Law Enforcement Operations, and the need to check allegations of involvement with organizing mass riots and financing of extremist activities—without reference to any factual grounds necessitating the searches.

Russia upholds Chechen-Ingush border agreement

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, the highest court in Russia, on Dec. 6 upheld a decision to draw a border between the republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya. In September the two republics signed an agreement to define the border between them. This was the first time that the border has been defined since the split of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic after the collpase of the USSR. The agreement became law in each republic in October, but a group of Ingush deputies challenged the law in the Republic of Ingushetia. The case was heard in the Ingush Constitutional Court, which held that the law and agreement cannot be legally binding without passing a referendum. The Ingush Republic's head, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, appealed this decision to the highest court in Russia. He asserted that the Ingush Constitutional Court did not have the authority to decide on this question, but that it was a question for the Russian high court.

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 to 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.

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