Five days of protests in the Georgian capital Tbilisi culminated in harsh repression May 26 as riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse several hundred demonstrators demanding resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. At least two are reported dead following a confrontation outside the parliament building. A government statement accused protesters of "planning to violently resist the police" and intending to illegally occupy the main street outside parliament to prevent the annual Independence Day parade. Protest leader Nino Burjanadze, who has promised a "revolution," pledged further demonstrations: "We will not stop. We will do everything to get rid of this government which hates its people." (AFP, Reuters, May 26)
In their fist official statement, Russian investigators have linked last week's suicide bombing at Moscow's airport to a militant Islamist group from the Russian republic of Dagestan, naming leader Ibrahim-Khalil Daudov as the mastermind of the attack. Violence meanwhile continues unabated in the North Causasus, barely winning international headlines. Four were killed and six wounded when a blast ripped through a cafe in Dagestan Jan. 27. It was the second car bombing in the city of Khasavyurt in the past two weeks. On Jan. 14, a similar attack killed four and wounded five in the city. (SAPA, Jan. 31; Xinhua, Jan. 27)
Among the documents released by WikiLeaks—none of which, their supporters insist, is indiscriminate—is an August 2006 classified US diplomatic cable on the lavish wedding party thrown by Gadzhi Makhachev, political boss of the Avar ethnic group in Russia's Caucasus republic of Dagestan, for his 19-year-old son. Makhachev is a Duma member, chief of the Dagestan Oil Company, and warlord who gained fame for leading the defense of Dagestan against the incursions of Chechen guerilla fighter Shamil Basayev ten years ago. The leaked cable contains much juicy gossip on Caucasus politics, and unflattering depictions of local political figures. Despite WikiLeaks' stated policy of only releasing documents that reveal newsworthy official malfeasance, we see nothing in this lengthy cable that meets that standard. However, the text is certain to be deeply embarrassing for the US diplomatic corps in Russia and the Caucasus. Ultimately, it may say more about hidden agendas behind WikiLeaks than about US designs...
Turkey allowed Armenians to hold mass Sept. 19 at the Church of the Holy Cross—an iconic 10th century landmark on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, southeast Anatolia—for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Turkish officials hailed the service as a sign of tolerance and reconciliation. But the mass was attended by only some 1,000—a fraction of the 5,000 expected. An Armenian boycott saw thousands cancel their trips after Turkish authorities refused to display a 440-pound cross on the church's roof, claiming it was too heavy and could damage the structure. The 16.5-foot-tall cross instead was displayed next to the church's bell-tower. Worshippers were largely from the Armenian diaspora. Protests against the event were held at the Armenian genocide memorial at Tsitsernakaberd in Yerevan, Armenia's capital; and among Armenians in Jerusalem.
Protesters in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinval, symbolically demolished a "Wall of Lies" attached with news clips from the Western media about the Georgia war of two years ago. The wall was built near the former site of the local parliament building, demolished by Georgian forces in August 2008. The action came one day before the 20th anniversary South Ossetia's declaration of independence from Georgia, to be marked on Sept. 20. (Voice of Russia, Sept. 19) A car bomb in Vladikavkaz's central market Sept. 9 left 17 dead and scores wounded. The aftermath of the blast has seen protests by Ossetians against ethnic Ingush, who are apparently being blamed for the attack. (RFE/RL, Sept. 16; RT, Sept. 15)
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on March 13 jointly denounced the Swedish Parliament's March 11 passage of a resolution recognizing the Ottoman Empire's killing of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as genocide. At a meeting of European foreign ministers in Finland, Davutoglu questioned the rationale of the move, one that Bildt characterized as the "politicization of history." Both ministers noted concerns that the resolution would undermine the progress that Armenia and Turkey have made toward stabilizing their relations.
The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs voted 23-22 March 2 to adopt a resolution that recognizes the Ottoman Empire's treatment of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as genocide. In his opening remarks, committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), noted that every country must face uncomfortable issues its past, stating, "It is now time for Turkey to accept the reality of the Armenian Genocide."
Police in Russia's south killed two suspected militants Jan. 7 in a "counter-terrorism operation" launched in response to a checkpoint suicide attack that took the lives of six officers. The area on the outskirts of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, has been under curfew since the attack. Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, all predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus, saw a sharp rise in violence last year, with near-daily attacks mostly targeting police and other officials. The violence sweeping the impoverished southern region is increasingly described as a civil war between Kremlin-supported administrations and Islamic militants. (AP, Jan. 7) A Dec. 18 suicide car attack on a group of police and soldiers in Nazran, Ingushetia, wounded at least 23 people, including civilians. (AP, Dec. 18)