20 July 2009, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: main events in July 13-19

Murder of human rights advocate Natalia Estemirova causing resonance in Russia and abroad; another meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents; crash of Iranian aircraft with Armenian passengers onboard - see these and other news in the review by "Caucasian Knot" of the main events in the Caucasus on July 13-19.

Natalia Estemirova's murder

Natalia Estemirova, 50, an employee of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial", was kidnapped in the morning on July 15 in the city of Grozny by a group of unidentified persons. In the evening of that day Estemirova's body with gunshot wounds in her head and breast was found near Gazi-Yurt village, Nazran District of Ingushetia.

Natalia Estemirova's funeral took place on July 16 in Ishkhoy-Yurt village, Gudermes District of Chechnya. She has a minor daughter - Lana - left.

The investigation believes that the most probable version of her murder has to do with Estemirova's professional work and the generally destabilized situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Activists of local NGOs and colleagues of the casualty are convinced that the reason of the extrajudicial execution of the human rights defender was in her professional activity. She dealt with a range of cases related to murders and kidnappings in Chechnya, and with persecutions of relatives of members of armed underground formations.

Leaders of the HRC "Memorial" accused President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov of Estemirova's death and announced suspension of the work of their organization in the republic's territory.

Oleg Orlov, Chair of the Board of the HRC "Memorial", finds President of the Chechen Republic to be guilty of Estemirova's murder; Kadyrov "had threatened Natalia, abused her and named her his personal enemy."

In Chechnya, local TV channels, in their news programmes, quoted statements of the republic's authorities, who kept asserting that Natalia Estemirova's murder was backed by certain forces, willing to blacken the peoples of Chechnya and Ingushetia, and personally Ramzan Kadyrov. The latter promised to find and severely punish those guilty of Natalia Estemirova's death, and not only by the laws of the country, but also by Chechen customs and traditions.

On July 17, it became known that Andrei Krasnenkov, advocate of President of Chechnya, was preparing a suit to a Moscow court on defence of honour, dignity and business reputation of Ramzan Kadyrov in the context of Oleg Orlov's charges against him.

As stated by Liudmila Alekseeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russian human rights activists promise to support Mr Orlov in his litigation versus Kadyrov. She also said that the range of murders of the persons who defend rights of other citizens can be stopped by dismissing Ramzan Kadyrov from the post of President of Chechnya.

Russian and international human rights defenders demand from the Russian authorities to conduct an independent investigation into this murder. The Administration of US President Barack Obama also condemned Natalia Estemirova's murder and called the government of Russia to bring the culprits to justice.

In their comments on Natalia Estemirova's murder, the leading western mass media express their concern of the fact that this was not the first crime against human rights activists and critics of President Ramzan Kadyrov and his Kremlin patrons and advise Mr Medvedev to dismiss him.

However, President of Russia Dmitri Medvedev has already declared Kadyrov's complete purity of Estemirova's murder, having treated this version as "primitive". He made this statement in Munich, where he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Medvedev visits South Ossetia, UN leaves Abkhazia

We remind you that on July 13 President of Russia Dmitri Medvedev suddenly arrived in Tskhinvali to meet his South-Ossetian counterpart Eduard Kokoity. Mr Medvedev iterated Russia's readiness to scale up relations with South Ossetia and realize joint projects in different spheres. In his opinion, "a need exists to maintain cooperation in defence and support respective agreements in this area."

In the course of the visit, Medvedev and Kokoity visited the 4th Military Base of the Ministry of Defence of Russia, located in Tskhinvali. The former also examined the buildings destroyed during the last August events, including the republic's parliament and school No. 5. Near the school, he also visited the memorial cemetery, where he laid scarlet carnations to the memorial to the victim of 1992 events.

People of South Ossetia treated Medvedev's visit ambiguously. Stanislav Kochiev, Speaker of local parliament, believes that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's visit to South Ossetia indicates continuation of Russia's support provided to the region. On the other hand, in the opinion of political scientist Vissarion Aseev, the visit has confirmed that "the Kremlin has absolutely no interest in the fate of South-Ossetian citizens."

Georgia was sharply negative in its attitude to the visit of Russian leader to South Ossetia. The Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs named Medvedev's visit to Tskhinvali "another cynical attempt to legitimatize the puppet regime," reigning within the territory of a sovereign state. Deputies of Georgian parliament stated that Medvedev had illegally crossed the Georgian-Russian border, and that Tbilisi would protest against it at the international level. David Bakradze, speaker of the parliament, referenced Medvedev's visit to Tskhinvali as a step directed against Georgia. According to his story, "Medvedev's visit is another confirmation of the very sad fact that there are people among today's Russian leaders, whose action plan assumes to damage Georgia - unfortunately, whole of Georgia, not its leaders or some particular person."

In reaction to Medvedev's visit to South Ossetia, the USA have called Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. As stated by Ian Kelly, spokesman of the Department of State, "disagreements on Georgia persist."

The European Union finds the visit of Russian President to South Ossetia to be incompatible with the principle of territorial integrity and is worried of the effect of this visit on international efforts to bring stability to the region, as runs the statement of Sweden, which is now chairing the EU.

On July 15, the last seven UN military observers left Abkhazia, including General Anvar Hussein, the Chief Military Observer. Now, the territory of the republic is free from military observers and policemen of the UN Mission.

At the same time, UN officials gave positive estimate to the meeting on prevention and investigation of incidents, held a day before with participation of representatives of Abkhazia, Georgia, Russia, United Nations and European Union. The meeting was consultative: only technical issues were discussed. On its outcomes, it was decided to hold such meetings every other week.

Meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents

On July 17, a bilateral meeting of Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia Ilham Aliev and Serzh Sargsyan took place. No documents were planned for signing; and no statements followed.

Yuri Merzlyakov, Russian co-chair of the Minsk OSCE Group, has stated that in October a new meeting of two Presidents is probable. According to Matthew Brayza, American co-chair of the Group, the above meeting was "deep enough" and "more particular."

The main aim of the talks was to debate on the Madrid principles of settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

On the eve of the talks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh made a statement, running that real progress in negotiations is possible only at a full-fledged participation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) in all stages of negotiations.

Discontent of the updated Madrid principles was expressed also by other participants of the negotiation process. Thus, Armen Rustamyan, representative of the Supreme Body of the Armenian National Front (ANF) "Dashnaktsutyun", and the initiative group "Armenian Choice" treated these principles as unacceptable. The Armenian National Congress asserts that the President's Administration "prefers to resort to disproportionate concessions equivalent to national treachery" and demands Serzh Sargsyan's resignation. In Azerbaijan, the Madrid principles are also sceptically perceived by political experts.

Besides, on July 18 it became known that the international peace-making organization International Alert made a decision to postpone the forthcoming Fourth Armenian-Azerbaijani Forum till the first half of September because of refusal of experts and NGOs from Nagorno-Karabakh to take part in it. In the opinion of Karabakh intellectuals, the notion of "inter-community" is now actively implanted into the level of public dialogue.

Catastrophe of Tu-154 of "Caspian Airlines"

On July 15, in the vicinity of the Iranian city of Kazvin, to the north of Teheran, a Tu-154 aircraft of the Iranian "Caspian Airlines", which performed flight No. 7908 from Teheran to Yerevan, suffered a wreck. The plane caught fire in air and collapsed into pieces. According to the final data, the aircraft had 36 persons with Armenian surnames onboard, two of them were crew members, namely, Grigor Barsegyan and Suren Sogomonyan, and 34 others were passengers, of them five were citizens of Armenia.

On July 16, Armenia held a day of mourning.

Dmitri Adbashyan, former head of the Chief Administration of Civil Aviation of Armenia and now Chairman of the National Association of Aviation, put forward several versions of the accident on July 15 with the Iranian Tu-154. He could not exclude the effects of weather conditions, influence of human factors and a possibility of a terror act.

It was also reported that the wrecked aircraft had undergone its technical maintenance servicing a month ago in the Mineralnye Vody Airport of the Stavropol Territory and was granted access to flights till 2010 inclusive.

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