05 January 2015, 09:20

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of December 29, 2014, to January 4, 2015

Long New Year holidays for residents of Russian Northern Caucasus and countries of Southern Caucasus; memorial actions of those killed in last year's terror acts in Volgograd committed on the eve of the New Year; special operation in Chechnya, in which two suspected militants were killed, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of December 29, 2014, to January 4, 2015, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Year 2015 starts for Southern Russia and Southern Caucasus with lengthy vacation

Residents of the countries of Southern Caucasus will start 2015 with 5-12 days-off; Russia will have holidays from January 1 to January 11. Some regions of Southern Russia hold ongoing debates about the need for Muslims to celebrate the New Year. Dagestan became a republic, where the "New Year" controversy is brighter, and verbal battles in this regard are tougher, as Naima Neflyasheva, a senior fellow at the Centre for Civilization and Regional Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), wrote in her blog on the "Caucasian Knot". However, as reported by the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent, on the eve of January 1, the capital of the republic was decorated as usually – 17 New Year Trees were set up in the city; and more than two million roubles were allocated for the festive paraphernalia.

Ten political prisoners pardoned by Azerbaijani President among 87 amnestied convicts

On December 29, the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev signed a decree to pardon 87 prisoners. According to rights defenders, among them, there are 10 political prisoners, namely: Uzeyir Mamedli and Zaur Gurbanly, activists of the "Nida" Movement; Avaz Zeinalov, the editor-in-chief of the "Khural" newspaper; Gurban Mamedov, a human rights lawyer; Sardar Alibeyli, the editor-in-chief of the "Nota" newspaper; two convicts in connection with the riots in the city of Ismailly – Elshan Ismailly (brother of the regional correspondent of Radio Liberty Elchin Ismailly) and Shyukran Mekhbalyev; three believers from among the convicts for protests against the ban on wearing hijabs in schools - Nakhid Gakhramanov, Djeikhun Guliev and Muraday Guliev. Of them, Avaz Zeinalov, Zaur Gurbanly, Uzeyir Mamedli and Gurban Mamedov said they would continue their public activities. According to rights defenders, the pardoning of 10 "prisoners of conscience" does not solve the problem of political prisoners in the country.

Volgograd residents commemorate casualties of last year's pre-New Year terror acts

On December 29 and 30, Volgograd hosted mourning rallies to mark one-year anniversary of the terror acts that killed 34 people, apart from two suicide bombers, and wounded more than 70. On December 29, a commemoration rally was held near the railway station; and on December 30, tribute to casualties and victims was paid near the memorial sign in Kachintsev Street, where a year ago an explosion in a trolleybus was triggered. Participants of the rallies treated the verdict passed on December 5 to four natives of Dagestan involved in the above terror acts as too lenient.

Conviction of citizens of Azerbaijan accused of espionage and death of two soldiers in NKR

On December 29, a court in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) passed a verdict to two Azerbaijani citizens, Dilkham Askerov and Shakhbaz Guliev, detained in July on charges of illegal crossing the state border, espionage, possession of ammunition, kidnapping and murder of a minor, a murder of Armenian officer, theft of property and documents with penetration into a private house, as well as theft and slaughter of livestock. The defendants denied the charges of murder and espionage; however, the court sentenced Askerov to life imprisonment, and Guliev – to 22 years in prison. The official Baku considers both citizens to be hostages. Azerbaijan has declared its intention to continue contacts with the OSCE Minsk Group and other international bodies with the aim to release Askerov and Guliev.

According to the NKR's Ministry of Defence (MoD), at night on January 3, Azerbaijani servicemen made two sabotage attempts on the frontline. In the armed clash, two NKR's soldiers were killed and one wounded, while the Azerbaijani subversive group, while bearing losses, was forced to retreat, said the Karabakh MoD. However, its Azerbaijani counterpart refuted the message about its militaries' attempt to cross the contact line, and attributed the death of two KBR's soldiers to "internal squabbles in the Armenian armed forces."

Special operation in Chechnya resulting in killing two suspected militants

On January 1, Chechen authorities announced the murder, in a special operation conducted in the village of Mekenskaya, Naur District, of two members of the armed underground. One of them was identified as Musa Zavgaev, the leader of local militants, who was suspected of preparing a series of terror acts. The second casualty was, according to the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), Bashir Omarov, suspected of committing grave crimes. Both of them, according to law enforcers, were associated with a group of militants involved in the attack on Grozny on December 4. Four law enforcers were slightly wounded in the special operation. Later, the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov announced a new tactics of combating the armed underground, which involves a personal search of every wanted person by each individual state official.

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