04 April 2016, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of March 28-April 3

Aggravation of situation in Karabakh conflict zone; blowing up police cars in Dagestan; release of rights defender Intigam Aliev in Azerbaijan; entry into force of guilty verdict against Krasnodar activist Darya Polyudova; march against operation of the "Electrozink" Factory in Vladikavkaz; decisions of members of ruling coalition in Georgia to go to parliamentary elections independently, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of March 28-April 3, 2016, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Warfare breaks out in Karabakh conflict zone

At night on April 2, the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone escalated sharply. The parties in conflict have accused each other, treating their own actions as a response. Nagorno-Karabakh reported on the liquidation of a helicopter, two drones and three tanks of Azerbaijan, which, in its turn, refuted any losses of military equipment and soldiers. As a result of the escalation, as Azerbaijan reported on April 2, 12 Azerbaijani soldiers and 100 servicemen of Nagorno-Karabakh were killed. Nagorno-Karabakh has noted that there were at least 200 casualties on the Azerbaijani party. Yerevan said that the losses of the Armenian party made 18 casualties. The parties recognized civilian casualties. At night on April 3, conflicting information arrived from the conflict zone. The Armenian party reported continuation of shelling, while Baku claimed that the situation had calmed down.

In the morning on April 3, the parties in conflict reported restart of artillery shelling and clashes throughout the troop contact line. In the afternoon, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced the decision "to suspend the offensive in the territories occupied by Armenia." However, Nagorno-Karabakh refuted the Azerbaijani ceasefire. Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh reported incessant shelling. In the evening on April 3, it was reported that residents of several settlements, including the village of Talysh, had been completely evacuated. Volunteers went to the contact line from Yerevan and Stepanakert. Armenia sent its multiple rocket launchers and a rocket-artillery brigade to Nagorno-Karabakh. On April 3, the MoD of Nagorno-Karabakh reported the destruction of an Azerbaijani tank, a "Grad" system and a drone. Azerbaijan denied this information. In the evening on April 3, Artsrun Ovannisyan, the press secretary of the MoD of Armenia, said that the Armenian Armed Forces started an offensive and liberated a number of military posts and lines. The Azerbaijani MoD refuted this information too.

It is noteworthy that the aggravation of the situation took place at the time, when the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan were in the USA, participating in the Nuclear Security Summit. On April 2, the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a statement condemning the use of force and calling on the parties to cease fire. The document stresses that there is no alternative to settling the conflict through negotiations. On the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the escalation of the situation in the conflict zone and called on the parties to an immediate ceasefire and exhibition of restraint. On April 2, Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoigu, the Russian Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, held talks with his counterparts in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Police cars blown up in Dagestan

On March 29, on the Federal Highway "Kavkaz", near the "Uytash" Airport and the village of Novy Khushet in Dagestan, two car, which carried power agents, which are on secondment from Krasnoyarsk, were blown up. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of Dagestan, as a result of the explosion, one person was killed and two more were wounded. The responsibility for this crime was taken by militants of the "Islamic State" (IS), recognized as a terrorist organization and banned in Russia. On March 30, in the city of Dagestanskie Ogni, power agents detained a suspect of committing the explosion. According to a law enforcement source, the detainee was a member of the "Southern" grouping of militants. Later, his name became known as a 22-year-old Nariman Bashirov, who had been with the armed underground for five years.

On March 30, near the village of Sirtich, Tabasaran District of Dagestan, a police car was blown up. As a result, one policeman was killed, and another one was wounded. Here also, the responsibility for the explosion was taken by the IS. Two men were in the blown-up car; they died. According to the source, they were pre-identified as members of the "Southern" grouping Gadjiev Elchin Nurmagomed-Ogly, a native of Azerbaijan, and a certain Sheikhmagomedov.

Azerbaijani rights defender Intigam Aliev released

On March 28, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court (SC) ruled to replace the real prison term for the conditional one for Intigam Aliev, the head of the organization "Society of Legal Education", who was put on the list of political prisoners, drawn up by local rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and activists. On April 22, 2014, Aliev was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison on charges of embezzlement of funds and tax evasion. He refused to plead guilty; and his defence pointed to numerous violations in the case. After his release from prison, Intigam Aliev did not come out to his supporters; he was taken secretly from his advocates and relatives home, to the village of Saray, located near the city of Sumgait. After his release, Aliev said that he would continue his human rights activities.

The liberation of Aliev was welcomed by Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, and Pedro Agramunt, the President of the PACE. The Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan has expressed hope that the decision to release Aliev "will contribute to further normalization of relations of the authorities with the civil society," also noting that "there are still political prisoners" in Azerbaijani prisons.

Krasnodar: verdict against Darya Polyudova enters into force

On March 30, the Krasnodar Territorial Courtrejected the appeal against the verdict of the Oktiabrskiy District Court of Krasnodar on recognition of the activist Darya Polyudova guilty of public calls for separatism and extremism. The activist was sentenced to two years in a colony-settlement; and the decision of the above District Court entered into force. Darya Polyudova was one of the organizers of the "March for Federalization of Kuban", directed against Russia's policy towards Ukraine, which failed in August 2014 event, and also posted in social networks her photos with political posters. After the announcement of the judgement of the District Court, her advocate stated his intention to file a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Ms Polyudova herself refused to plead guilty and said that after serving her sentence she would resume her political struggle. The Amnesty International (AI) has recognized her "prisoner of conscience".

Vladikavkaz: march held against operation of "Electrozink" Factory

On March 29, residents of North Ossetia held a rally-march in Vladikavkaz with a demand to move the "Electrozink" Factory away from the territory of the republic, stating that factory emissions pollute the atmosphere of the city and damage residents' health. The action was dated to 40 days after the death of the former head of the republic Tamerlan Aguzarov, who spoke in support of this demand. According to the MIA, the march was 70 persons strong; most of them were taken to the police; and protocols were draw up on 38 of them. The detainees were charged with violating the rules of holding mass actions, since the action was not sanctioned; and its participants ignored policemen's warnings against the use of posters. In the evening, all the detainees were released from the police. Many of the participants of the action said that they had learned about it from the messages in social networks, and expressed the opinion that the authorities and the administration of the factory fail to deal with environmental problems.

In Georgia, members of ruling coalition decide to go to the polls independently

This week, it became known that the "Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia" Party and the Republican Party, which make the ruling coalition, decided to go to the autumn parliamentary elections independently. The Republicans said that they do not imply the withdrawal of their party from the "Georgian Dream" coalition, as well as the resignation of the party's representatives from their posts in the government and the parliament. The "Georgian Dream" assures that after the elections the coalition will reunite again; however, the oppositional "Unified National Movement" (UNM) is convinced of the opposite. Political analysts have treated this pre-election decision as a strategic move, believing that within a single electoral bloc, the coalition will lose some voters because of the different ideologies of the parties. It is noteworthy that by the outcomes of the April 3 Congress, held in Tbilisi, of the "National Forum" Party, which is also a part of the ruling coalition, has also decided to independently participate in the parliamentary elections. Besides, this party also stated its withdrawal from the coalition, noting that the "Georgian Dream" has exhausted its function.

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