27 June 2016, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of June 20-26

Negotiations on the Karabakh conflict held by Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia in Saint Petersburg; visit to Armenia of Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church; verdict in the case of policeman Pliev wounded in Vladikavkaz; fire on the Ashuluk military training ground in the Astrakhan Region; decision pronounced by the ECtHR concerning the complaint filed by an Ingush resident,see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of June 20-26, 2016, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan discuss Karabakh conflict during trilateral meeting with Vladimir Putin

On June 20, Saint Petersburg hosted a meeting of the Presidents of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. According to the Russian Foreign Minister, following the negotiations, the Presidents adopted a tripartite statement, in which they reiterated their commitment to the normalization of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the creation of conditions for sustainable progress in the negotiations for political settlement of the Karabakh conflict. The Presidents have also agreed on the increase in the number of OSCE observers in the Karabakh conflict zone.

According to Elmar Mamedyarov, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, Azerbaijan welcomes the results of the negotiations. However, Azerbaijani experts treated the meeting as ineffective. The Armenian Foreign Minister and the press secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh President have noted that the meeting in Saint Petersburg was effective. Meanwhile, they have noted their concern over the large-scale military exercises of the Azerbaijani forces that took place during the meeting of Vladimir Putin, Serzh Sargsyan, and Ilham Aliev. Yet before the meeting, the Armenian political analysts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent have claimed Azerbaijan to be responsible for the results of the meeting and treated the military exercises as the Baku's readiness to abandon the Vienna agreement. It should be noted that after the negotiations, the parties to the conflict continued to accuse each other of violations of the ceasefire.

Pope Francis, leader of Roman Catholic Church, visits Armenia

On June 24, Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, arrived in Armenia. He came with a three-day visit by the invitation of President Serzh Sargsyan, Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and the Catholic community. The programme of the Pope's visit to Armenia included the visit to the "Tsitsernakaberd" memorial complex dedicated to memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide and the town of Gyumri. On the first day of his visit to Armenia, Pope Francis met President Serzh Sargsyan and reaffirmed his attitude towards the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 by calling those events the genocide. The Pope's visit to Armenia has ended with the signing of the declaration, which expressed the hope for a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict and with the visit to the monastery of Khor Virap located on the border with Turkey. Armenia is a home for about 150,000 Catholics; however, Armenian Catholics themselves noted that the visit of Pope Francis was important for the Armenians all over the world. The political analysts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent predicted the improvement in the Armenia's image due to the Pope's visit, and residents of Yerevan treated the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia as a historical event. The experts voiced their hopes that the Pope's blessing will bring peace to the region and improve the social situation.

The visit of Pope Francis to Armenia did not avoid incidents. On June 25, the police detained six activists of the opposition movement "Pre-parliament". According to the police, they are suspected of organizing mass disorders during the ecumenical ceremony. On the same day, in Gyumri, Shagen Arutyunyan, a son of Shant Arutyunyan, the leader of the "Tsegakron" Party, sentenced in the case of the "Million Mask March", was brought to the police station. The young man was detained by policemen after he had come to the place of the Mass of Pope Francis. The police instituted administrative proceedings against the young man for disobeying a lawful demand of a policeman. Shagen Arutyunyan himself has claimed that his rights were violated by the police.

In Vladikavkaz, Court pronounces guilty verdict in case of wounding policeman Pliev

On June 24, the Leninsky Court of Vladikavkaz sentenced Marat Bukulov to 2 years and 6 months of imprisonment in a common-security penal colony on the charge of wounding policeman Roland Pliev. Marat Bukulov was a friend of 39-year-old Vladimir Tskaev, who was suspected of inflicting a gunshot wound to Roland Pliev. At night of November 1, 2015, Vladimir Tskaev died after the interrogation at the Iriston ROVD (District Interior Division). According to his relatives, Vladimir Tskaev died as a result of torture. In the case of the Vladimir Tskaev's death, six policemen were detained and arrested, including Soslan Sitokhov, the chief of the criminal investigation department of the Iriston ROVD. The prosecutors believed Marat Bukulov made an attempt on the life of a policeman and asked to sentence him to 6 years of imprisonment. In their final speech, the defendant pleaded not guilty of an attempt on Roland Pliev. According to the defendant's advocate, Marat Bukulov's shot on the policeman was made within the necessary self-defence. While reading out the verdict, the judge declared improper qualification of the crime and noted that it was the intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm. Relatives of Marat Bukulov and a sister of Vladimir Tskaev hoped for a conditional sentence and treated the court's verdict as unfair. Furthermore, relatives of Vladimir Tskaev have announced their intention to sue Roland Pliev, who claimed it was Vladimir Tskaev, and not Marat Bukulov, who opened fire on him.

Soldiers and local civilians evacuated because of fire at Ashuluk military training ground

In the morning of June 20, at the Ashuluk military training ground in the Astrakhan Region, a warehouse of non-combat units of target missiles caught fire. About 600 people were evacuated from the nearest village because of the fire. According to a source from the Ashuluk military training ground, an explosion occurred at the warehouse with ammunition. More than 80 soldiers and officers were evacuated from the training ground. In the afternoon of June 20, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) reported that the fire had been completely extinguished. According to the MoD, no one suffered as a result of the fire. The Military Prosecutor's Office of the Caspian Flotilla has launched a check in connection with the fire at the military training ground. According to the preliminary information of the Chief Military Investigating Department of the Investigating Committee of the Russian Federation (ICRF), while soldiers were engaged in works on the preparation of educational objectives a target missile, one of the primer charges of the rocket motor caught fire. As a result, other engines also exploded and thus damaged military equipment, deployed on the technical position. Experts have questioned the accidental nature of the incident at the military training ground. In particular, retired Colonel Anatoly Salin, a legal expert of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of the Astrakhan Region, an expert of the Russian Presidential Council for Human Rights and Development of Civil Society, believes that the fire could occur because of negligence at work under conditions of high temperature. He has also reminded that in 2011-2012, ordnance disposal was conducted at the Ashuluk military training ground, which resulted in deaths of soldiers.

ECtHR finds violation by Russia of rights of relatives of dismissed Ingush resident

On June 21, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) pronounced the decision in the case of the kidnapping of Abu Bakar Tsechoev, a resident of Ingushetia, in 2012. The ECtHR has concluded that Russia failed to conduct an effective investigation into the disappearance of Abu Bakar Tsechoev and that family members of the kidnapped man had no access to effective remedies. The ECtHR has obliged the Russian authorities to pay 20,000 euros to the complainants and ordered Russia to resume the investigation into the criminal case until its solution. Ibragim Tsechoev, a complainant in the case, is dissatisfied with the ECtHR's decision despite the fact that the ECtHR supported him. The complainant believes that the ECtHR failed to take into account his version of the brother's kidnapping as set out in the complaint, according to which the kidnappers were law enforcers. The ECtHR's decision states that there was insufficient evidence to the above version. This was explained by Olga Gnezdilova, an advocate of Ibragim Tsechoev, a lawyer of the project "Legal Initiative for Russia". She believes that the investigation into the kidnapping of Abu Bakar Tsechoev should be resumed after the verdict of the ECtHR had been pronounced. That was questioned by Igor Trunov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Moscow Bar Association "Trunov, Aivar, and Partners". He has noted that compensation of 20,000 euros is an "insignificant amount for the state, which does not urge the authorities to eliminate violations."

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