Year results in Southern Caucasus: "velvet revolution," presidential election in Georgia, and new presidential term for Ilham Aliev
    Protest rally in Tbilisi, December 2018. Photo: REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

    In Southern Caucasus, the year of 2018 is remembered by the revolution in Armenia, the elections of presidents in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and mass protests in different regions. The "Caucasian Knot" has summed up the results of the year in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia.

    Azerbaijan: human rights, Ilham Aliev's re-election, riots

    Ilham Aliev stays for his fourth presidential term

    On April 11, an extraordinary presidential election took place in Azerbaijan. There were eight candidates running for the presidency. Initially, the election was scheduled for October 17, but in early February, Ilham Aliev postponed the voting to an earlier date. According to the central Election Commission (CEC), the current president gained 86.02% of the votes. Thus, Ilham Aliev was elected for the fourth presidential term until 2025. On April 12, representatives of the OSCE and PACE claimed severe restrictions on the opposition and violations at the elections. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ilham Aliev's administration accused the observers of biased attitude.

    Fate of political prisoners

    On January 12, the court sentenced Azerbaijani journalist Afghan Mukhtarly, who lived in Georgia since 2014, to six years of imprisonment on the charge of illegally crossing the border, smuggling, and resisting a public official. The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court (SC) of Azerbaijan upheld the verdict, although the defence insisted that the opposition journalist was kidnapped in Georgia and taken to Baku in May 2017. Afghan Mukhtarly himself claimed that the Georgian law enforcement bodies and the government of Georgia were responsible for his kidnapping and associated the criminal prosecution against him in his homeland with his investigation into corruption in Azerbaijan. Human rights organization "Amnesty International" (AI) has recognized the journalist as a "prisoner of conscience."

    On August 13, the Court of Appeal replaced the remaining sentence of Ilgar Mamedov, the leader of the Republican Alternative Party, with a conditional sentence, and on the same day, the oppositionist returned home. Ilgar Mamedov, sentenced to seven years of imprisonment on the charge of organizing protests of residents of the Ismayilli city, spent 5.5 years in custody.

    Riots in Ganja

    On July 3, there was an assassination attempt on Elmar Veliev, the head of the Ganja city administration, and the law enforcement bodies treated it as a terror act. Yunis Safarov, a 35-year-old local resident, was detained as a suspect. On July 10, about 200 people gathered outside the City Mayoralty building with the demand to investigate both the actions of attackers on Elmar Veliev and the Mayor himself. Two policemen were killed in a clash with the protesters. 61 people suspected of participation in the riots were arrested, and other 13 people were put on the wanted list. Five suspects were killed during the detention.

    Georgia: presidential election and protests

    Election of president in Georgia

    In the year of 2018, in Georgia, one of the main events was the election of the country's president. In accordance with the adopted amendments to the Constitution and the transition to a parliamentary model of government, the presidential election was the last to be held by direct voting. The pre-election campaign was accompanied by a "war of compromising materials," threats, and attacks on activists. At the end of the first round, the gap between presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili, who officially participated in the election as an independent candidate, but who was openly supported and promoted by the ruling "Georgian Dream" Party, and Grigol Vashadze, a candidate from the opposition "United National Movement" (UNM) Party, a Mikhail Saakashvili's associate, was less than 1%.

    Salome Zurabishvili won in the second round of the presidential election. Grigol Vashadze and the alliance "Strength in Unity", which put him forward, refused to recognize the victory of Salome Zurabishvili and demanded to hold early parliamentary elections. On December 16, on the day of the inauguration of the new president, there were clashes between oppositionists who wanted to hold a rally and the police. At least seven policemen were injured, and at least four persons, including one of the opposition activists, were detained.


    The year of 2018 is remembered in Georgia by protest actions with the demand to punish persons guilty in the case on the murder of two schoolchildren in 2017. Relatives of the killed schoolboys also demanded to punish Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze, but he called the verdict unacceptable and resigned, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) resumed the investigation. According to the MIA, Merab Morchadze, a former official from the Prosecutor's Office, admitted that he had persuaded witnesses to change their testimonies in favour of one of the defendants, who was his relative.

    Since September 10, Zaza Saralidze, a father of one of the killed schoolchildren, held a protest action in front of the Georgian parliament building, seeking the punishment of all the guilty persons. Starting from November 11, a father of Temirlan Machalikashvili, fatally wounded during a special operation in Pankisi, joined the protest action. Relatives of the killed young man do not agree with the official version, according to which Tamerlan Machalikashvili tried to throw a grenade into law enforcers, and claim that the 19-year-old young man was shot dead in his bed.

    South Ossetia: Archil Titunashvili's case, and the 10th anniversary of Five-Day War

    The case on the killing of Archil Titunashvili, a citizen of Georgia, who was detained in South Ossetia, became one of the main events of the year. Archil Tatunashvili died in a Tskhinvali hospital on February 23, the day after he was detained by South-Ossetian law enforcers on suspicion of preparing an act of sabotage. Inal Tekhov, a South-Ossetian medical examiner, said there were no signs of torture on the Archil Titunashvili's body, so he concluded that the detainee died from acute heart failure. Meanwhile, in Georgia, experts registered multiple signs of torture on the body of the deceased man.

    Anniversary of Five-Day War

    The day of August 12, 2018, marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia with the involvement of Russia. The combat actions lasted five days. On the anniversary of the tragic events, residents of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia paid tribute to the memory of the victims and remembered the horrors of the war. Meanwhile, on the anniversary of the conflict which led to the recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the authorities of Georgia and Russia reproached each other for the start of hostilities.

    Abkhazia: diplomatic relations with Syria, death of Prime Minister

    On May 29, Ministers of Foreign Affairs for Syria and Abkhazia announced mutual recognition and establishment of diplomatic relations at the embassy level. Georgia condemned the Syrian authorities and accused Russia of involvement in the above decision on recognition. On June 5, the Georgian MFA announced breaking off the diplomatic relations with Syria.

    Death of Gennady Gaguliya

    Late in the evening on September 8, Abkhazian Prime Minister Gennady Gaguliya was killed in a road traffic accident. The politician was returning from the airport of Sochi after an official trip to Syria. The car in which he was travelling collided with a car which drove into the oncoming lane and fell into a roadside ditch. The driver of the car which collided with the politician's car was detained. According to investigators, narcotic substances were found in the detainee's blood.

    Starting September 18, the Abkhazian Cabinet of Ministers is headed by Valery Bganba.

    Armenia: protests, change of power, and new murder in Gyumri

    "Velvet revolution" in Armenia

    In 2018, Armenia started the transition to a parliamentary model of governance, in accordance with the amendments to the country's Constitution adopted in December 2015. The constitutional changes suggested that after the end of the Serzh Sargsyan's presidential term, the prime minister, and not the president, would be the first person of the country. The term of the Serzh Sargsyan's presidency expired on April 9. After it had been reported that Serzh Sargsyan would be nominated to be the Prime Minister, a "velvet revolution" began, which became the main result of the year for Armenia.

    After on April 14, participants of a meeting of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) unanimously supported the nomination of the Serzh Sargsyan's candidacy for the post of the prime minister, at least 5000 people took part in a protest rally. MP Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of the opposition "Civil Contract" Party, addressed citizens of the country with a call to come to the streets and join the protest.

    On April 17, Serzh Sargsyan was elected the Prime Minister. The voting in the parliament took place against the background of the protest rally, during which Nikol Pashinyan announced the beginning of a "peaceful revolution," called a "velvet revolution" in its start. Over the other several days, Nikol Pashinyan's supporters conducted marches through the capital and blocked the streets and entrances to government buildings. On April 23, Serzh Sargsyan quitted the post of the prime minister and said "he was wrong."

    Nikol Pashinyan announced his ambitions to become the prime minister, and on April 25, MPs from the "Elk" bloc unanimously voted for his nomination as the head of the Cabinet of Ministers. The RPA refused to nominate its candidate. With the second attempt, Nikol Pashinyan managed to get the post of the prime minister.

    According to the results of the parliamentary elections held in December, the Nikol Pashinyan's "My Step" bloc got 88 mandates, while the "Prosperous Armenia" and "Enlightened Armenia" Parties got 26 and 18 mandates, respectively. The losing parties recognized the results of the parliamentary elections in Armenia.

    Another murder in Gyumri

    In December, another wave of protests against the presence of Russian soldiers in the territory of Armenia rose after a murder of Julietta Gukasyan, a 57-year-old resident of Gyumri. After the murder, a Russian soldier was detained. He is being kept under arrest at the 102nd military base in Gyumri. Representatives of the Julietta Gukasyan's family demanded to transfer the suspect to the Armenian side.

    Nagorno-Karabakh: anniversary of national liberation movement

    This year, residents of Nagorno-Karabakh celebrated the 30th anniversary of the national liberation movement, the beginning of which was counted starting from a rally held in the centre of Stepanakert on February 13, 1988. At the rally, protestors voiced a request for reunification of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, which was then a part of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic, with Armenia. On February 12, educational institutions of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh held open lessons dedicated to that date, and marches and rallies were held in Martuni and Hadrut. Like during the rallies held 30 years ago, participants of the actions were chanting: "Miatsum," which meant "reunification." On February 14, Stepanakert hosted a march and a rally, which gathered more than 15,000 people. The participants of the actions stated that they were seeking to achieve full international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh and then its reunification with Armenia.

    This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on December 31, 2018 at 11:14 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.