25 July 2016, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of July 18-24

Forceful dispersal of opposition supporters and release of police officers held hostage in Yerevan; IOC's decision on the participation of the Russian national team in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro; appointment of a new City Mayor in Volgograd; beginning of the consideration by the court of the cases on desecration of a statue of Buddha in Elista; initiation by the Azerbaijani President of the amendments to the Constitution; opposition's announcement of preparation of the people's assembly in Abkhazia, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of July 18-24, 2016, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

In Armenia, rebels release all hostages; police organize forceful dispersal of opposition supporters

In Yerevan, where on July 17, armed members of the "Constituent Parliament" seized the building of the police regiment, the negotiation process continued during the whole past week. On July 23, the rebels released all the police officers held hostage in exchange for the provision of food, restoration of communications in the area of the seized building, and creation of the press centre on the territory of the building. The oppositionists continue demanding to release political prisoners, including their leader Zhirair Sefilyan, who was arrested in June 2016 on suspicion of organization of an armed riot. The activists also demand the resignation of President Serzh Sargsyan and the formation of an interim government.

Supporters of the opposition began to gather in the streets adjacent to the seized building. They organized night vigils. In the evening of July 20, after the police refused to pass food for the people inside the seized building, the demonstrators started throwing stones and smoke candles on policemen, and law enforcers forcibly dispersed the protesters. As a result of the clashes, more than 50 people were injured, and 136 people were detained. The Armenian Ombudsman has reported on the journalists injured during the clashes, and on July 23, it became known that criminal proceedings were instituted against some policemen for abuse of power during the dispersal of the protesters.

IOC decides to let Russian team, which also includes athletes from Southern Russia, to take part in Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro

On July 24, following the "doping scandal", the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided not to suspend the entire Russian team, which included 82 athletes from the southern regions of Russia, from participation in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. Back in May, Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, did not rule out the possibility of suspension of Russian athletes from the Olympic Games in case if the charges of "doping programme" existence were confirmed. According to the decision pronounced by the IOC on July 24, the international federations will take individual decisions on the admission of Russian athletes to the 2016 Olympic Games.

Thus, track and field athletes from Russia, including 14 athletes from the regions of the Southern Federal District (SFD) and the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD), have finally lost the opportunity to participate in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, since the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had already made the decision concerning them. On July 10, the IAAF refused 67 out of 68 Russian track and field athletes in the admission to the participation in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. On July 21, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected the claim filed by the Russian Olympic Committee against the IAAF and decided to refuse the Russian athletes in the participation in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The number of the suspended athletes includes Yelena Isinbayeva, the two-time Olympic pole vault champion, who represents the Volgograd Region and Dagestan, and Maria Kuchina, the high jump world champion, who represents the Moscow Region and Kabardino-Balkaria.

According to the representative office of the Russian Wrestling Federation, two days prior to the meeting of the IOC Executive Committee, members of the Russian national wrestling team, including athletes from Northern Caucasus, continue preparations for the Olympic Games in the tense situation. After the meeting of the IOC Executive Committee, Mikhail Mamiashvili, President of the Russian Wrestling Federation, has expressed his confidence of the fact that the international federation "United World Wrestling" will let Russian wrestlers, including athletes from the republics of Northern Caucasus, to participate in the 2016 Olympic Games. It should be noted that the Russian team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro includes Kabardino-Balkaria natives Bilyal Makhov and Aniuar Geduev, Chechen native Anzor Boltukaev, Dagestani natives Abdulrashid Sadulaev and Milan Dadashev, and Soslan Ramonov, a native of Tskhinvali, who represents North Ossetia. At the 2016 Olympic Games, judoman Beslan Mudranov shall also compete for Kabardino-Balkaria, and at the Paralympic Games, the republic shall be represented by track and field athlete Ivan Botvich, a high jumper.

Vitaly Likhachov appointed City Mayor of Volgograd

At the extraordinary meeting held on July 22, deputies of the City Duma of Volgograd have approved the nomination of Vitaly Likhachov as a candidate for the position of the City Mayor. The position became vacant on June 29 when Alexander Chunakov quitted of his own free will. The documents to run for the position of the head of the regional administration centre were filed by Vitaly Likhachov, the acting City Mayor, and Yuri Matasov, the head of the "Volgograd boarding home for the elderly and disabled". The commission has admitted both candidates to run for the position; however, on July 20, Vitaly Likhachov's candidacy was put forward to be considered by the deputies. They voted for him unanimously.

In Elista, Court starts consideration of case on desecration of a statue of Buddha

On July 18, the Elista City Court began hearings on the merits in the case against Said Osmanov, a Dagestani athlete, accused of desecrating a statue of Buddha. The incident which resulted in the initiation of criminal proceedings occurred on April 1. On that day, the Dagestani athletes, who arrived in Elista to take part in a freestyle wrestling tournament, held Periscope-broadcasting, in which they used bad language when speaking about architecture monuments of great significance for Buddhists. Residents of Elista, who watched the video, arrived at the hotel, where Said Osmanov stayed. They forced the athlete in the street, put him on his knees, and forced him to make public apologies. Law enforcers detained Said Osmanov, and the athlete was charged under two Articles of the Criminal Code, including "violation of the right to freedom of conscience and religion" and "incitement of hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity." The athlete faces up to three years of imprisonment. At the court hearing held on July 18, the witnesses did not confirm that Said Osmanov desecrated the statue of Buddha in any way and said that they heard from him only cursing. The athlete's advocate insists that his client can be prosecuted only for disorderly conduct in connection with his using of bad language in a public place. The next court hearing is scheduled for July 25. Said Osmanov is under arrest.

President of Azerbaijan initiates amendments to Constitution

On July 18, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev signed a resolution to direct to the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan the draft of the Act on referendum on amendments to the Constitution. The consideration of the project is scheduled for July 25. The draft amendments provide for the establishment in Azerbaijan of the positions of Vice Presidents, the prolongation of the presidential term from 5 to 7 years, and the introduction of the provision on dissolution of the Parliament. In Azerbaijan, the opposition spoke against the proposed amendments. Activists believe that the proposed changes will entail the establishment of authoritarianism in Azerbaijan. Members of the ruling party have rejected the criticism voiced by the opposition.

Independent Azerbaijani experts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot" have also criticized the amendments. So, Fuad Agaev, a well-known lawyer, criticized the abolition of the requirement of minimum age for a person running for a position of an MP or a president. At present, the minimum age required is 25 and 35 years old, respectively. According to Annagi Gadjibeili, the head of the Bar Association of Azerbaijan, the proposed provision on the President's right to dissolve the Parliament contradicts the principle of separation of power and the international standards of a democratic legal state.

In Abkhazia, opposition announces preparation for people's assembly

On July 20, in Abkhazia, the opposition "Amtsakhara" Party reported that the Abkhaz opposition bloc decided to hold the people's assembly in autumn. Within the preparation for the people's assembly, the opposition organizes meetings with residents of the republic to discuss the political situation in Abkhazia. According to the opposition, Abkhazia secretly issues passports for Georgian citizens and recruits conscripts for the pro-presidential National Guard. Besides, Leonid Dzapshba, Minister of Internal Affairs, dismissed from office, continues to perform his duties. Earlier, in Abkhazia, the opposition has initiated a referendum on the early presidential elections, and the voting took place on July 10. However, the referendum was attended by only 1.23% of the voters, and the voting at the referendum was therefore declared invalid. On the eve of the referendum of July 5, in Sukhumi, the opposition held a rally demanding the resignation of Leonid Dzapshba and postponement of the referendum. The action turned into the assault of the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA).

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