26 June 2017, 09:00
Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of June 19-25
Start of Muslim celebration of Uraza-Bayram; bad weather in various regions of Northern and Southern Caucasus; adoption of new Georgian constitution in two readings; mutual accusations of sabotage by parties in Karabakh conflict; trial of blogger Lapshin in Baku; rallies of Abkhazians on minor's rape and "murder of honour", – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of June 19-25, 2017, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".
Muslims of Southern Russia start celebrating Uraza-Bayram
The Spiritual Administrations of Muslims (SAMs) in the regions of Southern Russia declared 25th of June to be the first day of the Id al-Fitr (Uraza-Bayram), the holiday of the end of fasting, which comes at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Authorities of these regions have announced days off in connection with the holiday. Thus, Adygea, Dagestan, Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria will have a day off on June 26; Ingushetia – June 26 and 27; and Chechnya – June 26, 27 and 28. On June 25, mosques held festive prayers, and organized tablefuls and solemn events for their believers. Meanwhile, residents of Chechnya complained that prices continued to rise before the Uraza-Bayram, noting that food prices have gone up despite the Mufti's appeal and work of a special commission. The same was stated by residents of Ingushetia, who noted, however, that there are also entrepreneurs who help their fellow-countrymen.
Bad weather in regions of Northern and Southern Caucasus causes problems to locals and tourists
The past week again brought weather problems to residents of Northern and Southern Caucasus. This time, most disturbing news came from North Ossetia, where at night on June 21, in the Alagir District, floods after heavy rains provoked a break of a gas pipeline, which powers three settlements; the district was put under the state of
emergency. The village of Verkhni Biragzang had its bridge across the TsakhsadykRiver washed away; and the village was cut off from other settlements. Rescuers evacuated the villagers and tourists from the "Hot Springs" Camp. In the Ardon and Iraf Districts, posts of a power transmission line were washed out, leaving about nine thousand people remained without power until the evening of June 21. The authorities believe that the un-cleared small riverbeds were the main cause of the emergency. In the evening on June 23, in the village of Arkhonskaya, a shower with hail washed away a bridge and a 76-mm gas pipeline passing over it, leaving the air club and a rescuers' base without gas.
Besides, in the evening on June 19, the downpour flooded the yards and entrances of apartment buildings in Tbilisi. On June 20, hail damaged more than a hundred houses in the settlement of Gajikend of the Azerbaijani city of Gyanja. In Yerevan, on the same day, a hurricane felled trees on cars and tore off roofs of houses. The downpours that struck on June 22 the Ust-Djeguta District of Karachay-Cherkessia resulted in river flowage, which damaged over two dozens private households. On June 24, in connection with a storm, bathing on Anapa beaches was prohibited; and on June 25, after a heavy rain, a section of the Djubga-Sochi highway was flooded in the vicinity of the "Krasny Shturm" Sanatorium, due to which a large traffic jam occurred.
New Draft Georgian Constitution adopted in two readings
On June 19, the Venice Commission published its preliminary opinion on the Georgian draft constitutional amendments. Georgian political analysts said that the main wish of the Venice Commission was to find a consensus on the provisions of the new Constitution among all segments of Georgian society. On the same day, June 19, the "Georgian Dream-Democratic Movement" Party, which has the parliamentary majority, initiated the reduction of the electoral barrier and the postponement of the introduction of a proportional electoral system until 2024. Along with these amendments, the draft Constitution was unanimously adopted on June 22 by the MPs in the first reading; and on June 23 – in the second reading. The third and final reading is planned at the autumn session of the Parliament. All the three oppositional parties represented in the Parliament – the United National Movement (UNM), the European Georgia and the Patriots' Alliance – have boycotted the parliamentary consideration of the draft, stating their protest against the constitutional changes, including the idea of presidential election by the MPs. Besides, according to the opposition, the ruling party had deceived the Venice Commission by providing it with another version of the draft Constitution of Georgia. The Patriots' Alliance announced the start of preparing protest actions.
Against calls for peaceful negotiations, parties to Karabakh conflict accuse each other of sabotage actions
On June 19, during their visit to the Karabakh conflict zone, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group called on the parties to avoid escalation and resume negotiations. It should be noted that on June 16, in a shootout, at least one Azerbaijani serviceman was killed on the contact line; and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of Nagorno-Karabakh announced three soldiers dead and two more soldiers wounded.
On June 21, the MoD of Azerbaijan announced the detention of an Armenian soldier. According to the MoD, he was a member of a reconnaissance and sabotage group of the Armenian Armed Forces, and was captured when trying to cross the contact line. In their turn, the MoDs of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh stated that the information of the Azerbaijani party is not true, and the man detained by Azerbaijanis was not a military man. On June 22, the MoD of Nagorno-Karabakh informed about a suppressed attempt of a group of Azerbaijani special agents to cross the contact line, as a result of which "at least four saboteurs were killed." The Azerbaijani MoD gave no comment to this information, while informing about the downed Armenian drone, and during the week kept accusing Armenia of violating the ceasefire. On June 22, the UN Secretary General and the US State Department expressed their concern over the aggravation in the Karabakh conflict zone. The UN is ready to support the parties' efforts to resume negotiations, the UN Secretary General said in his statement.
Blogger Lapshin tried in Baku
On June 22, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes held a preparatory session on the case of the blogger Alexander Lapshin, who was detained late in 2016 inMinsk, and then extradited to Azerbaijan, where a criminal case was opened against him. The blogger, who has citizenship of three countries – Russia, Israel and Ukraine – is accused of visiting the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and of public statements in support of separatism. The court session lasted for about 10 minutes; Mr Lapshin made no statements or appeals to rights defenders. His advocate said that the blogger admitted that he had made a trip to Nagorno-Karabakh, but explains it by his desire to personally get to know the situation in the conflict zone; and he respects the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. According to the advocate, "there are grounds for his [Lapshin's] acquittal." The hearing on the merits is scheduled for June 30.
Abkhazian residents rally on minor's rape and "murder of honour"
Local residents held rallies for two days in Sukhumi, expressing their indignation at the two crimes committed this month – a rape of a 13-year-old girl and the murder of her elder sister. On June 19, about 40 women came to the Abkhazian parliament building with a demand to investigate these crimes. On the following day, the number of protesters doubled. They demanded to bring to justice the former security officer of the Abkhazian president, suspected of raping the girl, as well as his brother, an Abkhazian MP, after whose incitement, as relatives assert, the elder sister of the raped girl was killed. Let us note here that the girls' father is suspected of committing the "murder of honour". According to the General Prosecutor's Office of Abkhazia, he was arrested.