24 February 2020, 13:10

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of February 17-23, 2020

Commemoration of victims of Chechens' and Ingushes' deportation; release of Vano Merabishvili, former Georgia's Premier, from custody; registration of presidential candidates in Abkhazia; victory of Elista activists at cassation court, – read about these events in the following review of major events in the Caucasus during February 17-23, 2020, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Actions in memory of deportation victims of Chechens and Ingushes

On February 23, a rally in memory of victims of the Vainakhs' deportation, which was launched 76 years ago, was held in Nazran, Ingushetia. The action was held under the tight law enforcers' supervision. The request of the Ingush Council of Teips (family clans) to give the floor at the rally was ignored by the authorities; and the rally was held without speeches of Council's activists. Let us remind you that the operation "Chechevitsa" (Lentils), during which almost 500,000 Chechens and Ingushes were evicted from the territory of the then Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, was launched on February 23, 1944. A similar mourning rally in the Novolak District of Dagestan gathered about 10,000 Akkin Chechens, as well as residents of Chechnya and Ingushetia. It should be noted that on the eve of the rally, law enforcers asked organizers not to politicize the event by speeches on the restoration of the Aukh District. Despite the warning, the speakers touched on this topic.

In Chechnya, local residents said that they have commemorated the deportation victims with prayers and alms-giving. Grozny, the capital, hosted a rally in memory of repression victims, attended by Ramzan Kadyrov, Salakh Mezhiev, the Mufti of Chechnya, and other officials, the "Chechnya Today" News Agency has reported. Let us remind you that since 2011, in Chechnya, the mourning events related to Vainakhs' deportation were shifted from February 23 to May 10. In the opinion of Caucasian experts, in this way Kadyrov wanted to get Kremlin's support, which had softened its attitude towards Stalinism, and tried to weaken the protest moods in the republic. Kadyrov himself had explained the transfer of mourning events by the fact that they coincided with the state holiday. However, the analysts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot" believe that still, 76 years after, the memory about the deportation remains the unconditional priority for Chechens on February 23. The many-years-long of attempts of Chechen authorities to change the date of grief and sorrow have failed, Ruslan Kutaev, the head of the "Assembly of Caucasian Nations", has stated.

An action in memory of deportation victims was also held in Saint Petersburg, in Troitskaya Square, near the Solovetsky Boulder – a monument to victims of political repressions.

Vano Merabishvili, former Georgia's Premier, set free

On February 20, Vano Merabishvili, a former Prime Minister of Georgia, one of the leaders of the "United National Movement" (UNM), who was serving his sentences under several criminal cases, was released. He has stated that he will continue to "actively engage in politics" and achieve a change of power by the end of the year. His return to politics is fraught with the risk of a fall in the opposition's rating due to the association of his person with the negative side of Mikhail Saakashvili's rule, the Georgian political analysts, interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot", believe. Saakashvili himself has welcomed Merabishvili's release from prison and supported his idea of "putting an end to Ivanishvili's power." Let us remind you that in 2016, Merabivshili was sentenced to 6 years and 9 months in prison under the case of beating the MP Valery Gelashvili. In 2014, Merabishvili was convicted on charges of dispersing a protest rally, misappropriation of other people's property and embezzlement, as well as under the murder case of Sandro Girgvliani, an employee of the United Bank of Georgia. Merabishvili refused to plead guilty. His defence treated the refusals to apply the conditional early relief (CER) to Merabishvili as politically motivated.

Registration of candidates for Abkhazian presidency

In Abkhazia, on February 17, the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the three registered candidates for the post of the president, whom local residents will elect on March 22. They are Adgur Ardzinba, a Vice-Premier; Leonid Dzapshba, a former Minister of Internal Affairs; and Aslan Bzhaniya, the opposition leader. Let us remind you that on January 10, the Supreme Court of Abkhazia upheld the complaint of Alkhas Kvitsiniya, the leader of the "Amtsakhara" Party, and cancelled the outcomes of the 2019 presidential election, won by Raul Khadjimba, who, under protesters' pressure, decided to resign without waiting for re-election, and not participate in the race. The experts, interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot", believe that Aslan Bzhaniya, who also suits the Kremlin, has a high chance of winning the presidential race. However, according to the experts, both candidates close to the previous power and oppositional candidates may be his serious rivals.

Victory of Elista activists at cassation court

On February 20, the cassation court in Krasnodar overturned the decision of the Supreme Court of Kalmykia, on the basis of which participants of the rally held on October 27, 2019, in Elista had been fined. They protested against the appointment of the acting head of the city administration, Dmitry Trapeznikov, to the post of the Mayor. Let us remind you that the Elista Mayoralty, in response to the organizers' notification about the rally, gave an ambiguous answer, which, according to activists, was a veiled refusal. The Elista City Court upheld the activists' lawsuit, finding the Mayoralty answer to be illegal, but the Supreme Court of Kalmykia ruled on the opposite. According to organizers, the rally brought together at least 3500 people. The organizer was warned by the prosecutor's office and law enforcers about the responsibility for holding an unsanctioned rally. In their turn, activists insist that the rally had been sanctioned by the Mayoralty, because the answer thereof did not contain a direct refusal; however, a number of protesters were fined. Following the ruling of the Krasnodar cassation court, the abolition of fines and punishment of law enforcers and the Mayoralty should now follow, activists believe.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on February 24, 2020 at 09:20 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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