Region

South Caucasus

Stories under this heading cover the South Caucasus – a region encompassing Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as the unrecognised entities of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

For those interested specifically in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and events and developments in and around Nagorno-Karabakh following the 2020 44-day war, check out our sister page, KarabakhSpace.eu.

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Opinion
Opinion: Political Uncertainty in Armenia Should Not Disrupt Azerbaijan Normalisation

Opinion: Political Uncertainty in Armenia Should Not Disrupt Azerbaijan Normalisation

The Armenian opposition had up to now failed to come up with a leader who could unite it in its quest to overthrow Nikol Pashinyan. "That could change if a new political force led by a charismatic and populist alternative were to emerge. This month, the opposition hoped they have  such an alternative in Bagrat Galstanyan, Archbishop of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, write Onnik Krikorian for commonspace.eu. Leading protests against the recent delimitation and demarcation of the Gazakh-Tavush section of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, the cleric managed to rally up to 30,000 people in Yerevan’s Republic Square earlier this month, the largest public gathering since Pashinyan’s own in 2018.
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News
Tens of thousands take to the streets of Tbilisi to protest against repressive law

Tens of thousands take to the streets of Tbilisi to protest against repressive law

Tens of thousands of Georgians have taken to the streets of the capital Tbilisi on Saturday evening  (11 May) to protest a controversial "foreign influence" bill backed by the government. Protesters marched to the capital's Europe Square holding Georgian and EU flags, chanting “no to the Russian law”. The law would target civil society organisations and independent media that receive foreign funding. Massive rallies have gripped the Black Sea Caucasus country for nearly a month after the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced the bill. Despite a campaign of intimidation ahead of Saturday's rally - in which dozens of NGO workers, activists and opposition politicians received threats or were physically assaulted - protesters turned up in their thousands undeterred by the pouring rain. Opposition parties say the bill - coined "Russian law" after Russia's passing of similar legislation in 2012 - will be used by the government to clamp down on dissent. The US has said the bill threatens free speech. On Friday, foreign ministers of Nordic and Baltic states issued a joint statement urging the government in Tbilisi to reconsider the bill Last week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Georgian people want a "European future". "Georgia is at a crossroads. It should stay the course on the road to Europe," she posted on X. But the Georgian Dream government has defended the bill, saying it will "boost transparency" over NGOs' foreign funding. It aims to sign the measure into law by mid-May. If adopted, the law would require that any independent NGO and media organisation receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as an "organisation pursuing the interests of a foreign power". But the protesters fear it could be used to crush critical voices ahead of parliamentary elections later this year. The bill cleared its second parliamentary stage by a margin of 83 votes to 23. After a third reading, it has to be signed by President Salome Zurabishvili, who has vowed to veto it - although Georgian Dream has sufficient numbers in parliament to overrule her. In 2023, mass street protests forced Georgian Dream to drop plans for similar measures.

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More clashes between police and protestors in Tbilisi as government pushes through "foreign agents law"

More clashes between police and protestors in Tbilisi as government pushes through "foreign agents law"

On May 1, the Georgian government passed through Parliament the controversial “Foreign Agents Law” in its second reading with 83 votes in favor and 23 against, despite strong opposition from international partners, large segments of Georgian society and opposition MPs and politicians. Outside parliament massive public protests saw clashes between police and protestors President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili addressed the protesters in the evening of May 1, when the situation on Chitadze Street, by the gate of the parliament, became tense as several youths tried to break through the closed gates into the yard of the parliament. She said she stands by the protesters’ side. She called the rallies “extraordinary” saying that the whole world is watching Georgians demonstrate the attitude, determination, and perseverance. She said these qualities are important in order to win in the long term struggle, the final stage of which will be the Parliamentary elections, which “will show that Georgia will never be Russia.” Salome Zurabishvili addressed the youth “with flame in their hearts” as she called them, saying that “some things are not necessary” and appealed “to leave along the gates of the Parliament” saying that “nothing happens there”. Noting that “our struggle” is no longer about the Foreign Agents Law”, she said that the longer-term struggle is about the elections” and about “all the laws that this government has passed that distance us from the EU”. That is the goal, she stressed. Noting that it’s Holy Week, she appealed for peaceful protests and to avoid provoking violence, saying: “We will show the world what Georgia and its youth can do.”
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issues statement on Tbilisi protests

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issues statement on Tbilisi protests

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has expressed concern about the situation in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, amid ongoing anti-government protests against a new foreign influence law, which critics fear could be used to limit press freedoms. The protests, which have attracted international attention, highlight growing discontent in the country and calls for a closer alignment with European ideals.
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Opposition leader amongst those injured after police break up anti government protests in Georgia

Opposition leader amongst those injured after police break up anti government protests in Georgia

Riot police in Georgia have fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds protesting against a bill seen by the opposition as targeting media freedoms and narrowing the space for the work of civil society. Demonstrators threw eggs and bottles at the police outside the parliament in the capital, Tbilisi. The crowds retreated, but clashes continued on the main Rustaveli Avenue late on Tuesday. A number of people were reportedly injured and detained. Georgia's IPN news agency says that Levan Khabeishvili, chairman of the main opposition party United National Movement, was severely beaten and taken to hospital. He was later shown in a hospital bed where he is said to have a broken nose. Reuters news agency says that eyewitnesses saw some police officers physically attack protesters. On 17 April, MPs gave their initial backing to the "foreign agent" bill. The bill is now going through its last stages in parliament. Under the bill proposed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and independent media that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign donors would have to register as organisations "bearing the interests of a foreign power". They would also be monitored by Georgia's justice ministry and could be forced to share sensitive information - or face hefty fines of up to 25,000 Georgian lari ($9,400). The passing of the bill in its first reading triggered a series of street protests. Opponents of the bill demand that the government scrap it, arguing that it is inspired by authoritarian legislation that neighbouring Russia uses to crush dissent.
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Commentary
The new kid on the block – Azerbaijan’s new role in Central Asia

The new kid on the block – Azerbaijan’s new role in Central Asia

Those who know their political geography will tell you that there are five countries in Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. But in the last two years, a new kid has appeared on the block. Azerbaijan is not usually described as a Central Asian country: Caucasus or Caspian are more likely labels, but recently one could spot Azerbaijan in key summits and meetings of the Central Asian republics, including those with other blocs, such as the Gulf Co-operation Council. Two things are driving this process.
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Mask off

Mask off

Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and honorary chairman of the Georgian Dream party, addressed a large crowd of supporters in Georgia's capital Tbilisi on Monday, 29 April as the standoff between Government and opposition continues. In a fiery speech, considered as the most radical of his political career, Ivanishvili lambasted the US and NATO, accusing them of seeing Georgia only as cannon fodder. He slammed the country's opposition and civil society and promised a heavy handed approach towards the opposition following next October elections. The mask that had hid the true Ivanishvili for the last twelve years finally fell. Ivanishvili accused NGOs of trying to organise a revolution and threatened all those who oppose him. He said "I know many of our supporters were dissatisfied that we did not punish the United National Movement enough. Even though many of their leaders spent time in prison and their leader [Saakashvili] is still in prison, it is true that we did not pass the UNM in a tribunal as such, did not condemn it as a treasonous, criminal entity that it is. Why did not we do it? Because we were under tremendous pressure. In fact, UNM was appointed the opposition [in 2012] just like they were appointed as government [in 2003] by the global party of war. The Georgian people should decide the country’s fate. After the [victory in] elections, we will issue a strict political and legal condemnation to the collective UNM [meaning NGOs and political opponents]; it will get the due punishment it deserves. They will pay for all the crimes against the Georgian people."
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Tens of thousands of people protest in Georgia against "foreign agents" law

Tens of thousands of people protest in Georgia against "foreign agents" law

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Sunday evening, to protest against a proposed law that would brand most of the country's civil society organisations as "foreign agents" for receiving financial support from overseas sources. With the government defiant, the country appears to be heading for one of its most acute political crisis in decades. The decision of the Georgian Dream government to defy the country’s president, opposition, civil society, and practically the entire international community, by re-introducing a controversial law which will categorise most civil society organisations as “foreign agents” has created a deep rift, with both sides adamant that they will take the issue “to the end” In the last few days, the streets of Tbilisi have been taken over by continuous mass rallies with the slogan “Yes to Europe, No to Russian Law”. Until last night protestors lacked a critical mass, but this has now changed. The protests are led mainly by youth and student organisations. The largely discredited Georgian opposition appears content to support the protests from behind.  So far there have been only a few incidents, but as the number of protestors grows, this can change very quickly. In the meantime, the government will today bring out its own supporters on the streets. The European Parliament last week called for sanctions against Georgian leaders, including the Honorary President and founder of Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili. It is unlikely that the European Commission and European Council will do so yet, but this option is now seen not only as a distinct possibility, but as being inevitable if the Georgian government pushes ahead with the controversial law. Events on the ground will determine how fast things will move. Georgia faces difficult parliamentary elections in the autumn, but it seems the current crisis will come to a head before then.
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Opinion
Opinion: Russian withdrawal from Karabakh allows Azerbaijan to strengthen its ties with its Turkic "family"

Opinion: Russian withdrawal from Karabakh allows Azerbaijan to strengthen its ties with its Turkic "family"

The geopolitics of the South Caucasus is as unpredictable as ever. Even as recently as the beginning of April, few, if any, would have imagined that Russia may withdraw its peacekeeping contingent from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan anytime soon. Many observers were even skeptical about the possibility of their withdrawal in November 2025 – the date which was stipulated in the November 2020 trilateral statement as the potential but not fixed date for the ending of the peacekeeping mission of Russia. This skepticism was grounded in the understanding that for Russia, Karabakh holds paramount importance in the broader context of the South Caucasus. In the wake of Russia’s unexpected withdrawal of its peacekeeping mission from the Karabakh region, the South Caucasus enters a new geopolitical dynamic. This historic development not only signifies Azerbaijan's attainment of complete sovereignty over its territories but also heralds the definitive end of the Karabakh conflict. President Ilham Aliyev's adept diplomatic maneuvers have secured Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and positioned Baku as a confident actor on the regional stage. The withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers marks a pivotal moment, shaping the future landscape of Azerbaijan-Russia relations and regional geopolitics. As Azerbaijan charts its course forward, its commitment to regional integration remains, however, steadfast, with a focus on strengthening ties within the Turkic world.