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Karabakh Separatist Leaders Say Deal Reached With Azerbaijan On Transport Corridors

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A French humanitarian aid convoy is stuck at the entrance to the Lachin corridor last month.

A French humanitarian aid convoy is stuck at the entrance to the Lachin corridor last month.

Armenian-backed separatist leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh have said Azerbaijani authorities agreed to allow aid deliveries to the breakaway region through the Lachin Corridor from Armenian territory in an operation to be controlled by Russian peacekeeping troops and the Red Cross.

In return, Karabakh authorities agreed on September 9 to also allow Russian-provided aid to be delivered directly from Baku-controlled territory via the Agdam road, opening a transport link from Azerbaijan proper for the first time since Karabakh broke away from Baku in a war that ended three decades ago.

Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmat Haciyev confirmed to Reuters that the deal had been struck, adding that Azerbaijani checkpoints on the Lachin route would remain in place.

Haciyev, however, sought to clarify later on September 9 that “it is a separate deal and shouldn’t be confused with the suggestion on simultaneous opening of Agdam-Khankandi [Stepanakurt] and Lachin-Khankandi roads for [International Committee of the Red Cross] delivery.”

Food aid “by Russian Red Cross will go along the Agdam-Askaran road towards Khankandi in coordination with Azerbaijani Red Crescent,” Haciyev wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Baku has pressed for its Agdam route to be used for aid deliveries instead of the blocked Lachin Corridor from Armenian territory. Karabakh officials, however, have claimed it is an effort by Baku to control aid shipments and reestablish authority of the region away from ethnic Armenian leaders.

In recent comments, Haciyev said use of the road was an opportunity for the ethnic Armenians of Karabakh to “establish communication with other parts of Azerbaijan.”

Western leadders have expressed concerns about the blocking of the Lachin route over recent months, a move that has left ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in desperate need of food, energy supplies, and other basic needs.

Baku denies it is blockading the region and offered the alternative Agdam route for aid transport.

Earlier on September 9, EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said on the social-media platform X that, in a call with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov, he “reiterated that the Lachin Corridor must be re-opened now. Other roads, such as Agdam, can be opened as part of the solution, but not an alternative.”

The announcement came hours after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, in calls with foreign leaders, offered to hold “urgent” talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to prevent another upsurge in violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and along the two countries’ borders.

The offer came as both sides traded accusations of “disinformation” and “provocations” in recent days and as Azerbaijani officials on September 9 accused Armenian forces of firing on their troops overnight, a claim Yerevan rejected.

Baku said the most recent firefight occurred in the north of Naxcivan, an exclave of Azerbaijan that borders Armenia, Turkey, and Iran. It did not say if there had been any casualties.

Persistent tensions between Yerevan and Baku have spiked in recent weeks, mainly over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region controlled by ethnic Armenians who have accused Azerbaijan of blockading the breakaway region.

The Armenian government has also accused Azerbaijan of massing troops along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the Karabakh “line of contact” in possible preparation for another large-scale military assault.

Pashinian made his offer of new talks with Aliyev in separate phone calls with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, his office said.

Pashinian “expressed readiness to hold urgent discussions with the president of Azerbaijan aimed at reducing the tensions,” a government statement on his call with Macron, which reportedly took place late on September 8.

The statement said Pashinian also reaffirmed his recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity made during October 2022 and May 2023 meetings with Aliyev attended by Macron.

A foreign-policy adviser to Aliyev told Reuters that Azerbaijan had not received a renewed offer of talks from Yerevan.

Meanwhile, three senior Azerbaijani officials on September 8 met with Baku-based foreign diplomats to accuse Armenia of stepping up “military provocations,” “imitating” peace talks, and continuing to foment “separatism” in Karabakh.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry denied the accusations.

With tensions rising, Armenia announced on September 6 that it would host a joint army exercise with the United States next week.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said the purpose of the September 11-20 Eagle Partner 2023 exercise was to prepare its forces to take part in international peacekeeping missions.

A U.S. military spokesperson said 85 U.S. soldiers and 175 Armenians would take part, according to Reuters.

That announcement came following remarks by Pashinian stating that his country’s policy of relying solely on Russia to guarantee its security was a strategic mistake, in light of what he said was Moscow’s efforts to wind down its role in the wider region.

Moscow responded angrily to the comments, summoning the Armenian ambassador for a protest over what it termed “unfriendly steps” taken by Yerevan.

Meanwhile on September 9, separatist lawmakers in Nagorno-Karabakh voted to elect Samvel Shahramanian, 44, as the new president of the region, an action condemned by Baku.

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We don’t want to join Russia, breakaway Georgian region warns

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Georgia’s separatist-held region of Abkhazia has firmly rejected suggestions it could be annexed by Russia, insisting that its autonomy from Moscow is not up for discussion.

In a statement issued by the unrecognized South Caucasus state’s foreign ministry on Thursday, officials said that while it is “a steadfast ally of the Russian Federation,” its self-proclaimed statehood “is not a subject for debate.”

The comments come shortly after the deputy chairman of the Kremlin’s Security Council, former president Dmitry Medvedev, hinted that Moscow could seek to absorb the two Russian-backed breakaway regions of neighboring Georgia — Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“The idea of joining Russia is still popular. And it may well be implemented, if there are good reasons for it,” said Medvedev, who has been one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

However, despite the presence of thousands of Moscow’s troops deployed to Abkhazia in the wake of a series of wars with Georgian government forces — most recently in 2008 — officials in the capital said the suggestion amounted to nothing more than a sign of “intensifying geopolitical contest.”

Meanwhile, the secretary of Abkhazia’s security council, Sergey Shamba, went further, pointing out that there “are no political entities” in the region pushing for integration with Russia.

“We haven’t received any formal requests to join the Russian Federation, and I’m yet to identify any political faction within Abkhazia that envisions such a relationship dynamic with Russia,” he went on.

Home to around a quarter of a million people and with its own distinct language, Abkhazia has existed as a de facto independent state from Georgia since a brutal civil war which followed the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians were displaced from the region, which borders Russia, as part of a campaign by the separatists, who were frequently backed by elements of the Russian armed forces.

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UN urges Armenia to respect territorial integrity of Azerbaijan – SecGen spokesperson

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BAKU, Azerbaijan, September 12. We would like
to recall the UN Security Council resolutions, affirming the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and call for
their full respect, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the
Secretary-General, said at a briefing, Trend reports.

He has made the remark, while commenting upon the so-called
“presidential elections” held by Armenian separatists in
Azerbaijan’s Karabakh on September 9, 2023.

“The Secretary General urges to intensify efforts towards the
long term normalization of relations for security and peace of the
region,” he added.

Earlier, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry called on the
international community to strongly condemn the so-called

As noted in the statement of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, the
holding of the so-called “elections” once again clearly shows that
Armenia and the puppet regime created by it, which has taken steps
to preserve the status quo and continue its occupation policy, are
not really interested in the peace process, on the contrary, have
taken the path of provocations and escalating the situation.

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US continues to work to resolve situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia – State Department

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The US continues to work to resolve the situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, US State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said during a briefing on September 12, reports.

“Secretary has been personally involved in this with multiple conversations just in the past week,” he said.

Miller went on to add that as a longer-term matter, the two countries need to come to an ultimate agreement.

He also touched upon the opening of the Aghdam-Khankendi route, through which food products from Russia passed today.

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Playing victim, Armenians try to internationalize Garabagh

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The separatist in Garabagh does not accept either the food
convoy sent by the Russian Red Crescent or the convoy sent by the
Azerbaijani Red Crescent Society. Besides, according to the
received information, an ICRC truck is standing ready in the
territory of Armenia near the Lachin Border Checkpoint. The
Azerbaijani side noted the TIR in the Armenian territory can cross
the border at the same time when convoys in Aghdam cross the
Russian checkpoint in Khankendi. However, the separatist has
refused Azerbaijan’s proposal.

Thus, the completely inadequate behavior of the Garabagh
separatists raises suspicions. On the one hand, they make a fuss
about the “unbearable human crisis” in Garabagh, on the other hand,
they deliberately refuse all the humanitarian convoys.

To clarify the issue, Azernews asked the
opinion of Irish political analyst and historian Patrick Walsh. He
noted since the defeat in the Second Garabagh War, Armenians have
tried to internationalize the Garabagh issue by playing the victim
cards. They tried to convince the West of genocide through the
blockades, but Azerbaijan destroyed this myth by offering an
alternative route.

“After the 2020 war, the Armenians in defeat switched to victim
mode. They decided to resist the sovereignty Azerbaijan was able to
exert over the formerly occupied territories by internationalizing
the Garabagh issue. The attempt involved the selling of a blockade
and genocide narrative to the West as Azerbaijan imposed legitimate
controls over its borders. This campaign was frustrated when
Azerbaijan offered alternative routes for supply to the Armenian
minority in Garabagh other than the Lachin-Khankendi road, which
Armenia had attempted to use to undermine Azerbaijani control over
its sovereign territory. The “blockade” has been exposed as
actually an Armenian imposition on its own population and part of a
campaign and it therefore in the interest of the illegal regime to
prolong the show by refusing legitimate aid,” Walsh noted.

As for the role of The International Committee of the Red Cross,
he pointed out that the organization turned into a political tool.
He emphasized that it is biased and could serve the Armenian
propaganda as well as playing into the hands of pro-Armenian
Western forces.

“The Red Cross has been mired in controversy lately. Far from
being an independent humanitarian organisation it works to a
political agenda and acts like a business in many respects. It
reflects Western biases and prejudices regarding Christians and
Muslims. It is no surprise therefore that the Red Cross can be an
instrument or willing tool of Armenian propaganda,” he said.

Patrick Walsh pointed out that he does not know the content of
the load on the TIR, but he ensures that to din the “blockade” into
the West. However, allowing the convoys through legitimate channels
contradicts the “blockade”.

“I do not know what the TIR contains. However, the Armenians are
intent on preserving the impression of a “blockade” to make their
propaganda effective in the West. Because of this they are
determined to resist the supply of aid through legitimate channels
because it breaks the self-imposed “blockade” intrinsic to the
propaganda. Their campaign will be frustrated however by supplies
passing through border checks, something that seems to be now
underway. What the Armenians did not bargain for is that any
campaign they launched aimed at provoking Western support would be
subverted by Moscow,” he said.

Qabil Ashirov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on
Twitter: @g_Ashirov

Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz

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Azerbaijan Defense Minister receives new Commander of Russian peacekeeping forces

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On September 12, the new Commander of the Russian peacekeeping
forces temporarily stationed in Azerbaijan, Major General Kirill
Kulakov was introduced to the Azerbaijan Defense Minister, Colonel
General Zakir Hasanov by the Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces
of the Russian Federation, Army General Oleg Salyukov,
Azernews reports, citing the Ministry.

The Defense Minister welcomed the guests and noted that
Azerbaijani-Russian cooperation is based on friendly relations and
mutual trust.

Colonel General Zakir Hasanov spoke about the operational
situation in the Garabagh economic region. He emphasized that the
number of provocations committed by illegal Armenian armed
detachments had increased recently.

Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces of the Russian Federation,
Army General Oleg Salyukov expressed his gratitude for the warm
reception and noted that Azerbaijani-Russian bilateral relations
are based on historical roots, and the two countries are strategic

Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz

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Azerbaijani government accused Iran of trying to infiltrate the country’s mosques, resulting in removal of 118 clerics from their jobs

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Iran was accused of attempting to influence Azerbaijan’s mosques; 118 clerics were removed from their jobs

On April 6, the Chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, Mubariz Gurbanli, announced that the Tehran regime had been attempting to establish Iranians in mosques in Azerbaijan.

Gurbanli added that his committee had been working patiently and purposefully to prevent this, as Iran was trying to spread its state-religion model to Azerbaijan and other surrounding countries. He also claimed that the Tehran regime had been conducting campaigns on social networks to carry out this propaganda in Azerbaijan.

Gurbanli further stated that after the authority to appoint people to mosques was transferred to the committee, about 120 people who received education and could express the state’s interests were appointed. At the same time, 118 clerics were removed from their jobs. He also mentioned the completion of repair work in the former Abu Bakir mosque and expected its opening soon.

Recently, around 400 Islamic-faith believers have been arrested in Azerbaijan, and social activists and human rights defenders have reported on this. Most of those arrested have been charged with drug possession, but their relatives and lawyers say these accusations are false. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs claims that it is not aware of the arrest of 400 people.

On April 5, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Security Service, and the General Prosecutor’s Office released a statement claiming that a group was created for the purpose of establishing a “Karim” state governed by Sharia law in Azerbaijan. The information says that Iran’s special services have seized a group of people with material and religious propaganda, and crimes have been prepared in the direction of destabilizing Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, the initial traces of the terrorist act against MP Fazil Mustafa were linked to Iran, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan on March 31, 2023. The deputy was shot in front of his house on March 28, 2023, and the head of the security service of the embassy was killed in an armed attack on the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Iran on January 27, 2023. Employees of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Iran were subsequently evacuated to Baku.

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Azerbaijan’s “Tartar Case” renews investigation into alleged torture and abuses, as the number of victims and accused persons rises

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Azerbaijan has been rocked by a torture case known as the “Tartar case,” where 452 victims have come forward with allegations of torture and abuse.

The trial of Colonel Vusal Alasgarov and three other soldiers accused of torturing soldiers accused of spying for Armenians during the “Tartar Incidents” in May-June 2017 continues in Baku. The victims have been giving their statements, and the family members of those who lost their lives have participated in the court proceedings as their legal heirs.

One of the victims was senior lieutenant Tamkin Guliyev, whose father Nizami Guliyev testified at the court session. Nizami Guliyev said that when his son’s body was brought back to them on May 15, 2017, they were told that he died of pneumonia. However, an exhumation in 2022 revealed that he died from torture, with injuries to the vertebrae, head, hands, and feet. Nizami Guliyev demanded that those who caused their death by torturing the soldiers, including his son, be charged with murder and treason.

Another victim was commander Suleyman Kazymov, whose wife Zulfiyya Kazimova testified in court. She demanded that high-ranking officials involved in the torture be brought to criminal responsibility, including Hikmet Hasanov, who she claims gave the orders. Kazimova said that they received the news of her husband’s death on May 9, 2017, and were initially told that he was a martyr, but later were told that he died in an accident. Those who brought the body to them tried to make them sign a blank piece of paper. Kazimova claimed that her husband was handcuffed, drowned in water, and beaten before his death.

Elchin Guliyev, who was accused of treason and acquitted after the “Tartar case” proceedings were renewed, also lost his life as a result of torture. His mother Valida Ahmadova testified in court and said that her son made a phone call for the last time on May 3, 2017. On May 8, his father and cousin were called to the executive power and told that Elchin Guliyev had died and was a “traitor to the country”. When his body was brought back to them, they claimed that he poured drugs into the food truck he was driving during the April 2016 battles so that the soldiers would sleep. However, Ahmadova said that her son was not driving the food truck at all, but was on vacation. She also claimed that the authorities created obstacles for those who came to his funeral and called her son a “traitor to the country”.

One victim, Vagif Abdullayev, claims that General Hikmat Hasanov threatened to send those who refused to engage in espionage to a minefield and had him put in a cage, and threatened to shoot him. Several other victims have confirmed this threat. Abdullayev emphasized the importance of prosecuting General Hasanov and other officials in order to have an objective investigation of the case.

Another victim, Merhamat Rajabli, accused Colonel Vusal Alasgarov of putting a gun in his mouth, tying his hands, and subjecting him to various forms of torture, including electric shocks and nail removal. The accused persons did not respond to the accusations made by the victims.

After the investigation into the “Tartar case” was renewed in December 2021, the number of people brought to criminal responsibility for torture reached 17, with one person still wanted. Four more people who were already in prison were re-indicted due to their participation in torturing others.

In November 2022, the cases of 19 people who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason and other serious charges were re-examined, their sentences were canceled, and they were acquitted five years later. The court investigations on the cases of the four named persons in this particular incident are still ongoing.

The trial continues in Baku, and the victims’ families are seeking justice for their loved ones who lost their lives as a result of torture.

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Speaker of Georgian parliament pressured OC Media’s donors after failure to place op-ed

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The speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, has taken his grievances directly to OC Media’s institutional donors in an apparent bid to influence or punish the outlet for declining to publish an opinion piece he had written.

At least one international organisation that provides funding to OC Media confirmed that the speaker’s office wrote to them following the rejection. 

In a letter to the donor seen by OC Media, the speaker’s office said that cooperation between the Georgian Government and the donor ‘rests on a shared understanding of Georgia’s aspirations towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration’.

‘The fact that you are funding an organisation that provides only one-sided coverage of Georgian politics and flatly refuses to even consider a differing opinion for publication, does not correspond to this spirit’, the letter read.

A representative of the donor organisation in question told OC Media they were ‘surprised’ by the letter. ‘We were surprised by the complaint and not sure how to interpret this’, they said. 

A representative of the speaker’s office, Tiko Mgeladze, first approached OC Media about Papuashvili’s wish to publish an opinion piece on 28 June.

Mgeladze refused to send the text until OC Media confirmed they would publish it. After being informed it would not be possible to publish an article without first seeing it in full, the speaker’s office again declined, sending only a headline — ‘The tactic of virtually separating Georgia’s democratic government from Georgian people fits the Russian hybrid playbook’ — and the first paragraph of the text. 

OC Media’s editorial team ultimately rejected the pitch. Papuashvili later published the text on his personal X (formerly Twitter) account.  

OC Media’s Editor-in-Chief, Robin Fabbro, said that while it was not an easy decision, the editorial board was guided by a desire to ensure they best served and informed their readers.

‘In our regular reporting, we always strive to accurately portray the positions of all sides involved in a story, including that of the Georgian Government’, Fabbro said. ‘This is a mission that is often made difficult by the government’s outright hostility to the press. This government regularly shows a lack of interest in engaging with our questions, even the most innocuous ones. Our journalists’ emails go unanswered and phone calls are rarely if ever returned.’

‘We are also extremely selective with what we choose to publish in our opinions section. While we welcome a diversity of opinions, we choose to only commission opinion pieces that we believe to be factually sound, an honest expression of an idea, and broadly in line with our core values — this is our right as an independent media outlet.’

‘The fact is, the Georgian Government frequently attempts to portray themselves differently to an international audience, especially to decision-makers in the West, than they do to their own people. There was too high of a risk that the op-ed simply would not be genuine.’

‘These were some of the primary factors that brought our editorial team to the unanimous decision that publishing this opinion piece would go against our mission to inform, and that doing so simply because of the Speaker’s position of authority would do a disservice to our readers’, Fabbro said.

Mariam Nikuradze, the co-founder and co-director of OC Media, said that contacting the organisation’s donors was a clear attack on the organisation’s editorial independence, and freedom of the press more generally.

‘Georgian Dream’s attacks on the press continue unabated. If you had asked me three years ago, I could never have imagined that the environment we work in in Georgia could have deteriorated so much so quickly’, Nikuradze said.

Nikuradze did not rule out further retribution from the Speaker’s Office, especially on going public with the incident.

‘It would not surprise me at all if we face some form of legal harassment, for example, an “unannounced” audit or a defamation lawsuit in response’, she said. ‘We are also concerned about possible surveillance of our office and staff, as the security services have already demonstrated that they are willing to surveil journalists.’

‘Ultimately, I think this incident shows the power of our reporting, and that the Georgian Government is intimidated by the journalism we produce, especially given the reach of our reporting in Brussels, Washington, and elsewhere.’

‘Sanitising the ruling party’s rhetoric’

One of the reasons for the rejection of Papuashvili’s article — the contents of which were not provided to OC Media in full — was that the argument being presented appeared to directly contradict the actions of Georgian Dream’s government towards the EU, and the West more broadly, in recent years.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Georgian Government has taken a dramatic turn against the West.

[Read more: Irakli Kobakhidze: The face of Georgia’s turn from the West]

Papuashvili himself has done nothing to contradict the conspiracy theories against the West promoted by his own party and its spin-off People’s Power.

In July, he described democratically-supported opposition groups as traitors and the ‘fifth column’, and insisted they and some local civil society groups had tried to overthrow the government. 

After backtracking on the highly unpopular draft foreign agents law authored by the government’s pro-Russian satellite group in parliament, People’s Power, Georgian Dream and Papuashvili himself continued to advocate for financially probing Western-funded local civil society groups and media organisations. 

Protests in March 2023 against Georgia’s draft foreign agent law. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

Some of Papuashvili’s first actions as speaker after taking office in 2021 were to refuse to meet a delegation from the European Parliament and to reject the idea of offering a remote platform to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyi to address the Georgian parliament.

Papuashvili has also regularly defended anti-Western statements made by other members of his party.

In May, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili appeared to claim that Ukraine’s intention to join NATO was a primary cause of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Papuashvili responded that the PM’s comments were being misinterpreted.

Papuashvili was elected the speaker of parliament in December 2021 after then-speaker Kakha Kuchava resigned for reasons that remain unclear. His resignation coincided with the escalation of Georgian Dream’s anti-Western rhetoric, which has grown exponentially since. 

Kuchava had previously been prominent in communicating pro-Western messages to an international audience, both publicly and privately.

While selling his party’s anti-Western and anti-democratic rhetoric to a local audience in Georgian, Papuashvili appears to have taken up Kuchava’s role in pushing more pro-Western messages to an international audience. This includes on X (formerly Twitter), and in op-eds in English language media.

In private conversations with Western diplomats and officials, Papuashvili is known to play down his party’s anti-Western rhetoric while insisting on Georgia’s respect for the West.

‘Our team had taken note of this pattern of certain officials being tasked with sanitising the ruling party’s rhetoric and actions in English to an international audience’, OC Media’s editor-in-chief, Robin Fabbro said. ‘This is not something we intended to aid them in.’

‘An opinion piece, unlike an interview — standalone or as part of a wider story — gives the author a platform to speak without scrutiny’, he added. ‘Such a platform is a privilege, not a right’.

Papuashvili’s office told OC Media that declining to publish the speaker’s article ‘contradicts both the state-recognised freedom of speech and [OC Media’s] self-declared principles of pluralism.’

‘Since the ideas of freedom of expression and pluralism are the basis of cooperation between the Georgian Government and donor organisations, the chairman of the parliament considered it necessary to inform the donor organisations about your actions against these values.’

‘The Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia exclusively offered your media platform to publish an article that reflected his opinion on current political issues’, they continued. ‘Unfortunately, you rejected us without giving reasons.’ 

After rejecting Papuashvili’s article, OC Media informed his office of a broad set of criteria with which the editorial board decides whether or not to publish an opinion article.

OC Media also requested an interview with the speaker. Papuashvili’s office declined.

The offer remains open.

A deteriorating media environment

In their letter to OC Media’s donor, Papuashvili’s office stated that they ‘respect OC Media’s journalistic independence’ and that ‘media freedom in Georgia is widely guaranteed and respected by the Government’.

However, Mamuka Andghuladze, Head of the Georgian Coalition for Media Advocacy, told OC Media that the actions of the speaker’s office were ‘a mechanism of pressure, one of the instruments to pressure the media’.

‘Unfortunately, this is a continuation of a tradition of all branches of the government trying to curtail freedom of the media in the country.’

‘Considering they had the chance to get acquainted with the criteria based on which any media organisation decides for itself, as per its own editorial independence, what to publish, and also considering the fact that [OC Media’s] op-eds is a format less dedicated to giving platform to those holding power, and that they did not even share the full draft, it represents an attempt to pressure the media group by directly or indirectly influencing their financial sources’.

International human rights and media rights groups have noted a deterioration in the state of press freedom in Georgia in recent years. According to Reporters Without Borders ‘official interference undermines efforts undertaken to improve press freedom’.

‘[T]he authorities often refuse to respond to media that criticise them and sometimes resort to censorship, raids, smear campaigns, and intimidation’, the group stated.

The government has introduced a number of measures in recent years that have curtailed freedom of the press in Georgia.

Earlier this year, in his role as Speaker of Parliament, Papuashvili introduced a new parliamentary ‘code of conduct’ for journalists. Alongside limitations on the number of journalists from outlets allowed to attend parliament, and a requirement that they receive parliamentary accreditation, the code allows the authorities to ban journalists from parliament for asking questions to MPs after they refuse to respond to queries.

‘The accreditation rule violates the rights of the media as well as society’s right to receive and disseminate information about ongoing political processes at the legislative body’, MediaOmbudsman’s Natia Kapanadze said.

Since the new code of conduct came into force, the accreditation of journalists from online news site Publika, as well as TV channels Pirveli, Mtavari, and Formula have been revoked by parliament.

During the March protests against the draft foreign agents law, reporters with parliamentary accreditation were also ejected from the building as they tried to cover political events unfolding inside.

The law itself would have directly targeted independent media, many of which rely on donor funding.

If adopted, the laws would have labelled many independent media outlets as ‘foreign agents’, similar to legislation that has obliterated independent media and civil society in Russia. The law’s vague wording could also have given the government the power to seize or freeze assets of such organisations. 

[Read more on OC Media: Editorial | Only decisive action can save Georgia’s democracy]

Several opposition and critical TV channels have also faced ownership disputes during Georgian Dream’s rule, with several media owners facing prosecution. 

In May 2022, just weeks before Georgia’s EU candidate status was rejected, the head of Mtavari, the most-watched opposition channel, was arrested. Several local and international rights groups said the charges against him were politically motivated, with some claiming it was a deliberate attempt to sabotage Georgia’s EU candidacy bid. 

In recent years, Georgian Dream has also begun to use defamation legislation against journalists from critical media. The number of such lawsuits has significantly increased recently. According to information obtained by Transparency International Georgia, 28 lawsuits have been filed against representatives of critical TV channels Mtavari, Formula, and Pirveli, a large portion of which were filed in 2021.

Papuashvili’s own actions against the media can be traced back to his time as spokesperson for Georgian Dream. In the summer of 2021, he announced the ruling party would boycott four independent and opposition-leaning TV channels over their demand for the government to resign.

The demand came after over 50 media workers were injured in a single day and after one of them, camera operator Lekso Lashkarava, passed away.

A mob attacks journalists near the parliament building in Tbilisi on 5 July. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
Media workers bid farewell to Aleksandre Lashkarava with a corridor of cameras and long applause on 13 July 2021. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

[Read on OC Media: Editorial | A state-sanctioned attack on Georgia’s free press]

The government has since maintained its boycott of TV channels that do not follow a pro-government editorial line.

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Beleaguered Armenian region in Azerbaijan accepts urgent aid shipment

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YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Authorities in an isolated ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan on Tuesday allowed entry of a humanitarian aid shipment in a step toward easing a dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has blocked transport to the region since late last year.

The region, called Nagorno-Karabakh, has been under the control of ethnic Armenians since the 1994 end of a separatist war. That war had left much of the surrounding territory under Armenian control as well, but Azerbaijan regained that territory in a six-week-long war with Armenia in 2020; Nagorno-Karabakh itself remained outside Azerbaijani control.

Under the armistice that ended the war, Russia deployed some 3,000 peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh and were to ensure that the sole road connecting the enclave to Armenia would remain open. However, Azerbaijan began blocking the road in December, alleging Armenians were using it to ship weapons and smuggle minerals.

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The blockage caused serious food shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan proposed that food be sent in on a road leading from the town of Agdam, but the region’s authorities resisted the proposal because of concern that it was a strategy to absorb Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan agreed this week that both the Agdam road and the road to Armenia, called the Lachin Corridor, could be used for aid shipments under International Committee of the Red Cross auspices.

The aid delivered on Tuesday includes 1,000 food sets including flour, pasta and stewed meat, along with bed linen and soap.

“We regard the fact that the cargo was delivered precisely along the … road as a positive step and an important shift towards the opening of this road,” said Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aykhan Hajizade.

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