- WHAT DO EUROPEANS THINK ABOUT CAUCASUS?
What do European people met in the strets of Strasbourg know about Caucasus countries and do they support the idea Caucasus countries to join EU? The answers are variable.
By Nino Gelashvili & Elvira Abdullayeva
- STRASBOURG, KINGDOM OF THE BIKERS
In the French city of Strasbourg, everything is done for bikers. A very green attitude that contrasts with the situation of cycling in Caucasus.
By Ovsanna Bagamyan and Guler Mehdizade
The first thing that amazed us in Strasbourg was the lack of private cars we used to see in the streets of Baku and Yerevan, and the great quantity of bicycles instead. At first, we thought: “these people are crazy !”. We noticed special parking stations for bicycles,the ‘Velopark’, around 500 kilometers of cycling paths- the largest in France-, public bike rental service and interactive maps of bike routes like Bikely.com, to cycle throughout the whole city.
Cars are for example banned from the city centre, people of every age are cycling everywhere, even near the official buildings like the Council of Europe. Official statistics talks of 130 000 bikers on a population of around 300 000 inhabitants.
And each year, the Strasbourg Festival of the Bike (Fête du Vélo) is held annually in September and celebrates the two-wheeled mode of transport and sport. It seems like that locals start driving from the childhood, soon becoming as usual for them as breathing and speaking.
Strasbourg as a ‘bikers paradise’ was largely encouraged by the municipality, in conjunction with the public transports network, tram, bus and train systems, to make cycling safe and convenient. A pioneer in sustainable mobility and easy travel, the Strasbourg Urban Community has even created the service called ‘Vélhop’, allowing the sharing of bikes available to all.
In Baku, Azerbaijan, the situation is very different. There are not special roads, pathways, nor stations for bicycles. Since 2008, the Green Bikers Club, an environmental NGO represented by Elshan Nuriyev tries to « contribute to sustainable development and protection of ecosystem by strengthening environmental education and activities in Azerbaijan ». Green Bikers Club has its branches in Ganja, Sumgayit and Agjabedi and the total number of its members reaches 2 000 persons. More than 500 persons are actively involved in environmental seminars and campaigns organised through Azerbaijan.
The organization’s main activities include the implementation of projects and campaigns focuses on raising « ecological consciousness » and increasing civic responsibility to protect environment. Advocacy campaigns for the construction of green roads and pathways, as well as development of alternative energy sources were launched, as well as the promotion of « ecologically friendly transports », like bikes and tramways.
In Strasbourg, not only the municipality but also the citizens make the tradition of cycling alive, so that the city is called the “Kingdom of Bicycles”. The association « Velo Station » teach people how to repair the bicycles by themselves. Ian Conold, the representative and one of the oldest members of the association tells, that « people of very different professions are gathering to help newcomers to repair their old bikes. Women are a big part of those bikes fans. Cyncling is also a good possibility to find new friends, have a fun and in the same time repair their transport, not spending too much money. »
For cycling – liker’s from Caucasus it still remains a dream such conditions, good roads and not crazy car drivers but people do their best to cycle, to make bike campaigns, as everyone wants keep the ecology pure of pollution.
In Erevan, they want to spread and develop cycling movement in Armenia. Each Sunday, they propose different destinations in Armenia. But the “Bicycle+ NGO” that gathers around 1600 people is still calling themselves a « group of crazy cyclists! ».
- CATHERINE TRAUTMANN: “NO COUNTRY IN EUROPE IS OUT OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CRISIS”
“We are in a systemic crisis. No country in Europe is out of the consequence of the financial crisis, even France and Germany“, – says Catherine Trautmann, former mayor of Strasbourg and French euro-deputy. She speaks about Greece, Europe’s crisis and how it might affect South Caucasus countries in their way towards European integration.
By Hrant Mikaelian and Arshaluis Mghdesyan
“Europe is facing worst crisis since the Second world war”, – said Germany’s prime minister Angela Merkel a couple of days ago. The eurozone has appeared on the verge of a collapse when Greece, Ireland and Portugal became unable to borrow money on free debt market and were forced to ask money from the international creditors.
Being one of the fastest growing economies of Europe in 2000s, Greece now became the most affected by crisis economy in the eurozone. Greece’s average budget deficit in 2001-2008 consisted 6.2% while the maximum level, which is accepted for Eurozone countries is 3%. Now Greece’s debt is more than 300 bln euros, which makes a risk for the Euro stability. But the crisis signs are also seen in other countries: Italy, the third economy of an euro area also faces threat of debt crisis.
Catherine Trautmann, 59, is a former Minister of Culture of France and now Member of the European Parliament for the East of France. Member of the Socialist Partyn part of the Party of European Socialists, she was elected as mayor of Strasbourg in 1989, re-elected in 1995, then defeated in 2001.
- 2011 LUX CINEMA PRIZE GO TO “LES NEIGES DU KILIMADJARO”
On November 16th, the 5th edition of LUX Prize was attributed by the European Parliament to the French movie “Les neiges du Kilimandjaro” (“The snows of Kilimanjaro”). The prize of €90,000 will sponsor the subtitling of the film into the 23 official EU languages.
By Nino Gelashvili
LUX prize is given by the European Parliament since 2007. Parliament’s support for European cinema includes specific legislation to promote the diversity of, and access to, cinematographic works.
The panel includes producers, distributors, cinema operators, festival directors and film critics. Three finalists are annually announced for the prize. Only the 736 Members of the European Parliament are entitled to vote.
In competition this year was Greece’s political drama from Athina Rachel Tsangari’s « Attenberg », France’s “Les neiges du Kilimandjaro” by Robert Guédiguian and “Play” by Ruben Östlund – a Swedish, French, Danish production.
As director of the movie Robert Guédiguian said, its movie is about “faithfulness, solidarity and morality“. ‘Les neiges du Kilimandjaro’ tells the story about Michel and Marie-Claire, whose happiness is shattered when two armed and masked men violently attack them and steal the money for a trip to Kilimandjaro, and the impact of their discoveries about the perpetrators.
Previous winners were “Auf der anderen Seite“ in 2007, “Le silence de Lorna” in 2008, “Welcome” in 2009 and “Die Fremde” in 2010. Beyond the stories they tell, these films explore and question European shared values, look at the level of support for the project of building Europe and address cross-border concerns such as immigration, justice, solidarity, public freedoms and fundamentals rights. Each film offers a glimpse into the lives of Europeans, their convictions and doubts and their quest for identity.
- EUROVISION 2012: FREE MUSIC IN A NON-FREE COUNTRY?
The Eurovision Song Contest 2012, for its 57th edition, will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan in May 2012. A golden opportunity to promote the country and maybe work on democracy.
By Guler Mehdizade & Aytan Alakbarova
The most expected event for 2012. After Azerbaijan’s victory in the 2011 contest with Ell & Nikki’s song “Running Scared”, Eurovision’s organization became like a family business. Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan himself, signed the order on implementing the “Eurovision-2012” song contest in Baku. The first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, even became the Head of selection in the Organizing Committee.
Oil money and smart strategy
In terms of organization, money is not the problem. “The song contest cost 47 million Euros when it was held in Germany. Azerbaijan has opportunity to spend more money than this”, explains economist Natig Jafarli. The budget is estimated to one billions dollars, financed by the Azerbaijan’s state.
It is the first time that Azerbaijan organizes such a big international event and the country wants to take the opportunity to offer a new and shiny image of the country.
For the moment, most of the citizens met in Baku, the capital, are very proud of hosting Eurovision.
Foreign tourists attending the final of Eurovision 2011, held in Germany, were more than 70 000. But until now, everyone is wondering if Azerbaijan will be ready on time. One article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, explains that Azerbaijan needs “stronger infrastructure,” if it wants to organize the contest “the way Germany did“.
From the official side, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Humbatov, guarantees that “Baku is able to host such events as Eurovision”. “Everything will be ok”, adds Adil Kerimli, head of the delegation from Azerbaijan in Eurovision 2011.
Since the announce of the contest, construction works have invaded the whole city. The Old Town of Baku has been completely brand new renovated. The ‘flames towers’, three high transparent buildings, supposed to host an hotel, a residential property and offices and symbolising the oil boom, are nearly finished. In 2011, 5 five-star hotels, amongst others the international Four Seasons and the Hilton, will open their doors.
Visa and politics
According to the head of EU delegation in Azerbaijan, Ambassador Roland Kobia, and Eurovision “is gold opportunity for Azerbaijan. All attention of Medias will be directed here. Hope that Azerbaijan will use this chance to modernize.”
The NGO “Transparency International” notes that Azerbaijanfigures regularly on the list of the “most corrupted countries in the world”. The Association of Azerbaijan Migration Center suggests “simplifying visa regime and even its abolishing it for EU countries”. Some exceptions have been already decided: if foreign guests are invited by authorities, they can get visa inAzerbaijan airport.
Amnesty International cites that “the Azerbaijani government cannot credibly maintain that it is making progress in its democratic development whilst systematically clamping down on social movements and political gatherings that it disapproves of.”
On 12th May 2011, the Council of Europe itself adopted a sentence, that criticized political situation and human right’s level in Azerbaijan, following the repression of a manifestation in Baku last spring. In this document, the Council disapproves dissipating oppositions meeting, and notes its regret in front of the “pression in civic society, active people in social networks and journalists.”
Riots in Baku
On 2nd April, following the wave of unrest in Middle East, about 30 people have been jailed in Azerbaijan after police cracked down on an illegal anti-government rally that took place over the weekend in the capitol city of Baku. Another 160 activists have been arrested.
Demonstrators reportedly chanted “Resign” and “No to the dictatorship!” before riot police intervened. Those activists were sentenced to jail -1.5 to 3 years in prison-, on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and causing material damage to other people’s property.
In reaction to this arrest, the campaign “Free Music in a Non-free Country” was launched by local organizations, such as the Institute for Peace and Democracy or the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety. Their objective? To ensure that the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights will be implemented the period of the contest and its foreign participants and guests will have the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and will benefit from facilitated visa regime.
- GEORGIA: THE REVOLUTION OF THE GRAPES
Wine tourism and its industry are booming in Georgia, supported by the Saakashvili government, who considers wine production as “a passport to civilized world”.
By Nana Tabatadze & Armine Narinyan
“Gaumarjos!” (-Cheers-) Gia Aliashvili is a wine producer from Kakheti, eastern region of Georgia. His vineyard and his cellar are becoming a must-destination for tourists interested in harvesting and wine production process. During autumn, Aliashvili is always happy to welcome foreigners in his “marani” -cave-.
As Maya Sidamonidze, the Head of National Tourism Department of Georgia, says, wine tourism is not an innovation for Georgia. “Lots of people used to come to Georgia for wine tours, to taste national wines and get more information about Georgian wine culture. Who knows Georgia, knows Georgian wine, too”.
A Wine Country
In Georgia -an Eastern European country with history of wine making dating back to approximately 6-5 millennium BC-, there are more than 400 varieties of grapes out of which only 38 are used for wine production. One of the outstanding and unique features of Georgian wine is the special clay vessel (“kvevri”) buried in ground which is used for its production and storage. It gives the liquid a very special taste.
“Georgia is a small country in a challenging neighborhood but there are some things about it that make it very unique place and one of them is ancient tradition of wine making that has survived” – said John Bass, Ambassador of the United States to Georgia.
These and other historical facts stimulated both Georgian government and private sector to use wine for development of tourism, as well as to try to identify Georgia as winemaker country on global market.
Russian embargo and private business
Georgian wine is exported to various countries including Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Latvia, Azerbaijan, the USA, Germany and Armenia. According to official statistics, 25% of Georgian grapes converted into wine were exported last year, a juicy business representing 39.2 million dollars.
“We have private enterprenuers who produce wine but they still need assistance in finding proper place on world market,” adds Glonti.
Training For Farmers
State authorities are taking seriously the development of wine industry. Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, even declared officially that “wine is our passport to the civilized world.” The 2011 state budget allocates about USD 300,000 -500 000 Georgian laris for “measures aimed at promotion of the Georgian wine.”
One of those projects consists of “educating” local farmers. Georgian Tourism Agency arranges “special trainings for the families [who want to host foreigners] in order to teach them how to present their wine more effectively.”
International organizations and local wine making companies are also active in what is called a “wine popularization process”. The most recent activity was an international wine fair held in Tbilisi. U.S. Government’s Economic Prosperity Initiative (EPI) and USAID funded the trip of 55 historians, archeologists, journalists and writers from abroad.
As John H. Wurdeman V, owner of wine making company Pheasant’s Tears recalls: “We hope that these guests will share their experiences with their colleagues in their home countries”.
- BYE-BYE HOTEL ABKHAZIA
The recent wave of eviction of Abkhazian refugees in Georgian capital Tbilisi is provoking the indignation of human rights associations.
By Mariam Jachvadze and Elvira Abdullayeva
Liziko Kaulashvili is a not refugee. But an “Internally Displaced Person”, a more politically correct term used in Georgia to describe the tausends of people evicted from the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the independence of the country in 1991.
Liziko comes from Ckhinvali. After the Georgian-Abkhazia conflict, she left the region and started living with her two little children in Tbilisi. Since 1991, the Hotel “Abkhazia” became her home. Despite poverty, living there was “rather comfortable” as she recalls. Her family had to share four rooms: there was electricity, heating and a public school near the hotel. And Liziko succeed in creating warm relationship with its neighbours.
Since the conflict with the separatist province began in 1992-1993, more than 250.000 people were displaced from Abkhazia and a majority of them found a shelter in the Georgian capital, according to statistics of the Public Defender’s office.
The first wave of resettlement of Abkhazian “refugees” started in July 2010 in Georgia. After a large public outcry the process was temporarily halted while the international community together with the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons drew up set of procedures to ensure that future evictions would be conducted fairly.
Refugees from Abkhazia were living in the city over the last decades and occupying illegally public as well as private buildings.
As a number of “occupied” buildings was state property, the Georgian government was led by international standards to provide them an “alternative housing”.
According to the NGO Amnesty International, “when a safe return is not immediately possible, the government must implement measures to integrate displaced families into local communities and by providing them with adequate housing and access to livelihoods to enhance their self-sufficiency and their ability to voluntary return”.
And in case of occupation of private building, the IDP had to choose between two options: alternative housing or cashing 10 000 dollars. “Sooner or later the process of resettlement should start. Ministry’s decision was absolutely understandable, but we can doubt about the forms and standards it was done”, – underlines Nino Qusikashvili, program coordinator at Public Defender’s Office.
In August 2011, Liziko and about 700 other people were evicted from the hotel “Abkhazia”. Information about the second “resettlement process”, Liziko got only two days before. “Early in the morning, my little grandson, my son, my 70 year-old husband and me were thrown in the street with absolutely no idea where to go”, Liziko said.
Exchange city against village
Most of the Internally Displaced People refused “alternative housing” proposed by Georgian government, most of them being relocated out of the capital Tbilisi in rural regions, where unemployment rate is extremely high.
Liziko insisted on her right to stay in the city. She justifies her choice: “In Rustavi, everything will be foreign for me. Without friends, relatives and people, I can’t rely on anybody to get some help. And there is less chance for my son to get a job, changing school would also be stressful for my little grandson.”
“An adequate accommodation is not only a space, ceiling or floor. It also means access to a medical service or employment opportunities. And this criteria wasn’t foreseen by Ministry”, regrets Nino Qusikashvili. “This is the reason why most of the evicted people preferred staying in the city homeless than moving to the regions”- says Nino.
“Rural areas were not acceptable for them because of the inadequate living standard,” finally concluded the Public Defender’s Office in its annual report.
In September, a demonstration took place in Tbilisi in front of the Council of Europe to protest against the unfairness of the situation. Caterina Bolognese, head of the Council of Europe in the region who carefully watched the process: “some progress has been made compare to the situation in 2010 but improvements remain to be made”.
After one month living in a garage, Liziko found a hostel, a temporary shelter before the winter, hoping to find a “more permanent housing”.
Read the article on cafebabel.com.
- GEORGIAN FASHION WEEK 2011: OPEN TO EUROPE
Between 13-16 October 2011, Tbilisi will be all blitz and glamour instead of rockets: designers, buyers, models and fashion hype gather in the Georgian capital for the second edition of fashion week.
By Guler Mehdizade and Ovsanna Bagumyan
‘The idea of a fashion week is certainly not new when you see the number of similar events organised all over the world,’ says Natali Samadalashvili, president of the Georgian fashion group and one of the initiators of the Georgian fashion week project (GFWP).
But frivolity might have been harder to implement in Georgia. ‘Organising fashion events, especially during an economic crisis, is difficult.’ Nevertheless those who think that fashion can develop only if the country is rich are wrong. ‘Sometimes we ourselves are surprised at how we can do it. But here we are used to making something from nothing.’ Is this Caucasian style or can it join the do-it-yourself cult; after all, in Georgia, the average monthly income is around 150 euros(or £131).
The second Georgian fashion week takes place at the national theatre on Rustaveli Avenue, the Georgian version of Paris’ Champs-Elysées, from 13 – 16 October. ‘Georgia is ready for fashion weeks,’ adds one fashion blogger, Taa Morchiladze, adding that the first edition in autumn 2010 was a real success in Tbilisi. ‘Lots of people got acquainted with Georgian designers collection. GFW nearly became a part of the local life.’
Fourteen national designers as well as foreign guests and buyers are expected to take part in this event. Designers such as David Koma will apparently be paying a visit to his home country. The 24-year-old studied at London’s central saint martins college of art and design and is now one of the favourites on European catwalks.
Some of Koma’s compatriots have it harder. Menswear designerKeti Chkhikvadze started her career in Kazakhstan a decade ago. After fundraising to start her business there she returned to Georgia, where she opened her show room The Fashion House. Keti Chkhikvadze notes that the main difficulty for young designers of the region is to find sponsors. Her name was better known after the first edition of Georgian fashion week, she realised. ‘Customers were more interested in the suits, but it didn’t solve all of my financial problems,’ she adds. ‘Without invitations to fashion events abroad, it would be problematic for me to continue working.’
Georgian designers still have a long way to go to before ruling their region. At the beginning and as a priority, they need to win the confidence of local and international buyers. The fashion week also creates a sustainable fashion platform for the region.
But Keti is full of confidence that fashion has much to say in Georgia. ‘If we work, everything will surely pay off,’ she says. No doubt this would also please the objectives of Mikheil Saakaschvili’s government. Fashion is also a political weapon.
‘It’s impossible to do anything here without governmental support, especially abroad,’ explains Natali Samadalashvili. That might have been the reason why Maka Metreveli, the wife of the head of the Georgian parliament, is now a member of the official fashion week committee.
After the 2003 Rose Revolution, the democratic hopes opened by the Saakachvili era collapsed. Political and social structures of the country weakened and a massive amount of population is suffering from poverty and exclusion. ‘Fashion week is about letting the whole world know how talented and creative the Georgians are in their essence,’ says Natali. Certainly Georgia is small market, but they are hopeful it will grow. ‘That is why the South Caucasus exists,’ finishes Natali.
Read the article on cafebabel.com here.
- MARGARA, THE LAST BORDER
Margara is the last village before the border between Armenia and Turkey, the last closed border of Europe. While talks about an eventual reopening is in the air, Russians are still patrolling around the area, where poverty exploded since the collapse of Soviet Union.
By Hrant Mikaelian & Ovsanna Baghumyan
Margara village is located in Armavir province of Armenia, close to Armenian-Turkish border.
During Soviet times, Margara’s village had a connection to Turkey thanks to a bridge: local people could do trade and pass to the other side. Since 1993, date where the Turks completely closed the border because of Karabah’s conflict, there is no possible access to the bridge.
Soviets subsidied a lot local farmers, but since its independance, Armenia has no oil and is not strong enough economically to help its agriculture. Being in a transport deadlock, Margara is in the worst condition that the Armavir.
Most of the village inhabitants remember communist era as a very « prosperous time ». « Guests come to Yerevan and may consider that Armenia lives fine, but that’s not it: look at our village… » – told us 55 years old Arthur.
Villagers have different points of view on recent proposal opening of Armenian-Turkish border. Tatevik told us: « opening the border will be good for village because the trade will enhance » while her uncle and aunt are sure that it’s a threat because many Turks and Kurds will come to Armenia and destroy country.
According to the Armenian Sociological Association, 52% of Armenians opposed the deals signed between Armenia and Turkey to establish diplomatic ties and open the border. But 48% of respondents also said they wanted the border to open, compared with only 41% who wanted it to remain closed.
Local people still are afraid of Turkey, because of the genocide committed by an Ottoman sultan and Young Turks in 1915-1923, when 1.5 million Armenians were killed and the rest deported from the modern day Turkish territory.
Between the village and the river Arax, separating Armenia to Turkey, there is a security zone of one kilometer width, which is under surveillance of Russian troops. Headquarter of Russian peacekeepers seems to be the only well-groomed building in the village.
Villagers can only enter the zone only by getting a permission and it interferes with their work. « There is no money, no projects, no future », says…. « If today the border opens, will Turks and Armenians become friends? I will always thank Russia to keep our borders. »
- NABUCCO ? NO THANKS.
From Caspian Sea to Europe and without Russia please. Nabucco pipeline project was supposed to become Russian gas alternative for Europeans. Started in 2002, the construction was due to begin in 2011. It is now postponed to 2014.
By Hrant Mikaelian
Within the project framework, a 4000-kilometer gas main should be built, starting in Turkmenistan and passing through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to Central European countries, first of all, Germany and Austria, the biggest consumers of Russian gas.
Nabucco is supported by the United States and Europe, however, not by Russia, whereas concurrent project South Stream (trans-Black Sea gas pipeline that carries natural gas from Russia and Central Asia to Europe) is also supported by Italy.
Moscow strongly opposes the construction of Naucco, because it will decrease Russian’s gas exportations and also questions Gazprom’s monopoly, probably meaning that European consumers will pay less.
Armenia is against
On a unofficial level, Armenia is also opposed to the Nabucco construction – for its own reasons: Azerbaijan is proposed to be a starting point for the gas sources, so the pipeline route is planned to pass through Georgia and Turkey.
Although Georgian route is more expensive, longer and less safe than the one passing through Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey will choose any transit country except Armenia. Baku and Ankara are having political tensions with Armenia, concerning the recognition of Armenian genocide and Karabah frozen conflict.
But ejecting Armenia from the pipeline route might deepen the country’s isolation. European union strongly supports the opening of Armenian-Turkish border, which could help Armenia to get out of isolation, but Turkey’s Prime minister Erdogan recently declared he “won’t trait his Azerbaijani brothers”.
The end of Nabucco?
According to Richard Giragosian, expert and head of the think-tank “Regional Studies Center”, if the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan -the second longest oil pipeline in the former Soviet Union from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea- was the “project of the century” in the nineties, where the political and geopolitical reasons outweighted commercial limitations, Nabucco came is in a completely different context. “This project is the test of political will and we don’t see the same level of support.” If the border with Turkey doesn’t open, Armenia will be “excluded from the regional energy development programs and plans”. Only the opening of Armenian-Turkish border would allow Armenia to be able to overcome isolation. “So Armenia could join Nabucco, if Armenian-Turkish border would open – this act would be a part of the part of Armenian-Turkish normalisation process, so it’s still quite possible. But everything also depends on Russia.”
Nabucco, he adds, “which was very popular idea in Europe because it might allow to skip Russian gas monopoly, see its chances to be built decreasing”.
-pipeline length should consist 4,042 km and discharge about 31 bln. cub. m. (6% of Europe’s overall gas consumption).
-The source should be Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, or Iraq – for political reasons these candidates are more preferable, but Iran also could be a very important partner
-Nabucco’s total budget was estimated to consist €7.9 bln but by the latest calculations it is not less than €14bn.
-70 percent of construction expenses will be covered by financial institutions, and members of the consortium will cover the remaining 30 percent.
-The European Union has already loaned 200 million Euros to the project
- WHAT DO GEORGIANS THINK OF EUROPE?
Are Georgians familiar to the European Union, would they like to live there and where and how Europe could protect the country from Russia? Vox pop through the streets of Tbilisi.
By Hrant Mikaelian & Ovsanna Baghumyan