Mischief in Georgia


By Edmond Y. Azadian

A recent incident in neighboring Georgia, involving the abduction of an Azeri journalist, came to divulge the entire web of relationships between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. The latter two are in a virtual war with Armenia, keeping it in the grips of a blockade. Georgia is nominally neutral or even friendly with Armenia. However, as recent events prove, Georgia is in deep collusion with its Muslim neighbors which are actively threatening Armenia.

The above-mentioned incident took place on May 29 in Tbilisi. An Azerbaijani journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, who had been living with his family in exile in Georgia, was abducted and later surfaced in Azerbaijani custody, accused of the absurd charges that he had crossed the border illegally and that he had a large amount of cash on his person.

It turns out that Mukhtarli was one of the few journalists let out of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s jails and living in Georgia. His true crime was that he was investigating the business relations of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family in Georgia. If there was nothing illicit, why would the Azerbaijani government go to such lengths to silence a journalist?

Piecing together this abduction story, one comes to the conclusion that the security services in Georgia forced the journalist into a car and after two or more transfers, Mukhtarli heard the abductors speak Azeri while the first abductors spoke Georgian and Russian. The journalist’s passport was left at home with his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, also a journalist.

Had there not been collusion between the security services of the two countries, it would have been impossible to cross an international border without a passport.

Georgia was in the process of gaining a reputation as a country of law and order, vying to join NATO and adopting European Union rules. Indeed, despite all his adventures and recklessness, former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was able to eradicate bribes and made headway in combatting corruption.

Incidentally, a side note is worth making here: the EU and the US have helped Georgia to develop its economy and offer a decent standard of living to its citizens, rendering the country a showcase in the Caucasus with a clear message that aligning with the West pays off. On the other hand, Russian rulers have yet to understand the value of treating their strategic allies with dignity.

However, the recent blatant abduction has tarnished Georgia’s reputation.

In a release by the Georgia Institute of Politics, Mariam Grigalashvili and Joseph Larsen state: “The incident in any case will have a negative impact on international perceptions of the level of democracy and human rights protection in Georgia. At best, the authorities failed to stop Mukhtarli and his captors at the border, let alone keep him safe. At worst, members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs actively participated in his abduction. The Azerbaijani authorities must understand that Georgia’s obligations undertaken under its Association Agreement with the European Union are real and cannot be flouted.”

Human rights activists have decried Mukhtarli’s abduction as an example of Azerbaijan’s crackdown on independent journalists.

The Georgian government leaders were either caught by surprise or are forced to take face-saving measures. Indeed, the Interior Ministry has announced that it is investigating the possible “unlawful imprisonment,” while the president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, said that the journalist’s “disappearance from Georgian territory was a serious challenge to the Georgian state and its sovereignty.”

If indeed those government officials were unaware what had transpired on May 29 in the heart of their capital, then they have given over the country’s sovereignty to Azerbaijan.

Georgia has conspired with Azerbaijan and Turkey to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline connecting the three countries and bypassing Armenia, and now it is engaged with those countries in a military association. The special forces of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey held joint military exercises on June 5, during a program called “Caucasus Eagle 2017.” The exercises, hosted by Georgia, will last until June 14.

The Tbilisi government is cognizant that those two countries are Armenia’s enemies. Getting into a military association with them and pretending to harbor friendly relations with Armenia at the same time are contradictory actions.

However, Armenia’s government, despite Georgia’s apparent enmity, has to treat that country with kid gloves so as not to jeopardize one of its precarious outlets to the world markets.

Georgia faces another tough problem, this time around with Turkey. That is the case of a Turkish teacher in Georgia, Emre Chabuk. He is accused of being a supporter of Fetullah Gulen and Turkey has been requesting his extradition. The teacher is under detention at the present time. He was arrested right after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited Tbilisi. Rights activists insist that like Mukhtarli, he will be tortured in Turkey. If Georgia delivers him, it will be in violation of international human right obligations, which will cause another political scandal.

This triad, beside causing damage to Armenia, will place Georgia on the horns of a dilemma; either the country will become a vassal to two neighboring brutal regimes or live within the terms of its agreement with Europe.

Georgia is the willing victim of Azerbaijan and Turkey. The price it pays to survive within that evil circle is defined by the choices Georgian leaders have made.

Turkey, in its turn, is instructing statehood to the novices in Baku. But along that instruction come tricks to undermine the sovereignty of other states. One of those tricks is the abduction of their opponents. Erdogan’s regime has manufactured a perfect scapegoat for its ills, reminiscent of the Stalin era, when the Soviet ruler had to create “enemies of the people” to consolidate his power. Gulen has become that “enemy” par excellence, to carry the burden of all the abuses committed in Turkey by Erdogan and his henchmen.

To grasp the “creative” impulse of Turkish officials, it suffices to read a report in McClatchy News by Greg Gordon and Peter Stone: “[former director of the CIA James] Woolsey said he arrived late to the meeting and found [former National Security Advisor Michael] Flynn and some Turkish government officials brainstorming a plan to kidnap and fly to Turkey one of the country’s leading dissidents, Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, whom Ankara has accused of assisting in a failed coup attempt last summer. Gulen is living in a heavily secured compound in Saylorsburg.”

It seems that along with the official request to Washington to extradite Gulen to Turkey, the Erdogan government was also hatching an illegal plan for an abduction on American soil. In case the plan was successful, it is irrelevant how much money Flynn would have made as the damage caused to US prestige in the world would have been catastrophic.

The Azeri and Turkish frames of mind operate in the same manner and the usual victim of that collaboration is Armenia. This time around, however, that damage has ripped through Georgia.

At this time, the Georgian government has some damage control to do while leaders in Armenia have to assess how to survive in a region plagued by conspiracies and outright hostilities.