The national dish of the Caucasus is an indigestible stew of post-communist autocracy, Islamic fundamentalism, clan-based separatism, police-state repression and terrorist insurgency. It was on the menu in Azerbaijan just after New Year’s.

A military court in Baku on January 3 sentenced twelve persons to terms of two to five years for conspiring to form an armed group and training to join the rebels across the Russian border in Chechnya. The sentences were light because the National Security Ministry (NSM), which made the arrests, said the defendants were merely braggarts who had trained without weapons. But the court noted that the ringleader spent time in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, where Russia, which has sent planes to strafe and bomb the region, claims Chechen fighters maintain a base and safe haven.

In a related trial in a different Baku court, five Azerbaijanis are charged with actually having fought in Chechnya against the Russians. The NSM arrested the defendants as they entered Azerbaijan from Russia’s Dagestan last year.

Five other Azerbaijanis and a Ukrainian were arrested by the NSM on January 2, charged with belonging to a Baku cell of the Hezb-ut Tahrir [Islamic Party of Liberation–see Russia’s Week, September 12, 2001] and with planning an attack on the United States embassy and other international missions in Baku. Azerbaijani authorities on January 3 turned over to Egypt four escaped fugitives convicted of terrorist acts by an Egyptian military court.

And though President Haidar Aliev granted a traditional new year’s amnesty to eighty-six prisoners, including thirty-nine participants in a failed 1995 coup, he left in jail the leader of the would-be “Talysh-Mugan Republic” in southeastern Azerbaijan and two other figures who are linked to the violent right-wing Grey Wolves of Turkey.