In recent weeks both the Georgian and the Azerbaijani media have actively speculated whether the government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would support a popular revolution in neighboring Azerbaijan. Some analysts tend to link the recently cooled relations between Tbilisi and Baku with this issue.
On August 26 Azerbaijan’s State Border Service detained a Georgian citizen, Merab Jibuti, for illegally crossing the border of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani law-enforcement officials claim that Jibuti was connected with the Azerbaijani opposition youth movement Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), and he reportedly admitted to attending a secret meeting with Yeni Fikir leader Ruslan Bashirli and his associates in Tbilisi on July 28-29. Moreover, Bashirli, who was arrested on August 3 on charges of plotting a coup in Azerbaijan, met with an Armenian special services agent in Tbilisi and received cash from him to organize public unrest in Baku. Against the backdrop of hitherto good Georgian-Azerbaijani relations, this widely advertised news could not pass unnoticed.
Before this incident Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev had told border service officials on August 17 that he would not spare any money in improving control over the border with Georgia in order to “preserve stability in Azerbaijan.” Aliev’s statement was clear evidence of Baku’s concerns.
On August 29, the Georgian Intelligence Agency confirmed reports by Georgian and Azerbaijani media outlet that Batu Kutelia, chief of Georgian intelligence, had visited Azerbaijan and met with Aliev to discuss bilateral issues, including cooperation between the Georgian and Azerbaijani special services to ensure the security of the region. Meanwhile, the Georgian Interior Ministry denied that Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili had visited Baku on August 15, while the Azerbaijani media reported that Merabishvili had met with Aliev. Georgian media speculated that both of these visits were linked to the investigation of an alleged revolutionary plot in Azerbaijan and aimed at warming the chilly relations between Aliev and Saakashvili.
Symptomatically, on September 6 Saakashvili openly stated that Georgia’s top priority is the victory of democracy worldwide. Therefore Georgia would always support democracy in any region but would do so within the parameters of the law. Saakashvili made this announcement when he welcomed home two activists from the Georgian youth movement Kmara (Enough) after they had been detained in Belarus for one week for training the Belarusian opposition youth organization Zubr in methods of civil disobedience. Kmara was modeled after the Yugoslav youth group Otpor. It was a key player in the Georgian Rose Revolution and a contributor to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.
The Azerbaijani media, both pro-governmental and opposition, have actively speculated about the possibilities of a Western supported “color revolution” in Azerbaijan and the inevitable replacement of Aliev by an “Azerbaijani Saakashvili.” Russian analysts have anxiously noted that the Azerbaijani opposition widely uses the methods tested during the Rose and Orange Revolutions, hinting at the possible involvement of Georgian envoys in training the anti-Aliev opposition (RBK, August 17; Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 29). Some supporters of Aliev have also accused Tbilisi of clandestinely supporting the anti-Aliev opposition groups.
Aliev and his entourage likely suspect that Saakashvili might be willing to sacrifice his friendship with Aliev to cause of global democracy. Symptomatically, Aliev has so far refused to join the declaration about a “Commonwealth of Democratic Choice,” that Saakashvili and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko signed at the Georgian health-resort Borjomi on August 12 (see EDM, August 15).
Most Georgian officials and analysts have vehemently excluded any possibility of Georgia’s involvement in the would-be revolution in Azerbaijan.
Any support of an anti-Aliev revolution in Azerbaijan looks almost suicidal for Georgia both politically and economically, taking into account neighborly relations and Georgia’s dependence on Azerbaijan’s goodwill regarding the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and other joint international energy projects. However, Saakashvili’s opposition argues that the concerns of Azerbaijani officials over Saakashvili’s “revolutionary” plans are not groundless, because Saakashvili wants to curry favor with the West.
Givi Targamadze, chair of the Georgian parliamentary committee for defense and security, who was an informal consultant for the Kyrgyz “Tulip Revolution” (see EDM, March 25) said that the Georgian government “must help and helps indeed” the nationwide public movements that fight the authoritarian rules “but it is not any kind of force that plans revolution.” “So far, I don’t see this kind of movement in Azerbaijan,” he added. Targamadze, a former member of the influential NGO Liberty Institute, however said that some attempts “on the level of individual initiative” might take place.
Meanwhile, Levan Ramishvili, director of the Liberty Institute, said that although Georgian state bodies must not be involved in the internal processes of Azerbaijan, “The NGOs’ hands are unbound in this respect.” “We have contacts with certain Azerbaijani NGOs. We share with them our experience on how to make the changes in a bloodless way,” he added.
The meeting between Aliev and Saakashvili on the sidelines of the August 26-27 Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Kazan was quite cool, sources say. This suggests that, contrary to the claims by some Georgian officials, the Azerbaijani leadership remains concerned about the Georgian leadership’s plans regarding the situation in Azerbaijan.
(Resonance, August 18, 21; www.ans.az, August 26; Civil Georgia, Turan, Regnum, RBC daily, August 30;Caucasus Press, September 6)