Last week in Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Taliban and Afghan forces continued to engage in fierce clashes, while an Islamic State (IS) attack in Kabul resulted in dozens of fatalities. Following a week of intense fighting along the Armenia-Artsakh-Azerbaijan Lines of Contact, Armenia and Azerbaijan eventually agreed to both end the war and allow the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh. In Georgia, the opposition held a series of demonstrations, objecting the results of the latest parliamentary elections. In Kyrgyzstan, protests took place supporting jailed politicians, while a large separate demonstration condemned anti-Islam sentiments.
In Afghanistan, Afghan military forces continued their offensives and airstrikes targeting the Taliban, regaining control over Nirkh district of Wardak province and Arghandab district of Kandahar. Over 70 militants were killed in an airstrike in Arghandab, which was seized by the Taliban in November 2019. Meanwhile, the Taliban continues targeting Afghan forces across Helmand province and in the provincial capital of Lashkargah. The group also conducted a series of attacks in Kunduz province, including a suicide bombing in Imam Sahib district, which resulted in dozens of military and civilian casualties. There were also reports of the Taliban using drones in the Zurmat district of Paktia and Kunduz city, aiming at the governor’s compound. While the Taliban did not confirm the use of drones, Taliban drones have occasionally been observed surveilling Afghan cities, though are rarely employed for such attacks (New York Times, 1 November 2020). The latest Taliban-US deal has limited the use of such equipment, and the group emphasized its commitment to the deal last week in order to assure the new US administration (TOLO News, 10 November 2020).
In a separate development, a suicide bombing took place at Kabul University, followed by six hours of clashes during which students and teachers were kept hostage inside the campus. IS claimed responsibility for the attack that resulted in at least 32 civilian fatalities. Government workers, religious scholars, journalists, and off-duty Afghan security forces were also targeted by unknown attackers across the country last week. Since the intra-Afghan peace talks began in Doha, Qatar on 12 September, civilian targeting events have occurred more frequently relative to earlier this year. Violence targeting civilians accounts for over 15% of all violence in Afghanistan.
During the sixth week of fighting along with the Artsakh–Azerbaijan–Armenia Line of Contact (LoC), Azerbaijani forces gained control of a number of settlements in the de facto Artsakh Republic in Martuni, Hadrut, Askeran, and Kashatagh regions along the Azerbaijan-Artsakh LoC, while also advancing towards Shusha, Lachin, and Martuni cities. ACLED records over 160 political violence events from 1 to 7 November, including battles, airstrikes, downed drones, shelling, and artillery attacks targeting civilians and security forces of all parties. Artsakh authorities have reported shelling and missile attacks on civilian facilities in Shusha, Lachin, Martakert, Martuni, and Stepanakert, where three civilians were killed. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan reported shelling of its military positions by Armenian forces in Tovuz and Gazakh regions located on the north of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Meanwhile, Armenian authorities reported that Azerbaijani shelling in Davit Bek district of southern Syunik region killed a civilian.
As fighting peaked earlier this week, Azerbaijani forces took control of Shusha city in de facto Artsakh Republic by 9 November. Shusha has been of historical and cultural value to Azerbaijan and overlooks the de facto Artsakh capital, Stepanakert, which enables the Azerbaijani army to target the city easily. Leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia met on the same day and agreed to end the fighting beginning on 10 November. The agreement includes the deployment of Russian peacekeepers along the “Lachin Corridor” connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia (BBC, 10 November 2020). As Azerbaijan will keep the territories it has taken during the conflict, Armenia has agreed to withdraw its forces from the surrounding areas (Deutsche Welle, 10 November 2020). The leader of the de facto Artsakh Republic, Arayik Harutyunyan, who was not included in the talks, also announced his agreement with ending the war as soon as possible. While the agreement is celebrated across Azerbaijan as a victory, thousands of opposition demonstrators broke into Armenian government headquarters in Yerevan amid the announcement of the truce, demanding the resignation of the government (RFE/RL, 10 November 2020).
Since the deal was reached, no clashes or armed engagements have been reported along the frontlines. However, demonstrations in Armenia are likely to continue, and the aftermath of the conflict is yet to be seen as the exact number of fatalities and war prisoners remains unknown.
In Georgia, after the parliamentary elections on 31 October, opposition parties in parliament decided to boycott the results, claiming that the ruling Georgian Party that received the majority of votes rigged the results. During the past week, more than 20 demonstrations took place in front of the administrative buildings and electoral commissions in Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Bolnisi, Tsqaltubo, and Gurjaani cities. In Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi, the demonstrations were led by opposition parties: United National Movement, European Georgia, Lelo, United Georgia-Democratic Movement, Strategy Aghmashenebeli, and Citizens. Most of these demonstrations turned into clashes with police.
Opposition protests took place during the same period in Georgia last year, with demands of a change to the electoral system to allow more parties to be represented in parliament. The changes were ratified in March 2020. However, after the latest elections, Georgian Dream would still be able to form a government unilaterally. This came as a surprise since electoral reforms were expected to yield a coalition government, while opposition and international observers have raised severe concerns about the transparency of the election (Eurasianet, 9 November 2020). Meanwhile, the country continues to tackle the coronavirus crisis. As such, the protests followed a series of measures, including curfews, to contain the spread of the virus (Agenga.ge, 11 November 2020).
In Kyrgyzstan, about 500 protesters gathered in Bishkek last week, condemning French President Emmanuel Macron’s statements regarding freedom of expression and Islam, following the Islamist attacks in France last month (RFE/RL, 1 November 2020). A similar protest had taken place in Jalal-Abad city the week prior. Separately, several protests took place in Bishkek in support of jailed politicians, including Almazbek Atambayev and former deputy Minister of Interior Kursan Asanov. They were arrested after violent anti-government demonstrations in early October, before Acting President Sadyr Japarov took office on 15 October.
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