Last week in Central Asia and the Caucasus, fighting continued between Afghan forces and the Taliban, with violence reaching one of the safest cities of Afghanistan, Bamyan. Azerbaijan continued to take over territories in the de facto Republic of Artsakh as part of the 9 November ceasefire agreement. Meanwhile, the relatives and parents of missing soldiers organized protests in Armenia, demanding to know their whereabouts. In Georgia, the opposition boycotted the second round of parliamentary elections; meanwhile, environmental activists staged protests against the construction of a new hydropower plant. In Kyrgyzstan, a massive demonstration took place against constitutional changes proposed by the country’s acting president.
In Afghanistan, violence continued at similar levels to the week prior. The Taliban conducted the majority of attacks targeting Afghan forces, as clashes intensified in Helmand, Ghazni, Urozgan and Kandahar provinces. Afghan forces also targeted the Taliban with airstrikes, although the airstrikes last week were less lethal than those in recent weeks. An offensive by the Afghan Air Force allegedly killed a Taliban commander and his family in Ab Kamari district of Badghis province. The Afghan Ministry of Defense initially said they killed militants alongside the commander, but local sources said 13 of those killed were civilians. Meanwhile, at least 17 civilians were killed and 50 more wounded by two explosions in a market in Bamyan city. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Afghan Ministry of Interior has said they arrested three suspects and have blamed the Taliban. The Bamyan attack points to the extent and severity of the ongoing conflict, as Bamyan province has been a relatively safe refuge, with only around 40 events recorded there by ACLED since 2017. Last week’s attack was the third attack recorded by ACLED in Bamyan city with civilian fatalities in the past three years.
Meanwhile, little progress was made during the intra-Afghan talks last week in Doha, Qatar, as the Taliban and Afghan government agreed on some procedural terms for the upcoming peace negotiations (Reuters, 29 November 2020). However, the Taliban has refused the use of the official name of the country, “the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”, once again contesting the legitimacy of the Afghan government. The group refers to the country as “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, a name used during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did not welcome this development, although no action has been taken by the Afghan government yet (New York Times, 29 November 2020). Such fundamental disagreements are likely to result in continuing violence in 2021.
Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia continue to implement the trilateral ceasefire agreement of 9 November, which ended the most recent fighting over the de facto Republic of Artsakh. Accordingly, on 25 November, Azerbaijan took control of the Kalbajar region, corresponding to the majority of the Shahumyan region in the southwestern part of the de facto Artsakh Republic. Additionally, a part of the Sotk gold mine, located in the Kalbajar region, also came under the control of Azerbaijan last week. Although the mine continues to operate, the agreement does not specify anything about the future distribution of its economic outputs. The mining company is not only one of the biggest taxpayers in Armenia (ArmTimes, 28 November 2020), it also provides employment for 40% of the Gegharkunik region (Sputnik Armenia, 27 November 2020). A possible halt of the mine activities would significantly impact the Armenian economy. Meanwhile, after the establishment of a ceasefire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers, civilians have started to return to Stepanakert city and other settlements in the de facto Artsakh Republic. According to local authorities, more than 50,000 civilians have returned to the region as of 25 November (1in, 25 November 2020).
Three weeks after the ceasefire, many soldiers remain missing. Parents and relatives of missing soldiers organized several protests in Yerevan and Stepanakert last week, demanding that authorities find soldiers who remain missing in recent fighting. Meanwhile, the number of demonstration events demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation declined; only three protests were reported in Ijevan and Yerevan cities last week.
In Georgia, the second round of parliamentary elections, which opposition parties boycotted, took place last week, resulting in the ruling Georgian Dream party winning all runoff races. The second round of elections was organized in electoral districts where none of the candidates received a majority of the votes. After the second victory of Georgian Dream, the opposition bloc, led by the United National Movement, refused to take their seats in parliament, insisting on an investigation into alleged fraud during the first round of elections. If the deadlock continues, 59 seats gained by the opposition may remain empty until the next elections. This would result in a single-party government (Eurasianet, 27 November 2020). This would significantly harm democratic traditions in the country; thus, the next steps of the Georgian Dream will be critical in the coming days.
Meanwhile, the construction of a new hydropower plant over the Rioni river in western Georgia sparked protests throughout November. Last week, protests continued near the construction site. Protesters claimed that construction would flood houses, arable lands, and forests. They also claimed that the region around the Rioni river is seismically active, which could result in construction causing landslides (RFE/RL, 22 November 2020).
In Kyrgyzstan, the first draft of new constitutional reforms initiated by the country’s acting president, Sadyr Japarov, was published on 17 November — sparking opposition protests. According to the proposal, the government would be supervised directly by the president. Other major changes include reducing the number of members of parliament, and the founding of a new executive body (RFE/RL, 18 November 2020). On 22 November, hundreds of people organized a rally against the proposed constitutional reforms, claiming that with these changes, Japarov wants to acquire absolute power (Eurasianet, 22 November 2020).
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