2012: The top stories across the Caucasus
2012 is coming to an end. With the passage of another year, many of our global perceptions have been destabilized. In the case of Syria, many of us misjudged one of the biggest political phenomena of the year, underestimating the remaining power of the Assad regime. The other widely held misapprehension was that Israel would launch an attack on Iran before the US elections.
Bets are off on what history will consider the biggest story of 2012; it might be the unrest in Syria; it might be the escalating nuclear situation in Iran. Needless to say, there are many other competitors.

Looking to a more regional focus from the perspective of the Caucasus, I have picked out the top 10 stories from the region:

1. TANAP: Towards a new age of partnership -- One of the biggest stories for the Caucasus and Caspian region in regard to energy diversification is the intergovernmental agreement signed by Turkey and Azerbaijan on the trans-Anatolian natural gas pipeline project (TANAP) on June 26, 2012. TANAP, set to be completed in six years, will pipe 16 billion cubic meters of gas a year from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II field to Europe via Turkey and will significantly contribute to the diversity of energy resources of Turkey.

2. The failure of the Gabala radar lease deal -- This year's surprise was the lengthy negotiations between Azerbaijan and Russia over Moscow's desire to keep its lease on the Gabala radar station, Russia's only military installation in Azerbaijan. Given that Russia has been able to extend its lease agreements on military installations in Central Asia, the suspension of the Azerbaijani lease on Dec. 10 was highly significant.

3. The parliamentary elections in Georgia: Shock victory by the Georgian Dream coalition -- Last year, Bidzina Ivanashvili's appearance on the Georgian political scene came as a surprise for many, and another surprise followed with his victory in the Oct. 1, 2012 parliamentary elections, where Georgian Dream won the majority in parliament, marking the first non-bloody, "non-revolutionary," democratic power transition in the post-Soviet space (with the exception of the Baltic countries).

4. The once and future tsar: Putin's return -- Russian President Vladimir Putin was officially back in office as of May 2012. In fact, many would contest the term "the return of Putin" because in the eyes of the public he never left. However, with his return, Putin faced an angry protest movement, which began in September 2011 with the announcement of his candidacy and quickly became the biggest anti-government rally since the fall of the Soviet Union. With his return, he launched the "Eurasian Union" project, feared by many post-Soviet states as an attempt to rebuild the USSR.

5. Visa facilitation agreements with the EU -- After Georgia, which signed a visa facilitation agreement with the EU in June 2010, Armenia signed a similar agreement on Dec. 17, 2012, making it easier and cheaper for citizens of Armenia to acquire short-stay visas for the EU and signaling further integration with the EU.

6. A billion-dollar deal with a million problems -- The Azerbaijan-Israel arms deal was one of the biggest controversies of the year. In February there were media reports that Azerbaijan had agreed to buy a $1.6 billion weapons package from Israel, which is likely Azerbaijan's single largest arms purchase. The problem was that the timing of the deal was misleading: The story broke just as tensions between Israel and Iran were increasing, and this information led Iran to blame Azerbaijan. Official Baku several times reiterated its neutrality in the possible military intervention by the US or Israel in Iran.

7. Escalation of tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan -- This year, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents met just once in Sochi in January. Small military skirmishes erupted several times along the line of contact. In addition, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict brought about a dramatic situation, and for the first time deeply affected relations with a third country when an Azerbaijani officer imprisoned for the murder of an Armenian officer in 2004 during a NATO military course in Budapest was released, Yerevan broke diplomatic relations with Hungary

8. Armenian parliamentary elections -- The May 6, 2012 parliamentary elections were important -- following the bitterly disputed 2008 presidential vote that left 10 people dead and hundreds injured -- and considered a crucial test for the country's fragile democratic process. The result of election did not change anything. Armenian political analyst Alexander Iskandaryan commented, "The overall result is that the big parties got bigger and the small parties got smaller." The primary effect of the parliamentary elections was to secure the position of the incumbent, President Serzh Sargsyan, for next year's presidential election.

9. Increased enmity from Iran towards Azerbaijan -- The number of security alerts issued by the US and Israeli embassies increased in the first half of 2012 when Azerbaijan national security services stopped a terrorist attack on Israeli and US diplomats. During the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, the main target was the leadership of Azerbaijan. The primary reason for the increasing number of Iranian financed terrorist groups is likely the increasing discussions about military interventions in Iran by Israel and US, and at the same time, Iran's desire to destabilize the country.

10. Military exercises reveal political anxieties -- This year has seen an increasing number of military exercises in the region. Russia's "Kavkaz-2012" (Caucasus-2012) military exercise in September in the North Caucasus and adjacent sectors of the Black and the Caspian seas, involving 8,000 military personnel. The Russian-backed Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) also held a military exercise in Armenia earlier in September designed to test the organization's 20,000-strong Collective Rapid Reaction Forces. These military exercises demonstrated a careful balance of military ambition, territorial anxiety and political showmanship.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish a joyful and happy New Year to my readership and the Today's Zaman's team.

ZAUR SHIRIYEV (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-12-26 12:00:02
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