The Caucasus and That Thing Called Freedom
An annual global freedom checkup by the Washington, DC-based democracy watchdog Freedom House suggests that, whatever impact the Arab Spring has made worldwide over the past year, it has not hit front and center in the South Caucasus' neck of the woods.Azerbaijan, the region's richest and largest country, was again rated as a “not free” country, and trending downhill. Both Armenia and Georgia have been classified as “partly free."
The report also suggests the existence of some stagnation; measurements for two key categories, Political Freedom and Civil Liberties, remained unchanged from last year for all three countries.
Azerbaijan continues to take the flak for roughshod treatment of the media and political critics. But sitting on an embarrassment of hydrocarbon wealth, the country is in no hurry to change its ways. Behind the maquillage of spruced-up buildings and streets in Baku, rights groups see a ruling political dynasty plagued by rampant nepotism and corruption.
The Armenian government, meanwhile, is too busy with domestic political battles and constant exchange with Azerbaijan to let its press go fully free, the report found. Save for a few exceptions, the national airwaves are essentially controlled by the establishment, the New-York City-based Committee to Protest Journalists attested in 2011.
Georgia, not exactly a beacon of liberty, is the freest; or, rather, “partly” freest. The country arguably might have done better in the rankings had it not arrested prominent photographers on spying charges and handled a May 2011 opposition demonstration more civilly.
Freedom House also rated the region's three separatist territories, but they do not make the overall picture any brighter. Nagorno Karabakh is doing as badly as the country that claims it, Azerbaijan. Russian-guarded Abkhazia and, especially, South Ossetia are both doing far worse than their claimant, Georgia, according to the report.
In a nutshell, there is not a single truly free place in the Caucasus and vicinity. Russia is just as "not free" as Azerbaijan. “Partly free” Turkey (apparently, slightly less "partly" so than Georgia and Armenia) is as good as it gets.