Monday, December 21, 2015

Is the Islamic State a Threat to the Security of the Republic of Georgia?

By George Tsereteli

On November 29, authorities in Tbilisi, Georgia, arrested four people accused of being connected to the Islamic State (IS) organization. Weapons, explosive devices, IS flags, and Islamist literature on CDs and DVDs were found in the suspects’ apartments (Civil Georgia, December 1). The Georgian State Security Service announced an investigation into whether other individuals are involved in IS-related activities on Georgian soil. Interestingly, the four individuals were from the Guria region, and not from the Pankisi gorge, which has in the past been a source of Islamic extremism (Interpressnews, December 1). The suspects denied the charges against them, although two of them had allegedly appeared in a Georgian-language IS propaganda video released on November 23. In this video, they call on Georgian Muslims to join the “Islamic Caliphate” and issue threats against “Georgia’s infidels” (The Clarion Project, November 25). The video also mentions that Georgia has been fighting against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, conflicts in which Georgia contributed significant troop numbers to coalition military efforts. The release of the propaganda video suggests that the Islamic State’s ideology has now spread, at least in some small part, to Georgia’s capital city.

In an interview that aired on December 7, regional expert Mamuka Areshidze contended  that various organizations—which are either affiliated with the Islamic State or wish to be—are working to build an ideological base and foundation in Georgia and thereby gain influence. Those who fall under this influence are taught Salafi-jihadist ideology and are radicalized from a young age (Maestro, December 7). This is the case not only in the Pankisi gorge, but other regions such as Adjaria and Guria, where there are sizeable Muslim populations, and even in Tbilisi. Areshidze went on to explain that according to IS ideology, Georgia is located within the self-declared Caliphate’s territory; thus, when the group decides to move into the region, it will want a loyal segment of the population already in place, ready to welcome it.

However, not everyone believes that the Islamic State poses a serious threat to Georgia at this time. A few days after the November 13 attacks on Paris, the deputy head of Georgia’s State Security Service, Levan Izoria, stated that Georgia is not among the countries with a high risk of terrorist attacks, since it is not involved in the anti-IS air strikes carried out by the United States and its coalition allies (Civil Georgia, November 17). Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli echoed this sentiment when she announced that although additional safety and confidence measures would be taken, such as heightened security at airports and along the border, this would be done as a precaution and not in response to any immediate threat (Civil Georgia, November 18).

One must remember, however, that the Islamic State’s ideology and actions are not driven solely by recent or contemporary developments; indeed, the argument that Georgia falls within the so-called “Caliphate’s” territory is based on a historical precedent dating back to the ninth century. Therefore, the fact that Georgia is not involved in international coalition airstrikes against the IS in Syria and Iraq does not preclude the possibility of future terrorist attacks on Georgian soil by this extremist militant group.
Georgia is most likely not high on the current list of priority targets for the Islamic State. And yet, the above-mentioned recent arrests, the appearance of the Georgian-language propaganda video, as well as the presence of IS recruiters in the Pankisi gorge (see Jamestown Blog, June 22) indicate that a mobilization of Georgia’s defense, security and information channels may in fact be necessary.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Armenia and Serbia Pledge Military Cooperation

By Erik Davtyan

On November 24, the Defense Minister of Serbia Bratislav Gašić arrived in Yerevan for a two-day official visit. Interestingly, as the minister himself mentioned, this was the first such trip to Armenia by a Serbian minister of defense. Minister Gašić met with Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, who stressed that “recent years’ reciprocated official visits and meetings have gone a long way toward intensifying the political dialogue between the two countries, improving the legal framework and deepening the ongoing cooperation within international organizations.” As to possible areas of defense cooperation, both officials underlined the importance of sharing their experiences in the fields of military medicine, military education and interaction within the framework of international peacekeeping forces (, November 24).

On November 25, Minister Gašić met with his Armenian counterpart, Seyran Ohanyan. After the two delegations discussed issues of bilateral, regional and international importance, the Serbian and Armenian defense ministers signed a declaration on cooperation in the field of defense (, November 25). According to the declaration, the bilateral defense cooperation treaty, when ultimately signed, will cover areas like defense and security policy, military-economic cooperation, peacekeeping missions, military scientific/technical cooperation, military education and training, military medicine, and so on (, November 25).

Though this was only the first step toward establishing Serbian-Armenian military ties, the signing of the declaration opens a new chapter in Armenia’s international military cooperation. First, the treaty will embrace a wide span of areas of defense cooperation, thus contributing to the more extensive development of bilateral relations with this key Balkan country. In a wider context, Armenia will be expanding the geographic scope of its global military partnerships. To date, Armenia has regularly cooperated with Russia, Greece, the United States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); moreover, it actively participates in a number of international peacekeeping missions.

Armenian-Serbian defense cooperation will be an impetus for further rapprochement between the two states. On November 25, the Serbian defense minister was also received by the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan. The Armenian head of state welcomed the bilateral initiatives in the military field and said that “the Armenian people attached great importance to the presence of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić at the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide [on April 24, 2015],” describing Nikolić’s gesture as “a unique display of friendship and solidarity that the Armenian nation will always remember and appreciate” (, November 25).

During his visit to Yerevan, Minister Gašić also had meetings with Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian and His Holiness Garegin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, as well as the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) of Armenia Hermine Naghdalyan. The NA deputy speaker emphasized the development of inter-parliamentary relations, noting a necessity for greater cooperation in this sphere. In particular, she has highlighted the active cooperation of the Friendship Groups in the parliaments of the two countries (, November 26). It will now be up to the mid-level bureaucrats in both governments to turn these pledges and high expectations into concrete policy actions.