In awe of those fighting Russian tyranny

One year ago we all watched in horror as Putin’s Russia initiated an all out invasion of Ukraine. The people of Ukraine did nothing to initiate this war, they did not choose violence, but every family is now paying the price for this Putin’s aggression. Ukrainian families are divided, spread throughout Europe. People are traumatised, they have lost loved ones and too many live under perpetual fear of the next Russian onslaught.

The UN believes that over 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the last year, with thousands more hurt as the Russians bombard urban areas. And as they defend themselves against Russian aggression every person able to fight has joined the military – everyone is on the frontline.

I make no apologies for standing with the people of Ukraine, for supporting Nato’s efforts to support the Ukrainian military as they seek to defend their people and their homes. As US president Joe Biden made clear this week this war is now the frontline in the battle of autocrats versus democrats. And I, like you, am a democrat.

Twelve months on there are so many stories, of death, of heartbreak but also of inspirational acts from people who never expected to be on the frontline. As ever it is their stories which we should tell, it’s their pain we should mark and their losses which we share. It is their stories which should feature this week and every week – until Ukraine is free.

In the midst of war, however, it is easy to forget the dissidents, the people who are adamant that Putin doesn’t act in their name, the people whose actions will hopefully one day lead to peace. In the heat of war, whilst living under an authoritarian regime, it requires a significant level of bravery to speak out – to challenge your government, to oppose military action.  Today’s stats tally 19,586 people who have been arrested across the Russian Federation for protesting the war.

Index was founded to provide a platform for Soviet dissidents over 50 years ago at the height of the Cold War. Our raison d’etre is to provide a voice for the persecuted, a place where the brave and the disillusioned can tell their stories, to help dissidents who live in authoritarian regimes. The last year has taken my team and I full circle, reminding us of our roots and ensuring that we keep striving to promote and protect the right of freedom of expression in totalitarian regimes.

Today we remember those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country, the civilians who have been caught in the crossfire and those brave dissidents who in the direst of circumstances keep trying to speak truth to power.

Slava Ukraini

Padraig Reidy: The ugliness under Azerbaijan’s alternate reality

Demotix - PanARMENIAN Photo

Looking the other way as human rights defenders are jailed. (Photo: PanArmenian / Demotix)

On 5 September, Azerbaijaini president Ilham Aliyev addressed the Nato summit at the Celtic Manor golf resort in Newport, Wales.

It was an unspectacular speech from an unspectacular autocrat. As he often does, he talked about the amount of money Azerbaijan was spending abroad, Azerbaijan’s rapid economic development, Azerbaijan’s role as a bridge between east and west, and Azerbaijan’s continuing dispute with Armenia.

The dispute between the two countries over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has gone on pretty much since the break-up of the Soviet Union, flared as recently as this summer, when fourteen Azerbaijani troops were killed in clashes with their Armenian counterparts. It was easy to miss this, considering events in other parts of the former Soviet Union. As seems usual in international conflict now, neither side made any gain and both sides claimed victory.

A few weeks after that skirmish, and just before his Nato address, Aliyev met recently-elected president (formerly prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Aliyev is keen to build an alliance with Turkey, and clearly sees common cause in a shared dislike of Armenia. After the meeting, the Azerbaijani leader tweeted that “Turkey has always pursued an open policy on the issue of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, has always stood by Azerbaijan, stood by truth, justice and international law.” He went on:

This was interesting, in that Erdogan did not seem to mention any discussion of the Armenian genocide in his press briefing after the meeting. In fact, the Turkish president has been perceived as attempting to soften the Turkish state’s hardline denial of the incidents of 1915, when one million Armenians suffered deportation and death at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey.

In April, on the 99th anniversary of the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians, Erdogan released a statement saying: “Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the first world war. Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences – such as relocation – during the first world war should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another.”

The Justice and Development (AK) party leader went on to express condolences to the descendants of people who had died “in the context of the early 20th century”.

Now, this isn’t quite an apology; it’s barely even an apology at upset caused. It’s closer to the “mistakes were made” formulation, which is designed not so much to pass the buck as fire the buck into the heart of the sun in the hope that no one will ever have to deal with it again, particularly not the person whose buck it is in the first place.

But in the context of Turkey, where not long ago talking about the Armenian genocide could get you killed, it’s as good as you’re going to get for now.

So why would Aliyev raise the genocide issue this month? Perhaps he is nervous that Turkey, a major ally in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, is going soft on Armenia. This year’s detente between Turkey and Armenia continued when Armenia’s foreign minister Eduard Nalbandian attended Erdogan’s presidential inauguration at the end of August.

Nalbandian, in return, formally offered Erdogan an invitation to Armenia’s genocide commemorations next year, repeating an invitation first extended a few months ago by the country’s president Serzh Sargsyan. Any newfound good relations between Armenia and Turkey would severely weaken Azerbaijan’s territorial argument, or more accurately, weaken its ability to make the argument forcefully in the international arena. Turkey’s dispute with Armenia, after all, is mainly historic, and Erdogan, having seemingly consolidated his own power base outside of both the secular “deep state” and the Islamic Gülen movement to which many assumed he owed his success, now has a free hand on shaping foreign policy. Azerbaijan’s dispute with Armenia is current and, Aliyev hopes, immediate.

And so Azerbaijan has chosen to try to reignite the issue for its own ends. Meanwhile, in his own country, human rights abuses continue, with reports last week that Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was in ill health after prison beatings.

In spite of all this, Azerbaijan will continue to attempt to buy respectability. Next June, Baku will hold the first “European Games”, backed by the European Olympic Committee, featuring such irrelevancies as three-a-side basketball and beach soccer. It is not exactly the real thing, but then, post-Soviet Azerbaijan is a country built of facades; facades of modernity and wealth and progress and “democracy”. Facades that hide an underlying ugliness.

This article was posted on Thursday 18 Sept 2014 at

Goodbye Havel

As the Czech Republic and the wider world bids Václav Havel goodbye,
Pavel Theiner, whose father George worked tirelessly to shine a light on the work of Czech dissidents throughout his editorship at Index on Censorship, looks back on a remarkable man

Afghanistan: BBC stringer killed by US soldier, NATO reveals

A BBC stringer who was killed in Afghanistan in July was shot by a US soldier who mistook him for a suicide bomber during a battle against insurgents, NATO has said. Releasing the findings of its investigation into the death of Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force issued a statement expressing its condolences for the killing, but said its forces had complied with the laws of armed conflict and acted reasonably. According to the statement, US forces shot Khpalwak in order to “detonate a suicide vest IED”, after mistaking him for an insurgent.