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The Caucasus Times, media product of the information agency Medium-Orient, has been one of the most objective and credible news channels about conflicts in the North and South Caucasus. It is a trustworthy and unbiased source of information for a number of civic activists, scholars, journalists, and experts on the Caucasus. In addition to the daily news coverage, the Caucasus Times provides analytical reviews of the main political and socio-economic developments in the region, monitoring of regional mass media sources, and monthly sociological surveys; as well as publishes books and articles on the conflicts in the Caucasus.
Medium-Orient information agency was launched in 2003 with private funds of its founder and Editor-in-Chief Islam Tekushev, then-contributor of the Cherkessian service of Radio Free Europe. Starting in 2005, the agency cooperated with the Soros Foundation based in Budapest, Hungary, and received its first grant from National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to implement a series of sociological surveys in the North Caucasus. Up until now NED is Medium-Orient’s main partner. With its financial support, the agency has completed eight democracy promotion projects in post-Soviet countries. The projects focused on fair and balanced news coverage of the events in the North Caucasus and Georgian provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia and public opinion studies in these regions.
Since day one, the Caucasus Times has been delivering first-hand information about the events in Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Own correspondent network provided the news agency with independent regional data and spearheaded its ascendance to the leading media sources. Having civil society’s interest at heart while covering the regional news, the Caucasus Times quickly earned trust not only of wide readership audience in Russia, but of reputable western editions and electronic media sources including BBC, Radio Free Europe, Kommersant newspaper, Independent Newspaper, etc.
For example, in 2005 national information agency REGNUM published the findings of Medium-Orient’s survey in North Ossetia regarding public opinion on investigations of Beslan school hostage crisis at http://регнум.рф/news/486325.html(In general, REGNUM posted nine Caucasus Times’ surveys on their website from 2005 till 2012). It happened due to the fact that the Caucasus Times was the only western news agency that had own correspondent on site of Beslan school siege in 2003 and the only agency to report on the shooting of hostages. Madina Sageeva, the Caucasus Times correspondent, was with the command staff that negotiated the hostage situation, and her report for the Caucasus Times was picked up by the Novaya Gazeta http://www.ng.ru/politics/2004-09-03/1_beslan.html
Below are other examples of our articles being picked up and published by various information agencies and newspapers:
In addition to being a primarily news company since 2003, Medium-Orient also built its reputation as an independent sociological agency. Today, the Caucasus Times’ website (www.caucasustimes.com) appears second in Google search when you enter “North Caucasus sociological survey”. Due to its unique surveys and professional team, Medium-Orient made its name in the North Caucasus. Years of experience allowed the agency to build up its own network of pollsters in the North and South Caucasus who now systematically monitor public opinion in six regions of the North Caucasus – Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Adygeia – as well as two Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Medium-Orient has made invaluable contribution to studying public opinion in the North and South Caucasus. The agency’s surveys in conflict regions covered a wide range of issues:
· Public attitude in six North Caucasus regions towards Federal policies, elections and corruption in different levels of government in 2008 – 2009 (the results were published in http://caucasustimes.com/book2.pdf);
· Corruption and radicalization level in the North Caucasus region as a whole as well as in separate federal subjects in 2008-2009 (published in http://caucasustimes.com/Corruption-NC.zip and http://caucasustimes.com/ISLAM-ISTORIA_SOVREMENOST.pdf;
· In 2005-2006, media preferences of the NC population, public attitude in North Ossetia towards Beslan school siege investigation, public attitude in Kabardino-Balkaria towards the attack by Islamic radicals on its capital in 2005, public attitude in Ingushetia towards the surge in radicalization, public attitude in Chechnya towards the election campaign and President Ramzan Kadyrov’s performance (published in http://caucasustimes.com/book.pdf).
These studies are unprecedented and provide unique information as public opinion on the above-mentioned topics had not been previously polled in the region. Other Russian sociological agencies when they did attempt to study certain issues never made their findings public. Important discoveries that would contradict ambitious statements of the official Moscow about stabilization in the North Caucasus were ignored altogether. Restricted access to the region for international organizations excluded yet another chance of getting reliable information. In this operational environment, Medium-Orient holds a unique advantage – its international registration allows the agency to avoid direct pressure from Russian authorities and its correspondent network in the field secures timely and quality data gathering. Therefore, our work holds high value for a wide range of organizations and institutions engaged in conflict mitigation in the North Caucasus, more so in the wake of the recent legislation on “foreign agents” in the Russian Federation.
Public Survey in Abkhazia Project
The goal of our project in Abkhazia was to study public attitude towards different countries including Russia and Georgia, regional authorities’ policies, and wider regional politics in the Caucasus. A separate project activity in Abkhazia’s Galskiy region included the study of a small ethnic group of Abkhazian Georgians.
The survey in Abkhazia was conducted in two rounds. During the first round in September, 2011, 345 respondents of different professions and nationalities were polled (the sample was representative of the age, gender, and national makeup of Abkhazia population). The following nationalities were interviewed: Abkhaz, Russians, Armenians, Georgians, Greeks, and other ethnicities living in different part of the region. The questions in the first round focused on popular attitude towards future status of the Republic, towards Georgia, Russia, European countries, and the United States.
During the second round from May-July, 2012 we exclusively surveyed Georgian population of Galskiy district of Abkhazia. The questions covered their social wellbeing, attitude towards future status of the Republic, as well as citizen perceptions of rights violations in today’s Abkhazia.
We became pioneers of sociological studies in Abkhazia as there had been no public opinion polls in the self-proclaimed Republic since 1993. Data gathered in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, is of high value to NGOs, scholars, and civic activists involved in mitigation of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, as well as for Abkhazian society at large which is a victim of a geopolitical conflict in the post-soviet era. These studies provide important insights into attitudes and political preferences in the isolated Abkhazian society.
Survey findings generated heated discussions among Georgian, Russian, and Abkhazian scholars and quickly made their way into Abkhaz and international online media forums. The most contentious issue deals with the unwillingness of a significant Abkhazian constituency to live as part of the Russian Federation.
The question about the desired status for the Republic demonstrated certain differences among the respondents of different nationalities. Thus, 89% of Abkhaz supported their Republic’s full independence versus 73% among general population. Only 10.4% of Abkhaz wanted the country to be one of the Russian Federation’s subjects as opposed to 24.6% respondents country-wide. Noteworthy, 56% of Russian and Georgian minorities living in Abkhazia are in favor of the Republic’s complete independence which is significantly lower than among Abkhaz respondents while 40.2% of Russians and 36% of Georgians support accession into Russia. 60% of Armenians of Abkhazia favor full independence and 37.8% would rather see their Republic as part of Russia. Nevertheless, even across all ethnicities, the majority still favors Abkhazia’s independence over its accession into Russia. The findings demonstrate much higher level of support for independence among ethnic Abkhaz and less so across other nationalities.
The fact that the survey findings were picked up and published by one of Russia’s leading information agencies REGNUM.RU http://www.regnum.ru/news/fd-abroad/1468708.html is a noteworthy achievement. REGNUM ranks first in Top 100 Internet media 2009 (the ranking of the most influential internet sources compiled from the 2008-2009 Webscan N&P monitoring data) and second in Top 100 Most Cited Brands on the Russian web (large-scale brand rating system of the most cited sites in Russia).
Moreover, Radio Free Europe published a special edition of Medium-Orient’s Abkhazian survey which can be found on their main website http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/24395473.html
Below are the links to other media publications of the survey findings:
The findings of our public opinion poll of Georgian population in Galskiy district of Abkhazia conducted in June-July, 2012 resonated among various media sources as well. The polls demonstrated that the Georgians favored the developments in Abkhazia after its claim to independence in 2008. However, their attitude to the future status of the Republic is more unambiguous compared to the rest of the population. At the same time, significant number of respondents complained about the infringement of rights and freedoms of Georgian population in Abkhazia. The survey findings were first published on www.caucasustimes.com, but received wide dissemination after Russian service of Radio Free Europe in Prague picked up the report. The program “Life of the Georgians in self-proclaimed Abkhazia with Islam Tekushev” was broadcast live on the radio and published on http://www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/24669656.html
Our surveys in Abkhazia spurred the interest of Russian and Western institutions towards public opinion in the Republic. Thus, a month after our survey was completed, two similar initiatives were launched – by the Russian sociological service VTSIOM and an individual Sergei Khaikin (per request from Western institutions).
The article of an Israeli political scholar Avraam Shmulevich on “Ekho Kavkaza” website which he published based on our Abkhazian survey findings and Levada Center research data generated wide discussions among the expert community. The links to the original article and the ensuing publications are provided below:
Muslim Radicalization Study Project
In 2010 Medium-Orient with financial support from NED studied religious attitudes among the North Caucasus population. The study provided valuable insights into understanding the radicalization processes of the North Caucasus Muslims. It created public outrage by demonstrating high degree of radicalization among local Muslims and strong sympathies towards more radical Islamic movements.
The study of public opinion was conducted in 2010 in five capitals of the North Caucasus republics – Cherkessk (Karachaevo-Cherkessia), Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria), Grozny (Chechnya), Nazran (Ingushetia), and Makhachkala (Dagestan). The total of 2,000 people was interviewed (400 per each target city).
The table below shows the respondents’ attitude towards Wahhabism in five North Caucasus regions:
|WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS WAHHABISM ? (%)|
|Positive||Rather Positive||Rather Negative||Negative||Don’t Know|
The research findings were published on the Caucasus Times website www.caucasustimes.com and picked up by many media sources. For example, Russian Service of Radio Free Europe broadcast a special program “Does Sharia Law Rule Caucasus?” to discuss the research results: http://www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/3550363.html Another example is the repost of the article on Islam in Chechnya from the www.caucasustimes.com by one of the most influential Islamic sites in Russia http://www.islam.ru
Below are the links to other publications on the abovementioned topic:
http://www.islamtatar.ru/news/p-2.html (Spiritual Board of Muslims of Tatarstan)
http://skfonews.ru/news/518 (North Caucasus News Agency SKFO news)
http://www.checheninfo.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2662:82——–&catid=16:religion&Itemid=25 (There were 331 commentaries to the article)
The study of Islamization in the North Caucasus and factors influencing its dynamics also resulted in the publication of the book titled “Islam in the North Caucasus: History and Modern Times”. 900 copies of it were published by Medium-Orient in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2011. The book can also be found in electronic format on the Caucasus Times website: http://caucasustimes.com/ISLAM-ISTORIA_SOVREMENOST.pdf
The book has the following three parts:
1) Articles on the origin and spread of Islam in the North Caucasus region. This section contains separate chapters on Islam in Dagestan, Chechnya, and other republics.
2) Analyses of the role of Islam in the North Caucasus in the existing social and political context.
3) Findings of Medium-Orient’s unique public opinion poll on Islam in the North Caucasus.
The book “Islam in the North Caucasus: History and Modern Times” is catalogued in the leading libraries of different countries. For example, Warsaw University staff organized a North Caucasus conference to present the book on Islam: http://www.kaukaz.net/cgi-bin/blosxom.cgi/polish/wahabicka_matryca
On the whole, Medium-Orient’s public opinion projects resulted in the publications of the following book and four brochures:
2011- «Islam in the North Caucasus: History and Modern Times».
2009 – “Corruption in North Caucasus Region in the Mirror of Public Opinion”. Series of a special research in all nine republics of the region.
2008 – “The North Caucasus in the Election Year”. Public attitude during the pre- and post-election period in Southern Russia. http://caucasustimes.com/book2.pdf
2007 – “The North Caucasus: View From Inside”. Analysis of political and social developments of the region based on monthly public opinion polls. http://caucasustimes.com/book.pdf
The abovementioned publications funded by NED are very popular today in academic circles and among politicians who are responsible for designing the North Caucasus development strategy.
For example, the organizers of the forum “North Caucasus: Challenges and Future Development”- Gaidar’s Institute of Economic Policy and North Caucasus Envoy’s Office – invited the Caucasus Times staff to present their book “Islam in the North Caucasus: History and Modern Times”. The Gaidar Institute forum is a periodic event for regional experts, civil society representatives and government officials; however, on April 12-13, 2012 it was for the first time held outside of Moscow – in Pyatigorsk, Stavropolski krai, under the auspices of the North Caucasus Institute of the Russian Academy of Economy and Government Service: www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204666
It is noteworthy to emphasize Caucasus Times’ contribution to providing people in the North Caucasus with independent and credible information about the events in the region as well as policies of European countries and Georgia towards North and South Caucasus. In the framework of Medium-Orient’s Monitoring Developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia project, over a hundred of analytical articles from journalists in the region as well as interviews with Western politicians and Caucasus experts were published on www.caucasustimes.com. Medium-Orient would like to use this opportunity and acknowledge Sergei Markedonov’s scholarly contribution to the project. Mr. Markedonov is currently a visiting fellow in the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program. He is an expert on the Caucasus, as well as Black Sea, regional security, nationalism, interethnic conflicts and de-facto states in the post-Soviet area. His publications include several books and reports, 50 academic articles, and more than 400 press pieces. Recently published books and reports include The Turbulent Eurasia (Academia, 2010), The Big Caucasus: Consequences of the “Five Day War,” New Challenges and Prospects (International Centre for Black Sea Studies, 2009), and The Ethno-national and Religious Factors in Social-political Life of the Caucasus Region (Moscow State University, 2005).
The Caucasus Times web portal became the platform where the following leading European and American politicians and scholars discuss issues related to conflicts in the North and South Caucasus:
– Sabine Fischer was one of the guests of the Caucasus Times in the given reporting period and discussed political approach of the European Union to the Caucasus region after Georgia-Russia war of August 2008 and the need for open communication between Abkhazia and the EU.
Sabine Fischer is an EU expert at the Institute for Security Studies since 2007. Her areas of interests are EU’s relations with Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, “European Neighborhood Policy”. A special topic of her researches is the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Sabine Fischer organized many conferences and workshops on this topic. She previously worked at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (2006-2007), Free University of Berlin (2003-2006) as well as other academic and expert organizations.
– Svante Cornell, a Swedish political scientist and the scientific director of the Institute of Central Asia and the Caucasus, and the research ‘Silk Road’ Program, discussed Georgian initiatives towards Abkhazia, particularly commenting on Mamuk Areshydze (political scientist) and Eduard Shevarnadze’s (former President) views on how Abkhazia could be recognized.
The main areas of Cornell’s interests are security, state-building in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey. Cornell is the editor of ‘Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst’ edition published two times a month and a series of reports of ‘The Silk Road’ Program. He is the author of four books, including “Small nations and great powers: a study of ethno-political conflict in the Caucasus” (2001). His articles have appeared in such popular magazines as “World Politics”, “The Washington Quarterly”, “Current History”, “Journal of Democracy” and “Europe-Asia Studies”. Cornell teaches at the University of Uppsala (Sweden) and at Johns Hopkins University (USA). He is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Military Sciences. http://caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20968
– Robert Bruce Ware, an American political scientist and professor at the University of Southern Illinois, shared his insights with regards to Russian-American relations and the North Caucasus’ influence on the dynamics. Mr. Ware’s areas of interest are the situation in the North Caucasus. Since 1995, he has been conducting field studies in Dagestan; he is the author of numerous books, articles, and separate chapters on various problems of the North Caucasian region, including the book “Dagestan: Russian hegemony and Islamic resistance in the North Caucasus” (2010).
– Hamed Kazemzadeh, an Iranian political scientist and a senior researcher at the Institute of Caucasian Studies at Tehran University, discussed Iranian political influence in the North and South Caucasus particularly with regards to conflict mitigation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran’s relationships with Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Georgia’s NATO aspirations.
Mr. Kazemzadeh is currently a visiting expert at the International School of Caucasus Studies at the University of Ilia Chavchavadze, Tbilisi, Georgia. Hamed Kazemzadeh’s area of expertise includes history, culture, languages, and current socio-political problems of the Caucasus region; he speaks Russian and English.
– Laurence Broers, a British political scientist and project manager with international NGO “Reconciliation Resources” shared his views on the problems of democratization in unrecognized states such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Mr. Broers’ areas of expertise are ethnic conflicts and political violence in the North Caucasus. He holds a PhD from the leading British and European university, London University School of Easter and African Studies. He participated in a number of conflict mitigating projects in the North Caucasus and is a prolific writer on the given topic.
Our articles from Abkhazia and South Ossetia became the main topic of discussions on various online forums of the Abkhazian mass media and have been used or fully reprinted by such newspapers with large circulations such as Russia’s “Argumenti i Facty” (“Arguments and Facts”) which has about 8 million readers. “Arguments and Facts” is distributed in 57 countries outside of Russia and boasts the total circulation of 609,970 copies. It is published weekly in the United States, Japan, Thailand, and all over Europe. This demonstrates that our articles on Abkhazia are in high demand, and the www.caucasustimes.com website has become a source of alternative and objective information about Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Links to materials from Abkhazia and South Ossetia:
- Kadyrov: a new stage of post-Soviet history of Chechnya
Our Caucasus Times resource http://caucasustimes.com/specrubric.asp?s=12 contains a great number of scholarly articles which have been compiled during many years of our work. These archives are used by European scholars for doctorate dissertations; the journalists value our archives as their systematic and thematic organization allows them to browse through various analytical articles and build up their knowledge and expertise in global and region events and dynamics.
The Caucasus Times systematic work over many years has significantly contributed to understanding the underlying causes of conflict in the Caucasus as well as promotion and support of civil society and citizen awareness and advocacy for their rights in the region.
Books and scholarly articles published by Medium-Orient under NED grants have been added to the libraries of the leading European and Russian universities and research centers, such as
1. Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France
2. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC, USA
3. Washington, D.C. Center for Russian Education, Prague, Czech Republic
4. Free University of Brussels (CEVIPOL), Brussels, Belgium
5. Gaidar Economic Policy Institute (IEP), Moscow, Russia
Medium-Orient’s publications were also included in the catalogues of such libraries as:
1. Russian State Library
2. State Public Historic Library
3. Russian National Library
4. Krotov Electronic Library
5. National Library of Kabardino-Balkaria
6. Belarusian State Library
|MEDIUM-ORIENT PARTICIPATION IN CONFERENCES|
|NAME OF CONFERENCE||LOCATION||MM.YY.|
|1. International Conference on the Challenges of the Development of Independent Media (organized by the MDLF)||Prague, Czech Republic||10.2005|
|2. International Conference on Human Rights in the North Caucasus (organized by Palme International Center) .
Paper & Presentation
|3. International Conference on Human Rights in the North Caucasus (organized by Medium Orient and National Endowment for Democracy)
Paper & Presentation
|Prague, Czech Republic||05.2007|
|4. International Conference „Modern Challenges to International Stability“
Paper & Presentation
|5. High-level USAID/Russia conference with select experts on the North Caucasus examining regional-wide issues including drivers of violence, conflict mitigation response, as well as development and operational challenges.||Moscow, Russia||10.2011|
In May, 2007 Medium-Orient together with NED organized a two-day international conference on the North Caucasus in Prague, Czech Republic. 45 participants included NGO professionals from Memorial Human Rights Center, Demos Center, Carnegie Foundation, Moscow Helsinki Group, Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and Center for Extreme Journalism; representatives of donor organizations from NED, Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF), Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Commission, Danish Refugee Council; journalists Thomas de Waal, Timur Aliev, Andrei Babitskiy, Tatiana Lokshyna, Yaromir Shtetina, and Oleg Panfilov; and Russian scholars Mikhail Roshchin and Akhmed Yarlykapov.
During the conference, working groups shared their experience of working in the Caucasus regions and recommended a number of activities for donor considerations, such as establishing a journalism school in the North Caucasus to train young correspondents in accordance with international standards of journalism. Another initiative of Senator Yaromir Shtetina that received wide participants’ support included assistance to Russian journalists and human rights activists in acquiring long-term Czech visas. And finally, the conference specified the parameters of increased cooperation between European parliamentarians and Russian human rights activists to mitigate conflict in the North Caucasus. As a result, all conference recommendations and initiatives to promote respect for human rights in Russia were realized. The Prague conference was a spin-off of the Stockholm forum, and was followed up by an event in Nizhny Novgorod the following year.