Syrian women and girls allege use of sexual violence as weapon of war. Mark Tran. The Guardian

Rape is a “significant and disturbing” feature of the Syrian civil war, with women and girls citing sexual violence as their main reason for fleeing the country, according to a report published on Monday.

Women and girls told the International Rescue Committee (IRC) of being attacked in public and in their homes, primarily by armed men. The rapes, sometimes by several men, often occurred in front of family members.

“The stories we’ve heard, talking to Syrian women, are truly horrific,” said Sanj Srikanthan, IRC-UK emergency field director. “Many of these women have experienced rape and torture in Syria, but as refugees [they] can’t find the support they need to heal their physical and emotional scars – let alone provide food and shelter for their families.”

During interviews with 240 Syrian women and girls in Lebanon and Jordan, IRC learned of attacks involving kidnap, rape, torture and murder, with Syria’s many roadblocks a particular danger.

IRC said it was impossible to give figures, but its report draws attention to the use of rape as a strategy in war. Sexual violence occurs in every humanitarian crisis, notably during the Balkan wars and in conflicts in parts of Africa, and Syria is no exception. In a report in June, Human Rights Watch said Syrian government forces have used sexual violence to torture men, women and boys detained in the conflict.

Last year, British foreign secretary William Hague launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative to highlight these issues. The Foreign Office has assembled a team of 70 doctors, lawyers, forensic experts and psychologists who can be deployed to conflict areas.

Hague told parliament last week that the UK is sending specialists to deal with rape and sexual violence in Syria. “We’ve deployed experts to the region to provide training in how to respond to reports of sexual violence, to improve the prospect of future investigation and prosecutions, and we will intensify this work as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Members of the team will train local health professionals to gather medical and forensic evidence and documentation that can be used in prosecutions. Hague has said Britain will use its presidency of the G8 group of industrialised countries this year to push for a new international protocol on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict.

The UN estimates the death toll during nearly two years of civil war in Syria at 60,000. More than 2.5 million people, from a population of 22.5 million, have fled their homes, with 612,000 people registered as refugees in neighbouring countries. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said on Friday that harsh winter conditions, including freezing rain, have made life even more difficult for refugees.

The UN World Food Programme has warned that it was unable to deliver food to up to 1 million hungry and desperate Syrians because of spiralling violence across the country and a lack of fuel. The UN has appealed for $1.5bn (£9.3m) for the first six months of this year, the largest short-term UN appeal, but it remains seriously underfunded.

IRC said aid is drastically insufficient to meet existing needs, let alone the barest requirements to respond to a lengthy humanitarian emergency and post-conflict recovery.

Refugee camps have gained much media attention, yet most Syrian refugees are in towns and cities in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, IRC added. In a grim irony, Iraq and Syria have reversed their previous roles as states of refuge. Iraq now hosts 67,000 refugees whereas, five years ago, Iraqis fled to Syria. Lebanon has received more than 200,000 Syrian refugees, Jordan 176,500 and Turkey more than 148,000.

“While some Syrians are housed by host families in cramped quarters, most are renting small, dilapidated unfurnished apartments that they increasingly cannot afford,” said IRC. “Others find shelter in sheds, barns, basements and abandoned buildings unfit for habitation. Some are offered shelter by local authorities in unused public spaces.”

Urban refugees are straining the education, health and water facilities of host countries. Rents have gone up for both refugees and locals, and tension is on the rise.

The IRC report also described the deliberate targeting of medical and healthcare facilities by the Syrian government. Doctors told the IRC of a systematic campaign to restrict access to healthcare through strategic bombing, forcing the closure of hospitals.

IRC urged donors to significantly increase bilateral aid to host countries to help offset the strain on their infrastructure and ease tension. The US has given $100m to Jordan, but IRC said donors should give more to Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. IRC said donors must recognise sexual violence as a feature of the Syrian conflict, as well as the threats Syrian women and girls face as refugees and the shortage of quality services available to them, and develop an appropriate strategy to address the crisis.

Resettlement of Syrian Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh was illegal. Azerbaijani FM

Azerbaijan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov has commented on the resettlement of Syrian Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh.

As Azerbaijani APA new agency reports, the Foreign Minister said this issue is on the agenda now: “This issue has been raised before the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. We noted that it was an illegal step. Maybe few people are being resettled, but anyway, we will keep the matter under control.”

Foreign Minister of Georgia to pay an official visit to Latvia

According to Georgian media, Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze will start her official visit to Latvia today, on Monday.

Georgian foreign ministry reported that the Minister will meet the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgaras Rinkevics in Riga, as well as with representatives of the executive and legislative authorities of Latvia.

Panjikidze will also visit the Occupation Museum in Riga and will lay a wreath at the Peace Monument. She will leave Riga for Prague on a working visit on January 15.

The Armenian Patriarch of Turkey does not find the harassment of Armenian women as “an action against solely the Armenians”

The recent events in Samatia Armenian district of Istanbul the murder of an old Armenian lady agitated a number of discussions. In the talk with the First Armenian News and Analyses the Armenian Patriarch of Turkey said he does not find the harassment of Armenian women in Turkey as “an action against solely the Armenians. He said this news was wide spread among the Armenians because an Armenian was murdered but tens of other similar accidents happen. As the patriarch mentioned, these kinds of murders usually take place not based on the national identity but more based on the property the victim possessed.

Aram Archbishop Ateshyan mentioned the Christmas holidays were neverthelesscelebrated in the patriarchy but not in a solemn way. Ateshyan assured there is no serious problem between the Turks and Armenians in Istanbul and there are no difficulties to preserve the Armenian identity there.

The reason for such agitation was the December 28 murder of an Armenian old woman and on her body besides 7 stabs a cross was drawn by the murderer.

Special events to be held in Polis dedicated to the 6th anniversary of Hrant Dink’s murder

Hrant Dink, was a Turkish editor, journalist and columnist of Armenian descent.
As editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper “Agos”, Dink was a prominent member of the Armenian minority in Turkey. Dink was best known for advocating Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and human and minority rights in Turkey; he was often critical of both Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, and of the Diaspora’s campaign for its international recognition. Dink was prosecuted three times for denigrating Turkishness, while receiving numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists.

Hrant Dink was assassinated in Istanbul in January 2007, by Ogün Samast, a 17-year old Turkish nationalist. This was shortly after the premiere of the genocide documentary Screamers, in which he is interviewed about Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the case against him under article 301. While Samast has since been taken into custody, photographs of the assassin flanked by smiling Turkish police and gendarmerie, posing with the killer side by side in front of the Turkish flag, have since surfaced. The photos created a scandal in Turkey, prompting a spate of investigations and the removal from office of those involved.

At his funeral, two hundred thousand mourners marched in protest of the assassination, chanting “We are all Armenians” and “We are all Hrant Dink”. Criticism of Article 301 became increasingly vocal after his death, leading to parliamentary proposals for repeal. The 2007–2008 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honor.
Since this year is the 6th anniversary of Dink’ murder, special events will be eold in Polis.

According to one of the organizers of such events Chinzgiz Alkan, the goal of the events is to show what Dink wanted to tell Turkey.
Alkan stressed that it is very bad that till today, when 6 years have passed, Turkey couldn’t find the one who has ordered to kill Dink.
On January 19, the day when Dink died, a march will take place in Dink’s honor.

Georgia’s defense assistance will contribute to the establishment of peace in Afghanistan: U.S. Ambassador

Georgian media reports that US Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland, while visiting the Military Academy of the Georgian Defense Ministry in Gori, announced that Georgia’s assistance in the development of defense capabilities will facilitate its contribution to the establishment of peace in Afghanistan.

As reported, during the visit to Gori, Norland visited the National Defense Academy of Georgia named after David Agmashenebeli. He met the leaders and acquainted himself with the structure and programs of the educational institution as well as meeting the Deputy Defense Minister of Georgia Tamara Karosanidze.
“I think that all countries recognize the place of professional military education in the formation of the officer corps. The U.S. is pleased it contributes to the development of the Academy’s infrastructure and its provision with information technology as well as helping with English training courses and instructors,” said Richard Norland.

U.S. to continue cooperation with Russia on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and on other issues

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland announced that U.S. will continue to cooperate with Russia on a number of issues, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“Russia has long been a partner of the United States on a number of issues where we can work together. I think our overall approach remains to try to cooperate with Russia as much as we can on as many issues as we can that we share, whether they’re bilateral issues, whether they’re regional issues like Nagorno-Karabakh, or whether they’re global issues like Iran, Afghanistan, Syria etc.” said Nuland at a daily press briefing on Wednesday.

Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel will continue to be good as in the past: Ambassador

Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan Rafael Harpaz announced that after parliamentary elections in Israel, relationships between Baku and Tel Aviv will continue to be good as in the past.

“We see that for last more than 20 years, there are special and unique relationships between the two countries. Israel appreciates Azerbaijan. We have lots of things common and those relationships are good and after parliamentary elections in Israel, they will continue to be good as in the past,” said Harpaz, adding “We have very good political relationships. I think Azerbaijan is playing very constructive role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council”.
According to him Israeli private sector demonstrates lots of interest in Azerbaijan and added that he sees a bright future for both countries.

EU requires a diplomatic solution of airport issue in Nagorno-Karabakh

European Commissioner for Good Neighbor Policy Stefan Fule announced that there must be a diplomatic solution of airport issue in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The conflict parties should avoid the actions which may raise tension in the region. It is important to settle the issue diplomatically” said Fule.
The issue was discussed in Brussels at the meeting between Fule and the speaker of the Armenian parliament Hovik Abrahamyan.

According to the news service for EU, commissar Fule confirmed the changeless support of EU to the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in assistance to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Georgian FM to visit several European countries

Georgian Foreign Ministry reports that country’s FM Maia Panjikidze will visit Lithuania, Latvia and the Czech Republic from January 10 to 15.
As reported, during the visit Panjikidze will hold a meeting with his colleagues as well as with senior representatives of the executive and legislative authorities of these countries.

During the visit to Lithuania, Panjikidze is scheduled to make a speech in Vilnius, at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC) on the issues of foreign policy and security of Georgia.

The Action Plan for 2013 of the Commission of Georgia and Lithuania on European and Euro-Atlantic integration will be signed as well.
The source informs that Panjikidze will attend the annual “Snow Meeting” officials of the highest rank and experts on international security issues from different countries, which will be held in Trakai.
She has also planned to hold press conferences and interviews with local media outlets in all three countries.