It starts out like any gymnastics class: A teacher guides a roomful of women through stretching and breathing exercises. The yoga, ballet and tai chi moves train pelvic muscles, the stomach and legs. You only realize you are in a “sex class” when the egg-shaped stones appear.
The informal Olympics creed of “Not to win, but to take part” is exactly what Caspian-Sea energy power Azerbaijan wants out of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
All four of Azerbaijan’s Olympic team members – alpine skiers Gaia Bassani Antivari and Patrick Brachner, and ice-dancing pair Alexei Sitnikov and Yulia Zlobina -- are naturalized foreigners; the only such team in the Games.
The railway was supposed to diversify trade routes in one of the least-connected parts of Central Asia. But six months after workers broke ground on a new rail line from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan via northern Afghanistan, a dispute threatens to derail the whole project.
From the shores of the Black-Sea resort town of Gagra, situated in the separatist territory of Abkhazia, you can see the glow of the Olympic flame in Sochi, just under 60 kilometers away. For many locals, the light in the night serves mainly as a reminder of unmet expectations.
Two crosses fashioned from red roses mark the spot where a car bomb killed three people last December in Pyatigorsk, Russia, roughly 170 miles east of Sochi. Just weeks later, assailants murdered six local men and left their bodies in cars surrounded by explosives on the edge of the city.
Tajikistan has one significant industrial asset, an aluminum smelter that dates back to the Soviet era. The state-owned plant, Talco, uses so much electricity it is responsible for regular, rolling blackouts around the country. Many Tajiks would like to know where Talco’s substantial profits go; the company keeps a tight lid on earnings information.
The brewing rapprochement between the United States and Iran, signified by the Geneva nuclear deal signed in January, seems likely to scramble American strategic priorities in the South Caucasus, especially for Azerbaijan.