Students take a break to discuss words and spellings during the National English Spelling Competition finals held at the National Youth and Children’s Palace on March 30 in Tbilisi.
The competition was the final round of a year-long project to help motivate Georgian children to learn English. Initiated last year by Peace Corps volunteer Adam Malinowski, the spelling bee started with local competitions in more than 126 schools and more than 2,400 students throughout the country. During the final, 34 top spellers from nine regions around Georgia came to Tbilisi to compete for iPads, iPods, free English classes, and other prizes from the US embassy and other sponsors.
Molly Corso is a freelance journalist who also works as editor of Investor.ge, a monthly publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.
An elderly woman has died in western Kazakhstan after being attacked by a camel she had raised from infancy, local media report.
The fatal clash took place on April 2 in the village of Umirzak outside the oil city of Aktau in western Kazakhstan, the Lada newspaper said.
Shocked neighbors put the attack down to it being camel mating season, when males are especially aggressive. “I remember this camel as a calf,” one unidentified villager told Lada. “Our neighbor was always looking after it, checking on it, feeding it.”
When she went out to feed the cattle on April 2 “no one paid any attention,” the villager said, until the woman’s husband “noticed that she was lying all in blood and not moving.”
An ambulance came but doctors pronounced her dead from “multiple open wounds.” So fierce was the attack that “her scalp was almost totally torn off,” the newspaper said.
Many people raise camels in the western desert regions of Kazakhstan, where they are prized as a mark of wealth – a single ungulate can be worth upward of $3,000. Camel meat is popular, as is shubat, fermented camel milk.
This is not the first fatal clash between a human and a ship of the desert in recent years: In 2011 the driver of a speeding Opel Vectra was killed after he collided with a herd of camels in the western Aktobe Region. A camel also died in the crash.
The fate of the camel that turned on its owner has not yet been decided, Lada reported, but the “camel murderer is being kept in a separate pen, far from other animals. And people.”
The agency claimed that negotiations in Moscow with its Russian counterpart, succinctly known as Rosselkhoznadzor, went well and that, after some changes in agricultural regulations, a taste of Georgia will soon reappear in Russian salads and pirogis.
But, of course, Russian officials want to be the first to get that taste. In what is slowly turning into supra diplomacy, they've been invited back to Georgia to munch on tomatoes and cucumbers at an unspecified date in the future.
Wine-tasting is a serious procedure that brooks no haste, especially when it comes as a form of post-conflict diplomacy and, also, when there is so much wine to taste. For months now, Russian federal wine-tasters have gotten to sniff, slurp, roll the wine around their mouths, look quizzically at each other and make sure the political terroir is acceptable for the Kremlin.
Kazakhstan's new foreign minister did some traveling in the region last week, visiting Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in an apparent effort to get the two sides to talk about their dispute over the massive, controversial Rogun dam project. The United Nations has been trying to get Kazakhstan to play a leading role in resolving the issue between its neighbors to the south and when the foreign minister, Erlan Idrissov, spoke to the press in Dushanbe, he highlighted the Rogun issue:
"It's no secret that the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant is one of the important issues on the agenda. The Tajik president spoke during the meeting about his vision and approach to the construction of this facility. He suggested the importance of working together with the World Bank to conduct an independent examination of the construction of the power station," Idrisov said....
"The states in the upper waters should not violate the rights and economic interests of the states located in the lower waters and vice versa. There are international conventions according to which the two sides should sit at the negotiating table and work out a mutually acceptable scheme for the usage of water resources," Idrisov said.
Russia's announcement that it might be setting up repair facilities in Afghanistan for the maintenance of the Afghanistan military's equipment may seem like a pretty mundane bit of news, except for the irresistible symbolism. "Russia considers returning to Afghanistan," writes Foreign Policy. "Russia going back to Afghanistan? Kremlin confirms it could happen," writes the Christian Science Monitor.
“We will look into various options of creating repair bases on Afghan territory,” the head of the Defense Ministry’s department of international cooperation, Sergey Koshelev, told the press. He added that the maintenance of weapons and military hardware in Afghanistan remains a top priority, as any instability in the country would affect Russia’s own security, as well as the security of other European nations.
And Moscow is also not ruling out more substantive cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan. RT again:
Russian NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko also said that Moscow was not excluding the possibility of broader cooperation with the military bloc. In particular, Russia could offer to enlarge the transport corridor to Afghanistan, so that the country’s own forces could continue to receive supplies from Western allies after coalition troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
The celebrations started on April 1 with government minders leading exercises. Students went first, at 6:45 a.m., Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reported. Market workers assembled for 15 minutes of calisthenics in downtown Ashgabat.
This is the second annual Week of Health and Happiness. At the government meeting on March 29 where he announced this year’s program, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov stressed the importance of the nation's health and ordered that events be held all over the country, the state-run TDH news agency reported.
According to TDH, the Week will conclude with a youth cycling race into the hills above Ashgabat on April 7, World Health Day, along the aptly named Health Path – designed by Berdymukhamedov's predecessor, the late Saparmurat Niyazov.
While Niyazov saw exercise as necessary for everyone but himself (he supposedly used to fly in a helicopter to meet his sweaty and exhausted ministers at the top), Berdymukhamedov leads by example: He took part in the country's first car race last year and won. He’s also an avid racehorse enthusiast.
Sports are generally a top-down affair in Turkmenistan. Last year Berdymukhamedov instructed his desert nation to start playing ice hockey.
There is a war going on in ex-Soviet parts between governments and non-government organizations. While Russia already has started on an office search of hundreds of NGOs suspected of being "foreign agents," Azerbaijan now is writing a chapter of its own in this epic struggle by picking a bone with the local chapter of the Washington, DC-based National Democratic Institute (NDI).
NDI’s chief of party Alex Grigorievs denied the accusations, but General Prosecutor Zakir Garalov last week sent a letter to US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar laying out the government's grievances with the group.
But they could lie deeper than finances. The group has been accused of sponsoring youth activists' protests, which already have become a pain in the neck for the Azerbaijani establishment. Particularly during this presidential election year.
The fact that local NDI employee Ruslan Asad was detained twice after participating in two recent such rallies in Baku presumably has not helped NDI’s case any with the Azerbaijani government.
The logistics center that Russia set up in Ulyanovsk for NATO to use for transporting military equipment out of Afghanistan is not being used because it's too expensive, a senior NATO official has said. Alexander Vershbow, the alliance's deputy secretary general, gave a long interview to Russian newspaper Kommersant and discussed a variety of issues involving Russia-NATO relations. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the conversation was about missile defense, but there was also some interesting discussion on Ulyanovsk:
Kommersant: What is happening with the transit center at Ulyanovsk? As far as I know, there has been only one test flight with NATO cargo from Afghanistan. When will the transit center start working in full?
Vershbow: Everything is agreed on there and ready for use not just by NATO countries but by all other partners in ISAF who want to transport cargo to or from Afghanistan. The issue is the commercial aspect. NATO countries are studying the most advantageous transportation networks from the financial point of view. So, for example, transit routes through Pakistan, closed not long ago, now are fully open and that is the most inexpensive route.
Kommersant: The Russian proposal is less advantageous?
Vershbow: It's costlier. NATO governments are looking for the best proposal for the least amount of money. We're talking about a very large quantity of cargo -- tens of thousands of containers. Correspondingly, the prices have to be competitive, this is business.
Kommersant: Not long ago Russia announced it was ready to use one of its ports for these transport networks.
Vershbow: Yes, on the Baltic Sea. That was one of the variants discussed, but everything will depend on how commercially advantageous it is in comparison with the other available routes. If Russia makes a better proposal, that could gain them a greater share of this business (laughs).
Georgia ran a boot camp of Chechen warriors to prep them for a mission in Russia’s North Caucasus, the Georgian ombudsman claimed in an April 1 parliamentary presentation of his annual report on the state of human rights.
Ombudsman Ucha Naniashvili told lawmakers that the Georgian interior ministry under President Mikheil Saakashvili pulled together a force of over a hundred exiles from Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus, armed and coached them, and promised them passage to Russia. The report assumes that the alleged Chechen gambit was Georgia’s way of getting back at Moscow for Russia's occupation of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since 2008.
The allegations come as perhaps an unintentional gift for Moscow, whose long-running claims of Georgia sponsoring North Caucasus fighters Tbilisi used to attribute to seasonal fits of paranoia. Under the new government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishili, Tbilisi is seeking to mend fences with Moscow, while, at the same time, every busying itself with investigations into the past government. Yet, why it now falls to Georgia's ombudsman to unveil this alleged covert operation may not be immediately clear to some. The report mainly focuses on human rights violations that were allegedly committed by Georgian forces against the fighters and their relatives after an August 2012 standoff, but delves into details far beyond that.
A draft resolution that would ban women under the age of 23 from traveling abroad without a letter from a parent has enraged rights activists in Kyrgyzstan. The idea, they say, is sexist and – with the resolution’s lead author claiming she is trying to protect women from sexual abuse abroad – encourages entrenched notions that women who suffer sexual violence are themselves to blame.
IWPR interviewed journalist Aida Kasymalieva who has reported on sexual violence within the Kyrgyz migrant community in Russia for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service. In a disturbing series of reports last year (here and here), Kasymalieva shared the stories of Kyrgyz women like Sapargul – abused and raped by Kyrgyz men who call themselves “patriots” and claim they are protecting Kyrgyz “honor” by attacking Kyrgyz women who see non-Kyrgyz men.
Irgal Kadyralieva, the parliamentarian who drafted the proposal, says she is trying to protect women like Sapargul. Kasymalieva, the journalist, says the deputy has missed the point, blaming the victims and failing to help society see “why you can’t go out and assault or rape someone just because she’s seeing a man from a different ethnic background.”
IWPR: Supporters say that it seeks to protect women, while those who are against it believe it’s a violation of women’s rights. What’s your view?