Once you try Azerbaijani food, you know that Azerbaijan is a smart country. Take it from French cinema legend and gastronome Gérard Depardieu, who’s got a growing hankering for ex-Soviet countries that like their policies on the tough side.
A recent commercial, brought to you by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism, features the movie star digging into Azerbaijani food as a local scriptwriter tries to sell him on a movie idea. “I am overwhelmed,” exclaims the rotund Depardieu as the dishes keep coming, and the scriptwriter chatters on.
Not by the script. But by the cooking. “The country who [sic] has that kind of food is obviously a smart country,” he concludes, gesturing with his fork.
Perhaps food quality can indeed testify to IQ (and Azerbaijani cuisine does have its tasty items), but how the Depardieu video will testify to Azerbaijan’s international image remains to be seen. Increasingly, the 64-year-old actor appears to be available for the asking.
What’s the cost of fighting for Armenia’s independence? Based on a payment to injured former presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikian for his “contribution to [Armenia’s] independence,” the Armenian government appears to have calculated it at precisely 20.5-million drams, or just under $50,000.
The gift, drawn from a reserve fund, allegedly is meant to pay for Hayrikian, a Soviet-era independence activist, to receive medical treatment in the Dutch city of Rotterdam for a gunshot wound to the shoulder he received during this year’s presidential campaign.
Purported health reasons aside, the lavish gesture has sparked widespread anger. The recognition of Hayrikian’s “contribution” amounts to more than 15 times the size of Armenia’s average annual salary of 134,400 drams, or about $3,200.
Although Health Minister Derenik Dumanian has called the measure “expedient” to “fully restore [Hayrikian’s] health,” some Armenians wonder whether the payment instead has more to do with Hayrikian’s ultimate decision not to request a delay in the February 18 presidential election. The government, mindful of the controversy over the 2008 presidential election, was eager for this vote to go off on schedule, without a hitch.
Pro-government politicians have sidestepped such accusations, but, so far, the government not released any independent, expert opinion that confirms the medical need to pay Hayrikian $49,006 at taxpayers’ expense.
Representatives of Yerevan’s prominent Grigor Lusavorich Hospital, where Hayrikian was treated following the January 31 attack , declined to specify to EurasiaNet.org what treatment he required in the Netherlands that could not be provided in Armenia.
Turkish classical musician Fazil Say is best known for his piano work, but it's the actions he took using a computer keyboard that have thrust him into the limelight in an unexpected -- and disturbing -- way.
Yesterday, Say -- who has received rave reviews for his playing and has performed in concert halls around the world -- was given by an Istanbul court a suspended 10-month prison sentence for insulting Islam and offending Muslims -- in Twitter posts. Although he was spared the indignity of being sent to jail, Say could find himself locked up if he is convicted of similar offenses during the next five years.
The offending tweets? In one, Say forwarded an excerpt from an 11-th century poem written by the famed Omar Khayyam. “You say that the rivers flow with wine, is heaven a tavern? You say that you will give every believer two very beautiful women, is heaven a brothel?” the poem says. In another tweet, the pianist -- a self-declared atheist -- suggests the rapid call to prayer he heard coming from a nearby Istanbul mosque might have been given by a muezzin eager to get his work done and head out for a drink.
Looking at the case in a piece for the Al-Monitor website, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a well-known civil rights lawyer in Turkey, suggests Say's conviction is part of a disturbing trend in Turkey regarding the prosecution of those deemed to have insulted religion or Islam. From Cengiz's article:
The birds didn’t get far, the stunt prompted a lot of jokes, and the selection of Uzbekistan’s border region abutting Afghanistan as the cranes’ ideal wintering ground didn’t go down well in Tashkent.
Conservationists from Flight of Hope – the organization Putin promoted with his unforgettable stunt – chose the unpopulated banks of the Amu Darya river because it is protected, in essence, like a reserve.
But Tashkent believes the birds should be guided elsewhere because Uzbek border guards often burn vegetation in the area for better visibility, the BBC Russian Service said on April 12.
After Putin’s flying lesson, the Siberian cranes were expected to fly to Uzbekistan with gray cranes from western Siberia, but, in the end, they spent the winter in Russia due to early snowfall.
Some hope Uzbek President Islam Karimov's upbeat visit to Moscow this week might lead to some international cooperation on behalf of the cranes.
The two presidents did not address the issue publicly when they met on April 15, but a Flight of Hope representative told the BBC Russian service days before Karimov’s visit that the Russian president promised to discuss the birds’ fate with his counterpart. The two sides also signed a number of agreements during and before the visit, including on environmental protection.
Slowly but surely, the latest attempt by the Turkish government to resolve the decades-old Kurdish issue is moving along. In the latest confidence building measure, members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BD), who were given Ankara's permission to meet with jailed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan this past Sunday, delivered a message from Ocalan that suggested his organization's fighters would soon be leaving Turkish territory. “The peace process we are currently going through is continuing at full speed. I am striving to make the ceasefire permanent and to ensure a withdrawal. I can say we are more hopeful now that we have come to this stage. In this context, I will reveal the details of the efforts we are making,” Ocalan's statement said.
Still, the nascent "peace process" is facing some profound challenges, both domestic and external. In a new piece from the German Marshall Fund that gives a good overview of the latest developments surrounding the Kurdish issue, political scientist Ilter Turan takes a look at these challenges, suggesting there is good reason to be cautious about predicting the process's success.
Putin and Karimov on April 15. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)
Amid ongoing rumors about his frail health, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov popped up in Moscow today, where he publicly glossed over strained ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The fight against terrorism and the pullout of NATO troops from Afghanistan topped the two leaders’ agenda, according to the Kremlin's press service.
Tashkent withdrew from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization last summer for the second time. Since then, Moscow's promises of military aid to Uzbekistan’s regional rivals – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – and its pledges of support and investment for grand hydropower projects in those upstream countries have vexed Tashkent. Meanwhile, Washington's promises to gift Tashkent some Afghanistan leftovers in return for facilitating the pullout have alarmed Moscow.
Yet whatever was said about these delicate topics behind the Kremlin’s closed doors, it was all smiles following the April 15 talks. Praising economic and humanitarian collaboration, Putin told journalists that security cooperation in light of the NATO pullout from Afghanistan was paramount to bilateral relations.
We have, of course, discussed the situation in Central Asia in detail and talked about problems associated with the pullout of international coalition forces from Afghanistan in 2014. We have agreed to continue to follow this topic attentively and to coordinate possible joint steps. By this we mean providing necessary assistance to the Afghan leadership regarding the stabilization of the military and political situation and the fight against drug trafficking, terrorism and extremism. […] I stress: Close interaction with Tashkent on a wide range of aspects will be continued.
In a controversial undertaking by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia plans to go down the slippery slope of re-investigating its 2008 war with Russia. But it is unclear if the new investigation is going to leave Georgia with a picture any clearer or more objective.
The proposal caused a stir among Georgian society, heretofore steadily treated to a black-and-white, big-bad-Russia narrative.
Georgia conducted its first probe of the war when President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement Party still held political court. The parliamentary investigation, predictably, put the then Georgian authorities in the right all around. One attempt to place part of the blame on Tbilisi resulted in an angry outburst by the parliamentary commission, complete with tossing a pen at the lone critic.
But, coming on the heels of dozens of other investigations into past doings under the United National Movement, the repeat investigation is unlikely to avoid the label of bias. It is already seen as part of the ongoing Ivanishvili-Saakashvili war.
The president, who was questioned during the first probe, declared that he will not obey any interrogation requests by the new commission, led by Ivanishvili’s Georgian-Dream coalition. Repeating previous allegations, the president accused the prime minister of being an apologist for Russia, and a new shouting match between the two camps began.
The prime minister’s team claims they do not intend to justify the Russian invasion and the uprooting of thousands of Georgians, but, rather, need to establish the facts. Why that need has moved to the forefront right now is less clear.
A familiar pattern has emerged in Russia’s relations with Tajikistan: Moscow doesn’t get what it wants, so it starts threatening Tajik migrants.
Several comments from high-level Russian officials over the past two days suggest the Kremlin has run out of patience with Dushanbe’s attempts to re-re-negotiate the lease for a Russian military division in Tajikistan. The deal – which appeared to be done – was announced last October during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Dushanbe. But it has yet to be ratified by Tajikistan’s rubberstamp parliament.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, whose portfolio includes defense, ostentatiously toured a Moscow-bound Tajik train on April 14 and declared it unfit for transporting humans. Rogozin also suggested that Tajiks could be subject to new passport restrictions.
On April 15, the Russian FSB, which manages the country’s borders, proposed suspending Tajik rail service to Russia altogether.
It has long been rumored that huge bribes change hands in Kazakhstan to secure public-service jobs and law-enforcement positions that come with small salaries but enormous potential to make a few bucks on the side.
Now comes some indication of just how large the bribes may be: A human resources official in South Kazakhstan Region’s bureaucracy is under arrest after demanding a $50,000 backhander in a cash-for-job deal, Kazinform reports.
The official offered her services to secure a lowly job as deputy head of the regional Entrepreneurship and Trade Directorate, begging the question of how much money might be changing hands for more senior (and potentially lucrative) positions.
Graft is officially acknowledged to be rife throughout Kazakhstan’s bureaucracy, including the judiciary and law-enforcement system.
Last month the financial police said that some tax officials were taking bribes ranging from 1,000 to 1 million tenge (approximately $6.60 to $6,600) to fix results on tax audits, Tengri News reported.
In one high-profile case, Major-General Almaz Asenov, former head of the military’s armaments department, was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of taking a $200,000 kickback from two representatives of Ukrainian company Ukrspetzeksport in return for turning a blind eye to faulty repair work on An-72 aircraft.
Broadening their campaign to crackdown on unofficial religious activities, police in Uzbekistan have carried out surprise raids on unregistered Protestant churches and private homes in recent months, according to the Oslo-based religious freedom watchdog Forum 18.
Homes of Protestant Christians from various Churches across Uzbekistan were raided in February and March, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In at least two cases, courts subsequently handed down huge fines. After a late March raid and fine on a Protestant couple in the capital Tashkent, a Protestant who knows them complained that the raiding authorities produced no warrants, no trial was held and that the fines given were "unbelievably high". "The authorities know where believers live and know that they have Christian literature in their homes," the Protestant – who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals – told Forum 18. "By raiding their homes the authorities harass believers and are trying to wear them down by the fines."
Religious believers' homes are also known to have been raided in Samarkand in central Uzbekistan and in Nukus, capital of the north-western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. Courts in both cities fined the believers and confiscated their Christian literature and other materials.
All religious literature of any kind in Uzbekistan is under tight state censorship.
In one of the raids, in Tashkent on March 18, a local police officer and seven "officials in plain-clothes" raided an apartment where an ethnic Uzbek Protestant couple was living temporarily.