Twitter is buzzing this week with the melodies of Kazakh as Kazakhstan’s Twitterati launched a campaign to encourage the use of the language on the social network.
The #kzday campaign got off to a lively start on July 27. The date wasn’t chosen by chance. It was a Wednesday, an auspicious day for Kazakhs on which they like to embark on new enterprises, and organizers say #kzday will take place every Wednesday.
This campaign was proposed by @anatili, a user aiming to assist with learning Kazakh, and @battalov, who identifies himself as Arlan Battalov, a commercial real estate specialist.
There are already plenty of users tweeting in Kazakh, but this campaign is aimed at promoting more dialogue in Kazakh on Twitter, where discussions of Kazakh affairs often take place in Russian.
The lively first debate featured diverging views on whether it was permissible to make mistakes in Kazakh grammar in the interests of communication.
@battalov took a relaxed view. “I learned Kazakh in the street and in the village – there might be mistakes,” he tweeted.
Fortunately, the grammar fascists were outnumbered by those favoring communication, or the debate might not have lasted long.
The discussion was joined by @MuratAbenov, a member of the lower house of parliament, who stands out as unusual among his parliamentary colleagues for his willingness to embrace new media to engage with his electorate.
“GREAT IDEA!” he tweeted – in Russian – when the idea was mooted.
Just who is Ali Osman Zor? And why doesn’t Turkey want him anymore?
Kyrgyz security forces arrested the 46-year-old Turkish citizen in Bishkek in May at the request of the Turkish Embassy, which accused him of membership in the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front (İslami Büyük Doğu Akıncılar Cephesi, or, IBDA-C), a terrorist group that allegedly aims to overthrow the government in Ankara.
For a time, observers expected Zor to be extradited to Turkey. That process was delayed, however, by his application for asylum: Zor claimed he had been persecuted as a journalist in Turkey. As expected, on July 15 Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Labor, Employment and Migration rejected his request. Yet Ankara never followed-up on the demand for extradition and Zor is languishing in limbo in a State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detention center, reportedly on hunger strike, according to Sabyrjan Mambetov, a spokesperson for the Taza Din (Pure Faith) movement, which has taken an interest in the case.
Turkey is usually vigilant when it comes to alleged Islamic radicals. Coercing Kyrgyzstan into extraditing Zor is also an easy way for Ankara to show off its influence in the region. Why then did Turkey not make more of an issue of Zor, an accused al-Qaeda sympathizer?
A writer for Islamist-inspired publications, Zor hardly elicits sympathy at home. But, his extradition would have focused unwanted attention on Turkey at a time when the democratic credentials and commitment to human rights of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are under scrutiny.
Tajikistan patted itself soundly on the back after rubbing out arch-Islamist insurgent Abdullo Rakhimov in April, but its security officials are not about to sit on their laurels.
According to the authorities, Rakhimov, aka Mullo Abdullo, was behind the killing of dozens of soldiers in the remote eastern Rasht Valley and was plotting to wage a campaign of terror across the country. After a successful military operation, however, Rakhimov and numerous accomplices were eliminated, putting a stop to all that.
Interior Minister Abdurakhim Kakhorov is now warning that the country's other oft-mentioned bogeyman, Mahmoud Khudoiberdiyev, could at some point make a resurgence and invade Tajikistan.
Khudoiberdiyev's story is altogether more complicated than Rakhimov's. (And piecing it together is not made any simpler by the seemingly endless ways that his names can be transliterated into English.)
Here is a useful biographical passage from Jesse Driscoll's article "Commitment Problems or Bidding Wars - Rebel Fragmentation as Peace-Building," which goes with a French-style spelling for Khudoiberdiyev:
Kazakhstan is rife with rumors about Nursultan Nazarbayev’s health, following a report that the president is in a German hospital.
Nazarbayev's number-one foe, his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, immediately jumped into the fray, publishing news on his blog that the 71-year-old president had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Aliyev – who fell out with his former father-in-law in 2007 and jumps at any opportunity to pour vitriol on him – didn't explain why, if he's so well-informed, he only published this news after reports of Nazarbayev’s hospitalization surfaced on July 19 in the German tabloid Bild, rather than before.
A Bloomberg report on July 20 quoted Bild as reporting that Nazarbayev had undergone prostate surgery and would be heading back to Astana that day.
Back in Kazakhstan, officials and the media are tight-lipped over the state of the president’s health. Nazarbayev’s office, which said on July 11 that he was taking a short vacation, issued no public statement and couldn’t be reached for comment.
If you run a successful international chain of casinos and are after new places to open a branch, you look for somewhere suitably glamorous and wealthy, right?
Well, no, not if you're Storm International.
In an apparently counter-intuitive move, the company last year opened a casino in Kyrgyzstan's desperately impoverished Batken Province, near the border with Tajikistan.
Really, who in that part of the world would have the disposable income to spare on high-stakes gambling? What kind of person in Tajikistan or southern Kyrgyzstan has money to fritter away on expensive leisure pursuits or, say, expensive SUVs and such?
Whoever these people are, the fun is seemingly all over for them, for authorities in Kyrgyzstan have apparently decided to shut down the Shangri-La Casino, Tajik news portal Asia-Plus reports.
As the site cautiously notes, "the reason for the suspension of the casino's operations is unknown, but according to some sources, operations were suspended following a ruling handed down by a chief prosecutor in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Province."
The report (which isn’t available on Bild’s site) said President Nursultan Nazarbayev was in the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf for unspecified treatment. Nazarbayev is meant to be on a short vacation, according to his office.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry referred EurasiaNet.org’s queries about his whereabouts to the president’s office, which could not immediately be reached for comment. Sources in Germany didn’t confirm the Bild report – the Federal Foreign Office told AFP it had no knowledge of Nazarbayev being in Hamburg, while Reuters quoted the hospital itself refusing to confirm or deny the news and a spokeswoman at the Kazakh embassy in Berlin saying she couldn’t confirm it either. “He's on vacation and he could be anywhere in the world," Reuters quoted the spokeswoman as saying.
Nazarbayev, who’s been at Kazakhstan’s helm for two decades, turned 71 earlier this month. He appears to be in a robust physical and mental condition, but any sign that his health is failing would cause concern among foreign investors, and among members of the Kazakh elite who’ve fared so well under his rule. Even as the succession issue looms ever larger as he ages, Nazarbayev has given no sign that he’s grooming anyone to take over, potentially paving the way for a vicious succession battle.
If a character like Kyrgyzstan's human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun didn't exist, you would have to make him up.
On July 18, his office distributed an email summoning journalists to a press conference to mark Nelson Mandela Day, which is held yearly to coincide with the retired statesman's birthday.
It is certainly no bad thing that Kyrgyzstan should be celebrating the life of a great man who devoted his political career to forging reconciliation, a concept utterly alien to the country's venal political class.
And pretty alien to Akun, too, while we're at it. He has said some notably worthy things about the ethnic clashes in Osh last year, it must be conceded. But one has to worry about a human rights ombudsman who criticizes an international report on the violence by complaining that it failed to realize the main cause of the unrest was that at the time of the Kokand Khanate (in the 18th and 19th centuries), the Kyrgyz were forced to seek employment from Uzbeks and other ethnic groups.
Anyway, back to Mandela Day.
With mercurial Akun running the show, one just had to expect the event to be somehow weirdly compromised, and he didn't disappoint.
Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov may go down in history as the man who boiled his enemies alive. If there is any truth to an account by Tashkent-based rights activist Yelena Urlayeva, however, his regime may also be remembered as the killer of cute kittens.
On July 1, a group of health inspectors allegedly barged into the Tashkent apartment of ailurophile Vladimir Kravchenko and attempted to round up all his cats. They poisoned two of the cats, which later died in pain foaming blood at the mouth, as Kravchenko cradled them in his arms, according to Urlayeva’s account.
Another cat jumped to its death out of a window in the fourth-floor apartment.
“Kravchenko was very fond of his cats and this violent raid has left him in a state of shock,” Urlayeva says in her statement.
There is no apparent explanation for what might have prompted this heavy-handed approach. Police told Kravchenko that another seized cat and its newborn kittens have been taken to an animal pound. Urlayeva says Kravchenko is now filing a legal appeal over the incident.
Meanwhile, to make matters worse for Kravchenko, somebody is regularly phoning him and announcing gleefully that authorities have taken his kittens to the zoo to feed to other animals.
If a society is indeed measured by how it treats the weakest and most defenseless creatures among it, this sorry incident won’t do much for Uzbekistan’s already pretty miserable reputation.
Think Tajikistan’s officials don’t care how their country is viewed abroad? Well, the release of a BBC reporter detained for one month on dubious charges of collusion with a radical group seems to have worried President Emomali Rakhmon. Journalist Urunboy Usmonov was released on July 14 just hours after Rakhmon’s advisor tried to distance the president from the arrest. (Usmonov is out, but still faces charges of not tattling on his alleged sources, members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and cannot leave the country.)
Suhrob Sharipov, head of the Strategic Research Centre under the Tajik President, was quoted by Asia-Plus as saying:
“Rakhmon recently visited Europe, where he had very important meetings with the leadership of various countries and bodies. [He] was trying to improve the republic’s image in Europe. Then he returns and this happens. So the displeasure of European bodies with which the president had just met followed immediately thereafter.”
(They were already displeased, actually, and told him so.)
According to Sharipov, the arrest – which brought widespread international condemnation -- was the fault of the overzealous security services, who may need to weed out incompetent officers from their ranks.
After being named and shamed earlier this year as the worst offender for unpaid parking tickets in London, Kazakhstan's diplomats have finally buckled and agreed to settle up almost $60,000 for 627 parking violations.
But that’s only a fraction of the Kazakhs’ debt to the city. In January authorities identified Astana’s representatives as owing $300,000 generated from 1,715 tickets. One Kazakhstani diplomat was singled out as the most prolific offender: The BMW 318i driver clocked more than $85,000 in unpaid fines with 471 tickets.
London’s Westminster Council, which is chasing more than $1,500,000 in unpaid tickets from diplomats, has had huge problems trying to get the cash from the embassy community, where 'diplomatic immunity' is often cited as a defense for violating parking regulations.
"No one likes getting a parking ticket but most motorists play fair and either pay the fine or follow the appeals process. It's time these diplomats started to respect the rules of the road in the UK, and stopped thinking they can do what they like at the expense of our taxpayers,” said Westminster's parking supremo Lee Rowley.