After a series of recent, youth-centric protests fluttered the dovecotes of Azerbaijani society, President Ilham Aliyev’s government has launched a program to keep the rebellious spirit of Azerbaijani youth in check.
At an April 28 pow-wow with regional heads of the party’s youth wing, Ahmedov instructed the assembled to reach out to non-aligned youth. “Some forces are trying to use youth for their dark goals,” Akhmedov declared. A recent string of youth activist arrests suggests the police second that opinion. “The state of Azerbaijan expects young people to study better and to take closer part in the development of Azerbaijan," he said.
Akhmedov’s words bring to mind a favorite line of headstrong teacher Jean Brodie, so deftly performed by Maggie Smith in the 1969 movie "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie:" “Little girls, I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders…give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she’s mine for life.”
Two Caucasus neighbors, Georgia and Azerbaijan, once spoke Russian as a second language. Now, Georgia is busy recruiting English teachers to become an English-speaking nation, while neighboring Azerbaijan seems to be banking on Chinese as the next hip language to speak.
A chapter of the Confucius Institute, a government-funded sinology network, opened at Baku State University on April 22. China’s Anhui University will supply textbooks and other teaching materials through the institute to help popularize the Chinese language and culture among presumably eager Azerbaijanis.
Sometimes described as similar to Germany’s Goethe-Institut or France’s Alliance Française, the Confucius Institute has faced criticism for allegedly being a propaganda vehicle for the Chinese government. Some scholars claim that Beijing uses the institute and household name of the philosopher Confucius as tools to promote its cultural and economic reach to a number of countries, now including Azerbaijan.
A ruling from the European Court for Human Rights has "noted with particular concern" that Georgia's presidential branch, Ministry of the Interior, prosecutors and courts "all acted in concert in preventing justice from being done" in a scandalous 2006 murder case involving Interior Ministry officials.
The Strasbourg court on April 26 ordered the Georgian government to pay 50,000 euros (just over $73, 929) in moral damages to the parents of murdered banker Sandro Girgvliani for failing to provide an adequate investigation, trial and punishment in the case. The court criticized the government for showing unreasonable lenience toward the four perpetrators, Interior Ministry employees who have been pardoned and released.
The court found, however, that the four were acting in a personal capacity, and that their conduct cannot “attract the entire State’s international responsibility for the killing.”
[This post was updated on April 27, 2011 to clarify Georgia's position on Russia's WTO accession.]
A hazardous, bubbling substance was discovered in Moscow markets the other day. Russian food police arrested bottles of the Georgian mineral water Borjomi, which stubbornly appeared on stalls in the Russian capital despite a nationwide ban on beverage imports from Georgia.
Russian food security officials maintain that Georgian wine and mineral water -- the cause and cure of hangovers -- are not safe for Russians to consume. The smuggled bottles were confiscated before more Russians could imbibe the enemy-produced water.
In response to the security breach, Gennadiy Onishchenko, director of the Rospotrebnadzor food security agency, said that his ever-alert office is suing a Belarusian company that allegedly sold the bottled menace. The same official earlier hinted that his office may drop the charges against Georgian water and wine if Tbilisi agrees to support Russia’s US-backed bid to enter the World Trade Organization.
When invited to a wedding, few would consider a bribe for the notary as a gift for the happy couple. In Armenia, though, many such couples are paying notaries two or even three times more than they should for tying the knot, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian claims.
To check what's amiss over at the civil registry, the government sent a task force, made up of young people, who reported back about rampant overcharging by many officials and notaries, Regnum news agency reported.
The prime minister said that legislation proposed by the government will help eradicate such pockets of corruption; meanwhile, the secret registry monitoring will continue, he pledged.
Stepping up the fight on corruption might be one way of improving those scores.
Sarkisian did not say if people are similarly overcharged for divorces, but, conceivably, with millions of dollars in aid funds hanging in the balance, that question might be the next mission for Armenia's civil-registry-corruption task force.
Hopes for sculptural diplomacy between Turkey and Armenia are turning into dust as workers on April 18 began demolition of a giant monument near Turkey's border with Armenia meant to promote friendship between the two feuding states.
And now, after months of opposition from liberal voices at home and angry reactions from Armenia, a touch of crime has been added to the struggle over the statue. The monument's Turkish sculptor, Bedri Baykam, and a companion were stabbed yesterday in Istanbul in an attack that Turkish media linked to the statue's destruction. Baykam, who had described the demolition plans as “artistic murder,” had planned to lead a march to the nearby city of Kars to stop the sculpture's destruction.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in January ordered the demolition of the 30-meter-high concrete statue, calling the structure a “monstrosity."
World leaders nudged Armenia and Turkey into signing a road map to reconciliation in 2009, but the two, still scarred by a near-century-year-old massacre and differing views on the Nagorno-Karabakh independence bid, soon became locked in a you-go-first style of bargaining that eventually brought the two sides back to square one.
Felling the monument, ugly as it may be, is likely to help keep them there, critics fear.
Apparently, the "dark forces" that allegedly threaten Azerbaijan can come in many forms, including that of a little pony-tailed girl yelling "Freedom." In a display of growing nervousness about street rallies, Azerbaijani police on April 17 detained a girl under the age of 10 and an accompanying woman (presumably her mother) as they chanted "Freedom!" near an unsanctioned anti-government protest in Baku, a YouTube video clip shows.
Overall, some 65 demonstrators, including political activists, rights advocates and bloggers were arrested on Sunday for resisting police orders and allegedly causing damage to cars and stores at the latest in an ongoing series of unsanctioned rallies in Azerbaijan.
City prosecutors did not specify how much of the havoc was wreaked by the detained little girl.
The Internet, streets and schools have all become battlegrounds in the relatively small, but increasingly fierce war waged by many of Azerbaijan's political elite against dissent. Now, a fresh front has been identified -- foreign embassies in Baku.
Pro-government parliamentarian Bakhar Muradova on April 15 called out US Ambassador Matthew Bryza and other foreign diplomats for sitting down to chat with the People’s Chamber, an opposition grouping. “Ambassadors of the US and other countries must consider that their actions may harm ties between Azerbaijan and their countries,” Muradova told an assembly of the likeminded in Azerbaijan's parliament.
Other representatives demanded that the diplomats make public topics that had been discussed at the meeting with the opposition. Parliamentarian Faraj Guliyev proposed to launch an investigation into the actions of these diplomats, and, if needed, declare them personae non gratae.
Local media reported that Ambassador Bryza objected that there is nothing untoward in meetings between embassy officials and opposition parties, and underlined that Washington is not backing revolutions anywhere.
Azerbaijan's next opposition-government showdown is likely to take place on April 17, when opposition groups plan to defy a city government order not to hold a rally in downtown Baku.
Israel may soon have another Caucasus client for its weaponry -- the breakaway region of Abkhazia.
Abkhazia’s de facto official news agency Apsny Press reported on April 14 that separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh has struck a deal in Moscow with Israeli company Global CST to supply unspecified defense technologies to Abkhazia. Former defense officials participated in the negotiations, which, the agency claims, had the Israeli government's blessing. A delegation of ex-officials and representatives of the company are Sokhumi-bound this week, the agency reported.
It is humble-pie time for social media power skeptics. Azerbaijan has accused a Strasbourg-based Azerbaijani blogger, Elnur Majidli, of attempting to overthrow the government with that modern weapon of mass destruction, Facebook.
Majidli was among the organizers of a few recent rallies, heavily promoted on Facebook and scarred by scuffles with police, that apparently hit Azerbaijani officials as a throwback to demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa.