Investigators of a brutal Yerevan murder that sparked a popular outcry against Armenia's oligarchs have reduced the incident to merely an argument over fashion sense gone badly wrong.
As Armenian police tell it, the June 29 death of military doctor Vahe Avetian was all about a restaurant taking its dress code very seriously . . . unlike the lives of its customers, apparently. The police alleged that a waiter, David Adamian, bickered with Avetian over his clothes until the two took it outside, where restaurant security beat the doctor and his friends up; in Avetian’s case, the beating led to his death, 12 days later. End of story.
The police account makes no mention of the restaurant owner, multi-millionaire businessman Ruben Hayrapetian, who claims he's in as much shock over what happened as anybody. The prosecutor’s office refused a request by the Avetian family to consider Hayrapetian, a onetime parliamentarian for President Serzh Sargysan's Republican Party of Armenia, as a suspect. Hayrapetian surrendered his seat in parliament after Avetian's death.
But what’s mainly missing in the police account is the big picture. For rights activists and many ordinary Armenians, the incident was not just about one man’s death, but a wakeup call about the ways things are done in the country.
After Avetian's death, many Armenians rallied against what they described as a tradition of allowing thuggish businessmen and their glazed-eyed bodyguards to run rampant.
European democracy watchers have secured a temporary cease-fire in the increasingly nasty battle between the Georgian government and billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili over campaign finance. This begs the question of what role Tbilisi's concerns about its international image will play in keeping the country's October 1 parliamentary elections on a democratic track.
Since Ivanishvili declared war on President Mikheil Saakashvili last year and formed his six-party Georgian Dream coalition, state auditors have been pounding the billionaire and his political allies with one fine after another for alleged violations of campaign finance laws. Local rights groups repeatedly have challenged the legality of the penalties, but the government has maintained adamantly that "Bidzina," as he is known, is a compulsive vote-buyer.
And then the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe came to town. Call it a coincidence, but the moment the PACE envoys, on hand to size up democracy during Georgia's campaign season, questioned the legitimacy of the fines, the auditors put the collection of one set of fees on hold.
They may be divided by a war and an almost epic feud, but in a trend worthy of a classic Russian novel, Russians are by far Georgians' favorite foreigners to marry.
Of some 2,000 cross-border marriages in Georgia so far in 2012, almost 900 were between Georgians and Russians, according to Georgian Civil Registry data shared with EurasiaNet.org.
In most cases (roughly 500), a Georgian is the groom and a Russian is the bride.
Surprised? You might well be.
Georgia’s 2008 diplomatic break-up with Russia went like a nasty, dish-throwing divorce that left emotional (and physical) scars, plus unresolved property disputes. To hear Tbilisi tell it, the Kremlin has since turned into a creepy stalker that just can’t let go.
In particular, of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, some 20 percent of Georgia's internationally recognized territory, where thousands of Russian troops are still stationed.
A recent poll indicated that some 73 percent of Georgians think that Russia poses a danger to their country.
But, apparently, those considerations take a backseat when love comes a-calling.
Granted, a running joke in Georgia holds that many men miss the days when they could fly to Moscow on the cheap in pursuit of Russian women, and, no doubt, that line will be trotted out again to explain this marriage trend.
Yet this looks like more than a passing infatuation -- last year, Georgian-Russian unions accounted for almost 50 percent of the 1,362 marriages between Georgians and foreign nationals.
After Russians, Georgian men give priority to Armenian and Ukrainian women, while Georgian women go for Turkish and Greek men.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili used a speech commemorating Georgia’s disastrous 2008 war with Russia to toss a few verbal brickbats at some present-day enemies.
Saakashvili’s nationally televised address August 7 was ostensibly a remembrance of the sacrifices and suffering that occurred during the five-day clash that began on August 8, 2008. But, with an eye toward Georgia’s parliamentary elections in October, the president also did a little politicking on behalf of his United National Movement party.
At one point in his speech, Saakashvili insinuated that Georgia’s leading opposition figure, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, was acting as an unwitting accomplice of Georgia’s long-time bête noire, Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“Now they [the Russians] have a new plan for Georgia, which is about breaking Georgia from within … with the hands of Georgians themselves,” Saakashvili said. He went on to deride “mummified figures” who were ready to sell out Georgia.
Saakashvili also baited Putin, saying that Russia couldn’t achieve its goal back in 2008 of installing a pro-Kremlin regime in Tbilisi. "They have failed,’ the president said. “Georgia has the same government, so it [Russia] is not a winner.”
Since Ivanishvili’s emergence as an opposition force to be reckoned with, Saakashvili and his allies have sought to portray the billionaire as a Kremlin hireling. Ivanishvili has tried to counter such allegations by accusing Saakashvili of engaging in reckless behavior that caused Georgian and Russian forces to start shooting back in 2008.
There’s a whiff of something rotten in the air, and it’s trailing the Azerbaijani boxing team at the London Olympics.
Forget about the badminton scandal that featured Chinese, South Korean, and Indonesian players throwing matches. Perhaps the most egregious behavior so far at these Olympic Games has been the boxing officiating - and Azerbaijani boxers have just happened to be the beneficiaries of two of the most controversial decisions.
The latest result to prompt howls of disbelief was Azerbaijan heavyweight Teymur Mammadov’s decision August 5 over Siarhei Karneyu of Belarus. Boxing commentators who watched the fight said Mammadov should have been disqualified in the third round for a clear rule violation.
But it turned out that if the bout’s referee had one more eye, he’d be a Cyclops.
“This was as big a travesty as we've seen so far,” boxing commentator Scott Christ wrote on the Bad Left Hook blog, referring to the scoring in the Mammadov fight.
NBC boxing analyst Teddy Atlas offered perhaps the most memorable comment on the officiating, when, after the Mammadov bout, he said: “I’m going to start keeping a bucket here near ringside, because I want to throw up.”
The Mammadov decision followed on the heels of a bantamweight bout, in which Azerbaijani fighter Muhammed Abdulahmidov got pummeled, and yet was declared the winner. That decision, however, was overturned on appeal.
These days, no newscast is complete on Georgia's government-friendly national news channels without a little plug for President Mikheil Saakashvili that usually features Misha embracing an overjoyed old lady or "bebia."
One day, village women thank the president for fixing their water supplies; the next, he is personally pulling a more middle-aged woman through a flash flood.
(A photo depicting the latter scene was posted on Facebook by the Russian journal Snob.ru next to a still of Russian President Vladimir Putin thoughtfully observing flood damage from the safety of his plane. The two pictures have been madly debated, with some crediting Misha for getting his feet wet for the people, and others defending Putin's drier ways. )
Whether or not the old ladies are truly happy to see their president, the encounters are a syrupy standard for Georgia's national broadcasters, and one that no government would want to see go awry in an election year.
But when they do, leave it to the president to turn them around into another bebia-hugging success.
Case in point: At a July 24 event in western Georgia, Roza Tskabelia, a poverty-stricken local, tried to approach Saakashvili to tell him about her plight. Opposition-minded TV cameras filmed two plainclothesmen crudely dragging the struggling woman away. The video was aired on TV and went viral online, with Internet users demanding the men's punishment.
Olympics fans should expect Georgian athletes, the dollar signs flickering in their eyes, to fight madly for gold in London. Of all countries, it was the cash-strapped Caucasus nation of Georgia that has offered the most lavish prize for gold medals -- $1.2 million per pop. A sum that makes this Georgian wish he’d taken those tennis lessons more seriously.
Over half of the country's population is employed in a struggling agricultural sector and hundreds of thousands are economically vulnerable Internally Displaced People. It's a place where international development dollars have run strong, and where infrastructure improvement is an ongoing challenge. Any strong rain can cause massive damage to farm lands and turns the capital, Tbilisi, into a water park.
But never underestimate a Georgian sports fan. The prize money on offer is more than twice the $510,000 promised by the second-most-generous athletic benefactor, Georgia's well-to-do neighbor, energy-rich Azerbaijan.
As RFE/RL points out, even one of the world's richest countries, the US, is only ponying up $25,000.
Azerbaijan’s ruling party announced today that their leader, President Ilham Aliyev, will run for a third term in 2013. Now who saw that coming?
The nomination was "definite," solemnly declared Ali Ahmedov, the executive secretary for Yeni Azerbaijan Party, as if the matter had not been as clear as day ever since Aliyev assumed the presidency in 2003.
Several days ago, Aliyev's opponents had argued that preventing the president from seeking reelection would be key to leveling the field for the 2013 vote.
“If Ilham Aliyev runs for the third time, there will be no room for a fair election,” Kavkazsky Uzel reported Panah Huseynov, one of the coordinators of the Public Chamber movement, as saying.
But running forever runs in the Aliyev family. Ilham Aliyev all but inherited the presidency from his late, glorified father Heydar Aliyev, who died a president. And when it comes to holding on to power, Ilham is his father’s son.
For now, the opposition’s plan is to mount a public push for democratization and to appeal to the international community for help. But the Aliyev government has shown in the past its taste for crackdowns, and Western governments, their eyes both on Azerbaijan's energy resources and its strategic proximity to Iran, usually do little more than wag a finger at Aliyev’s authoritarian practices.
Looks like the opposition strategists will need to think creatively if they don’t want to see another “definite” result in 2013.
The antenna confiscation spree is part of an across-the-board campaign against the supposed corrupting power of Western satellite channels. In Tehran's telling, the satellite dishes radiate evil. And evil can take many forms such as the BBC, Voice of America, Nickelodeon . . . .
“The satellite channels… have one objective only – to attack Islam, our Islamic government and [the] great people of Iran,” one cleric is shown preaching in a BBC report on the launch of the anti-satellite-dish campaign. Instead, Tehran aims to keep viewers' channels resolutely turned to the broadcasts of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
There is an extra dimension to the campaign in northwestern Iran, an area allegedly susceptible to irredentism by that nettlesome neighbor, Azerbaijan. Baku has many bones to pick with Tehran, ranging from terrorism allegations to meddling in domestic affairs and the recent arrest of Azerbaijani poets. Iranian officials keep telling their angered counterparts in Baku that the poets committed a crime, but have not specified its exact nature.