The US Federal Reserve faces a lawsuit from an Armenian Diaspora group that claims the Fed is withholding information about a US government purchase of gold it claims was pillaged from ethnic Armenians in Turkey.
The gold, now supposedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was supposedly seized during Ottoman Turkey's bloody crackdown on ethnic Armenians in 1915.
The Glendale, California-based Center for Armenian Remembrance claims that the Ottoman Turks melted the gold into coins and stashed it in a German bank. “When Germany and Turkey lost [ World War I], the Allies confiscated this loot as ‘war reparations’ against Turkey,” attorney Vartkes Yeghiaian, the Center's director, told Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News. Yeghiayan claims that eventually the gold was sold to the US government.
The Fed reportedly has responded that it has no record of purchasing Armenian gold.
The same group earlier pushed for US and French insurance companies to pay up on 100-year-old life insurance policies held by victims of the 1915 massacre. Two former colleagues are suing Yeghiaian for his handling of a settlement with one of the companies, New York Life Insurance, the Courthouse News Service reported on March 15.
Now, how many times has this happened to you? You've arranged for a romantic vacation in the oil-rich country of Azerbaijan. You're thinking handmade rugs, fire temples, bathing in oil (literally), but then it turns out that getting a visa is a bit of a pain in the neck.
Azerbaijan’s decision last year to stop issuing visitor visas at the airport has complicated matters for all travelers other than visitors from the country's onetime Soviet peers. At the time, the decision, coming on the eve of parliamentary elections, was seen by many as an attempt to restrict Western visitors' access to the tightly managed Caucasus country.
But Baku, which announced that 2011 would be the year of tourism, now needs to fling Azerbaijan's doors wide open. Or wider open, at least.
So, it plans to take its visa application process online.
According to a new draft bill, tour agencies can submit visa applications electronically to Azerbaijani consulates, which will email back the visas, to be presented with passports at border control points.
No doubt buoyed by the Azerbaijani government's newfound digital enthusiasm, Culture and Tourism Minister Abulfaz Garayev has predicted that Azerbaijan will see some 3.5 million tourists per year over the next five years.
Russia may have quickly defeated Georgia in the 2008 war, but Moscow still speaks of a Georgian menace to regional security. To suss up the nature of this "menace," a Russian reporter from the Kommersant daily recently spent a week behind enemy lines with a Georgian special forces unit.
The elite Georgian servicemen live in barracks that look like “a three-star hotel," reporter Vladimir Solovyev wrote in the March 21 piece; they do not salute, but, rather, exchange handshakes and kisses; they know how to use a condom to stop bleeding from a wound and, to add insult to injury, the American-trained soldiers are learning English and have taken to using American military terms.
To top it off, President Mikheil Saakashvili and his five-year-old son, Nikolozi, both decked out in military fatigues, showed up to visit the troops during the Russian team's time at the base.
What was the point of Tbilisi agreeing to all this? It could be a PR stunt for the negotiating table; another attempt to show Moscow that Georgia's armed forces are no longer ragtag guerilla fighters, and deserve respect. Or, alternatively, another chance to show the West that Georgia, unlike Russia, welcomes media scrutiny -- even from an enemy state.
A story run by Georgia's effervescently pro-government TV station Rustavi-2 reinforced both those impressions.
Still, the visit's purpose was apparently less than clear to all of the Georgian special forces who came into contact with the Russian team. “How did you get in here?" asked one perplexed captain. "Even Georgian -- much less Russian -- journalists have never been here."
That argument is likely to fall on deaf ears in both Moscow and Sokhumi.
In 2009, the breakaway government invited Russian border guards to help train its own border forces. The largest of four Russian border guard compounds in Abkhazia -- five hectares in area, with room for 50 servicemen and their families -- just opened in the village of Otobaia, in the southern district of Gali. Russian soldiers are now the main line of defense against any Georgian attempt to retake the territory.
President Mikheil Saakashvili has described Georgia as the cultural crossroads of the Caucasus, a place where various ethnicities can easily mix. But a look at attempts at language integration for the country’s minority ethnic Azeri and Armenian populations suggests that sizable obstacles must be overcome if the government is to make Saakashvili’s depiction a reality.
Fasten your seat belts, put your seat backs in a full, upright position and please mind the Azerbaijani guns pointed at us. Soon we'll be landing in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
Azerbaijan’s aviation authorities warned on March 16 that flights from Yerevan to Karabakh’s newly refurbished airport, expected to start in May, are not authorized and may be shot down. “[T]he airspace over Karabakh is closed,” said Arif Mammadov, director of Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Administration. “According to the law on aviation, airplanes landing in that territory may be destroyed."
Some regional commentators think that Baku’s warning may be little more than a bugaboo meant to disrupt Karabakh's connections with the outside world. But that is still not too comforting for those of us with a fear of flying.
With nuclear reactors dangerously boiling in earthquake-affected Japan, earthquake-prone Armenia is looking at Metsamor -- the Caucasus’ only, rusting nuclear power plant -- and asking "Can this happen here?"
The ripple effect of the Japan earthquake was registered as far away as in Armenia and Georgia. Mini-quakes and a mud volcano eruption that recently took place in Azerbaijan were unrelated to Japan's earthquake, however, local seismic activity watchers said.
Russia apparently believes that the way to the World Trade Organization lies through Georgian grape vineyards. Failing to override Georgian opposition to Russia’s US-backed WTO bid, Moscow is applying pressure on Tbilisi by tempting Georgian winemakers to return to Russia, once the main consumer of Georgian alcohol.
The Georgian government may be ignoring Moscow’s offer to re-admit Georgian wine that passes quality control tests, but Georgian winemakers themselves want to regain access to Russian markets, Onishchenko claimed.
In response,Tbilisi, more interested in territorial than economic concessions from Moscow, has warned Georgian winemakers to beware of Russians bearing gifts. “Seventy percent of the Russian economy runs on hush money,” asserted Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze. “Officials do not sign off on anything until they get that infamous envelope.”
Suit yourself, businesses, the minister added, but would you really want to face all the hassle associated with marketing in Russia while the chances are that you will get kicked out again?
Georgian businesspeople, who have a long record of doing business in Russia, may not mind that hassle, but Georgia is not quite the place where corporate pressure can alter foreign policy.
Azerbaijan's policeman-in-chief has evaluated the March 11 protest and reached a conclusion: the reason why an Egypt-style revolution did not happen is because most young Azerbaijanis love and cherish their president, Ilham Aliyev.
The president, it seems, was not distracted by young protesters’ calls for more democracy and less corruption; apparently, he was focused on tackling what his supporters might term more serious problems, such as rising egg prices.
Those supporters might concede that, yes, there were a few impressionable young minds who were led astray and encouraged by “certain forces” (a regional euphemism for the opposition and/or general forces of evil) to challenge the rule of the egg-cartel-battling president.
“The radical opposition and its leaders, unchanging as set decorations, are willing even to make a pact with the devil” to get more power and justify their “formal presence” on the political stage, charged the Interior Ministry.
But Usubov might well assert that Azerbaijan's police have the best interests of any "wayward" young activists -- and other government critics-- in mind.
Washington hopes that WTO membership will teach Russia to play by the rules when it comes to investment and trade. WTO member Georgia, however, is looking to sell for a good price the only significant bargaining chip it has in its territorial conflict with the Kremlin.
In exchange for allowing Russia into the WTO, Tbilisi wants Moscow to let Georgians guard Russia’s borders with breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia or, at the very least, to support the deployment of international border monitors in both territories.
Russia, which is on a mission to convince the world to accept Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states, was quick to throw out the option. Instead, Moscow offered to resolve the dispute over a glass of wine.
Parallel to the WTO talks, Russia’s food security chief, Gennadiy Onishchenko, reiterated that Russia may lift its embargo on Georgian wines if Georgia, to which Onishchenko kindly referred as a “nationalist territorial formation,” submits to "control measures" on its wine products.
Commenting on Tbilisi's attempts to block Moscow's WTO bid, Onishchenko scoffed that the Georgians must think that “they hold the god by his beard and they will probably order [him] around, using Russia's national interests."