Armenia is just not big enough to accommodate all the ethnic Armenian refugees from Syria, say some concerned Armenian observers. Almost 5,200 Syrians, mostly of Armenian descent, have requested Armenian citizenship since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and the influx is touching off concerns in the small, cash-strapped Caucasus country.
Syrians with Caucasian roots continue to flee to their distant ancestral lands across the Caucasus. Even troubled spots like the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and, in Russia's North Caucasus, the regions of Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea, seem safe and welcoming places to be.
But it is Armenia that is facing the biggest Diaspora homecoming. An Aleppo-Yerevan flight keeps bringing in more and more Syrians. Some say they are moving temporarily to weather out the storm at home, while others are ready to call Armenia home.
“My ancestors moved to Syria, escaping the genocide [of Armenians] in Ottoman Turkey. Now we have fled that once peaceful country,” one Syrian migrant told Kavkazsky Uzel news service. He hopes to make it in Armenia with his family or try to move Los Angeles, home to his brother and a large ethnic Armenian community.
Armenian authorities say they are eager to take in refugees, but concerns are growing over their ability to do so. And over the dwindling ethnic Armenian presence in the Middle East. Ethnic Armenians have lived in Syria for centuries and the Armenian government should not let that community disappear, Yerevan State University's Arab studies expert Ayk Kocharian told Kavkazsky Uzel.
There are two ways to gauge the popularity of political parties in Georgia -- opinion polls and the number of people who turn up for rallies in downtown Tbilisi. Scientifically questionable as the latter method may be, it is still frequently cited as a key indicator of political sentiments.
The survey of 6,299 voters showed that Georgian Dream’s approval rating has gone up over the past four months to reach 18 percent, but still falls behind the support (36 percent) for President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM).
In the latest episode in Georgia’s battle-for-TV drama: the opposition-minded television station Maestro is handing out thousands of satellite dishes to households; a move that could weaken the government-leaning channels’ dominance on national airwaves. The government strikes back by impounding the antennas. Critics accuse the authorities of being control freaks; the government accuses Maestro of being Ivanishvili's tool for vote bribery.
In our previous episode: Global TV, a cable and satellite television carrier partly owned by Ivanishvili’s brother, Alexander, distributed tens of thousands of satellite dishes. The authorities seized the antennas and a court landed a multi-million-lari fine on Ivanishvili for alleged voter bribery.
Granted, this drama might seem like a rerun. Back in 2007, amidst clashes with Tbilisi protesters, police stormed the premises of Imedi TV, a popular national broadcaster then owned by Misha critic Badri Patarkatsishvili, and pulled the plug on the station's programs, claiming they were meant to stir up revolt. Imedi, which has since changed hands, never played the big time for critical news again.
Azerbaijan is counting sheep; not to go to sleep, however. The South Caucasus country, known for its strong taste for lamb, is corralling its sheep and all other livestock into a national database, complete with personal profiles.
The sheep files will contain information on ownership, pedigree and disease history. The sheep themselves will be fixed with electronic identification devices, a novelty for the region. The microchips with ID numbers will be inserted under the animals’ skin to help locate lost sheep.
While local herders maintain that no two Azerbaijani sheep look alike, the radio signals emitted by their microchips will make tracking them down easier when the animals go astray.
“Right now, we have a huge database with hard copies,” Azer Guliyev, deputy head of the National Veterinary Service told the Russian news channel Mir. “It is a lot of work to pull a file from the archive. The new system will make things easier.”
The National Veterinary Service says that Azerbaijani herders will be able to track their animals' whereabouts as of next year. Social networking, no doubt, will just be a matter of time.
Human rights activists claim the move is Baku's latest attempt to clamp down on those who don't march to its own drumbeat. The government counters that it's got the goods for the charge, but is not elaborating at length.
The footage, which ranked as the seventh most-watched YouTube video as of July 5, shows a rural wedding party with performers exchanging barbs and verses to a lively drumbeat -- traditional meykhana style -- in a hodgepodge of Azeri, Russian and Talysh .
The refrain, drawled in heavily accented Russian -- Ты кто такой? Давай, до свидания! ("Who do you think you are?! Get a move on, good-bye!") -- became an Internet meme, going viral via Twitter and Facebook throughout the post-Soviet world.
The good-bye part was quickly picked up by Azerbaijani and Russian political dissidents eager to say “до свидания” to Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin, respectively.
Georgia's stern-faced Education Minister Dimitri Shashkin, often depicted as a Georgian-style Agatha Trunchbull, can finally let his ardor for discipline go wild. The country’s top schoolmaster has been penciled in as minister of defense in an ongoing makeover of the Georgian cabinet.
Depending on which side of Georgia’s political divide you're standing, the 36-year-old Shashkin, who installed police supervisors in public schools, is either criticized for turning educational institutions into one big guardhouse or praised for reducing school violence and truancy. But everyone, including his critics, agree that he is well-placed as the taskmaster for Georgia's men and women in uniform.
The no less strait-laced Bacho Akhalaia, defense minister since 2009, has been tagged to hop over to the interior ministry.
On July 4, parliament is scheduled to vote on the changes, including President Mikheil Saakashvili's June 30 appointment of longtime Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili as prime minister.
Per tradition, the top nominations in the so-called power ministries are reserved for members of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s inner circle.
But the proposed cabinet will not be without some new faces. Two additional women will bring some gender balance to the predominantly male 20-member group as well.
Khatia Dekanoidze, a former police academy rector, is slotted to replace Shashkin as education minister, while the education minister from Abkhazia's government-in-exile, Dali Khomeriki, has been proposed to head the IDP ministry.
Just as Georgia was about to snooze away the summer, its political scene was jolted wide awake by President Mikheil Saakashvili's June 30 appointment of the country's executive sheriff, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, as prime minister. The move has major implications for the October parliamentary vote and, potentially, for what direction Georgia takes once President Saakashvili steps down from power in 2013.
Until now, the “iron minister” has stayed outside the Saakashvili administration's ongoing game of musical chairs with ministerial appointments. This is the first time since 2005 that a figure with national heft has been chosen for the job, which, in recent years, has been mostly reserved for technocrats fluent in English and business.
Parliament, controlled by Saakashvili's United National Movement, is expected to approve the nomination.
Merabishvili, who presided over the oft-praised clean-up of Georgia’s legendarily corrupt police force, has a reputation as a skilled manager. The government, citing one recent survey, maintains that 87 percent of the population give the police a thumbs-up.
Conceivably, they must be hoping that, with Merabishvili as prime minister, some of that public trust will fob off on the government just in time for the elections.
Larry King was in Azerbaijan today to talk about a subject with which he is quite familiar -- women. At a Baku event staged by the Crans Montana Forum, a Swiss organization in search of "a more humane and impartial world," the legendary American talk-show host, known for his revolving-door love life, addressed the rights and the role of women "in tomorrow's world."
Georgia is in the midst of a tense campaign for its October parliamentary election that is increasingly reminiscent of a nasty battle between two rival corporations for market share, with plenty of legal fights thrown in for good measure.
In the other corner is billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, the unspoken target of Saakashvili's comment. (Russia, making its umpteenth alleged appearance in a Georgian political drama, was the unnamed country.)
But neither the supposed attempts at vote buying nor the penalties imposed for them are actually cheap.
Just when you thought it would never happen, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Azerbaijan, Turkey and Europe will soon be tied “organically." The organic matter in question is, of course, natural gas, soon to flow through a new pipeline, per a long-awaited June 26 agreement between Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Europe’s organic dependence on Russia could decrease after some 16 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Azerbaijani gas start to flow each year via the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), to be completed in 2018. Turkey will be happily siphoning off six billion cubic meters of the gas, while the rest will head further afield, to Europe. The volumes are projected to nearly double by 2023 and further increase to 31 bcm by 2026.
Shah Deniz 2, the second stage of development of a massive gas field off Azerbaijan's Caspian-Sea coast, will provide the bulk of the supplies, but Erdoğan expressed hope that, in future, the gas will come not only from Azerbaijan, but from its across-the-Caspian-Sea neighbors in Central Asia.
Speaking of ties, TANAP could further tie Azerbaijan to BP. The British energy giant, which leads the Shah Deniz project, has shown interest in purchasing a stake in the pipeline, co-owned by the states of Azerbaijan and Turkey.