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.
A bearded Orthodox priest solemnly gliding by on rollerblades is not a usual sight in Georgia. Or elsewhere, for that matter. Yet along a bridge and into Tbilisi's downtown area a priest in flowing robes did glide the other day. Granted, the Bible chronicles stranger things, but several alarmed local priests promptly appeared on the scene and ordered the holy roller to give up his sinful ways.
In fact, the coasting reverend was an actor and the miraculous sight was part of a movie project, but the real clerics declared that the scene ridiculed the Georgian Orthodox Church and demanded a halt to production. Police had to intervene between the film crew and the priests, who were backed up by seminary students. In the end, the movie-makers beat a retreat, reported the Netgazeti.ge news site.
Back in the Soviet era, parodying priests in movies was frequent and keenly encouraged by the state. A confrontation between a rotund, gluttonous priest and a relentless anarchist ("Jesus was slim. What made you gain weight?") is a trademark of the 1970s classic, The Adventures of Lazarus. One of the best known Georgian movies from the same period, The Wishing Tree, features a frivolous village priest with a taste for the bottle.
Abkhazia may be an impoverished, largely unrecognized piece of separatist Caucasus territory, but, for many, it sure beats Syria these days.
Thirty-two Syrians of Abkhaz descent have escaped the violence at home and moved to the breakaway territory in a transfer facilitated by the de-facto Abkhaz authorities (and, perhaps, their patrons in Moscow).
Another 50 Syrian-Abkhaz are expected "in the near future," the region's de-facto Repatriation Committee Chairperson Zurab Adleiby told Kavkazsky Uzel news service. One hundred total are expected this year, Apsnypress reported.
The de-facto Abkhaz government reportedly is trying to fix them up with jobs and is preparing permanent housing near the capital city, Sukhumi.
As they have for Abkhaz-Turks as well, the Abkhaz have hailed the Syrians' arrival as a homecoming. It may have been a while (a century and half, to be specific) since these families’ ancestors were driven out of Abkhazia by Tsarist Russia, but, in the Caucasus, centuries-old events are often discussed as things that happened yesterday.
Some Syrian-Abkhaz have done a better job preserving their knowledge of Abkhaz language and customs over the generations, than others, however. A video report from the Kavkazsky Uzel shows a seven-year-old Syrian girl reciting a poem in Abkhaz, while an elderly woman in an Arab-style headdress says it is harder for older people to learn the local language.
Little is known about what brings Rummy to George W. Bush’s beacon of regional democracy; perhaps because local media are too busy covering the government's seizure of property belonging to a cable television company accused of bribing voters for Ivanishvili. What we know is that Rumsfeld met Georgian Defense Minister Bacho Akhalia, who thanked him for his contribution to deepening US-Georgia military ties.
The two past and present defense bosses chatted about Georgia’s plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the ongoing military reforms in the country. Rumsfeld will stay in town for a week; perhaps he is working on a chapter for a new installment of memoirs?