In what is making for a tale worthy of a John-le-Carré-thriller, de-facto officials in the breakaway region of Abkhazia have unearthed the bodies of a missing Russian businessman and his girlfriend, murdered in what they claim is a slaying linked to the fatal shooting of a Russian diplomat and his wife in Sokhumi last month.
Local police found the bodies of gravel manufacturer Sergei Klemantovich and his girlfriend, Oksana Skaredneva, in a well in the village of Adzyubzha (or Akhaldaba in Georgian) in the southern, predominantly ethnic Georgian district of Gali after arresting four suspects for their murder, the de-facto official Abkhaz news agency Apsnypress reported on October 13.
The pair had been missing since September 2012. Some Russian outlets have suggested that Klemantovich became a victim of local turf wars.
Almost exactly a year after the duo's disappearance, the Russian diplomat allegedly looking into their whereabouts, Russia’s vice-counsel to Abkhazia, Dmitry Vishernyev, was shot dead in a September 9 attack by an unknown gunman in Sokhumi. The diplomat’s wife, Olga, later died from her wounds in a local hospital.
Abkhazia’s de-facto prosecutors have reasoned that Vishernev's investigation could have led to the couple's slaying. Details have not yet been forthcoming.
Less than two weeks before the October 27 Georgian presidential elections, Georgia's defense minister during its 2008 war with Russia, Davit Kezerashvili, has been detained in France and faces likely extradition to Tbilisi on criminal charges.
The ex-defense minister, a former head of the financial police, was
charged under an umbrella clause of the criminal code that applies to public officials who
accept hefty bribes, organize customs violations that result in sizable
losses for the state, commit large-scale money-laundering or use an
organized group for misappropriation or embezzlement of funds.
Kezerashvili earlier was accused of facilitating the smuggling of
millions of dollars' worth of ethyl spirit for local alcohol production.
He also has been cited as a supposed key player in an alleged scheme to
wrest the pro-opposition private broadcasting company Imedi away from its legal owners and place it under government-friendly control.
Kezerashvili, who was 29 when the Georgian army was routed by Russian
troops, left Georgia after Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and his
Georgian Dream came to office in October 2012. His whereabouts had been
The Armenian capital is throwing a birthday party today. Yerevan has turned 2,975 years-old, but, like any millenarian, would have you believe that “the old girl,” as one news outlet put it, is still looking good.
The city, which is believed to have more gray hair than Rome and is regarded Babylon’s peer, is not hiding her age. She is celebrating it with a song and dance. And a spot of windsurfing.
She's been through it all, after all: a difficult childhood marked by complicated relations with abusive neighbors; riotous teen years spent mingling with Persians, Turks and other so-called shady characters; a mid-life crisis under Tsarist and, then, Soviet rule, and, finally, a late bloom in her 2,900s, but not without some criticism of her face-lifts.
"Numerous cafés and restaurants have been built instead of trees and bushes, often clashing with the surrounding planned environment," complained one United Nations Economic Commission for Europe report. "The most important concept of the city’s plan – viewpoints of the natural environment – has been lost," and the "environmental situation has drastically declined."
In Azerbaijan, getting election results before an election is apparently one of the many perks of having a smart phone. A mobile app offered by the country’s election authorities was meant to allow users to track the voting process, but, instead, it apparently posted final-results data -- even before the October 9 election day -- that showed incumbent President Ilham Aliyev soaring above all other candidates.
Looks like the supposed technical glitch, which gave Aliyev 72.76 percent of the vote, now has been corrected, but screenshots of the original version are making the rounds online. Meydan TV, an eager government critic, was the first news outlet to break the story, presenting it as blatant evidence of election-rigging.
Some, however, have suggested human error.
The app's purported developer, Vusal Isayev, the manager of digital marketing agency Happy Baku, argued on Facebook that the original application was a test version and contained data from the 2008 election, won by Aliyev, just like the election before it.
Critics find such reasoning far-fetched since the app contained the names of current candidates. Jamil Hasanli, the main opposition candidate, received 7.4 percent of the vote; a piece of data not likely to encourage opposition-sympathizers to give the Central Election Commission the benefit of the doubt.
Azerbaijan has hit the obligatory day of silence before its October 9 presidential vote, but attempts to silence free media -- or any government critic, for that matter -- have marked the entire campaign period.
But perhaps that's not a surprising record for one of the world's top jailers of journalists. Whatever your medium -- video, audio, print or online -- the Azerbaijani government these days seems to have a reprimand or punishment in mind to match any critical message.
Let's start with video. If Jon Stewart lived and worked in Azerbaijan, he would most probably be serving a prison sentence now for possession of bombs, drugs, or for stirring up unrest. Doing video spoofs on presidential candidates may be popular in the US, but in Azerbaijan it gets people in trouble with law enforcement.
Blogger Mehman Huseynov found that out last week when he was "invited for a talk" with police after uploading a little parody on YouTube. The video, a clip from the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster "300," based on the Battle of Thermopylae, features an exchange between Spartan King Leonidas and a messenger of the Persian king, Xerxes, but with the voices of main opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli and rival Hafiz Hajiyev, head of the Modern Musavat Party.
The opposition claims that the government-praising Hajiev (and others among the remaining eight candidates) only joined the race to give President Ilham Aliyev (the implied King Xerxes) the illusion of a competitive election.
This was the news that the country’s economy stewards were excited to share last week, not long after Armenia launched its first Eurobond. But for anyone looking to verify the government’s claims, good luck in defining poverty.
Armenian officials specified that they were referring to definitions by international aid groups, which have an entire lexicon of kinder synonyms for poverty, such as “transitional,” “developing” and “less-developed,” and a list of acronyms (GDPs, GNIs, CPIs, HDIs) to measure development.
Finance Minister David Sarkisian referred to "international standards" when he said that Armenia has left the poor countries’ club -- graduating from the low-income league to the medium-income league; or, rather, the “lower middle-income” category, as the World Bank puts it.
But the descriptions, just like weather forecasts, may not fully capture the real feel on the ground. Looking at the largely hand-to-mouth life in rural parts of Armenia, the nature of the country’s economy, in which cash from labor-migrants and Diaspora abroad still plays a large role, the Armenian ministers’ announcement may come across as an overstatement.
Letting go of a dead child is hard for any parent. One Georgian mother has decided that she should not. In the backwoods of western Georgia, Tsiuri Kvaratskhelia has been keeping her dead son preserved for 18 years by using a homemade mummification recipe.
A disturbing TV report from Kvaratskhelia’s house recently left mouths wide open across the country and beyond. Eagerly leading a camera crew into her house, the bereaved mother proudly removed a coffin cover to reveal the (thankfully blurred-out) face of her deceased Joni, who suffered a fatal drug overdose at the age of 22.
Kvaratskhelia said that she and her husband decided to preserve their son so that their grandson can see what a great father he had. “He is not afraid of the dead man; rather he is proud to have such a father,”Kvaratskheli is quoted by Prime Time News as saying.
She was even willing to share a few tips on body preservation. Rubbing the body with alcohol and wrapping it in sheets apparently helps preserve the bones.
The rest of the TV report goes pretty much like an extract from Terry Gilliam’s 2005 movie, Tideland, a dark tale of a little girl sharing a prairie house with her dead father’s body.
In Georgia, the worlds of the dead and the living interact closely. No Georgian social function is complete without a toast to the tsaulebi, or the dearly departed.
Billionaire Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili laid aside the cares of office the other day and invited a select group of TV journalists to his Star-Wars-style residence to tell them that, well, they're no good at what they do.
Ivanishvili, whose speaking style combines the no-nonsense talk of Russian oligarchs from the 1990s with the call-‘em-as-you-see-‘em lexicon of a small-town Georgian man, recently decided to provide free lessons for professionals in various fields. Last week, he spent four hours wagging his finger at a group of policy and economy wonks for getting it all wrong. On October 2, it was the turn of news anchors and producers to get a journalism 101 lesson from him.
Getting in touch with his inner newsman, Ivanishvili pontificated on what journalism is all about and what his irritated guests should really be doing out there. These days “journalists forget about their mission, about their own responsibilities,” the prime minister said regretfully, informing his guests that they are covering the wrong topics, interviewing the wrong people and citing the wrong data.
Referring to a printout (as with the experts), he demanded explanations for the journalists' on-the-air quotes. The constant criticism of the government distracts his team from doing the great job that they do, though it may not always visible, he asserted.
He faulted the group for failing to see all the “wonderful” achievements of his government in the economy field, which in all honesty, with a mere 1.6-percent growth rate so far for 2013 and an official 15-percent unemployment rate, could indeed escape the naked eye.
The late US President Franklin D. Roosevelt would have had a hard time running for president in Azerbaijan, where doctors say that people with a physical impairment should not run the country.
In a campaign season, experts of all walks of life tend to pass judgment on presidential candidates, but an eye doctor advising voters is something new.
Nonetheless, last week, three Azerbaijani ophthalmologists called a press conference in Baku to declare that the man who plans to challenge President Iham Aliyev’s continuous hold on power is unfit for the country’s top job.
The vision of Jamil Hasanli, the 61-year-old candidate from the National Council of Democratic Forces, a bloc of Azerbaijan's main opposition parties, is seriously impaired and he will not be able to work full-time as president, claimed ophthalmologist Gurban Ismailov.
“As a doctor, I can tell you that he is unlikely to do well as a president and commander-in-chief,” said another opthalmologist, Jeyhun Alahverdiyev.
Hasanli has acknowledged that he has had recurring problems with his left eye since the 1980s; in 2011, he was diagnosed with diabetes, a condition, which, depending on his personal situation, could, potentially, complicate attempts at further surgery for his eye problem.
The esteemed panel, though, appeared to have acquired detailed knowledge. They claimed that Hasanli suffers from diabetic angiopathy -- a deterioration of the blood vessels -- which, they claim, has affected his eyesight. How they acquired this alleged information is unclear.
The doctors also offered no explanation, medical or otherwise, for why the Central Election Commission, aware of his condition, raised no objections to his candidacy.
Could Azerbaijan be facing encroachments on its territorial integrity by Italian fashion brands? Armenian and Karabakhi media have it that Versace, Armani, Prada and Moschino are considering setting up production lines in breakaway Nagorno Karabakh, a patch of territory that Azerbaijan claims as its own design.
According to the reports, a coterie of Italian businesspeople are visiting Karabakh this week to check out the potential for producing clothes in a decrepit, former textile factory, Gharmetakskombinat. The separatist authorities hope that the abandoned factory could soon start producing Versace outfits, among others, and have joked that perhaps Baku would care to set up a special black list for "prominent international brands and companies."
While this story may sound like something out of The Onion, officials in Baku took it seriously. Azerbaijan, which is trying to isolate Karabakh as part of its policy to regain control of the predominantly ethnic Armenian territory, tasked its embassy in Italy to look into the reports. One nationalist NGO called for a boycott of Versace clothes -- an action that, conceivably, might have put Azerbaijan's reigning fashionista, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, in a potentially delicate situation.
Soon enough, though, Azerbaijani media distributed alleged comments from Versace that the company has no plans to extend production to the disputed region.