They are eye-catching, stylish and rich. They are the first daughters of the oil-soaked Caspian Sea autocracy, Azerbaijan, and when they decided to model for a local fashion magazine, the adoration from some Azerbaijani media outlets made the Bible's Song of Songs sound reserved.
But it's what's left unsaid that truly puts the fashion-show in focus. Decked out in the snazzy outfits that they allegedly picked out of their wardrobes for the shoot, the august Aliyev sisters -- 28-year-old Leyla and 24-year-old Arzu -- prompted praise so ebullient that the authors must have been taking breaks to tear up while writing it.
The two provide "clear proof," Azerbaijani public television and Büro 24/7 simultaneously gushed, that “not only physical appearance, but also wisdom, the inner world, charm and individuality are inherited genetically."
Taking a breath, the public television writer goes on to advise readers that “Every public appearance of the eastern beauties offers a chance to feast your eyes on their beautiful manners, their skill at socializing with friends, family and the people around them."
Georgia claims it has averted an accidental encroachment on its sovereignty by one of the world's most powerful forces. No, not by Russia. By McDonald's.
The Illinois-based hamburger giant recently advertised on its website for a franchisee in Abkhazia, a breakaway region that Tbilisi and most of the international community (unlike Russia and a handful of pals) see as part of Georgia, and not, as the McDonald's ad suggested, an independent country.
Given Abkhazia's proximity to the 2014 Winter Olympics host city of Sochi, opening up a restaurant in the region may well have struck some at the Games' "Official Restaurant" as a swell idea. But in Tbilisi, the ad was construed as a plan to recognize Abkhazia’s de-facto independence from Georgia.
The question was how to respond. Severing ties with McDonald's was not in the cards. McDonald's has pretty much got Georgia hooked on its menu, free wifi and kids' parties.
Some people mooted the idea of boycotting the company's four Georgia-based restaurants. Or of protests, that ancient Georgian tradition.
But before matters reached such a head, the company deleted the statement, now found only in a Google cache or referenced in news stories.
McDonald’s franchisee for Georgia, businessman Temur Chkonia, took credit for the move. Calling the Abkhazia ad "a very primitive mistake," Chkonia told Netgazeti.ge that he had talked with a lawyer for McDonald's about the solicitation, and is awaiting a written explanation.
Episode 4: Iconic filmmaker Sergo (Sergei) Parajanov – a man who in his lifetime gained a reputation as the Soviet Union’s Fellini – would have turned 90 today. This EurasiaNet video pays tribute to Parajanov’s legacy, which extends well beyond his native region, the South Caucasus.
A court in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, has suspended from office the city's Mayor Gigi Ugulava, the country's only elected mayor, in the wake of fresh criminal charges brought against him. The decision strips the opposition United National Movement of its last influential public officeholder.
Charged with the misuse of 48.18 million lari (over $28 million), Ugulava, a close ally of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, has accused the ruling Georgian Dream coalition of putting pressure on the Tbilisi City Court to eliminate the opposition's last remaining pocket of power.
“The Constitution knows no mechanism of dismissing an elected mayor other than an election,” he said.
The ruling occurred without hearing opposing arguments -- a scenario allowable under court procedures, a Tbilisi City Court spokesperson said, Netgazeti.ge reported.
Defenders charge that his removal from office violates the democratic value of innocent until proven guilty.
Did Georgian prosecutors try to intimidate a jailed ex-prime minister? This question has been on many people’s lips in Georgia, after Vano Merabishvili claimed that the country's general prosecutor threatened to cause him health problems and arrest his friends and relatives unless he testified against ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The coalition routinely denies the charges, but that doesn't stop them from coming.
Merabishvili claims that on December 14 he was taken from his prison cell, and blindfolded with a jacket, to meet General Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze. The prosecutor allegedly requested that Merabishvili provide evidence of Saakashvili’s personal involvement in corruption and also offer leads about the mysterious 2005 death of the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Otherwise, Merabishvili recounted, he was threatened that his own health would be compromised and his friends would face persecution.
Some may well be wishing that the Georgian Dream, a collection of highly sundry individuals and ideas, had listened. The coalition now is faced with the tricky question of how to preserve its unity when faced with public criticism for members' misbehavior.
First, there were a few dramatic exchanges at committee-level meetings. Finally, a full-blown slugfest broke out at a plenary session last week, when actor-turned-Georgian-Dream parliamentarian Soso Jachvliani told ex-State Minister for European Integration Giorgi Baramidze to “Shut your face, wimp,” to use a loose and sanitized translation of the original line.
“Switch off his microphone,” hurried to say Usupashvili, but Jachvliani and his rival were already going for each other, with back-up teams in tow. As the brawl raged in the aisle, Usupashvili, shaking his head, announced a break and exited the hall.
Later, a few out-of-touch reports from international news outlets would declare that this brawl was all about the political crisis in Ukraine spilling over into Georgia, but the actual reasons were quite local and mundane.
The December 16 arrest of well-known Azerbaijani democratization watcher Anar Mammadli has become the latest move in what critics call the Azerbaijani government’s ongoing war against civil activism and political dissent. But where Western democracy activists see the government trampling of civil society, some claim that many Western officials see only gas and oil.
Mammadli, who chairs the Baku-based Center for Election Monitoring and Democracy, documented cases of various violations in this October's presidential election, which brought a third encore for President Ilham Aliyev’s ten-year rule. His criticism of the last election included the post-election crackdown on dissenting media, and was picked up by international news outlets and cited by international watchdogs.
The charges against him, though, are not the usual favorites of drug possession or abuse -- crimes that tend to affect government critics in particular, according to Azerbaijani police -- but charges of tax evasion and an "illegal business activity," RFE/RL reported.
Aliyev's Yeni Azerbaijan Party has slammed Mammadli for supposedly slanderous attacks on the presidential administration and, ironically, for his “authoritarian methods of governance” of his own organization.
Parliament member Jeyhun Osmanli alleged that Mammadli, his office and its sponsors – the American-run National Democratic Institute and the European Commission -- are part of a conspiracy against the Azerbaijani government.
When you think of a country with a perfect election law and expertise in putting it into practice, you would not necessarily think of Azerbaijan, the South-Caucasus country rich in hydrocarbons, but, according to international observers, short on democracy. Yet, that is where fellow USSR-surviving countries have gone to seek inspiration for electoral reform.
At a December 16 gathering of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, Russia's Alexei Sergeyev, head of the group's secretariat, declared that Azerbaijan’s election legislation is outstanding and that the world needs more of it. “We want Azerbaijan’s electoral legislation to be applied in other member states of the CIS, too,” he enthused to Trend news agency.
It is not quite clear what exactly has impressed the delegates, who convened in Baku for a seminar on the "Development of Election Legislation in CIS Countries: The Ways of Perfection and Application." Azerbaijan today is still run by the same Aliyev family which was at Azerbaijan's helm when the CIS members were in the Soviet Union. With presidential term limits essentially scrapped, the people of Azerbaijan have been having the Ground Hog Day-style experience for the last decade with one and the same person -- President Ilham Aliyev, who took over the presidency in 2003 after the death of his father, Heydar Aliyev.
Perhaps what impressed Sergeyev is that Azerbaijan’s Aliyev did not even bother to pull the jack-of-cards-style flip that Russia’s power couple, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have been doing. Aliyev simply won three elections in a row, according to official data.
The customs-free wonderland that Russia is busy building around itself to counterbalance the European Union will come with still more unrecognized or half-recognized lands. On December 10, the Russian Duma approved a 2012 agreement to drop customs duties between Russia and the twin breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Ratification of the agreements will become an important step toward intensifying trade turnover between Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Russia and members of the Customs Union,” pledged Eurasian Integration Parliamentary Committee Chairman Leonid Slutskiy, ITAR-TASS reported.
The two tiny enclaves -- in Moscow’s view, perfectly sovereign lands -- are tied to Russia’s apron both by their economies and their claims to independent statehood. Now, they can export customs-free to Russia anything but sugar, tobacco and alcohol. Russia also cancelled export duties on set volumes of petroleum exported to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Of course, there is more in this for the territories than for Russia, which periodically injects aid into both breakaway territories. The Kremlin is pouring so much money into Abkhazia and South Ossetia that it will not even notice a revenue-drop from the removal of duties on imports from and petroleum exports into the regions, said Slutskiy.
In 2014-2015, Moscow plans to invest over 3 billion rubles (about $92 million) in Abkhazia alone, according to the region's de-facto official news agency, Apsnypress.
Earlier this week, two 30-something performance artists from Turkey and Armenia did what their countries have failed to do for decades -- put the violent past behind them and shake on it. For 43 hours straight.
But other Turkish-Armenian handshakes could prove more difficult. Tomorrow, another, more prominent one will occur, yet most likely will rank among the shortest ever.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is coming to Yerevan on December 12 as part of an Organization for Black-Sea Economic Cooperation summit, and is expected to try to breath new life into the two countries' 2009 reconciliation plan. The bid failed amidst rancor over Ottoman Turkey's mass-slayings of ethnic Armenians and Ankara’s support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia.