With performers from all over Europe getting ready to descend on Baku in May to compete for the best pop act of the year at Eurovision, conservative, tightly managed Azerbaijan is confronting a host of its cultural and political demons.
Money is not an issue here. The hydrocarbon-rich country is splurging big bucks to dazzle viewers with a show worthy of Eurovision, an annual exercise in glitz and disco beats. But the contest will bring along demographics that are not particularly popular in Baku -- journalists, Armenians and gays.
Since the contest is known to have a strong gay fan base, some thought it is a perfect occasion to hold a gay pride march. The proposal immediately sparked an angry response. Opponents demanded that Baku keep its streets straight with a “Say No to Gay Pride in Baku” Facebook page, where the merits and demerits of homosexuality are being hotly debated.
Interestingly enough, the head of one organization that deals with LGBT issues in Azerbaijan is also not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a gay pride march. “Neither our community, nor [the] majority of representatives of sexual minorities are ready for it,” commented Kamran Rzayev, chairperson of the Gender and Development non-profit group, told News.az.
Though the Nabucco pipeline project did have a promising libretto, some energy analysts believe it may never see its name in lights. On the lookout for lower-priced production values, some pipeline stakeholders increasingly seem inclined to replace the energy opera with an operetta.
In a January 31 column for Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News, Barcin Yinanç argued that the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP), to stretch from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria, is the new and "abridged" Nabucco.
“Abridged...indeed is the right term since while Nabucco was supposed to carry 31 billion cubic meters [of natural gas], the amount that will be carried to Europe [via TANAP] is limited to six billion cubic meters,” wrote Yinanç.
A political accord between Baku and Ankara about the pipeline, which will rely on existing Turkish infrastructure, seems to give it another edge over Nabucco, some say.
By comparison, Nabucco's main promoter, the EU, has been slow in securing non-Azerbaijani sources for the costly project. The effort to get gassy Turkmenistan on board has seen little palpable success, and Moscow is doing its best to obstruct the Europeans from carving a detour past Russia to reach Central Asia’s energy riches.
There may generally be something creepy about political youth groups, but a youth cult for Russia’s aspiring eternal leader, Vladimir Putin, sounds twice as eerie. And we are not even talking about something in Russia, but south of the Caucasus mountain range -- in Russia’s ally, Armenia.
The first Putin pack is the brainchild of an outfit called the International Center of Young Armenians and a youth arm of the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. It plans to talk all things Putin at its gatherings, show Putin films, read Putin books, promote Putin thoughts (about Armenia and otherwise) and, basically, instill love for the Russian prime minister and comeback presidential candidate among young Armenians.
Georgia’s feuding Mr. President and Mr. Billionaire went to Washington on January 30 -- one in person and the other in writing -- to compete for the good graces of Barack Obama's administration.
Obama essentially heard two songs from the Georgians -- “Got What You Need” from President Mikheil Saakashvili and “Take a Chance on Me” from opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Saakashvili may have gotten the face time with Obama, but Ivanishvili tried to mitigate whatever political scores the Oval Office meeting may give Saakashvili. In op-eds published in The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Forbes List billionaire asked Obama to pressure Saakashvili to make Georgia's upcoming parliamentary elections air and competitive.
“We urge the leaders of the USA… to apply all available assets to secure free and fair ballot for our citizens at the October 2012 election,” reads the op-ed.
Saakashvili, in the meantime, emerged from his White House meeting satisfied, telling the BBC it had "elevated" the two countries' ties "to [a] new level," and thanking Obama for Washington's continued commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity, eventual NATO membership, and for the prospect of signing a free trade agreement.
There are growing signs, though, that the battle for Georgia’s political future will play out inside the beltway as much as back in Tbilisi. Much of the Saakashvili administration’s success is attributed to their lobbying dexterity and ties in Washington. Ivanishvili seems bent on going mano-a-mano with Misha in this field.
“Think of all the beautiful moments we had together. Think of your international commitments. Don’t do it, Fiji!”
That's essentially the message from Tbilisi as the tiny South Pacific country of Fiji prepares to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on February 1 for what Georgia fears could be a lot of sweet talk from Moscow about recognizing the independence of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Moscow has denied having any plans to bribe Fiji, a developing country, in exchange for recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It says it's just in the region for (with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein) some "happy talk."
Moscow appears to have had it with South Ossetian politicians who undermine the Kremlin’s influence in the breakaway Caucasus territory and besmirch its image. Days after South Ossetian politician Jambolat Tedeyev renewed his claims to the region's de-facto presidency, Russian Federal Security Service agents showed up at his door.
Russia recognizes South Ossetia as an independent country from Georgia, and the authority by which Tedeyev would be charged is not clear.
But such legal niceties matter little when a power struggle is at hand. Last September, when South Ossetia’s de-facto authorities barred Tedeyev from running in the region's de-facto presidential election, his supporters took to the streets in the capital, Tskhinvali. South Ossetia's then de-facto leader, Eduard Kokoity, accused Tedeyev of trying to stage a color revolution.
In response, Tedeyev, who belongs to an influential local clan, threw his support behind another opposition presidential hopeful, Alla Jioyeva. Jioyeva gained international name recognition late last year when her supporters took to the streets, and stayed there, over canceled de-facto runoff results which showed her the winner over the Russian-endorsed candidate, Anatoliy Bibilov.
And so we come to the present. With a third attempt to elect a new (de-facto) leader now scheduled for March, Tedeyev has declared that he wants to run again. But Moscow appears to be wearying of the surprisingly boisterous pace of South Ossetian politics.
Obviously feeling the pressure,the Iranian embassy in Baku hinted on January 26 that Tehran may reconsider its commitment to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan (meaning recognizing breakaway Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan) if Azerbaijani officials let outside forces sow discord between the neighbors.
It's a photo shoot on a grey January day, and Sarkozy, wrapped in diapers and swaddled in blankets, is happily snoozing away. We are not talking about the actual French President Nicolas Sarkozy here, but, rather, his newborn namesake in faraway Armenia.
An Armenian couple has named their baby boy Sarkozy in gratitude to the French president for backing a bill that criminalizes the assertion that the World War I slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman-era Turkey was not an act of genocide.
Little Sarkozy Avetisian weighs three kilos and is 50 centimeters tall. You can see him in all his cuteness here. With an eye to ties with France and voters (Armenia's parliamentary elections are in May), Armenia’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia joined the baby shower, and donated $200 to the Avetisians.
But this is not the first instance of a French president inspiring baby names in Armenia. In 2001, when France under President Jacques Chirac recognized the Armenian killings as genocide, one grateful couple called their newborn twins Jacques and Chirac.
Meanwhile, Turkey, which denies that any genocide was committed, is quite literally slamming the French president in its rage over the bill. An online game, “Slap Sarkozy,” has been released that allows irate Turks (or anyone) to vent their anger at the legislation by smacking the French leader silly.
The Azerbaijani developer Avesta plans to stick the 1,110-meter-high (about 3,642- feet-high ) building on a chain of artificial islands off Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea shore. Completion date: by 2019. The tower -- named, not surprisingly, "Tower of Azerbaijan" -- is expected to house hotels and business centers. It may not compensate for endemic corruption, a spotty civil rights record or any other of the Azerbaijani government's oft-cited deficiencies, but it surely will attract gaping onlookers and tourism money.