Many Georgians are still having an “It’s alive!” moment with the political awakening of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a reclusive, Forbes-list billionaire from a glowing castle who has declared himself the sworn enemy of President Mikheil Saakashvili. But the country's interior ministry now has taken all the Dracula and Lord of the Ring jokes to a whole new level by suggesting that the businessman is into black magic.
Ivanishvili lives in a bizarre hillside castle, avoids appearing in public and speaks with a strong Russian accent. In a word, he pretty much has all the attributes to qualify for the role of the prince of darkness in a vintage horror flick.
In a statement today, the interior ministry declared that "unusual minerals and printed materials" of an “occult character and used to predict the future” were found on Ivanshvili’s Russian aide, Valery Levin, when he flew into Tbilisi on October 22. Police took the pains to inspect -- and photograph -- the items and assured the public that the minerals do not pose a threat to "human health."
The stash came from Moscow -- the center of all evil, of course. Perhaps for this reason, the ministry did not bother to explain why Levin was questioned and searched?
Some local commentators have diagnosed the Georgian government with paranoia over Ivanishvili after it stripped the billionaire of his Georgian citizenship and impounded cash meant for his Georgia-based bank. But few expected the many accusations against the eccentric businessman to move into the realm of the supernatural.
Azerbaijan is hearing a diplomatic growl from across its southern border, which was recently violated by a lone Iranian border guard. The breach cost 20-year-old Akber Hasanpour his life and resulted in an exchange that once more laid bare the repressed antagonism between Baku and Tehran.
The Iranian authorities have fired a protest note to Baku and demanded an explanation from the Azerbaijani ambassador in Tehran. Iranian officials said that Azerbaijani border police violated international norms and agreements between the two countries by pursuing and shooting to death the unarmed Hasanpour.
After inadvertently crossing into Azerbaijani territory on October 19, the young man refused to surrender to Azerbaijani border guards, Azerbaijani news services reported. In a claim that Tehran finds hard to digest, the Azerbaijani side says that he then attacked a large detail of Azerbaijani border guards and was fired on in response. The Iranian died of his wounds in hospital. His body was handed over to Iran yesterday.
Forget about Russian military bases and separatist tensions. Georgia now faces a threat to its territorial integrity from some of the world's sharpest strategists. And they are already in breakaway Abkhazia. Soon, they will be smacking away at Tbilisi's claims to the territory with spotted tiles. These are, of course, domino players.
The Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi is about to become the epicenter of the world of domino. Over objections from Tbilisi, the world domino championship will be held in the seaside town from October 18-21. Abkhazia’s de facto leadership hopes the event, its largest sports shindig ever, will help place their territory on the world map as a sovereign country.
Bucking Washington’s take on Abkhazia, the president of the National Domino Federation USA, Manuel Oquendo, is already in Sukhumi to observe preparations for the tournament. The US domino grandmaster said that American players will arrive in Sokhumi next week despite Tbilisi’s opposition to holding the championship in Abkhazia, Kavkazsky Uzel news service reported.
One question might be from which direction they -- and the other 21 participating national domino teams -- plan on coming. Travel into Abkhazia via western Georgia is the route recognized under international law, but involves a one-kilometer trip across the Inguri River bridge in either a jam-packed, horse-drawn cart or on foot. And a preliminary chat with Georgian Interior Ministry representatives.
Travel via Russia may involve more comfortable transportation, but is deemed an illegal entry into Georgian territory.
Not exactly like flying into Las Vegas, where the championships were held last year.
The three-meter-tall wall will stretch three kilometers across the conflict line to shield nearby Azerbaijani-controlled villages from sniper bullets. The wall starts in Ortagervend, a village where an eight-year-old boy was shot to death six months ago.
The chronic sniper exchange between the Azerbaijani army and separatist Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenian forces has often turned deadly and threatened the return of all-out hostilities in the area. Azerbaijani authorities said that the sniper fire is driving the civilian population away from the villages.
In a rare sign of approval of an Azerbaijani initiative, separatist officials welcomed construction of the wall as a way to solidify the border of the disputed enclave.
He may have lost his Georgian citizenship this week, but tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili nonetheless is busy building a political army for a battle royale with President Mikheil Saakashvili during Georgia's 2012 parliamentary elections.
The billionaire businessman, though, cautions that he's not taking just anybody on board. Selecting "the right staff" has proven instrumental in his past business success, and politics will be no different, he claimed in an October 12 statement.
Ineligible candidates include the Christian Democrats Party, parliament's largest minority party, and the New Rights Party and Labor Party, both outspoken government critics. Ivanishvili accused these groups of being in cahoots with government, an observation that sparked an angry response from the parties’ leaders.
Eligible candidates, as determined in what Georgian media billed as Ivanishvili's “casting," include former UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats Party. The party announced today that a full understanding was reached between Alasania and Ivanishvili.
And, like any business operation, team Ivanishvili is also thinking about media. Ivanishvili has invited all Georgian journalists disenchanted with what he calls the government’s attempts to control the national news to work for him. He earlier offered to buy two Tbilisi-based opposition-minded television stations, as well.
Armenian solar energy enthusiasts claim that Mikhail Gorbachev has promised to underwrite production of solar systems in nuclear-power-addicted Armenia.
Diehard supporters of homemade solar energy solutions vowed on October 11 to go ahead with their plans to set up a solar panel factory in the Armenian town of Spitak, the Russian news agency Regnum reported. Gorbachev will back them if the Armenian government will not, they claimed.
Vaan Amazaspian, energy researcher and the project's key backer, said that the green energy charity Green Cross, of which the ex-Soviet leader is the founding president, pledged $8 million for the ambitious plan. Green Cross supports sustainable energy and conflict-resolution initiatives. Reports of the investment surfaced in August, but the Geneva-based NGO has not yet confirmed its alleged plans to sponsor the plant.
Amazaspian indicated that the Armenian government, for its part, had been less than encouraging about the idea of taking Spitak solar. Rather than to solar energy, the Armenian government has long given priority to upgrading, or rather replacing, the Soviet-built nuclear plant Metsamor, the country’s main energy provider.
The country’s ever-alert Justice Ministry found Ivanishvili in violation of citizenship rules soon after the businessman, whose property interests are located mostly in Russia, announced he was setting up a party and looking into buying a television channel to challenge Georgia’s political status quo. Ivanishvilil was granted French citizenship in 2004, which, by Georgian law, automatically cancels his Georgian citizenship, the ministry announced.
Reporters and pundits have predicted that Ivanishvili, listed by Forbes Magazine as the world’s 185th richest man, could become a new Badri Patarkatsishvili, another billionaire (also thanks to Russian businesses) who came out fierce and fighting against the Saakashvili government during the 2008 presidential elections. Patarkatsishvili, who died in early 2008, was later accused of plotting a coup against Saakashvili.
Georgia often comes off as the teacher’s pet compared with Armenia and Azerbaijan. International monitors regularly assign it better grades in terms of business-friendly reforms and democratic freedoms. But it also turns out to be the most suicide-prone student in the South Caucasus class.
The war-scarred country leads the regional suicide chart with a rate of 4.3 officially reported suicides per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, which released the world suicide rates on October 10,International Mental Health Day.
Armenia, the poorest of the South Caucasus trio, came a distant second with a rate of 1.9. Azerbaijan, the richest, biggest and most autocratic of the three, is the least suicide-disposed, as its 0.6 rate suggests.
As tends to be the case elsewhere in the world, South Caucasus men are more vulnerable to suicide than women; especially in Georgia, where the male suicide rate (7.1 per 100,000) is nearly seven times that of the female rate (1.7 per 100,000).
Country statistics suggest that the age of suicide has grown older in both Armenia and Georgia. However, the WHO list, based on national statistics from different years, does not provide for a full and precise comparison.
The situation in the three countries is still incomparably better than in infamously depressed Russia and, the world’s most suicidal nation, Lithuania.