In what appears to be the latest sign of an ongoing informal campaign in Russia against minorities from the Caucasus and Central Asia, a prominent member of the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Russia has been shot and wounded.
Mais Kurbanov, deputy president of the Russian Federation of Migrants, was attacked by an unidentified group near his Moscow apartment in the early hours of November 12, APA reported. Russian news outlets report that a nearby CCTV camera caught a “young blonde woman” firing a gun at Kurbanov. Wounded, Kurbanov reportedly ran to a nearby café, while his attackers swiftly left the scene. He survived and remains in the hospital.
The motives of the attack are not yet known, but some Azerbaijanis will see a connection to the outpouring of Russian nationalism in the wake of last month's killing of 25-year-old Russian Yegor Shcherbakov, a crime blamed on an Azerbaijani labor migrant, Orhan Zeynalov.
Crime may not be a rare occurrence in Moscow, but South-Caucasus residents often get the impression that, for many Russians these days, crimes committed by a dark-haired person from the Caucasus are worse than others. The violence against migrant workers that followed Schcherbakov's death, the police manhandling of Zeynalov and the arrests and deportations of Azerbaijanis that followed Shcherbakov's murder have fueled anger in Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the violence against ethnic Azeris in Moscow continues. On November 13, APA reported about the death of an Azerbaijani flower seller, apparently knifed to death. Possible reasons for the attack have not been released.
Staying true to its foreign policy principle that if you love me, you must love my late leader’s monument, Azerbaijan has halted billions of dollars’ worth of planned investments in Mexico.
At a November 8 lecture to Universidad Iberoamericana students, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Mexico, Ilgar Mukhtarov, claimed that Mexico City’s January decision to remove the statue of the late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev from its downtown cost the country $3.8 billion in supposedly planned Azerbaijani investments in the oil-refinery business and other sectors. “All these funds have been put on hold,” Mukhtarov was quoted by the Voice of America as saying.
Reactions from Mexican officials have not surfaced in the non-Spanish-language press. The statue, part of a global network of statues to Heydar-Aliyev, was disassembled after reporters and activists looked up who that bronze man was sitting near the Paseo de la Reforma, and decided that you can take a country out of the USSR, but you can't take the USSR out of a country.
Mukhtarov, however, defended Aliyev, saying that the late leader was “not a dictator,” and pointing to his abolition of the death sentence as proof that the president, who died in 2003, cared as much about human rights as the next guy. He also again blamed the apparently omnipresent Armenian Diaspora for causing trouble over the monument.
If the Abkhaz want to visit the Winter Olympics next February in the Russian city of Sochi, about 25 kilometers to the north, they might need to walk. And even then there is no guaranteed access through a gateway that Russia plans to keep ajar.
In a recent decree laying out the do's and don'ts during the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for strictly limiting access to Sochi from the de-facto border crossing with breakaway Abkhazia, recognized by Moscow as a sovereign state.
Residents living in the border area will have some freedom of movement, though they might find interior ministry troops hanging out in their backyards. The troops also will be policing the coastline south of Tuapse, a seaside city north of Sochi.
The Sochi area itself will be broken up into restricted zones, entrance into which will be subjected to search. All demonstrations, unless part of the Olympics, will be prohibited. The sale of poisonous or potentially poisonous substances, save for prescription drugs, will also be banned.
Such restrictions are not exactly what Abkhazia, which largely depends on Russia for its economic survival and, itself, cannot participate in the Games, had in mind.
The cell phone dings in the middle of a meeting. Expecting an important message, you carefully reach for the phone, trying to keep eye contact with your interlocutor. Out of the corner of your eye, you read: “Phenomenal news: buy four Japanese tires and get two brake pads for free!”
In two minutes, the phone beeps again: “A refrigerator and laundry machine for just 888 lari . . .” Just as you apologize and switch the phone to silent, another SMS buzzes in: “We know you are doing repairs and we know just what you need . . .”
To stop the barrage, you turn off the phone and miss the single SMS you need.
Carpet bombing cell-phone users with unsolicited SMS ads has become the thing in Georgia and the wider region. Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Georgia* recently published a list of 29 of Georgia's top SMS-spammers.
According to the organization, the spam is not just a nuisance, but is against the law. Georgia’s privacy laws do require companies to obtain customers' consent for such advertising and to provide a mechanism for opting out of it, but that usually does not happen.
It is not fully clear how companies get hold of the numbers. Most cell-phone operators claim they do not give out the data, but customers are not convinced. Companies which offer SMS-advertising services refuse to disclose the origin of their large databases of phone numbers.
How to stop the spam-flow remains an open question. Georgia recently introduced the office of a personal-data ombudsperson, but, for now, the office can only send warnings to companies that use SMS spam.
Still, in this highly image-conscious culture, bad PR can play a role. Sort of.
Sticks, stones and homemade smoke-bombs flew in downtown Yerevan on November 5 as police brawled with a few dozen anti-establishment protesters, some wearing Guy-Fawkes masks.
Flamboyant activist Shant Harutyunian’s call for a revolution ended with police breaking up his small, but ambitiously billed "March of a Million Masks" rally, and making 37 arrests. Few in number, protesters nonetheless put up a tough fight battling police officers. Footage carried by several news outlets showed groups of policemen failing to hold down even individual protesters. The activists were eventually overpowered after riot-police reinforcements arrived.
An outspoken nationalist who claims the government is undemocratic, corrupt and controlled by Moscow, Harutiunian began his movement with “occupying” the city's central Liberty Square for about a week. He vowed to bring down the president and lead the people to take over main government offices. The clash broke out when police tried to prevent the protesters from marching through the city.
Video from the scene show riot police dragging activists and stacking them in vehicles as onlookers booed. Several protesters and policemen were hospitalized.
Harutiunian, who spent a year in jail after Yerevan's deadly 2008 protests, blames police for the violence, and was among those detained. Charging that the protesters were anarchists, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia defended the police's actions.
Georgia's interior ministry is taking the lead in fighting blasphemy, an offense category not usually a pressing concern for "European-style" governments these days. The motion has given the country’s free-speech activists pause.
The measure, an amendment to Georgia's civil code, addresses anything from desecrating religious institutions and symbols to publicly offending the feelings of the faithful. The punishment proposed ranges from a fine (for first-time offenders, between 300 and 500 laris, or about $179 to $299, and up to 1,500 laris, or roughly $897, for repeat offenders) and/or 15 days in prison.
How offenses would be defined was not immediately clear. Nor are the origins of the amendment clear. Civil-rights activists say that they noticed the proposal on the interior ministry's website during a first reading in parliament of changes to the civil code before the October 28 presidential elections. EurasiaNet.org could not immediately locate the original proposal.
As part of an overhaul of reproductive-health policies, Azerbaijanis facing the double whammy of low incomes and infertility may soon be entitled to state-sponsored in-vitro fertilization.
With a population of just under 9.6 million, the largest in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan already boasts the region's highest birth rate (an estimated 17.7 births per 1,000 people), but, apparently, more needs to be done.
If the law is adopted, "we want to conduct artificial insemination with public funds . . . for those who are in need of social support," said Musa Guliyev, deputy chairperson of parliament’s social policy committee and the bill's main sponsor, Azernews.az reported. Others may be eligible via mandatory health-insurance, he added.
Under a draft law on reproductive health, an Azerbaijani citizen will be considered legally infertile after a year of solid attempts to conceive prove futile, Biznesinfo.az reported.
The bill is being fine-tuned before it hits parliament for debate later this fall, added Guliyev, who represents the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party.
Artificial insemination has been practiced in Azerbaijan since 2004 with a 40-45-percent success rate, higher than the European average, Azernews reported. Azerbaijani Muslim groups opposed the draft law earlier this year.
But artificial insemination is not the only reproductive area Guliyev, a neurologist by background, intends to target.
Georgians long have claimed that their calls were monitored for political-control assurance, but turns out they have Swedish telecommunications-technology giant Ericsson partly to thank.
Following an October 30 report by Swedish public radio, Ericsson told Agence France Presse (AFP) that it had sold phone-surveillance technology to Georgia’s Geocell, a privately owned cellular operator, back in 2005. The company maintained, however, that the equipment was meant as an anti-crime tool, though acknowledged that the Georgian government "allegedly use it" for illegal wiretapping.
Publicizing tapped private conversations has been a tried political weapon in Georgia. In the heyday of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili's era, everytime the political temperature went up, secretly recorded conversation were dumped online or aired on TV. In 2007, when police clashed with protesters in Tbilisi, tapped phone calls became a soundtrack to the authorities’ claims about a Kremlin-orchestrated conspiracy to bring down Georgia's pro-Western government.
Incoming Georgian President-Elect Giorgi Margvelashvili will move into the same office building where outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili started out before migrating to a perky clifftop palace. But unlike Saakashvili, Margvelashvili will not find a cat there.
In a rhapsodic farewell address on October 28, Saakashvili reminisced about finding a stray cat luxuriating in Georgia’s rundown, mice-infested presidential quarters when he first moved in as president in 2004.
“We looked at each other and for a split second we regretted entering these offices,” Saakashvili said of his colleagues. Nearly ten years later, though, he continued, “the new ministers and the new president are moving into totally different buildings and offices, rule a totally different country and are responsible for totally different institutions.”
President-Elect Margvelashvili, however, does not plan to take up residence in the “totally different” presidential palace that Saakashvili built; a structure with a see-through dome and plenty of room to swing a cat.