This has been a year that many Armenian farmers would like to forget. First, unfavorable weather led to a poor harvest, and now, thanks in part to the significant devaluation of the national currency, the dram, many farmers are struggling to repay their debts.
Sardor Abdullayev, a construction worker from eastern Uzbekistan, had planned to go to Russia next spring to join relatives working construction sites in the Volga River city of Samara. But now, he says, “I am better off staying at home and driving a taxi.”
“Azerbaijan is not afraid of $60 per barrel,” a headline on the pro-government Azerbaijani news site Trend proclaimed recently. But with Brent crude oil, the benchmark for the oil market, now hovering around $60 a barrel, Baku might well have something to fear.
Azerbaijan currently holds a dubious distinction of holding almost double the number of political prisoners than those held in Belarus and Russia combined. The Azerbaijani government’s use of criminal prosecution as a tool for political retaliation against its critics is a well-documented problem.
Kazakhstan’s flagship international cycling team will have to sweat it out until February to see if it can compete that year in major international road races, including the Tour de France. A series of doping scandals has tainted the team. But where international sports officials see serious infractions, Kazakhstanis tend to see an international plot to steal their glory.
Santa Claus supposedly received a desperate letter from a woman in Armenia this year – a plea for financial help after enduring a year of economic hardship. “I don’t know how to live now,” the woman, a character in a TV ad for the Armenian lottery, complained.
In November, a Kyrgyz news agency posted a news story in Russian about the falling number of Russian-speaking schoolteachers in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city. In only five sentences, the author made over a dozen grammar mistakes.
It is late afternoon and the cozy school of Aygek looks as deserted as it should be after weekday classes. But one classroom in this village about 10 kilometers south of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, is buzzing with activity: about two dozen schoolchildren are using software that sets tasks for a robot they have assembled.