Armenia has had various firsts in its history -- from establishing Christianity as a state religion to setting up a winery-- but now, it has scored the lesser honor of being named in a Gallup poll as the post-Soviet country residents are most eager to leave.
Based on personal interviews with 41,072 people throughout 12 former Soviet republics between 2010 and 2012, the survey found that 40 percent of the Armenian respondents would like to move permanently to another country. (The number of respondents was not provided. Online data sets reflected numbers only for 2005 and 2006.)
Moldova, at 32 percent, followed in second place.
By comparison, Armenia's Caucasus neighbors, Georgia and Azerbaijan, were far less inclined to acknowledge their willingness to seek greener grass for good -- a mere 14 percent of the respondents in both countries. Respondents in Caucasus player Russia expressed the same level of wanderlust.
Armenia long has topped the charts for labor migration; most particularly to Russia, but also to Europe and the United States. After a brief economic rally, malaise set in for good with the 2009 international financial crisis. Despite various attempts by the government to kickstart the economy, unemployment, according to unofficial estimates, remains dizzily high, at well over 50 percent.
The Gallup survey reflects that trend. Fifty-two percent of the respondents polled throughout all 12 countries cited improving standards of living as their main reason for wanting to move abroad. At 13 percent of those interviewed, securing a better future for their children trailed far behind as a reason.
As a second round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program opens in Almaty on April 5 analysts are not expecting major breakthroughs, but international negotiators will be pushing a proposal advanced when they met in the same venue in February.
Although there was no breakthrough, those talks in Kazakhstan – regarded as a fitting host due to its own non-proliferation efforts – unlocked an eight-month negotiations deadlock.
The six-nation P5+1 group (the five UN Security Council permanent members – the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France – plus Germany) had been pressing Iran to end medium-level uranium enrichment, close its Fordow underground enrichment facility, and hand over stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium – production of which marks a critical stage in bomb making – for international safe-keeping.
Tehran insists it is not pursuing nuclear weapons and that its program is for peaceful purposes. It has pushed for crippling international sanctions to be lifted without preconditions.
Negotiators have been tight-lipped about the February proposal. Reuters reported on April 3, citing unidentified Western officials, that the six-nation group has offered to ease gold sanctions and relax a petrochemicals embargo in return for Iran suspending medium-level uranium enrichment.
The agency claimed that negotiations in Moscow with its Russian counterpart, succinctly known as Rosselkhoznadzor, went well and that, after some changes in agricultural regulations, a taste of Georgia will soon reappear in Russian salads and pirogis.
But, of course, Russian officials want to be the first to get that taste. In what is slowly turning into supra diplomacy, they've been invited back to Georgia to munch on tomatoes and cucumbers at an unspecified date in the future.
Wine-tasting is a serious procedure that brooks no haste, especially when it comes as a form of post-conflict diplomacy and, also, when there is so much wine to taste. For months now, Russian federal wine-tasters have gotten to sniff, slurp, roll the wine around their mouths, look quizzically at each other and make sure the political terroir is acceptable for the Kremlin.
Kyrgyz media outlets have been full of accusations and counter-claims about low-quality medicines, corruption and conflicts of interest, raising concerns about government oversight of the lucrative pharmaceuticals sector.
Russia's announcement that it might be setting up repair facilities in Afghanistan for the maintenance of the Afghanistan military's equipment may seem like a pretty mundane bit of news, except for the irresistible symbolism. "Russia considers returning to Afghanistan," writes Foreign Policy. "Russia going back to Afghanistan? Kremlin confirms it could happen," writes the Christian Science Monitor.
“We will look into various options of creating repair bases on Afghan territory,” the head of the Defense Ministry’s department of international cooperation, Sergey Koshelev, told the press. He added that the maintenance of weapons and military hardware in Afghanistan remains a top priority, as any instability in the country would affect Russia’s own security, as well as the security of other European nations.
And Moscow is also not ruling out more substantive cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan. RT again:
Russian NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko also said that Moscow was not excluding the possibility of broader cooperation with the military bloc. In particular, Russia could offer to enlarge the transport corridor to Afghanistan, so that the country’s own forces could continue to receive supplies from Western allies after coalition troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
The celebrations started on April 1 with government minders leading exercises. Students went first, at 6:45 a.m., Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reported. Market workers assembled for 15 minutes of calisthenics in downtown Ashgabat.
This is the second annual Week of Health and Happiness. At the government meeting on March 29 where he announced this year’s program, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov stressed the importance of the nation's health and ordered that events be held all over the country, the state-run TDH news agency reported.
According to TDH, the Week will conclude with a youth cycling race into the hills above Ashgabat on April 7, World Health Day, along the aptly named Health Path – designed by Berdymukhamedov's predecessor, the late Saparmurat Niyazov.
While Niyazov saw exercise as necessary for everyone but himself (he supposedly used to fly in a helicopter to meet his sweaty and exhausted ministers at the top), Berdymukhamedov leads by example: He took part in the country's first car race last year and won. He’s also an avid racehorse enthusiast.
Sports are generally a top-down affair in Turkmenistan. Last year Berdymukhamedov instructed his desert nation to start playing ice hockey.
There is a war going on in ex-Soviet parts between governments and non-government organizations. While Russia already has started on an office search of hundreds of NGOs suspected of being "foreign agents," Azerbaijan now is writing a chapter of its own in this epic struggle by picking a bone with the local chapter of the Washington, DC-based National Democratic Institute (NDI).
NDI’s chief of party Alex Grigorievs denied the accusations, but General Prosecutor Zakir Garalov last week sent a letter to US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar laying out the government's grievances with the group.
But they could lie deeper than finances. The group has been accused of sponsoring youth activists' protests, which already have become a pain in the neck for the Azerbaijani establishment. Particularly during this presidential election year.
The fact that local NDI employee Ruslan Asad was detained twice after participating in two recent such rallies in Baku presumably has not helped NDI’s case any with the Azerbaijani government.
A $150-million-plus Chinese real estate and tourism deal that is slated for a suburb of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is creating a quandary for many Georgians. The project is feeding a long-standing desire for foreign investment, but it is also stoking wariness about foreign influence.
Georgia ran a boot camp of Chechen warriors to prep them for a mission in Russia’s North Caucasus, the Georgian ombudsman claimed in an April 1 parliamentary presentation of his annual report on the state of human rights.
Ombudsman Ucha Naniashvili told lawmakers that the Georgian interior ministry under President Mikheil Saakashvili pulled together a force of over a hundred exiles from Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus, armed and coached them, and promised them passage to Russia. The report assumes that the alleged Chechen gambit was Georgia’s way of getting back at Moscow for Russia's occupation of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since 2008.
The allegations come as perhaps an unintentional gift for Moscow, whose long-running claims of Georgia sponsoring North Caucasus fighters Tbilisi used to attribute to seasonal fits of paranoia. Under the new government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishili, Tbilisi is seeking to mend fences with Moscow, while, at the same time, every busying itself with investigations into the past government. Yet, why it now falls to Georgia's ombudsman to unveil this alleged covert operation may not be immediately clear to some. The report mainly focuses on human rights violations that were allegedly committed by Georgian forces against the fighters and their relatives after an August 2012 standoff, but delves into details far beyond that.