When 37-year-old Georgii Kolotov was growing up in Bishkek during the last decade of the Soviet era, he was largely unaware of a Jewish community. There were more than 10,000 Jews living in Bishkek at the time, but for young Kolotov and most other Jews, there was little sense of a distinctly Jewish identity.
Tajikistan is not a place that sees a lot of protests these days. So it is a cause for wonder when demonstrators spontaneously gather outside the US Embassy and United Nations offices in Dushanbe to air complaints that mirror authorities’ stated views – without facing any serious challenge from law enforcement authorities.
Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen, 72, has long been rumored to be in a precarious state of health. But well-informed followers offer assurances that the international network of schools, businesses, media-outlets, and civil-society organizations that his movement has built is prepared for a stable transition.
Russia is building up its military presence in the breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia in a way that suggests that Moscow anticipates a long-term presence there, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group. As is often the case with ICG reports, the whole thing (pdf) -- titled "Abkazia: The Long Road To Reconciliation" is worth reading. But Bug Pit readers will be especially interested in the details it provides on Russia's current military posture in Abkhazia:
The 2008 war with Georgia allowed Russia to greatly enhance its already considerable military presence. Russian officials say there are roughly 5,000 Russian personnel in Abkhazia: 3,500 military and 1,500 Federal Security Service (FSB) officers and “border guards”. Moscow allocated $465 million over four years to the rehabilitation and construction of military infrastructure. This included work on Bombora, the largest military airfield in the South Caucasus, in Gudauta. Though Russian media sources describe significant weapons at the base, Western military officials in late 2012 said intelligence indicated only four fighter craft there on a regular basis – two Sukhoi 27s and two MiG-29s.
The Russians also refurbished a smaller, though strategically and symbolically important naval port in Ochamchire, just 30km from Georgian-controlled territory. Eight Russian “border patrol” boats are reportedly there – including two new craft that arrived in 2012. According to FSB officials, they likewise set up several radar stations along the coast to cover Abkhazia’s “territorial waters” and monitor areas under Georgian naval control.
A group of Iranian lawmakers has begun drafting a bill on reattaching Azerbaijan to Iran by updating the terms and conditions of a 19th century treaty that ceded part of modern-day Azerbaijan and most of Armenia to Russian control.
The 1828 Turkmenchay Treaty ended the last war between Russia and Persia and paved the way for St. Petersburg to establish suzerainty over the South Caucasus. (Tehran already had given up its claims on Georgia in the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan.)
But the Iranians now argue that there was a critical detail in the fine print.
The treaty, they say, was valid only for 100 years and, therefore, the lawmakers’ logic goes,“re-annexing” Azerbaijan, Iran's northern next-door neighbor, is in order, Iran's government-run FARS news agency reported. Cities "lost" to the Russian Empire were supposed to be returned to Tehran just like "the British-Chinese deal over Hong Kong," the agency claimed.
Politicians in Baku were quick to counter that it is actually Iran that needs to hand over a chunk of its territory to Azerbaijan -- specifically, the northwestern border areas whose primarily ethnic Azeri residents make up about a quarter of Iran's population of roughly 74.8 million.
"Persians have always been in our bondage," asserted ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party Executive Secretary Siyavush Novruzov, APA news agency reported.
U.S. aid to the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus would fall next year under the budget the White House proposed today. Aid to every country in the region would fall in fiscal year 2014, with the exception of Kyrgyzstan, a continuation (but deceleration) of the drop between fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Under the proposed budget, total aid to Central Asia would drop by four percent while aid to the Caucasus would drop 12 percent. That's on top of budget cuts announced in February, under which aid to the Caucasus would drop by 24 percent from 2012 to 2013. Aid to Central Asia would drop 12 percent over the same time period. However, U.S. aid is down across the world, so this drop in Central Asia and the Caucasus doesn't necessarily represent a decline in U.S. interest in the region.
The total requests for fiscal year 2014:
Armenia: $30,843,000, down 16 percent from the 2013 request of $36,608,000
Azerbaijan: $15,555,000, down 5 percent from the 2013 request of $16,330,000
Georgia: $60,775,000, down 12 percent from the 2013 request of $68,700,000
Kazakhstan: $10,799,000, down 28 percent from the 2013 request of $14,900,000
Kyrgyzstan: $50,569,000, up 8 percent from the 2013 request of $46,725,000
Tajikistan: $34,915,000, down 7 percent from the 2013 request of $37,405,000
Turkmenistan: $6,125,000, down 9 percent from the 2013 request of $6,735,000
Uzbekistan: $11,052,000, down 12 percent from the 2013 request of $12,595,000
There's a coffee shop in an out-of-the-way part of Baku where the walls are covered with illustrations from an early 20th century satirical magazine called Molla Nasreddin. The magazine represents a bygone era, when Azerbaijan was a font of new cultural trends in the Muslim world, pioneering such issues as female emancipation, anti-clericalism, anti-colonialism and labor rights
Authorities at Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture want to ban a play that discusses domestic abuse and sexual violence because it “promotes scenes that destroy moral and ethical standards and national traditions of the peoples of Kyrgyzstan.” The effort points to creeping conservatism in the thinking of Kyrgyzstan’s leaders.
Perhaps the only tangible achievement of President Barack Obama's visit to Israel last month was getting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call his Turkish counterpart and issue an apology (of sorts) for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, helping set in motion what is hoped will be a restoration of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey.
But there are some troubling signs popping up that should cause concern about where this incipient Turkish-Israeli rapprochement might be heading. In an Istanbul press conference yesterday, several Turkish survivors of the military attack on the Mavi Marmara said they would continue to pursue legal action against Israel in Turkish courts, despite the Israeli apology and offer for compensation -- which were made with the expectation that legal proceedings connected with the incident would be dropped. Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation that was scheduled to come to Turkey this week to work out the compensation issue has delayed its trip by a few weeks, supposedly because of scheduling conflicts.