Twenty years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia retains significant political and economic clout in Central Asia. Culturally speaking, however, Russian influence is slipping at an alarming rate.
After a decade of involvement in Afghanistan, it appears the United States hasn't learned a critical lesson. Warlordism has been a key component in driving the country's vicious cycle of violence. Yet as the drawdown of US and NATO troops proceeds, American policymakers find themselves reliant on warlord-led militias to fill security gaps.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is well known in the international arena as a Holocaust denier and a general mischief maker. But for one night in New York recently, he tried to cast himself as the second-coming of Woodrow Wilson.
In town for the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad hosted a dinner, or a “Meeting of Scholars,” as it was officially called, for faculty members and students from leading American universities. Speaking to an audience full of academics, Ahmadinejad channeled Wilson, the former president of Princeton University and architect of the failed League of Nations experiment, as he spoke about the immorality of nuclear weapons and the need for humane standards in international conduct.
Setting the tone for the evening, he began his September 21 speech; “In my humble opinion, the root cause of all these difficulties in the world today goes back to … not knowing fully the human truth. Humans today have lost the love of humanity.”
With a poised and calm demeanor, Ahmadinejad at times sounded so idealistic that he could be mistaken for a peacenik, and forgotten as the chief proponent of a brutal crackdown on the Iranian opposition following the controversial 2009 presidential election in Iran.
“Fundamentally, people that make up nations are good,” Ahmadinejad told his New York audience. “Why do nations need to be at odds with each other?”
On occasion, Ahmadinejad flashed his genuine side. At one point, for example, he pinned most of the world's problems on the West. Conflict in the Middle East resulted from Western “meddling in our internal affairs,” he insisted.
“If the West doesn't intervene, people of the Middle East will live in peace and harmony. Nowhere is there conflict between Shiias and Sunnis: Muslims, Christians, and Jews have lived here together peacefully forever,” he said.
According to Ahmadinejad, there is hope for the future. “We all must be forgiving and kind. That's how the world will change.”
For a day, Almaty returned to its cultural roots, or rather groves. The name 'Almaty' in Kazakh literally translates as 'full of apples,' and at the core of this year's Almaty Day celebration was the Second Annual Festival of Apples.
Celebrated on the third Sunday in September, the city's holiday this year heralded the beginning of autumn and sought to highlight cultural symbols and national art. The festival featured 26 apple growers and vendors on Astana Square, offering over 15 tons of Kazakh apples in every size, shape and flavor.
Festivities also included a variety of cultural exhibits, including a photography exhibition, titled Almaty Beinesi, which showcased the history and development of Almaty architecture. The city also staged a national song contest, a Kazakhstani Idol of sorts for amateur composers and singers.
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