A movie hitting the big screens in Uzbekistan this week is a fresh attempt at driving home the risks of terrorism and religious extremism.
Speaking at a preview of his movie, “Dadam Betob" (“Dad is Sick”) director and screenwriter Zulfikar Musakov told reporters he had presented the idea to state-run film company Uzbekfilm five years ago.
“My script only got the green light last year. This is my personal statement on the theme of religious extremism. I wanted to make a movie about the people that I love and that I don’t love,” he was cited as saying by news website Podrobno.uz.
At the center of the movie is Aziza, a mother to several children who decides that to raise funds to pay off the medical bills of her ill husband she must go work as a cab driver for a day. Her final customer of the day turns out to be Pokiza, who the film shows as having embraced religious extremism. Needless to say, it all ends in tears, kidnappings, gas pipelines being blown up and declarations of jihad.
The trailer for the movie — set most oddly to the music of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit Twist in My Sobriety — indicates filmgoers are in for a deeply melodramatic affair.
Film critic Aziz Matyabulov told EurasiaNet.org that Uzbek cinema rarely touches on the issue of religious extremism, so this should be considered something of a rare event.
“Movies like these have a good budget from the state and are filmed with professional actors, unlike [privately funded] movies,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
Then again, while films about religious extremism might be rare, “Dadam Betob" is the second on the theme made in 2016 alone.
A crusade in Kazakhstan against the leaking of state secrets has claimed another scalp in the shape of former deputy head of the presidential administration, Baglan Mailybayev.
The Committee for National Security, or KNB in its Russian initials, said in a statement on January 16 that Mailybayev has been placed under arrest for 2 months on suspicion of illegally gathering and disseminating state secrets.
Another former top official in the presidential administration, the ex-deputy head of the internal policy department Nikolai Galikhin, has also been arrested in connection with the same case.
The KNB said it is searching the two men’s homes for evidence and that further details will be provided once investigations are concluded.
Mailybayev was fired on January 12 from the post he had held since October 2011. He was replaced by old hand and arch-loyalist Marat Tazhin.
Mailybayev has made steady and swift progress through the ranks. From June 2009 he worked as Nazarbayev’s press secretary and had previously served in various positions in the culture ministry. Galikhin, meanwhile, was as recently as December bestowed the Kurmet state award.
Political analyst Dosym Satpayev has noted that the return of Tazhin suggests President Nursultan Nazarbayev is losing faith with some of the younger cadres coming through he system and decided to put his faith in tried-and-tested figures.
Then again, the veterans aren’t having a better time of it either.
A Turkish cargo plane crashed outside the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, early on January 16, killing at least 37 people and destroying dozens of homes.
According to preliminary and unconfirmed information, the Boeing 747-400F crashed on a cluster of homes in the Dacha-Suu complex next to Manas International Airport at around 7:29 a.m. as it was coming in to land.
Officials said 37 people have been killed, but with recovery work still ongoing it will be some time before a final figure is confirmed. There are believed to be several children among the dead.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziyev has said that the accident may have been caused by pilot error and that 11 airplanes had landed safely in the past day despite heavy fog. Abulgaziyev said that the plane tried to land on two occasions and at one stage damaged the landing strip illumination.
“This crew has flown [to Manas airport] 3-4 times. They know the landing strip at Manas airport. The visibility was 400 meters. That is why the flight controller at Kyrgyzaeronavigatsiya gave them clearance to land. The conditions were suitable for landing. So the provisional explanation is that the crash was due to crew error,” Abulgaziyev was quoted as saying by local media.
While officials have said the conditions were good enough for the cargo plane to land, an aircraft carrying President Almazbek Atambayev to Bishkek from China on January 15 was diverted to the small Tamchy airport in the Issyk-Kul region because of the weather. Motorists driving around Bishkek on the eve of the crash reported being able to see only a few meters ahead because of the fog.
Georgia's Father Frost pours acid on a dead Santa Claus in New Studio's controversial online video.
Murdered in an online video and framed for an armed robbery, Santa Claus had a tough holiday season in Georgia this year.
His troubles began with what seemed at first like just another one of those cuddly Christmas commercials.
As a jingle plays, a bespectacled Santa, fresh from the chimney, checks out the room, helps himself to candy and starts placing presents under a glittering Christmas tree. Suddenly, a menacing voice rasps: “Real men come in through the door.” Santa turns around to see his Georgian counterpart, Tovlis Papa (Father Frost), sporting his traditional gear and an unusual bad mood. While grudgingly watching his Western rival, Tovlis Papa has been using his dagger to whittle a piece of wood into the Georgian version of a Christmas tree, a chichilaki.
The next scene shows a trail of blood, leading to the bathroom. Santa’s leg is sticking out of the bathtub. Tovlis Papa, changed into protective coveralls and glasses, is getting ready to pour acid into the tub when a little boy walks in. After a suspenseful moment, the kid, with an approving nod from Tovlis Papa, drags off the dead Santa’s bag of gifts.
For many Georgians, the art-video, produced by a Tbilisi studio known for its edgy TV ads, hit a raw nerve with its allusion to friction between nationalism and Westernization.
Interpretations vary widely about whether the intention was to support or mock the tendency of being jealously protective of traditional Georgian ways against “corrupting” Western influences.
Picture of the recently inaugurated Ashgabat international airport. (Picture of the recently inaugurated Ashgabat international airport.
With characteristic pomp, Turkmenistan unveiled an idiosyncratic new airport terminal in the capital shaped like a falcon thrusting through desert air, to acclaim last year.
And now, if a report in RFE/RL’s Turkmen service Radio Azatlyk is to believed, the $2.3 billion building in Ashgabat is slowly sinking into the sand.
Azatlyk reported on January 13 that representatives from Turkish construction company Polimeks, which built the terminal, have been summoned to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to answer for themselves. And, perhaps more importantly, to explain how this news got into the media in the first place.
Azatlyk cited its source as saying that a special commission has been set up to study the subsidence and come up with ways of resolving the issue. French construction giant Bouygues, which was also involved in building the terminal, has been drafted to effect repairs.
Problems apparently began to appear in December, when sheets of glass fell out of place and communication cables began to fail.
The airport was built in preparation for the 2nd edition of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games — a 10-day event due to take place in September. A website dedicated to the games is up and going and counting down the seconds to the event kicking off.
These multiple transgressions might ordinarily lead to firing galore, but with the presidential elections due on February 12, it is more likely that Berdymukhamedov will keep his powder dry until then and then reshuffle the Cabinet. Either way, somebody will have to pay.
President-elect Donald Trump's nominees for his top foreign policy, defense, and intelligence posts testified before Congress this week, and expressed hardline positions on Russia that contrast markedly with their boss's more ambiguous opinions.
Trump's views on Russia, NATO, and associated issues have received substantial scrutiny, given that they are fairly far from the mainstream in Washington. But other than a personal admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a skepticism -- supposedly rooted in his busisnessman's dealmaking instincts -- of the U.S.'s alliances, Trump hasn't been very detailed about what he will actually do when in power.
So the Senate confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and Mike Pompeo -- to head the State Department, Pentagon, and CIA, respectively -- were highly anticipated events, as senators can grill Trump's lieutenants in detail about the administration's foreign policy direction.
And what emerged was that their opinions on Russia and its neighborhood are far more conventional than their boss's. All described Russia as a threat rather than as a partner (as Trump has), expressed trust in the U.S.'s allies (Trump has suggested they weigh the U.S. down), and said they took seriously allegations that Russia meddled in the presidential elections (Trump has repeatedly played down the accusations).
Of particular interest was Tillerson's testimony: as CEO of Exxon/Mobil he had done substantial business in Russia, worked personally with Putin, and got the Order of Friendship award from Russia. All that made many in the U.S. and Russia suspect that he may be a pro-Russia voice in the administration.
A curious advertisement popped up on Facebook a few days, appealing to women in Kazakhstan in search of a prospective husband: “An elite group of bachelors is coming to Astana from Beijing to make new friends and to get married. A number of special events are scheduled. The men are monied, have European educations and speak English, and many of them speak Russian. To learn more about these bachelors apply at our agency.”
News website Nur.kz looked into the matter and learned that an Astana company was indeed organizing a four-day trip in February for 15 Chinese unmarried men in search of a bride.
The business model is reminiscent of the kind of bride-hunting expeditions embarked upon by lonesome Western men in parts of the former Soviet bloc.
There is not much parity in the proposed arrangement. While the women, who have to pay 15,000 tenge ($45) to be placed on the agency’s books ($75 for first-time registration), get no say as to who they pair up with, the men may pick and choose. If the women are not picked, they lose their fee.
According to the program outlined by the Astana company, dates are organized for the couples at venues like karaoke bars and bowling alleys, and once a pair is set, they attend a gala dinner. Women then have the option of going to China at the man’s expense from a week to three months so as to acclimatize to the conditions and culture, and to see if they will be able to settle down.
All this has got some armchair patriots up in arms and sent them charging at their keyboards to vent their fury on social media.
Georgia’s largest opposition group, the avidly pro-Western United National Movement, has broken apart amid infighting over the role of the party’s chief, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, and the party’s loss in the 2016 parliamentary vote. The divorce could further weaken the country’s already fragmented political opposition.
The split was essentially between the brain and the body of the party, which ruled and reformed Georgia for over a decade until it was ejected by the Georgian Dream coalition in 2012. Top figures in Saakashvili’s presidential brain trust, including ex-National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria, ex-Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava and ex-Parliamentary Chairperson/Foreign Minister Davit Bokeria are among the score or so who opted for a political life after Misha.
Citing irreconcilable differences with the party and their former boss, the group announced a new party, as yet unnamed.
Fresh from prison, where he served a year and nine months for allegedly misspending public funds, Ugulava went straight for the jugular, blaming Saakashvili for the split.
“Saakasvhili was the party’s founder, but he has become its undoing,” he thundered, excoriating his former mentor for refusing to let go of the party and for engaging in divisive “ravings” from afar.
“This man does not radiate leadership anymore. It pains me to say this, but he is not the Mikheil Saakashvili who united the people in 2002 [ahead of the 2003 Rose Revolution] . . .” Ugulava said. “We need to look forward. If you turn back, you turn into a pillar of salt.”
The 29-year old son of Tajikistan’s president continued his speedy ascendancy through high office on January 12 with his appointment as mayor of the capital city.
Rustam Emomali will take over from the long-serving Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, an ultimate insider who has run Dushanbe for 19 years.
A statement on the president’s website notes that Ubaidulloev’s three deputies also resigned their “of their own will,” ensuring that Emomali will be able to smoothly move in his own team.
Nothing in Emomali’s professional background gives any indication he has the requisite skill-set to manage a city that is home to hundreds of thousands of people.
He graduated from the Tajik National University in 2008 with a degree in international economic relations and also did some courses at the foreign ministry’s diplomatic academy. In 2011, he completed legal studies at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow.
He has served as head of the anti-corruption agency since 2015, prior to which he led the state customs service.
Despite his youth, Emomali already holds the rank of general. This is a particularly remarkable achievement considering he has not served a single day in the armed forces, as countless young Tajiks are required to do by law. None of the normal get-out exemptions from military service appear to apply to Emomali. He is not the only son in his family and is not known to suffer of any debilitating conditions. A real mystery.
The pieces are all falling into place.
It now only remains to be seen what happens with the Senate, which is currently chaired by Ubaidulloev. If the now ex-mayor decides to quit that job “of his own will” as well, Emomali may claim the post, in effect making him the formal successor to his father.
As of January 20, mobile phone operators in Tajikistan will have to increase the cost of outgoing calls to Russia by 20 percent, up to 1.20 somoni ($0.15) per minute. Only four months ago, the cost of a call to Russia per minute was only 0.69 somoni.
The price increase comes by order of the antimonopoly service and at the suggestion of the state communications agency and stands to adversely affect both mobile phone companies and people wishing to keep in touch with their relatives working abroad.
Mobile phone companies have noted on their official websites that the additional cost has been incurred by the fact that calls are now rerouted through the Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center, a network gateway run by state-owned telecommunications company Tojiktelecom, which is in turn owned by the state communications agency.
The aim behind creating the gateway, which is known by its Russian abbreviation EKTs, was said last year to be that of “ensuring national and information security.” In cruder terms, the system theoretically gives authorities complete monitoring powers over internet and mobile phone traffic.
The state communications agency is run by the notorious Beg Zukhurov, a relative of President Emomali Rahmon by marriage.