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.
Kazakhstan has extended its smoking ban by prohibiting the use of the shisha pipe in enclosed public spaces including bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
The ban came into force on March 14, sparking an outcry among entrepreneurs warning of widespread job losses.
According to the calculations of the Association of Shisha Pipe Industry Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan, reported by Bnews.kz on April 1, up to 20,000 jobs stand to be lost since each of the 5,000 premises where the shisha is smoked employs three or four people to clean and light the pipes.
The pipes are hugely popular in bars and restaurants in Astana, Almaty and other cities. One pipe, which is shared by groups of friends out socializing, costs around $30-$50. Establishments breaking the new rules face fines of just over $1,100.
Shisha – also known as kalyan or hooka – pipes had been exempt from a smoking ban in enclosed spaces introduced in 2009, when officials said some 30,000 people per year were dying from tobacco-related diseases. Implementation is patchy, with most establishments respecting the ban but some openly flouting it.
According to a World Bank report published in 2010, 40 percent of male adults in Kazakhstan smoke – fewer than Russia’s 59 percent, but almost double the 22 percent smoking in neighboring Uzbekistan.
Students take a break to discuss words and spellings during the National English Spelling Competition finals held at the National Youth and Children’s Palace on March 30 in Tbilisi.
The competition was the final round of a year-long project to help motivate Georgian children to learn English. Initiated last year by Peace Corps volunteer Adam Malinowski, the spelling bee started with local competitions in more than 126 schools and more than 2,400 students throughout the country. During the final, 34 top spellers from nine regions around Georgia came to Tbilisi to compete for iPads, iPods, free English classes, and other prizes from the US embassy and other sponsors.
Molly Corso is a freelance journalist who also works as editor of Investor.ge, a monthly publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.
An elderly woman has died in western Kazakhstan after being attacked by a camel she had raised from infancy, local media report.
The fatal clash took place on April 2 in the village of Umirzak outside the oil city of Aktau in western Kazakhstan, the Lada newspaper said.
Shocked neighbors put the attack down to it being camel mating season, when males are especially aggressive. “I remember this camel as a calf,” one unidentified villager told Lada. “Our neighbor was always looking after it, checking on it, feeding it.”
When she went out to feed the cattle on April 2 “no one paid any attention,” the villager said, until the woman’s husband “noticed that she was lying all in blood and not moving.”
An ambulance came but doctors pronounced her dead from “multiple open wounds.” So fierce was the attack that “her scalp was almost totally torn off,” the newspaper said.
Many people raise camels in the western desert regions of Kazakhstan, where they are prized as a mark of wealth – a single ungulate can be worth upward of $3,000. Camel meat is popular, as is shubat, fermented camel milk.
This is not the first fatal clash between a human and a ship of the desert in recent years: In 2011 the driver of a speeding Opel Vectra was killed after he collided with a herd of camels in the western Aktobe Region. A camel also died in the crash.
The fate of the camel that turned on its owner has not yet been decided, Lada reported, but the “camel murderer is being kept in a separate pen, far from other animals. And people.”
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.
Kazakhstan's new foreign minister did some traveling in the region last week, visiting Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in an apparent effort to get the two sides to talk about their dispute over the massive, controversial Rogun dam project. The United Nations has been trying to get Kazakhstan to play a leading role in resolving the issue between its neighbors to the south and when the foreign minister, Erlan Idrissov, spoke to the press in Dushanbe, he highlighted the Rogun issue:
"It's no secret that the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant is one of the important issues on the agenda. The Tajik president spoke during the meeting about his vision and approach to the construction of this facility. He suggested the importance of working together with the World Bank to conduct an independent examination of the construction of the power station," Idrisov said....
"The states in the upper waters should not violate the rights and economic interests of the states located in the lower waters and vice versa. There are international conventions according to which the two sides should sit at the negotiating table and work out a mutually acceptable scheme for the usage of water resources," Idrisov said.
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.