Election season in Georgia can only mean one thing: a slugfest. Four years ago the nation did witness its first peaceful, post-Soviet handover of power, but it has yet to experience an electoral process that does not involve broken noses. A recent brawlduring municipal council by-elections came as a troubling theatrical trailer for this fall’s main attraction, a parliamentary vote.
On May 19, outside a polling station in the western village of Kortskheli, able-bodied supporters of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the flagship party in the country’s ruling coalition, brutally beat key figures from the party’s main political antagonist, the United National Movement (UNM). UNM leaders such as Giga Bokeria, an ex-national security chief and key political strategist for former President Mikheil Saakashvili, suffered beatings. The police have launched an investigation.
The UNM still managed to prevail in that particular district, for a total of two wins overall, according to preliminary results.
The party released a list of alleged attackers, among whom were recognized martial arts professionals, including Olympic athlete Vladimer Gegeshidze, a member of the national Greco-Roman wrestling team and a European wrestling championship medalist. How these individuals happened to be in the village at the time has not been clarified.
A draft bill in Kyrgyzstan aimed at marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities has once again hit the buffers, raising faint hopes of a reprieve for the country’s embattled sexual minorities.
On May 24, a parliamentary subcommittee proposed holding up the bill for a fresh second reading — an unusual move since progress to a third and final review for legislation is typically a formality.
Kyrgyzstan’s anti-LGBT bill was first proposed in May 2014 and closely mirrored a law approved by Russia’s State Duma the year before. But in addition to the fine for the dissemination of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” envisioned by the Russian law, the Kyrgyz bill also proposed jail terms of up to one year for those who “promote homosexual relations” through the media or among children.
The head of the committee on rule of law, order and fighting crime, Janybek Bakchiev, said that although the bill had already passed through two readings in the previous session of parliament, another second-tier examination was required.
“Considering that this [new session of] parliament has not yet discussed this bill — and I think this is a very ambiguous issue important for society — it deserves to be discussed by the MPs of the current parliament,” Bakchiev told the committee. His suggestion was unanimously approved by the committee.
Bakchiev did not elaborate on the specific motivations for further scrutiny, however.
College students in some of Uzbekistan’s largest cities will start their holidays early this year.
Staff at colleges in Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand and Urgench were told this week that summer holidays will start from June 9 to make way for preparations ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization heads of state summit scheduled for June 23-24. Semesters normally finish on June 30.
In order to make up for the lost time, courses will be accelerated and graduate theses have to be handed in early. Exams are also being brought forward, which means there will be a lot of cramming to do.
“Students that have not already finished their thesis will have to be helped by the lecturers. By June 10, students from the regions will be required to vacate their institutes. This means we will have to work through the weekends,” a lecturer at a pedagogical institute in Tashkent told EurasiaNet.org.
Students appear to be taking the news in their stride and some are even happy since this means they will get to go home earlier. Discount tariffs on train and plane tickets are being provided for students having to return home.
This situation will affect most of the country’s 74 institutes of higher learning — 34 of which are in Tashkent.
The government is working flat out to prepare for the SCO summit.
An employee with a bank in Tashkent told EurasiaNet.org that since Uzbekistan is experiencing a period of liquid shortages, the bulk available ready cash has been going toward completion of roads and other infrastructure in preparation of the summit. Tashkent has been seized by a flurry of reparation works and tree- and flower-planting to prepare for the event.
Kazakhstan is showing signs it is stepping up its campaign against critical journalists with the one-and-a-half year jail sentence handed down to the editor of a defunct news website.
An Almaty court on May 23 found Guzyal Baydalinova guilty of deliberately distributing false information in relation to her outlet’s reports on trouble at the country’s largest bank, Kazkommertsbank.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has slammed the verdict and demanded Baydalinova's release.
"CPJ condemns [the] sentencing of Guzyal Baydalinova, who has already spent five months behind bars merely for doing her job," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.
Baydalinova and her now-closed website, Nakanune.kz, have already been on the receiving end of Kazakhstan’s punitive libel laws, which media advocacy groups argue are specifically designed to quash independent reporting.
Last April, Kazkommertsbank filed suit after Nakanune.kz ran a letter claiming the lender was implicated in corruption. A court in Almaty in June ordered Baydalinova, who owns the domain name, to remove the offending post and pay 20 million tenge ($107,000) to compensate for damage to Kazkommertsbank’s commercial reputation. Baydalinova’s legal team had argued that the lender failed to prove that the Nakanune.kz post had in fact caused any financial damage, which should have invalidated the monetary penalty.
What appears evident from this latest verdict is that the libel laws were not considered to be a sufficiently severe tool in coping with Nakanune.kz and its staff.
Thirty-year-old Giga Otkhozoria was beaten and shot dead on Georgian-controlled territory by Abkhaz border guards in broad daylight and full public view on May 19. The murder was caught on camera.
Otkhozoria, who was displaced from Abkhazia, but, like many in western Georgia, had relatives there, was trying to cross into Abkhazia but was not allowed by separatist border guards, which led to a brawl.
CCTV footage aired on Georgian television showed Otkhozoria pursued by four men into the Georgia-controlled side of Georgia-Abkhaz de-facto border crossing of Nabakevi-Khurcha.
An elderly woman tried to pull them apart, but one man pulled Otkhozoria down and another, uniformed assailant shot him twice, firing the second bullet into his head at near point-blank as people milled about the place. The attackers then scurried off back to the Abkhaz side.
Police on either side of the separatist line have launched investigations. Abkhazia’s de-facto military prosecutors acknowledged the incident took place, and said they would ask the Georgian side to share their own evidence. The Georgian prosecutors identified the shooter as Abkhaz resident Rashid Khajinogli. How they arrived at that conclusion is not clear.
Authorities in Kazakhstan reacted with startling severity to attempts to hold rallies against land reforms on May 21 by detaining possibly hundreds of journalists, activists and demonstrators.
Police had been laying the ground for their hardline approach in the days ahead of the demonstrations by arbitrarily detaining and jailing people suspected of organizing the protests.
Security was notably high in the capital, Astana, where scores of police and national guardsmen occupied the city center in anticipation of the rallies. Around 50 police officers lined the boulevard leading to the presidential palace from the landmark Baiterek monument.
The protest had been scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. although police were left with little to do at the appointed time. As the morning wore on, police around Baiterek began detaining people they suspected of being potential protesters. Onlookers refrained from filming anything for fear of also being carted away. One man observing everything from a bench said a few buses full of people had already left the scene.
“They detain anybody who says something negative about the government,” the man said.
The Turkish tomato, the ultimate victim of the Russia-Turkey food fight, is suspected of finding an unlikely way around Russian import ban -- Armenia.
Following its embargo on agricultural imports from Turkey -- Moscow’s retaliation for Ankara’s downing a Russian warplane last year -- Russia began getting its tomatoes and other salad ingredients from other countries and territories in the neighborhood. “Iran, our friends from Abkhazia, colleagues from Armenia have been taking over the market,” elaborated Igor Artemyev, head of Russia’s Anti-Trust Service, to the Kremlin-run Sputnik news network.
But Moscow also suspects that the Turkish tomato went undercover to infiltrate Russia, trying to pass itself off as Armenian, among other fake identities. Earlier this month, the Russian food safety agency, Rosselkhoznadzor, said that the spike of food imports from Armenia and other countries prompt some doubts. The agency pointed out that imports of tomatoes from Armenia reached a rate of a thousand tons in January and February this year, while in the same period of the last year Armenia did not export any tomatoes to Russia.
Rosselkhoznadzor, long known for its vigilance against suspected covert culinary operations, said that it contacted Armenian officials to make sure that the tomatoes were not coming from Turkey or the European Union. Fruits and veggies from both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been held at the Russian border on several occasions as Russian officials tried to check the quality and the provenance of the imports.
Rockford, Illinois is 5,959 miles (9,590 kilometers) and a total mindset away from the Georgian capital of 1.2 million, Tbilisi. So, perhaps it came as no surprise that some of the attendees at the May 15-17 World Congress of Families, a Rockford, Illinois-based Christian cooperative which promotes heterosexual marriage, were taken aback by the anti-Western stance vehemently espoused by their host, the outspoken nationalist businessman Levan Vasadze, in his crusade against gay marriage.
In a fiery speech to conference goers on May 16, the 45-year-old Vasadze stressed that there are no LGBT groups in Georgia; only provocateurs sponsored by Western non-governmental organizations that will soon be kicked out of the country. He did not elaborate about the basis for his prediction, but identified whom to blame.
The West, he said, owes Georgia an apology for attacking Georgian traditions; a reference to heterosexual marriage and families, both actively encouraged in this emphatically Orthodox Christian country. Vasadze, who holds an MBA from an American university (Emory), demanded that the US apologize “for supporting homosexuality globally” and predicted that Georgia will ally itself with Russia, with which Georgia shares a religious faith and, as he put it, traditional values.
The day when Moscow “realizes its mistake” and ends its support for separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be the day “the West will finally lose Georgia,” he concluded.
Vasadze’s rage, however, did not easily resonate with all Western conference-goers, who saw their gathering as designed to promote an evangelical message of Christian love and the need to fight “Satan’s lies” to preserve the sanctity of a traditional family.
Nor, conceivably, would it have jived with former US President George W. Bush, who sent greetings to the conference.
Authorities in Kazakhstan are betraying a note of panic ahead of planned nationwide demonstrations by rounding up activists and sticking them behind bars.
Activists reported on social media accounts that police on May 17 barged into several homes of hopeful meeting participants and took them into detention.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, reported that at least five people were detained in Almaty. One of the people held by police was Yermek Narymbayev, who was recently convicted, but later given a suspended sentence, on charges of incitement to ethnic strife.
Narymbayev wrote on his Facebook account that another two Almaty activists, Suyundyk Aldabergenov and Bakytzhan Toregozhina, had been ordered to serve 15 days in jail. In an indication of the authorities' determination to keep as many potential rally organizers off the streets, the court passed its verdict against Aldabergenov and Toregozhina after 10 p.m.
The rallies planned for May 21 were scheduled ahead of a government decision to shelve proposed land auctions that had sparked widespread discontent. Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced subsequently that a state commission was to be set up to discuss privatization of land and that talks would include prominent opposition figures. Critics of the authorities have insisted, however, that it is necessary to keep up the tempo of public demonstrations to ensure that the government keeps to its word.
U.S. Marines train Azerbaijani soldiers in Romania in 2011. (photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
Azerbaijan has gotten $20 million in military aid from the U.S. Department of Defense over the last ten years, while Armenia has gotten nearly nothing, a review of U.S. government documents shows.
While the U.S. State Department has traditionally administered most foreign military aid, since the onset of the "War on Terror" the Defense Department has taken on increasing responsibility for military aid. And although the U.S. State Department for the most part observes a policy of "parity" in aid to the two countries, the Department of Defense has been less cautious in maintaining a balance. Baku has benefited in particular from two Pentagon aid programs, known as Section 1004 and Section 1206, which are subject to less Congressional oversight and less stringent public reporting requirements.
Azerbaijan has gotten $8.5 million since 2005 in funding from Section 1004, which provides counternarcotics assistance, and $11.5 million from Section 1206, which provides counterterrorism aid. Armenia, by contrast, has gotten just $41,000 in Section 1004 funding and no Section 1206 money, according to data collected by the Washington advocacy group Security Assistance Monitor, which maintains a database of the various U.S. military assistance programs.