It has long been an open secret that some police officers in Kazakhstan turn a blind eye to criminal activity in exchange for a share of the proceeds. But rarely do male officers end up fleeing the scene of the crime dressed in drag.
This is what happened in the western city of Atyrau last week, according to a report carried in local newspaper Ak Zhayyk on May 26. Its correspondent on the scene described seeing two male police officers decked out in women’s clothes bolting from a brothel.
According to the newspaper, two officers arrived at an apartment block in Atyrau around 5 a.m. after a confrontation between alleged pimps and sex workers working out of an apartment and their infuriated neighbors.
The officers entered the apartment, but when they hadn’t emerged after an hour neighbors called another police squad, whose officers arrived and sat outside in their car.
A woman then emerged from the alleged brothel, got into the squad car and proceeded to hurl insults at the neighbors and throw a bottle at them while the newly arrived police looked on, Ak Zhayyk said.
A bizarre scene then ensued as, amid the disturbance, the first two police officers emerged from inside the brothel, “one in a long beige women’s jacket, under which [police] uniform pants were peeping out,” the other in “tight” women’s pants.
When the officers sitting outside failed to make a move, a pregnant woman and an elderly man resorted to giving chase themselves. But “the forces were unequal” and the two sergeants in drag escaped.
Malaysia's state-owned Petronas oil and gas company will jettison all its hydrocarbon investments in Uzbekistan this year, a company representative has said. Meanwhile, a small company registered in an offshore tax haven is eager to ramp up its exploration projects in the Central Asian country.
"This decision by Petronas is final. The Uzbek government is now preparing documents that will make it possible to legally complete the process of exiting from upstream projects," an anonymous source at the company told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency on May 24. The move is in line with "the company's general strategy to optimize its activities in the region."
The source said that Petronas had already stepped away from production-sharing agreements on two projects: a gas condensate field on the Ustyurt Plateau adjacent to the Aral Sea and the Boysun oil and gas field in the Uzbekistan's south. These PSAs were signed between 2008 and 2010, RIA Novosti said.
It is unclear exactly why Petronas is bowing out. Large foreign investors in Uzbekistan have been known to face harassment from excessively attentive officials looking for kickbacks. But the company has been scaling back operations in Uzbekistan for some months, declaring in April that one project turned out to be commercially unfeasible. Overall oil and gas production in the country has fallen in recent years.
On the day his capital received a Guinness rating as the world capital of white marble-clad buildings, Turkmenistan's attention-craving President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov added yet another title to his collection: “Distinguished Architect of Turkmenistan.”
The official TDH news agency reports that Berdymukhamedov, who likes to be called “The Protector” (Arkadag in Turkmen), was granted the honorary title by the rubber-stamp parliament on May 25. The title recognizes Berdymukhamedov’s "titanic efforts put into the political, economic and cultural development of our beloved Motherland."
Just in case anyone wasn’t convinced, on the same day Berdymukhamedov received another recognition for his efforts. Craig Glenday, the editor-in-chief of the Guinness World Records book, flew in to present the distinguished architect with a certificate recognizing Ashgabat as the city with the most white marble-clad buildings in the world, TDH reported.
"In an impressive architectural re-styling effort led by the government of Turkmenistan, an area measuring 22 km² (8.49 mi²) in the capital Ashgabat boasts 543 new buildings clad with 4,513,584 m² (48,583,619 ft²) of white marble," the Guinness website says. "If the marble was laid out flat, there would be one square meter of marble for every 4.87 m² of land."
Azerbaijan doesn't have aspirations to join either NATO or the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a top government official said on a visit to Germany. "We envision our future security model within the framework of the Nonaligned Movement,” said Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential department for socio-political issues, said at a forum dedicated to “Azerbaijan’s European Path: Achievements and Potentialities.” Hasanov added: “Therefore Azerbaijan will neither be a member of NATO nor the CSTO, while cooperating with both.”
“It does not mean that Azerbaijan will not or can not change its choice. The choice can change anytime. Azerbaijan’s national interest is the decisive factor, if the national security interests require that it is necessary to join NATO, then it will be so. If national interests require reconsidering Azerbaijan’s participation in CSTO, this issue will be reconsidered. Our security, energy, economic, political and social interests arise from and are based on the needs, interests of the Azerbaijani people,” he said.
Given that Azerbaijan hasn't been doing anything to indicate that it intends to join either alliance, it's not exactly news that Hasanov said this. But it's an interesting statement in the context of Azerbaijan's recent rocky relations with Russia. President Ilham Aliyev has been palling around with his Georgian counterpart and Kremlin bugaboo Mikheil Saakashvili, and there has been talk of an "emerging alliance" between Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. And that was before the great Eurovision scandal.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov meets NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during the former's visit to Brussels in 2011. (photo: NATO)
NATO is opening a liaison office in Tashkent -- but don't read too much geopolitical significance into the move. A number of Russian-media outlets have reported the move, seeing in it yet another piece of evidence that Uzbekistan is moving away from Russia (leaving the Collective Security Treaty Organization) and toward the West (cooperating with the U.S. on military transit to and from Afghanistan, getting increasing military aid from Washington).
But a NATO official tells The Bug Pit that this is simply a regular rotation of its officials, in this case from Astana to Tashkent. And it will coordinate all the alliance's activities in Central Asia:
The NATO Liaison Officer’s mandate is to further strengthen relations, dialogue and practical co-operation with all Partner states in the region. The NATO Liaison Officer has previously been based in Astana, Kazakhstan.
As part of a regular regional rotation process and following an agreement with the government of Uzbekistan, the NATO Liaison Officer in Central Asia will soon (in June-July 2013) open a new office in Tashkent. From there he will also cover Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The office will have the status of a diplomatic mission and be headed by a national of a NATO member state. A small number of staff will support the work of the NATO Liaison Officer. In addition to working with the governments of the respective Partner states with a view to strengthening long-term bilateral co-operation, the NATO Liaison Officer will also support the Alliance’s public diplomacy activities as well as co-ordination with other international actors in the region.
Tashkent news/analysis website UzMetronom says the NATO move isn't a big deal -- yet.
It turns out the rumors are true: Emomali Rakhmon of Tajikistan can boogie. (And maybe he likes a tipple.)
Videos that appeared online this week shows the Tajik strongman moving gracefully around a gilded ballroom, arms outstretched, wrists flicking, as he performs some fast-footed local dance moves.
In one video, the president belts out a duet (some might encourage him to stick to dancing) as the powerful Dushanbe mayor and potential rival Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev drifts in and out of the frame clapping his hands. In the background, Rakhmon’s eldest son stands stone-faced, hand over chest, with a veiled bride.
The videos were shot, says CA-news.org, in June 2009 at the wedding of Rustam Emomali, Rakhmon’s son and presumed heir. Coincidence, or perhaps not, this week YouTube was blocked again in Tajikistan. Users report the video-sharing site is down for the third time in the past year.
The head of Tajikistan’s Association of Internet Providers, Asomiddin Atoev, told RIA Novosti that the order to block the site came from the state communications agency. As is customary, the communications agency is not disclosing its reasoning. Over the past year the agency has regularly blocked YouTube and Facebook, as well as a host of critical news sites, often with enigmatic explanations: for example, claiming the site needs “prophylactic maintenance.” If the YouTube ban is indeed related the wedding videos, it is still unclear whether the move would have been ordered by Rakhmon himself or some over-cautious sycophants.
It's not a stretch to say that the two leaders of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) loath each other. But the two, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the AKP and the CHP's Kemal Kilicdaroglu, have in recent days started taking things to new heights.
During a recent round of meetings in Brussels, Kilicdaroglu, who heads the secularist CHP, likened Erdogan to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, saying there were only "shades of difference" between the two. "Both are oppressive, both have special courts and prosecutors. Media bosses call and ask which journalist is to be put [in jail]. Instructions are given to media. What difference do they have in terms of democracy?" Kilicdaroglu told reporters.
Erdogan, in turn, is suing his political rival for defamation, asking for one million Turkish lira (about $560,000) in compensation. Even more sensationally, the PM is accusing the CHP of being in bed with some of the individual who were behind the May 11 twin bombings that rocked the city of Reyhanli, located near the Syrian border, and killed 51 people. Reports Today's Zaman:
According to the prime minister, the government and security forces have documents that clearly prove the claim that the two suspected bombers were the same men that drove a CHP delegation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's residence in March.
The increasingly indispensable Roads & Kingdoms blog has a wonderful new piece that takes a look at the Azeri tradition of cooking up khash, a hearty though labor-intensive stew made using a sheep's head, hooves and stomach that have gone through various processes in order to render the final product. What I found particularly interesting about the piece, written by Mark Hay, was its suggestion that for Azeris, cooking khash was as much a political act as a culinary one. From the article:
Staking out a claim on khash, naming it as something uniquely Azerbaijani, is a far weightier thing to do in the Caucasus than it is for Florida or Massachusetts to claim key lime or Boston cream pies, respectively, as their own though. Naming a food here is a political act, filled with fire and vigorm, as the contest over foods has been imbued with the long-simmering tensions of regional border disputes.
A festival of films from Central Asia, Turkey, and Central Europe was set to conclude in New York on May 24 with the screening of the highly acclaimed Uzbek film “Parizod.”
The New York Eurasian Film Festival,opened May 20, with a slate of more than 20 shorts and feature-length pictures from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Poland, and Bulgaria. Brooklyn’s St. Francis College hosted the second annual event.
Most of the films in the festival had never previously been shown in the United States, and some had garnered high praise elsewhere. Parizod, for example, won the Grand Prix at Latvia’s Kinoshok festival. Loosely translated as “Heaven – My Abode,” the film, named after the title character, follows the story of a woman with mystical powers who appears out of a cloud of mist only to change the lives of her benefactors, who try to find her a suitable husband.
The Eurasian Film Festival is the brainchild of Hakki Subentekin, a New York-based filmmaker originally from Turkey, and Yuliya Tikhonova, a Moscow-born curator and founder of the Brooklyn House of Kulture -- “an experimental curatorial model created to allow artists to work within communities,” according to Tikhonova’s own online description.
Here's looking at the world's worst economy cabin.
When the countries of Central Asia end up on a list, they’re usually at the bottom (or the top, depending on how you look at it, as in “most-corrupt”). A new ranking is no different: Three of the region’s national air carriers, surprise, have placed among the world's worst.
Business Insider, an online magazine, has ranked economy-class cabins and found the flag carriers of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan offer passengers a “most unpleasant in-flight experience,” measured by "seat comfort, in-flight entertainment, cabin cleanliness and condition, quality of meals served, and service efficiency."
The magazine compiled its list from ratings made available by airline reviewer Skytrax. It then "adjusted each measure to be out of 100, and averaged them to produce a final score that reflects the overall in-flight experience."
The magazine and Skytrax offer little quantitative data to back the rankings, which may lead regular Central Asia travellers to quibble or ask why some of the region’s fly-by-night airlines did not make the list.
Perhaps the judges have never been stranded on the runway in Osh waiting for East OK Avia to fetch them. Maybe the judges who sampled UTair simply met violent deaths. One EurasiaNet correspondent likes to tell a story from Ariana Afghan Airlines: As the plane tilted forward for landing, passengers in the front of the cabin got acquainted with the contents of an overflowing toilet in the rear.