Mashallah News, a great site covering culture and arts in the Middle East, has a mind-blowing post up about the "Apache," a dance craze sweeping across Turkey and snaring young and old in its path. The post, with lots of great videos, can be found here.
Islamists, revanchists, and now NGOs: With days to go until the one-year anniversary of devastating interethnic bloodshed in southern Kyrgyzstan, the country’s officials have stepped up their blame game, scoring big points for bogeymen and zero for justice.
The latest burst of finger-pointing comes from President Roza Otunbayeva’s official representative to parliament, veteran politician Azimbek Beknazarov, who said on June 3 that NGOs and human rights groups bear responsibility for the violence, which left more than 400 people dead last June. As quoted by AKIpress, Beknazarov said:
Why did the bloody events occur? The report by the chair of the national commission tasked with studying the causes of the events in the republic’s south, Abdygany Erkebayev, speaks of third forces, but does not say who those are. But I will tell you, as a lawyer, that the third forces are NGOs, rights organizations and rights defenders, which continue to pursue their own agendas.
Forget the story about American soldiers staring goats to death in Iraq. Russia's state-run Perviy Kanal television station can top that; it claims that the US military is now busy waging bacterial warfare against wild boars in Russia's North Caucasus.
In a documentary opus that aired this week, reporter Anton Vernitskiy alleges that Washington has been setting up labs in Azerbaijan and Georgia to spread death and disease on the home turf of its former Cold War foe. Soon after US-financed disease monitoring labs appeared in Azerbaijan and Georgia, Vernitskiy tells viewers (as a gong sounds in the background), a strange flu started decimating wild boar populations in the region.
Vernitskiy even took the pains to travel to Tbilisi to interview US Ambassador John Bass, who told him that the labs are perfectly harmless.
But this is not all. Citing disgruntled ex-Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, the documentary argues that former President George W. Bush in 2005 egged on Tbilisi to use force against breakaway South Ossetia -- a suggestion that allegedly led to war with Russia three years later.
In the meantime, Vernitskiy continues, Georgia has also been busy lending financial and logistical support to Islamic militants -- a claim that has nearly become old hat for pro-government Russian news outlets.
Vernitskiy’s saga may not be worth retelling if did not air on Perviy Kanal, the Kremlin's main TV messenger. The documentary may not cause more than eye rolling in Washington, but Russia and Georgia both use media to keep their official animosity alive.
So if bears in Russia suddenly start having asthma attacks, you can be sure Perviy Kanal will know where to look for the culprit.
With Europe suffering from severe indigestion, Russia has moved to ban imports of Euro-veggies. The embargo may be bad news for European exporters, but it could open new avenues for the Azerbaijani cucumber.
It's hard to get between Russians and their love for cucumbers (especially pickled ones). Russia’s food safety tsar Gennadiy Onishchenko advised consumers earlier this week that if they find themselves overcome by an uncontrollable urge to eat European cucumbers, they should simply switch to pasta. He cautioned, though, against pasta abuse since it could make Russia a few kilos heavier.
“If you find European vegetables on sale in stores, you should walk away indignantly and go buy our vegetables,” declared Onishchenko, whom Tamada Tales readers may remember for his crusades against Georgian wine and mineral water.
But “our vegetables” could include vegetables from the South Caucasus; Azerbaijan, chiefly. Thanks to the embargo on Europe’s killer cucumbers, Azerbaijan may increase its fruit and vegetable exports to Russia by 20-25 percent, said Sabir Aliyev, a senior official in Azerbaijan's Ministry of Agriculture. Azerbaijan’s current annual vegetable exports to Russia are worth 200 million manats ($156 million), he said.
Neighboring Armenia, a good Moscow chum, is not that big on cucumber exports, but agriculture officials there say they may also use the opportunity while Europe and Russia are waging salad wars.
Zhovtis is spending the leave with his family in a rented apartment in the eastern city of Oskemen (Ust-Kamenogorsk in Russian), where the prison in which he’s serving a four-year sentence for causing the accidental death of a pedestrian in a traffic accident is located.
His imprisonment in September 2009 caused a furor among international human rights activists. They support Zhovtis’ allegations that he received exceptionally harsh treatment as a reprisal for his campaigning. The authorities firmly deny the charge.
Since his imprisonment Zhovtis has complained of being subjected to unfair treatment that violate the terms of what is effectively an open prison. He says his movements have been subjected to greater restrictions than those of other prisoners, and he was denied the right he theoretically enjoys to work in his own field: Instead of allowing Zhovtis, a lawyer, to work in the Oskemen branch of the International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, prison authorities employed him as a storekeeper.
Zhovtis hasn’t let his legal training go to waste in prison, though – he’s been providing legal advice and fighting cases for fellow prisoners.
The “global Russian” website Snob.ru, the online platform of oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov’s Snob Magazine, is reporting a funny story about Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the Venice Biennale. The exhibition at the Azerbaijani pavilion, it seems, has been put on hold after Aliyev personally draped over a sculpture by participating feminist artist Aidan Salakhova.
The reason? Aliyev found the work demeaning to women.
Arriving on opening day – an unusual practice for a head of state, writes Snob's Maria Shubina, but an understandable one, this being only Azerbaijan’s third time at the festival – Aliyev examined the exposition. One of Salakhova's works, titled “The Book,” depicted a black oval of a woman’s head and torso in Islamic dress, with no distinguishable face and protruding white hands that appear to hold the Quaran. It was at this point that the president reportedly declared that such a work could not represent his secular nation’s attitude toward women, and covered it with a sheet.
Salakhova’s work in the Biennale, if Snob’s illustrations are to be believed, also features a vaginal-shaped black-and-white sculpture known as “The Black Stone.” Her “Destination” series, to which “The Book” belongs, includes a piece where the traditionally-dressed woman holds a double-sided penis - a giveaway, one might suspect, that Salakhova is anything but an Islamic propagandist.
“Reading irony, seeing double entendre – all of this is, undoubtedly, not for presidents,” Shubina writes, adding the incident has produced so much buzz for Salakhova, it is as though she and Aliyev were in cahoots.
Georgia appears to be planning to add at least 625 additional soldiers to the 925 it already has in Afghanistan, according to a statement from the White House. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili yesterday in Rome, and according to the official White House account of the meeting, "The Vice President expressed his appreciation to President Saakashvili for Georgia's significant new contribution of forces to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which will make Georgia the largest non-NATO contributor to ISAF."
Civil.ge does the math, and finds that the top current non-NATO contributor is Australia, with 1,550 troops. So that presumably means that Georgia is planning to top that:
It means that Georgia, which currently has 925 soldiers in Afghanistan, most of them stationed in Helmand province, has to send additional more than 625 servicemen to exceed Australian troop number and to become the largest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF mission.
There's really not much to be said about Saakashvili's devotion to the West and its security organizations that hasn't already been said. But in a terrific analysis of the U.S.-Russia reset in The Nation, Stephen Cohen provides some useful context. In particular, he notes the blatant hypocrisy in Biden and Saakashvili's respective description of the "sphere of influence" in Georgia:
Truth to tell, back in 2004, when Bagapsh first ran for breakaway Abkhazia's presidency, the then energy company director had not been Putin's pick. In fact, Tbilisi sighed with relief when Bagapsh, who did not smile upon closer ties with Georgia, defeated the Russia-favored Raul Khajimba in the election.
But with the region’s de facto presidency now up for grabs and growing wariness with Russia among the Abkhaz, Putin came to put his ducks in a row. The point he made to the Abkhaz boils down to a single message: whoever you elect next, there is not much you can achieve without Russian protection and Russian money.
With a Talib’s eye for detail, the president of Tajikistan is updating his country’s inventory of undesirable people and things. Move over bearded footballers and hijab, scary names have landed in Emomali Rakhmon’s sights.
Speaking to a group of schoolchildren, Rakhmon said parents should choose their children’s names from classical Persian poetry and avoid names derived from such frightening concepts as “war” and “wolves.”
"I pay close attention to surnames and names when I appoint anyone to a leading post in the government," AFP quoted Rakhmon as saying. "Sometimes, reading surnames can make one shudder."