The Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, which is leased out to the United States, is among Washington's most important strategic assets, serving as a logistics and support hub for American military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. But a lawsuit working its way through a California court alleges that the air base sits on land that was illegally taken from an Armenian family in 1923. Some background:
The lawsuit, which was filed past year against these banks and under American Armenian Alex Bakalian’s guidance, states that in 1923 the lands—in Adana, Turkey—belonging to their families were transferred to the Bank of Agriculture. On one of the 4 plots of these lands the Incirlik military base was built, which is leased to US. The lawsuit demands the value of these lands, which comprise $63 million US, and part of the income received from the lease of Incirlik, which totals $100 million.
Turkish human rights lawyer and columnist for the Today's Zaman newspaper Orhan Kemal Cengiz has written some good columns about the case recently, offering more details about the case. This column of his reprints a very interesting interview with Bakalian's lawyer, in which he lays out the legal framework for the case. In a subsequent column, Cengiz details the defense submitted by the Turkish banks being sued in the case (the Turkish governmnet itself has not submitted a defense, according to the columnist). Both columns are worth reading -- this case could prove to be a very significant one.
Eurasianet contributor Pearly Jacob recently filed a fantastic piece about the Tasaatan people, traditional reindeer herders who live in Mongolia and who are struggling to maintain their ancient way of life. The story (with great photos) can be found here.
Curious to find out more about the story, I sent the author a few questions that dig deeper into the culinary aspect of reindeer herding (the animals are used mostly for their milk, not meat) in Mongolia. Here's our exchange:
What can you tell us about reindeer milk? Reindeer Milk is incredibly creamy and thick. The fat makes up for the surprisingly low yield of milk, which is just about 200 grams a day. I was told fresh reindeer milk is much too strong to drink by itself. Milk is usually used to make Tsu tei Chai, the traditional salted milk tea in Mongolia. Milk given to babies is also always diluted with water. There's a certain wild taste to reindeer milk I can only compare to the difference in taste between venison and beef - a wilder, stronger taste.
Do the Tsaatan turn the milk into anything else, like cheese or yogurt? Tsaatan do make yogurt, cream and dried curds and cheeses from reindeer milk. The methods are the same as the rest of Mongolia except nomads on the steppe use goat's and cow's milk. I was offered some Reindeer yogurt, and it was the sourest yogurt I've ever had, with an almost sharp taste to it. I have to admit it wasn't the most Epicurean experience. An interesting thing many Tsataan do to preserve their milk is to dunk metal container full of milk deep into a stream or river - water temperatures rarely rise above a couple of degree Celsius in the Taiga - it's impossible to wade across even for a few minutes without your toes freezing. Perfect natural refrigeration.
In a story more reminiscent of "The Set-Up" than "Million Dollar Baby," the BBC, citing anonymous insiders, has reported that oil-rich Azerbaijan may be relying on more than just its boxers’ muscles to pack a punch at the 2012 Olympics in London. Azerbaijan, the insiders' story goes, allegedly oiled the palm of a boxing organizer with $9 million to secure two gold medals for Azerbaijani boxers at the games. An angry Azerbaijan has countered that the allegations are a pack of lies, the work of unnamed enemies and provocateurs.
The Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), the group in the eye of the furor, first claimed that it received an innocuous “investment” from a private Swiss investor, but later admitted that the cash came from Azerbaijan. The group says the transaction had nothing to do with fixing medals and claims that the money came from a private Azerbaijani investor, not the Azerbaijani government.
But the line between private and government realms often can be blurry in corruption-plagued Azerbaijan. The fact that Azerbaijan’s Minister of Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov, of all people, acted as a mediator between AIBA and the mystery investor only reinforces the point.
The International Olympic Committee is considering launching a probe into the allegations.
Aysoltan Niyazova, accused of embezzling $19.3 million from Turkmenistan's Central Bank, who has been on the lam for eight years, has finally been located in Switzerland and is being extradited to Russia, Russia's business daily Kommersant reports.
(Niyazov is a common name and it is not known if she is a relative of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.)
Last year, when Turkmenistan joined the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), it was upgraded from the "blacklist" and put on the "improving" list for passing laws and starting to investigate and prosecute some of the rampant corruption and mismanagement in its opaque banking system.
Then an arrest was finally made in the Central Banking case which dates back to 2002. Saveliy Burshtein, a Russian citizen, was accused of siphoning $19.3 from the Central Bank of Turkmenistan and sentenced to six years of prison. But a co-defendant tried in absentia, Aysoltan Niyazova, 38, a director of Moscow's Index-Bank was able to escape abroad, and remained at large for some eight years.
In January of this year, Niyazova, who holds dual Turkmen and Russian citizenship was eventually found by the Swiss police through Interpol. It then took months to arrange the extradition with Russia but now Niyazova is finally being returned to face imprisonment.
On September 10 the city of Oskemen brought out some 60,000 people to take part in a mass Kara Zhorga dance as part of a fitness festival, dwarfing the 15,000 who turned out in the oil city of Atyrau to dance last year.
The first record for dancing the Kara Zhorga, whose title loosely translates as Black Mount, was set in 2009 by 13,370 ethnic Kazakhs living in China’s Xinjiang region, Oskemen-based newspaper Ustinka Plyus reported in a story on the craze.
The paper puts the dance’s revival down to the migration to Kazakhstan of ethnic Kazakhs from other countries, including China, under the state oralman (returnee) program.
Just days after reportedly recognizing the independence of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- news that still awaits official confirmation -- the South Pacific island of Tuvalu has struck up diplomatic relations with Russia. Given that Moscow has made it its job to chaperone the two runaway regions on their quest for international recognition, it is all too tempting to connect the dots.
On September 25, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sat down with Tuvalu's prime minister, Willy Telavi, to bond over their shared interests in fishing and trade, and talk diplomatic ties. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, traditionally a venue for the consummation of new alliances.
Russian officials did not say much about the Tuvalu tête-à-tête, but Georgian wonks have already started surmising how much the new friendship will cost Moscow.
Tuvalu could definitely use some help in one realm -- rising sea levels in the Pacific, which threaten to wash the 26-square-kilometer island clean away, Prime Minister Telavi told the UN.
The island probably wouldn’t be missed much in Tbilisi, which earlier had made a gift of medicine to tiny Tuvalu in a bid to discourage it from following the wayward behavior of nearby Nauru, which recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia's independence in 2009.
A couple of weeks ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmahinejad visited Dushanbe, and Tajikistan's defense minister Sherali Khairulloyev made a statement that raised some eyebrows around the region:
"Today, if necessary, the Islamic Republic of Iran's Armed Forces can reach Tajikistan in two hours, and if a military presence of the Tajik side in the similar plans and programs of the Islamic Republic is necessary, the representative units of Tajikistan's Armed Forces are also ready to travel to Iran," Khairulloyev said...
"We support each other under any conditions and both friends and foes consider us as two friendly and brotherly countries," he added.
Say what? The prospect of Iranian forces intervening in Tajikistan is certainly an intriguing one. (The prospect of Tajikistan's forces doing the same in Iran is clearly just a rhetorical bone thrown to Tajikistan's dignity; it has enough trouble defending its own territory, let alone that of Iran.)
The website Asia-Plus asked a couple of Tajik analysts for their thoughts on what to make of Khairulloyev's statement, headlined "Tajikistan-Iran: Against Whom Are We Allied?" (in Russian, translation by BBC Monitoring):
Abdugani Mahmadazimov, chairman of the Association of Political Scientists of Tajikistan: "Tajikistan has no enemies, neither among the neighbours nor among other countries. However, there are problems in some issues in the region, in particular the use of border rivers for irrigation and for energy purposes. These issues should be solved through talks, not involving the military forces of foreign states. Of course, Iran has a strong air force that it can immediately deploy....
Due to the exigencies of supplying troops in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has been seeking a waiver to remove seven years of human rights restrictions barring military aid to the Uzbek dictatorship.
Yet despite these concerns, word comes today from a Senate source saying that Congress has indeed authorized the waiver, to the chagrin of many human rights activists.
[CLARIFICATION: The waiver has passed only in the Senate Appropriations Committee, but this is now unlikely to be changed when the bill comes for a vote to the full Senate.]
The groundwork was being laid long before; this summer, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-NC), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, visited Uzbekistan to discuss the waiver, among other aspects of improving Uzbek-US relations.
A meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev was anticipated this week, as the Uzbek delegation arrived in New York for the UN General Assembly. Yet the meeting didn't take place, possibly due to Uzbekistan's unhappiness about being named once again in the annual report on international religious freedom as a "country of particular concern" for its appalling torture and imprisonment of devout Muslims and other religious believers.
Although Ogun Samast, the young man who murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, was recently sentenced to 22 years in jail, court proceedings against several others who were involved in the plot continue. In a recent hearing leading up to the case's finale, the prosecutor representing the state told the judge he believes the murder was ordered by a cell of Ergenekon, a shadowy ultra-nationalist organization that is alleged to have been behind various attempts to destabilize or overthrow the current Turkish government. From Today's Zaman:
A Turkish prosecutor conducting the investigation into the assassination of Turkish- Armenian journalist Hrant Dink said on Monday that the murder was committed by Ergenekon's cell in the Black Sea province of Trabzon.
Prosecutor Hikmet Usta announced his opinion as to who masterminded the assassination and as to the accusations directed at suspects during the 20th hearing of the 20-suspect Dink trial at the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court. The prosecutor said the murder was the work of Ergenekon's Trabzon cell and demanded life imprisonment for seven suspects, including key suspects Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel, on charges of attempting to destroy the constitutional order.
“The Dink assassination was the latest assassination of the deep structures. The suspects acted on ideological motives. The target was the Turkish Republic and public order. There is suspicion that the murder is linked to the Ergenekon network. We have reached the conclusion that the Dink murder was committed by the Trabzon cell of the Ergenekon terrorist organization,” Prosecutor Usta said.
Size clearly does not matter for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their quest for international acceptance of their de-facto independence from Georgia. Tuvalu, the world’s second-smallest island nation, reportedly has become the latest convert to join the Abkhazia and South Ossetia fan club by recognizing the two disputed territories as separate states, the de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments announced today.
Tuvalu government officials could not be reached for confirmation of the reports, which have been disseminated primarily by Russian media.
In case you forgot, the world’s smallest island country, Nauru, which shares an ocean and (apparently) views on Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Tuvalu, recognized the two breakaway Caucasus regions back in 2009. Geographically speaking, the islands combined are many mega-times smaller than the controversial combo of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but as UN members, they bring votes into the equation.
Speaking of the UN, if the reports are confirmed, officials in Tbilisi may well feel like they were just slapped in the face. Last year, Georgia, not a regular international aid donor, gave Tuvalu $12,000-worth of medicine after Tuvalu backed a UN resolution that called for the return of displaced ethnic Georgians to Abkhazia.
Some observers within Georgia, though, were quick to ascribe Tuvalu’s apparent change of mind to Russia, the main and deep-pocketed champion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s recognition as independent states.