Iranian media have reported that Azerbaijani tanks (made in Israel, naturally) have massed on the border with Iran, which Azerbaijan has called a "provocation." This comes as tensions between the two neighbors are high due to Azerbaijan's close relationship with Israel, which seems to be contemplating an attack on Iran.
Iranian television apparently started reporting the buildup of about 30 tanks in the middle of April, and residents of Imishli, on the Azerbaijan side of the border, started contacting media in Baku to see if the reports were true. One told Vesti.az, "We hear this news every day. This information has been repeated so often that we necessarily have to believe in it."
Vesti.az contacted the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu, who said it was a baseless provocation, and naturally brought Armenia into it:
"This is nonsense and stupidity. Naturally, the Armenian media immediately picked up the 'information' and raised such a howl, as if, Azerbaijan was 'going to war' not with Iran, but Armenia. They should worry that this day is not too far."
Now, the commander of the Iranian Army's Ground Forces, Brig. Gen Ahmad Reza Purdastan, has said that if there are Azerbaijani tanks on the border, they pose no threat to Iran, reports Mehr News (via BBC Monitoring):
In an interview with the agency, Purdastan noted that "I have no information about this issue. However, even if so, it is the usual thing and we do not have problems with our neighbours".
"We do not think that this move of the Republic of Azerbaijan poses threat to us," he said, adding that the movement of tanks was probably part of military drills.
So, that's settled. But as long as Israel is threatening war with Iran, we can probably expect regular attempts to drag Azerbaijan into it.
Kazakhstan is building a 2,500-kilometer system of fortifications along its borders with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, to address such threats as drug trafficking, terrorism and illegal migrants, the head of the country's border service said. And it's already underway: "Major works are currently performed in this area,” said the border service chief, Nurzhan Myrzaliev.
Myrzaliev's comments didn't make it clear exactly what the fortifications would consist of. It's also not clear why the border with Kyrgyzstan isn't being fortified, too -- it would seem like a more likely place for drug traffickers or terrorists to cross from than Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. (UPDATE: turns out Kazakhstan is on it, and has already been fortifying that part of the southern border for two years.)
Myrzaliev also mentioned another border protection initiative, a counter-poaching operation carried out jointly by Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea. Again, that news is more noteworthy for what it leaves out: the other two Caspian littoral states, Iran and Turkmenistan, which have frosty relations on Caspian issues with Azerbaijan, in particular.
As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbors, but the Kazakhstan border fortification plan still suggests that, as the newspaper Birzhevoi Lider puts it, that Kazakhstan intends to "isolate itself" from its southern neighbors.
Being a doctor in Turkey carries with it a certain amount of prestige. But, increasingly, the job is also proving to be one that comes with a high level of danger. The last month has seen a string of violent attacks against doctors and health professionals in Turkey, from the murder of a doctor by the 17-year-old relative of a patient of his who died to attacks against ambulance crews that were accused of arriving late. Things have gotten so bad that Turkish doctors went on a nationwide strike earlier this month to protest the violence they are facing, while the Health and Justice ministries have been forced to step into action and come up with a plan to protect the country's medical workers.
So what's behind this upsurge in violence against doctors? Some suggest that because of a recent expansion of universal health coverage in Turkey, the country is now facing a severe shortage of doctors, resulting in poorer care and more angry patients and relatives. Some doctors, on the other hand, believe that they are the victims of government rhetoric that they say portrays them as lazy elitists. Reports the Financial Times:
Istanbul is probably one of the few cities in the world where a person armed with little more than pluck, a tuxedo and a set of four-foot-long skewers can build an empire out of selling grilled intestines (or kokorec, as they are called in Turkish). That is the story of Vahap Usta, a nattily dressed Turkish culinary entrepreneur who, starting with a single food cart in the heart of old Istanbul, went on to own a mini kingdom of some 33 stands selling kokorec and drive around town in a white Mercedes. After peaking in the 1990's, though, the legendary Vahap Usta somehow lost it all and ended up disappearing from Istanbul's culinary scene.
That is, until now. Istanbul Eats recently caught up with what they describe as the "Willy Wonka of kokorec," finding him once again slinging intestines dressed in his trademark tuxedo and trying to make a new start with a new cart in one of Istanbul's tonier neighborhoods. From their report:
The legend of Vahap Usta lives on in Facebook pages (“Vahap Usta Neredesin?/Where are you Vahap Usta?” asks one) and through claims of recent sightings and nostalgic blog posts of encounters long past. But for quite a while no one seemed to know what exactly happened to the kokoreç King himself. Our attention was brought to this story by friend and fellow trencherman Salih abi, author of the great food blog Harbi Yiyorum. We followed false leads for a year before we finally found Vahap Usta, working at his kokoreç counter on a commercial strip in the Sisli neighborhood.
More bad news for journalists in Central Asia: An international ranking by Washington-based watchdog Freedom House has shown the region's five former Soviet states performing dismally when it comes to protecting press freedom. All five fall into Freedom of the Press 2012’s "Not Free" category.
Two, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are singled out (not for the first time) as among the world’s worst abusers of press freedoms. These two authoritarian states languish at the bottom of Freedom House’s ranking of 197 countries: Reclusive Turkmenistan stands at 196 (beaten to last place by North Korea); Uzbekistan hovers at 195.
In these two countries “independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression,” the report says.
The media situation in Kazakhstan, which has a handful of independent domestic outlets and allows foreign journalists to work, is somewhat less restricted. Nevertheless, Freedom House singles it out as among “countries of special concern,” alongside Russia and Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan ranked 175th, tying with Ethiopia and The Gambia.
If there's one thing everyone in Turkey's deeply divided political scene can agree on, it's that the country desperately needs a new constitution to replace the current one, written in 1982 by the generals who led a coup two years earlier. Although that constitution has been amended several times, it remains a woefully inadequate and undemocratic document, one that is completely out of touch with Turkey's current realities. Here's how law professors Serap Yazici and Mustafa Erdogan describe it in a 2011 report they wrote for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV):
The 1982 Constitution was not only anti-democratic in terms of the method it was made, it also did not fit the ideal of a democratic and pluralist-liberalist society in terms of its content. Indeed, with characteristics such as its official ideology, its hierarchical model that renders the society subject to the state, its unionist-uniformist structure that sees differences and diversity illegitimate and its sacrificing freedom for authority, the 1982 Constitution is far from the standards of today’s democracies, and goes against the structure and needs of the society in Turkey.
Villagers in southern Kazakhstan have sacrificed a camel to ward off the evil eye after a spate of teenage suicides, a local TV channel reports.
The sacrifice was carried out in the village of Karabulak near Kazakhstan’s southern border with Uzbekistan to “drive the evil spirit out of the village,” Otyrar TV said, after two teenagers hanged themselves.
“Sixty years ago there was a similar case in our village,” Mayor Alimzhan Nishankulov told the TV channel. “At the time one elder said that it was necessary to sacrifice a white camel. Only then would there be peace and quiet here again. Our aim is to shelter young people from all afflictions.”
The local imam said that three teenagers who were saved during botched suicide attempts in recent weeks had subsequently told him of having strange dreams about an old man dressed in white. “In the visions the old man told them that life was pointless and called on him to follow them, pointing to a rope around his neck,” Imam Abdurrafi Rakhmutallayev said.
The creepy man who appeared in the dreams, the imam suggested, “was the devil in the form of a man who was manipulating them.”
Otyrar TV said that, in addition to the latest suicides, 14 people (mostly adolescents) had committed suicide in Karabulak in 2011. The previous year Kazakhstan also faced a baffling spate of teenage suicides.
Call it Godwin’s law in action; the longer an online debate goes on, the higher the probability becomes that one side will compare the other to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Hence, it took only so much German criticism of Azerbaijan's human rights record ahead of next month's Eurovision show in Baku before the country's ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party compared the Germans to the Nazis.
Like many Azerbaijani critics, many German officials and journalists have been thinking out loud that the continent’s major song contest should be used to push for an end to crackdowns on political dissent, free media and basic property rights, among other problem areas.
As the trial of 37 people accused of crimes related to fatal unrest in Zhanaozen last December continues in western Kazakhstan, prosecutors have singled out foreign journalists in their indictment of suspected ringleaders.
The Associated Press reported on April 27 that one of its correspondents was among reporters named in the charge sheet, which also named correspondents from the BBC and Kazakh newspaper Respublika, and a researcher from New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The indictment included transcripts of their December 16 conversations with Roza Tuletayeva, who faces up to 10 years in jail on charges of organizing mass unrest that day. It said she reported by telephone during the violence “to domestic and foreign correspondents,” described in the indictment as “miscreants.” In the transcripts, the reporters ask Tuletayeva what is happening and she describes events.
Tuletayeva is a former staff member from the OzenMunayGaz energy company who was involved in a strike that descended into violence last December. At least 16 people died when police fired on protestors.
Tuletayeva and others on trial have told the court that testimony was extracted from them by torture.
The indictment alleges that Tuletayeva was among ringleaders who organized premeditated unrest. It published transcripts of her SMS messages and calls, suggesting that her telephone was tapped before the unrest erupted.