Before announcing the release of her latest disco pop album yesterday, the daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov – who records under her father’s pet name for her, Googoosha – has been traipsing the globe promoting Uzbek culture, including her country’s Islamic heritage.
Under the auspices of her Fund Forum, an exhibition, “Masterpieces of Eastern Calligraphy and Miniature Art: Traditional Culture of Uzbekistan,” opened last week in Dubai with works borrowed from the Institute of Oriental Studies at Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences, the Spiritual Council of Muslim of Uzbekistan, and private collections. Fund Forum, an organization claiming to promote art and culture within Uzbekistan and abroad, published an accompanying book – "Models of Eastern Calligraphy and Miniatures."
Some might find it odd that as Karimova publicizes the role of Islam in Uzbek art, her father bans religious clothing, installs cameras to keep track of worshippers, and locks away anyone suspected of an interpretation of Islam that does not conform to his standards. Throw in his penchant for torture, and watchdogs call Uzbekistan one of the most repressive countries on the planet.
But Karimova endorses a more “traditional” Uzbek art.
Russia has apparently chosen a new ambassador to NATO, and it appears to augur a change of tone for Russia in Brussels. The previous Kremlin envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, was the leader of a nationalist political party who became a sort of cult hero/villain (depending on your perspective) for his very public disdain for the alliance, which he broadcast frequently on Twitter. The new ambassador, the newspaper Kommersant reports, is Alexander Grushko, now deputy foreign minister with a portfolio that includes NATO and other Euro-Atlantic issues and a background of working in arms control issues. Kommersant says Grushko would be the first career diplomat to hold the NATO post and that the appointment would be welcomed in NATO:
An unnamed NATO official said that the alliance was "pleased that it would be Grushko and nobody else," citing his experience in covering NATO and European issues at the foreign ministry."More to the point, Grushko is a professional specializing in NATO. No need to explain anything to him," said the source, according to Kommersant.
And another story in the paper quotes a Russian expert saying of Grushko, "This is definitely a diplomatic appointment, not a political one."
Grushko has been a frequent interlocutor with American officials, as can be seen from the voluminous number of Wikileaked cables that cite conversations between him and U.S. diplomats. But he still comes off as a strong NATO skeptic, and the tone in the cables suggests no particular warmth in the conversations. Take this cable, from October 2008, just after the Russia-Georgia war:
As EurasiaNet.org previously reported, South Korea deported a citizen of Uzbekistan on March 21. A South Korean non-profit organization, Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL), has issued a statement with additional information on the circumstances surrounding the deportation. APIL had been handling the Uzbek citizen’s case at the time.
According to APIL, the Uzbek citizen, identified as Usmon Rakhimov, stated that he was a practicing Muslim seeking asylum in order to avoid persecution by the Uzbek government. According to a number of human rights organizations, Uzbek authorities severely restrict religious freedom: membership in certain religious groups, or simply frequent attendance of services at a mosque, is sufficient to expose individuals to criminal charges of religious extremism. In one notorious case, 47 Muslims charged in 2009 with being followers of Said Nursi -- a fairly moderate Turkish theologian, whose books are openly published in Turkey -- were tortured during the investigation and sentenced to long prison terms.
The APIL statement on March 29 suggested that South Korea was acting in an inconsistent manner. It pointed out that at a recent UNHCR session, South Korean officials condemned a Chinese government move to forcibly repatriate several North Korean defectors to their country of origin, where they stood a good chance of being tortured.
Rakhimov was reportedly detained immediately upon return to Tashkent. Since then, family members have been unable to contact him, and his specific whereabouts remain unknown.
Ministry of National Security spokesperson Arif Babayev told EurasiaNet.org over the phone that “the operation against terrorists in Ganja is not over yet.” Babayev did not provide more details, but said that the ministry will issue an official statement in the evening.
Turan news agency reported that an explosion this morning in the residential area of Mahrasa Bagi in Ganja had killed two people. Unnamed local sources in the city told the agency that a suicide bomber with a grenade or explosives-laden belt had committed the act.
The Ministry of National Security’s involvement in the events in Ganja underlines the claim of terrorism, rather than an otherwise-explicable event. If the suicide-bomber version is confirmed, the explosion would rank as the first case of an attack by a suicide-bomber in Azerbaijan.
Local news wires, quoting unnamed sources in law enforcement agencies, report that the MNS was taking action against religious extremists (termed “Wahhabis”), originally from Azerbaijan’s northern Qakh region, who had rented an apartment in Ganja.
During the detention operation, one of the targeted individuals allegedly blew himself up, killing MNS Lieutenant-Colonel Elshad Guliyev in the process. The five people wounded included law-enforcement officers. The victims’ bodies have been flown to Baku by helicopter, the MNS said.
Cambridge University has gotten a little too close for comfort to Kazakhstan's long-serving authoritarian leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The university’s Churchill College has suspended plans to award one Kazakh student a six-month postdoctoral scientific placement scholarship this year, after mistakenly promoting a “Nazarbayev Fellowship.”
Richard Partington, a senior tutor at Churchill College, said in a statement that the advertisements should have read “Nazarbayev University Fellowship” but had unfortunately been marketed using only the president's surname. The Kazakhstan branch of the financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers – which operates independently from the UK firm – would have paid for the fellowship to bring a Kazakh citizen from Nazarbayev's namesake university in Astana to Cambridge.
Officials at Churchill told The Times Higher Education (THE) supplement they decided to change the fellowship's name after the college became nervous about any association with Nazarbayev himself. Schools in the UK have become increasingly wary of getting into bed with dictators since the furor surrounding the London School of Economics' suspicious dealings with the late Libyan dictator’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and lecturers’ protest when London's Metropolitan University proposed links with a university in Uzbekistan.
Russia is planning to increase its presence of airborne troops in Central Asia and the Caucasus, a sign that Moscow sees a greater possibility of fighting in the region. The planned deployment was announced by Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, the commander of the airborne troops, and reported by Nezavisimaya Gazeta (in a report translated into English by RIA Novosti):
Russian military bases in Central Asia and the Caucasus are to be considerably strengthened. They might be reinforced by units of the national Airborne Force to increase mobility and combat efficiency, said the force’s commander.
Airborne forces (i.e., those that parachute into action) are fairly elite units, and suggest a more active role for the Russian military than would the current Russian troops in Armenia and Tajikistan, which are mostly infantry.
Shamanov didn't provide many details of the proposed reinforcements, but said that they were required both by the necessity to "successfully accomplish the objectives set by Russia’s leaders" as well as to strengthen Russia's "international commitments" to the Collective Security Treaty Organization. (Those commitments, it should be noted, are largely self-imposed by Russia without much apparent enthusiasm from other CSTO members and are themselves an instrument of accomplishing the objectives of Russia's leaders.)
The report notes that Russian airborne troops were deployed to Kyrgyzstan during the recent unrest, to Tajikistan during CSTO exercises last year and are scheduled to be sent to Armenia for CSTO exercises later this year. "But it is unclear whether airborne units will remain there on a permanent basis," NG adds.
To be or not to be Georgian -- for billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, that is the question. And, after months of suspense over Ivanishvili's bid to regain his Georgian citizenship, Georgia's Ministry of Justice yesterday had the answer.
Ivanishvili, who lost his citizenship not long after announcing plans to join Georgia's variety show of opposition politicians, is not eligible for naturalization, the ministry ruled. But it left the door open by saying he can give dual citizenship -- Ivanishvili is a French citizen -- a try.
Earlier, the ownership of such citizenship had been the official reason why Ivanishvili's Georgian citizenship was revoked. But looks like the government isn't thinking of that now.
Perhaps it's got the international community -- in particular, the US and NATO -- on its mind. At a March 21 Senate hearing, US ambassador-nominee Richard Norland called the October parliamentary vote a "litmus test" for Georgia's NATO accession.
Just back from a chat with NATO, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been eagerly inviting international observers to start their work (and the more the merrier), no doubt is mindful of that interest.
The days of Kazakhstan's national sport kokpar being a wild free-for-all with a headless goat may be numbered since plans have surfaced to replace the bloody carcass at the center of the game with a plastic dummy.
The move comes at the instigation of Kazakhstan-based animal-rights group KARE-Zabota (Kazakhstan Animal Rescue and Education), acting on complaints from animal-lovers who object to the killing of goats for the sport, a local take on buzkashi.
KARE-Zabota says it received a letter from Kazakhstan's Agency for Sports and Physical Training Affairs agreeing to introduce dummy goats.
Already, the Agency has carried out tests on models from Pakistan and a locally produced imitation goat from Taras, but, lacking flexibility, these were deemed unfit for play. Hopes are now being pinned on an artificial carcass from Shymkent, with testing scheduled for later this year.
Kokpar is a macho sport where two teams of horsemen grapple over a decapitated goat, which they try to deposit in the opponent's goal. The fierce struggle is a test of strength for both riders and horses. It’s unclear how this affront to tradition will be received.
But all sports move on. Football (the game known as soccer in the US) was originally a tussle between villagers in 12th-century England over a pig's bladder before it developed into the relatively tame sport we know today. Could kokpar – which is rumored to have already given the world polo – evolve into a worldwide phenomenon by adopting fake, bloodless goats?
Amid the negotiations between Russia and Azerbaijan over the Gabala radar station, Armenia has stepped in and said they would be willing to host a Russian radar if a deal over Gabala falls through.
The current lease for the radar station expires in December, and Azerbaijan has gradually been raising the price it says it wants to charge Russia under a new agreement. The latest reports had Azerbaijan's price rising from $7 million now to a whopping $300 million. Another set of talks on the issue between the foreign ministers of the two countries took place this week, with no apparent resolution. But Armenia's prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Armenia would be willing to host a replacement radar, and that it could even be a better site for it than Azerbaijan:
“There may even be advantages, because Armenia is a mountainous country. Coverage can be broader,” Sargsyan said.
Meanwhile, the Russian and Azerbaijani public bargaining continued. Ali Hasanov, a top adviser to Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev, tried to emphasize that the negotiations were taking place on Azerbaijan's terms:
"Gabala radar station is our property. We decide on to whom and on what terms to lease it, taking into account the interests of the state. We take into consideration its cost, policy and its impact on relations with neighboring countries" Hasanov said.
And he downplayed the threat of an Armenian counteroffer:
"We do not have anything against that. Of course, why the Armenian outpost cannot be a radar post as well? If Russia needs to build this post in Armenia, we will not have any objections" he said.
At an April 4 press conference in Baku, Ismayilova described how, together with several fellow journalists, she revisited the apartment where she had been secretly filmed in her bedroom in an intimate relationship for clues to how the video had been made. During several visits to the apartment, the team found a hidden network of wires leading to an outside telephone box.
The findings were shared with investigators, who declined to summon a telephone company expert to pinpoint where the wires led, the team reported. Instead, Ismayilova said she contacted the telephone company to provide a technician to examine the box and wires. The technician, who spoke with investigators' approval, told the team that he had been ordered by the company in July 2011 to connect the phone box to Ismayilova's apartment.
The wires have since been removed, but the technician's testimony not entered into the official evidence.
Ismayilova, her lawyers and associates say that the evidence they collected offered valuable clues for the official investigation, but that police have failed to document or act on it. No official response has yet been released.
The official investigation targets the video as a violation of the right to privacy, rather than as a crime against a journalist, as requested by Ismayilova. In a joint release, the team maintains that the response to their findings indicates that the “[P]rosecutor’s Office fails to act as an independent investigative body."