For lack of reliable polling data in Kyrgyzstan, you have to take a hint from Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat and "follow the money."
The presidential election race is being hyped as the first vote in Central Asia in which the result is not known from the outset. But going by the size of the various campaign war chests, Almazbek Atambayev, who temporarily stepped aside as prime minister last month, looks set for an easy ride into office on voting day, October 30.
According to information released on October 11 by the Central Election Commission, Atambayev still has one-third of the 33 million Kyrgyz som ($730,000) he started out with. That easily outstrips second best-funded presidential candidate and avowed nationalist Adakhan Madumarov, who has already spent almost all of his 19.6 million som ($430,000).
Kamchybek Tashiev, co-leader of the fiercely nationalist Ata-Jurt party, has long been considered a worthy contender, but he will have to do it on charm alone if the state of his financing is anything to go by. He too has almost already completely burnt through the 9 million som ($200,000) he had to spend.
Indeed, Tashiev has actually been outspent by disgruntled former general prosecutor and deputy security services chief Kubatbek Baibolov, who had a kitty worth 10.3 million som ($230,000) at his disposal. Baibolov's wife is a well-known figure in her own right and one of the richest people in the country, so perhaps no prizes for guessing where that cash came from.
Georgia often comes off as the teacher’s pet compared with Armenia and Azerbaijan. International monitors regularly assign it better grades in terms of business-friendly reforms and democratic freedoms. But it also turns out to be the most suicide-prone student in the South Caucasus class.
The war-scarred country leads the regional suicide chart with a rate of 4.3 officially reported suicides per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, which released the world suicide rates on October 10,International Mental Health Day.
Armenia, the poorest of the South Caucasus trio, came a distant second with a rate of 1.9. Azerbaijan, the richest, biggest and most autocratic of the three, is the least suicide-disposed, as its 0.6 rate suggests.
As tends to be the case elsewhere in the world, South Caucasus men are more vulnerable to suicide than women; especially in Georgia, where the male suicide rate (7.1 per 100,000) is nearly seven times that of the female rate (1.7 per 100,000).
Country statistics suggest that the age of suicide has grown older in both Armenia and Georgia. However, the WHO list, based on national statistics from different years, does not provide for a full and precise comparison.
The situation in the three countries is still incomparably better than in infamously depressed Russia and, the world’s most suicidal nation, Lithuania.
Kyrgyzstan is gearing up for presidential elections later this month. The latest trouble in the unsteady south will offer authorities a reason to increase security checks and tighten control across the region, scene of ethnic violence last year between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks that killed over 400 and left the two communities deeply distrustful of each other.
Bishkek may have other motivations for a bolder security posture, however. Since the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, the mostly northern politicians who took over have had trouble consolidating authority in the south, leading many observers to fear the upcoming election could exacerbate regional divisions. The two leading contenders represent the north and south, respectively.
Russia's Duma has passed, and President Dmitry Medvedev has ratified, an agreement allowing the Russian military to maintain bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia for 49 years, with automatic 15-year extensions after that.
The agreements refer to the 7th Military Base in Abkhazia, and the 4th in South Ossetia, which have evolved from the peacekeeping bases that Russia maintained before the 2008 war with Georgia. (For a details about the bases, a thorough, if slightly old, accounting was published in Russia in Global Affairs.) The bases host a total of about 7,000 troops, split evenly between the two breakaway territories.
A Russian analyst says in Izvestia that the agreements are mainly necessary for legal purposes:
Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Russian Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said the agreements’ ratification will make things a great deal easier for the Russian military.
“They are currently living in a legal grey zone, although they are not complaining because their bases are located in resort areas,” Karaganov said.
He said the agreements on these Russian bases will cement the secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia and make peaceful reunification impossible.
“Russia should be consistent in its actions. It has recognized these republics’ independence, now Russia must safeguard it,” Karaganov said.
Police in Kyrgyzstan say they have killed “a terrorist” who hijacked a minibus in the country’s volatile south. Authorities have been highlighting the threat of terrorism as the country faces presidential elections on October 30, designed to put an end to 18 months of uncertainty since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled during a bloody uprising in early 2010.
The bus was traveling from the market town of Kara-Suu to Osh when the suspect, fleeing a police operation, apparently boarded and took the passengers hostage on October 8. Kara-Suu is a predominantly ethnic Uzbek town, which Kyrgyz police describe as a hotbed of Islamist extremists.
None of the 15 passengers on the bus were harmed, local media said. A police sniper reportedly killed the suspect at a roadblock outside Osh. Interfax quoted security officials saying operations were continuing in Kara-Suu District to find accomplices.
Such a delicate mission could easily heighten ethnic tensions. Since violence between the majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in June 2010, police – who are overwhelmingly ethnic Kyrgyz – have regularly focused operations on Uzbeks. Human rights groups charge that violent police bias against Uzbeks has become business as usual.
Tensions remain high across southern Kyrgyzstan. This week, protestors in Jalal-Abad Province blocked the country’s main highway demanding authorities release four Kyrgyz police charged with torturing an Uzbek man to death.
The Kazakh capital of Astana – with its glittering skyscrapers, chic shopping malls and trendy restaurants – is a showpiece of wealth and consumerism. In this young city, you’ve got to look good to get ahead. But not everyone can afford the prices in its designer boutiques. Perhaps that’s why one young man came up with the spontaneous idea of sporting the latest fashions at no cost to himself.
While mugging two unfortunate men as they passed a downtown shopping mall, the 24-year-old thief took a sudden shine to the fancy pants one was wearing and demanded that he hand them over, Kazakhstan Today reports.
The mugger wasn’t so cruel as to leave the poor victim shivering pant-less in the chilly temperatures of Astana – he offered (or rather demanded) a swap, somehow dragging his victim into the toilet of the shopping mall and ordering him to exchange.
Smart idea – but the mugger wasn’t smooth enough to carry it off. The friends of the victim, whom the thief’s accomplices were supposed to be guarding outside, alerted police and shopping mall security guards, who rushed to the toilet and nabbed the criminal, while his accomplices got away.
Astana’s vigilant servants of law and order have scored a victory, catching the thief not only red-handed but also with his pants down.
India's Defense Minister AK Antony gets a "traditional bread and honey welcome" in Dushanbe from his Tajikistani counterpart, Sherali Khairyulleov
India's defense minister AK Antony visited Tajikistan this week on his way to Russia, which served as an occasion to revive rumors that India might yet use the Ayni air base near Dushanbe. One would think those rumors would have died once Tajikistan publicly said that India wouldn't be using the base, and that it was negotiating only with Russia on the use of the base. Yet, on Antony's visit he demurred when asked about the base, the Press Trust of India reported:
India, Tajikistan and Russia are in negotiations on the joint use of the Ayni Air Base, close to the Tajik capital Dushanbe which is set to acquire strategic significance after US withdrawal from Afghanistan, sources said here.
Though Defence Minister A K Antony made a technical halt at the Base, on way to Russia he did not divulge whether a trilateral understanding had been reached to develop the base, one of the biggest in Central Asia during his parleys here.
But, sources said that in talks with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov, the issue, including working out modalities of joint use of the base was discussed.
When asked if India was a partner in the use of the base, Antony merely described Ayni as the best air base in entire Central Asia.
So is India still in the running? Probably not. But some Wikileaks cables shed light on why these rumors refuse to die. One cable, from the embassy in New Delhi in 2007, says that India has an interest in keeping the rumors flowing, in order to send signals to China and Pakistan:
French President Nicholas Sarkozy received a rock star’s welcome October 7 in Tbilisi, drawing wild applause when he announced, “when I am in Georgia and I know I am in Europe.”
Appearing before a large crowd at Tbilisi’s central Freedom Square, Sarkozy pledged support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and took a thinly disguised jab at Russia, saying; “The Soviet Union is over and no sphere of influences policy can replace it.”
The Georgia visit marked Sarkozy’s last stop on a tour that took him around the Caucasus. In Yerevan, Sarkozy urged Armenians and Azerbaijanis to “take the risk of peace” and resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He also won Armenian hearts and minds by calling on Turkey to own up to the 1915 genocide of the Armenians.
Given that Azerbaijan is Turkey’s strategic ally, Sarkozy’s swipe at Ankara led to a somewhat subdued reception in Baku. A façade of politeness was maintained throughout his Azerbaijan visit, however, as a courteous tête à tête with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev preceded a succinct statement on a need to deepen cooperation. Sarkozy also made Azerbaijan’s First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva an Officer of French Legion of Honor.
Some political experts in Tbilisi noted that the grand theatrics of the French president’s speech in Georgia reinforced an impression created by French media reports that the Caucasus tour marked the effective start of Sarkozy’s reelection campaign.
The Syriacs of Turkey are among the oldest Christian communities in the world. The ancestral homeland is in Turkey's southeast region, where several ancient Syriac churches and monasteries still operate, tending to the local Christians there. But the large Syriac community in Istanbul has never been able to get state permission to open up a new church of their own -- until now. From a report in Hurriyet:
After years of tussling and hairsplitting, Turkey’s Syriac Christian community has secured approval from both the prime minister and the president for the construction of its first church in the Yeşilköy neighborhood on the European side of Istanbul.
“Half of our community lives in and around Yeşilköy. We rent churches for Sunday rites, but we can only start morning mass at 11:30, whereas we are supposed to finish our Sunday rites before 10:30 in accordance with our tradition,” Kenan Altınışık, a prominent Syriac community leader, told the Hürriyet Daily News via e-mail.
The church site will be allocated to the ancient community by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, while construction expenses will be paid for by the Syriacs. An official from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Hürriyet Daily News that they are searching for a suitable location for the new church.
The church architecture is planned to bear traces of the Syriac’s thousands-of-years-old culture, while the construction is set to begin as soon as suitable lands are allotted.
The full article can be found here. And a previous article of mine about the slow return of Syriacs to southeast Turkey can be found here.
EurasiaNet's ace Georgia correspondent Giorgi Lomsadze recently filed a great report about the resurgence of wine made using traditional clay vessels known as kvevri, which are buried in the ground while the wine ages. His story, with great photos by Temo Bardzimashvili, can be found here.
In order to dig deeper into what Georgians think of kvevri wine, I sent Giorgi a few questions. Our exchange is below:
As often is the case with artisanal things like kvevri, sometimes outsiders have more of an appreciation for it than locals. Do Georgians care much for this type of wine?
Most Georgians believe that the best wine is the one you get from a man in the village, not from a wine shop. So there is an appreciation of kvevri wine. However, it is not as easily available as wines made by big companies. Kvevri wine you either get from a friend or buy in a few specialized shops.
Up until now, was kvevri wine culture being preserved or was it on its way out?
In the Soviet times, the kvevri culture went underground – quite literary. Wineries in Kakheti filled kvevris with earth and fully buried them underground to make way for other types of containers, which were better fit for mass production. Many individual farmers, however, kept to the many-generations-old traditions of kvevri. In a recent trend, wineries started producing kvevri wine as they realize its market potential.
When looking at the total Georgian wine industry picture, where does kvevri wine fit in?
Kvevri wine makes for a fraction of the country’s total wine output as it is mostly produced by smaller wineries and individual farmers. Several large companies started making small amounts of kvevri wine too but mostly to cater to tourist interest. Wine industry analysts are saying that kvevri will not go mainstream, as it is expensive and time-consuming process.