Kazakhstan's much-vaunted political modernization, which President Nursultan Nazarbayev said was launched by this month’s parliamentary election, has kicked off just a week after the vote with a raid on one of the country’s most vocal opposition parties.
Early on January 23 National Security Committee (KNB) agents stormed the Almaty headquarters of the Alga! party (which was unable to stand in the January 15 election because authorities will not register it) and the home of its leader Vladimir Kozlov.
The Guljan news website quoted Kozlov’s wife, Aliya Turusbekova, suggesting the search was linked to last month’s shooting of protestors in the western oil town of Zhanaozen, which Nazarbayev has blamed on mysterious third forces.
“We’ve been banned from speaking on the telephone,” she told the website. “The only thing I can say is that a search is underway by KNB forces, and it is linked to events in Zhanaozen.” She added that the intelligence officers were confiscating computer equipment and documents.
The homes of three other people linked to the Alga! party – accountant Guljan Lepisova, head of security Askar Tokmurzin and activist Mikhail Sizov – were also reported raided, as was that of youth activist Zhanbolat Mamay.
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon is tired of the “toadyism.” Suddenly modest, he’s told his government to knock off the lavish receptions everywhere he goes because they are embarrassing. From Reuters:
"I feel ashamed of your toadyism," an enraged Rakhmon told a government meeting in remarks broadcast by state television.
"Ordinary people, residents of the towns and districts where I come on working visits, keep complaining to me: 'They empty our pockets on your every trip...gathering money for a tribute, a carpet, a rug, flowers and feasts'."
"What's that? Stop it! I don't need any of this."
A video posted by RFE/RL in November shows what Rakhmon is talking about, though it certainly seems he’s having a good time. (Western diplomats who have met Rakhmon confide they fear that he is too cut off from the outside world, that his handlers have concocted a cult of personality to shelter him in a cloud of sycophancy and take increasing control over matters of state.)
This isn’t the first time the president has told his government to cease the flattery. In 2009, he said he was tired of seeing his face plastered over government buildings and billboards. But the glorification continued -- some might say grew -- after his comments. The thing with shahs is that you’re never sure if they’re speaking in riddles. And, at the time, many interpreted his comments as an instruction to post photos of him alone, not with other local dignitaries, lest they use his visage to boost their own standing.
The defense bill that President Obama signed into law on December 31 contained a provision by which the U.S. could again start providing military aid to Uzbekistan, if the Secretary of State certifies that there is a national security reason for doing so. It also requires the State Department to provide an assessment of the progress that Uzbekistan has made in human rights.
Today, the State Department for the first time used that waiver, State Department officials tell The Bug Pit. And they sent along the language of the human rights assessment, which will likely warm the hearts of human rights groups: despite several recent statements by U.S. diplomats suggesting that Uzbekistan's human rights situation might be improving, there is no such implication in this document. (Of course, this is also probably why the State Department volunteered to send the document along.) The entire assessment is below, and it summarizes the woeful state of political, religious and media freedom; prison conditions; torture; child and forced labor; and the lack of an independent investigation into the notorious Andijan "events."
I wasn't told what aid specifically the State Department was seeking to provide via this waiver, but presumably it is the $100,000 in border guard training that has been already discussed. Anyway, the takeaway here appears to be that the U.S. can provide military aid to Uzbekistan without saying silly things about human rights there.
Although Turkey has no international car brand of its own, the country is no stranger to the automotive industry. Ford, Fiat, Renault and several other international car companies, for example, have significant plants in Turkey (Ford's successful Transit Connect minivan is made in a plant on the outskirts of Istanbul).
But it appears that Turkey is starting to get serious about becoming an even bigger player in the car market. Bloomberg today reports that Brightwell Holding BV, a Turkish private equity firm, is considering buying up Sweden's troubled Saab, which recently went belly up. From Bloomberg:
“We will make a bid very shortly, there’s no question,” Zamier Ahmed, a board member of the Istanbul-based group, said today in a phone interview.
Brightwell, which invests in energy, transport and technology, wants to buy all of the Trollhaettan-based carmaker and plans to keep production in Sweden, Ahmed said from London. His firm is in discussions with the administrators overseeing Saab’s bankruptcy as well as with Saab Chief Executive Officer Victor Muller, Ahmed said.
Saab, owned by Zeewolde, Netherlands-based manufacturer Swedish Automobile NV (SWAN), filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 19 after running out of cash. Production at the plant in Trollhaettan stood still for most of last year starting in March. The company can emerge from bankruptcy if a viable bidder comes along, Muller said last month.
Brightwell will need at least two weeks before submitting any offer as it’s still evaluating Saab’s assets, including inventories, to decide how much to pay, Ahmed said.
Perhaps it's an indication of how bad things have gotten between Turkey and Israel -- whose once close relations have been severely downgraded in recent years -- that what would otherwise be normal gestures between regional neighbors are viewed as possible breakthroughs. When Turkey sent firefighting airplanes to help Israel out with the massive 2010 Carmel forest fire the gesture was hailed as "fire diplomacy," while some suggested Ankara's acceptance of Israeli aid during last year's devastating earthquake in Van could serve as a form of natural disaster diplomacy. Meanwhile, as Eurasianet's Turko-File blog previously reported, the decision in 2010 by two zoos in Israel to send some extra animals to a Turkish zoo was also weighed down with perhaps more political significance than it really deserved.
Now the task of bringing the two bickering countries together is being handed over to Israeli celebrity chef Shaul Ben Aderet, who recently practiced some "culinary diplomacy" by appearing live on a Turkish television cooking show. From a report on Israel's Ynetnews website:
Turkey and Israel haven't been the best of friends in recent years, but agreements may be reached in the kitchen. Famous Israeli chef Shaul Ben Aderet embarked on a 24-hour visit to Istanbul on Wednesday in order to cook live on Turkish TV.
Tajik migrants working in Russia sent home almost $3 billion last year, an increase of 33.6 percent over 2010, reports the National Bank of Tajikistan.
The $2.96 billion accounted for 45.4 percent of Tajikistan’s official GDP, the bank’s deputy chairwoman Malokhat Kholikzoda said on January 19.
The real amount is probably higher since many migrants carry cash home with them. In December, the World Bank said Tajikistan's 2010 remittances accounted for 31 percent of the economy, placing Tajikistan first in an international ranking of most remittance-dependent countries.
Tajikistan is thus deeply reliant on Russia to keep its struggling economy afloat, ensuring any diplomatic argument, no matter how ostensibly trivial, is an issue of national concern. Last November, when a Tajik court sentenced two ethnic Russian pilots flying for a Russian company to 8.5 years in prison for smuggling spare airplane parts, Moscow protested by recalling its ambassador and rounding up Tajiks for deportation. The response prompted panic in Tajikistan and unusually harsh criticism of President Emomali Rakhmon. His administration backed down and released the pilots.
Even if relations remain smooth, however, Tajikistan is also especially vulnerable to shocks in Russia’s hydrocarbon-dependent economy.
Like anyone else, looks like breakaway South Ossetia's onetime de-facto presidential hopeful Alla Jioyeva made a few New Year's resolutions for 2012. Resolution #1: Don't put up with any perceived funny business.
Jioyeva says that her representative was not appointed a deputy prime minister in the de-facto provisional government, as the agreement stipulated. “We never got those two or three ministerial portfolios that could have helped decrease the public tensions…and media remains closed to us,” Jioyeva told Ekho Kavkaza news service.
She said that she called up de-facto Prime Minister Vadim Brovtsev to seek a meeting, but was surprised to get “Let me think about it” for an answer. A letter to Brovtsev, which was cc'd to the rest of the region’s population, was also ignored, she said.
When it comes to assessments of political rights and civil liberties in Uzbekistan and neighboring Turkmenistan, it often feels like someone has taped down the repeat button.
Of 195 countries assessed in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 report, released January 19, both received the lowest score possible, again: 7 out of 7. Once more, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan made the list of the “worst of the worst,” an exclusive club of nine countries where citizens can count on essentially zero accountability from their leaders. In terms of rights and liberties, both nations have remained eerily consistent: Turkmenistan is holding a presidential election next month where we already know the winner; Uzbekistan continues to jail and torture critics; leaders in both continue to show an occasional distaste for reality.
President Almazbek Atambayev meets his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Ankara.
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has made his first foreign trip since becoming president, to Turkey. And while trade and aid seemed to top the agenda, the two sides also agreed to increase military cooperation, reports 24.kg:
Turkey will assist Kyrgyzstan in strengthening of Defense Ministry, Security Council and Frontier Service. It was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Ruslan Kazakbaev during the official visit of President Almazbek Atambayev to Turkey.
According him on bilateral negotiations the issues of security, fighting against international terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, strengthening of Defense Ministry, Frontier Service and law machinery,” said Ruslan Kazakbaev.
As the minister noted the issue of quota increasing for students, officers and young diplomats wishing to study in Turkey was also discussed. “Turkish part is going to support our request,” added the Minister.
And Central Asia Online reports, citing a Kyrgyzstan defense ministry statement, that Turkey will help build a military school in Osh and build up the country's defense industry:
“One of the high-priority issues for Kyrgyzstan is construction of an Armed Forces Military Institute in Osh,” said Kyrgyz Defence Minister Taalaybek Omuraliyev. “Its creation would permit us to train highly skilled officers for the Armed Forces and other Kyrgyz military forces.”
“Another important direction that we’d like to develop is the opening of joint defence industry factories,” he said. “We could foresee the conduct of joint tactical counter-terrorism exercises in Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.”
A pseudonymed analyst writing in Asia Times suggests that the visit was an effort by Atambayev to add more vectors to his country's foreign policy:
Azerbaijan continues to take the flak for roughshod treatment of the media and political critics. But sitting on an embarrassment of hydrocarbon wealth, the country is in no hurry to change its ways. Behind the maquillage of spruced-up buildings and streets in Baku, rights groups see a ruling political dynasty plagued by rampant nepotism and corruption.