Women in Bishkek mark Valentine's Day with a family photograph. Photographers in Kyrgyzstan often erect colorful displays to mark holidays, sometimes with rabbits, doves, or peacocks. For 50 soms (about $1) a photographer will take anyone's photo, then run across the street to a digital studio to make a quick print.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
As the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Turkey's southeast region appears to be rich with water resources. But a new study indicates that the reality might be quite different. From a release about the study, issued by NASA and the University of California, Irvine:
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs.
The findings, to be published Friday, Feb. 15, in the journal Water Resources Research, are the result of one of the first comprehensive hydrological assessments of the entire Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region. Because obtaining ground-based data in the area is difficult, satellite data, such as those from NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, are essential. GRACE is providing a global picture of water storage trends and is invaluable when hydrologic observations are not routinely collected or shared beyond political boundaries.
In previous posts, this blog has taken a look at the effort some vintners are making to revive Armenia's historic but troubled wine industry. Armenia, of course, is best known for its cognac and the country's latest alcoholic beverages production figures show what an uphill battle Armenian winemakers are fighting. While cognac production grew by 20 percent last year, the amount of wine produced dropped by some seven percent, despite the recent moves to revive the wine industry.
In a recent article, the Hetq.am website took a look at what ails the Armenian wine industry, offering answers that ranged from the technical to the historical. From the article:
Globally, 10 billion bottles of wine are sold every year. Armenia sells around 600,000 bottles per year, some in the Russian market, where 1.2 billion are sold yearly. Russia also consumes 93% of Armenian cognac.
Only 5% of the Armenian cognac sold in Russia is purchased by the wealthy elite. That’s because most of it is sold for 25-300 roubles; the price of Russian wine. There are a few Armenian cognac varieties that go for 1000 roubles.
All these numbers concern Avag Haroutyunyan, President of Armenia’s Wine Growers Union. He says that cognac production and exports have risen 10% over last year and are 30% higher than the record years back in the Soviet era.
“Armenian cognac is fairly well known throughout the world. But Armenian wine is another story,” says Haroutyunyan. He believes that wine growing in Armenia is losing out to cognac because that’s where the investment is being directed. Armenian wines also aren’t well represented on the international market.
Uzbekistan is planning a rail link over a mountain pass that would link Tashkent directly to its territories in the Fergana Valley, bypassing the current line through Tajikistan, according to media reports.
Uzbekistan controls all of Tajikistan’s railway border crossings and often uses them as leverage over its poorer southeastern neighbor. It’s not unusual for Uzbekistan, trying to stymie Tajikistan’s plans to build a massive hydropower plant upstream, to cite “technical problems”, “terrorist sabotage”, or “weather delays” as reasons for extended closures at the border crossings.
Tajikistan maintains some leverage in these disputes thanks to the 70-mile stretch of the Fergana main line that crosses its territory. Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley population of some 10 million relies on this line for its fuel supplies. Tajikistan also needs the line because factories and farms in Sughd Province and Khujand produce much of the country’s modest exportable goods base, including consumer items, processed foods, and clothing.
Thus, rail access for both countries is predicated on cooperation to keep the line open. An official from the Sughd Free Economic Zone once insisted to me that complications were overblown, and that Uzbekistan and Tajikistan “need each other.”
In crowd scenes in plays and movies, background actors in Russia are known to repeat the following tongue-twister when trying to feign conversation: “what do you talk about when there's nothing to talk about?” That phrase comes to mind when examining the latest effort by Kazakhstan and Russia to resolve a dispute over rocket launches at the Baikonur space center.
On February 8, a number of Russian-language outlets carried the news that Presidents Vladimir Putin and his Kazakhstani counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev had basically solved the dispute, which appears to center on the price tag for a new launch pad at Baikonur - and who pays for it - during a meeting in Moscow. After the meeting, the Yandex newsfeed was full of headlines like “Putin and Nazarbaev Announce that Acceptable Solutions to Baikonur Have Been Found.”
The funny thing is that it is not clear whether Putin and Nazarbayev came to any agreement at all. The only substantive development to come out of the Moscow meeting was that Kazakhstan and Russia will set aside their Baikonur differences until the fall, when the Belarus-Russia-Kazakhstan Customs Union holds its scheduled meeting in Yekaterinburg.
“We gave the order regarding the preparation of a new Agreement on friendship and cooperation. I hope we will sign it in Yekaterinburg this fall,” said Nazarbayev during the February 8 meeting, as quoted by multiple Russian-language sources, all of which were ambiguous as to whether a new agreement would concern exclusively Baikonur, or whether Baikonur would be just one topic under a broader cooperation agreement.
Sgt. 1st Class Peter Mayes, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs
A rail line at Hairatan on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border.
Just as the U.S. announces that it is accelerating its withdrawal from Afghanistan, its exit routes through Pakistan have reopened, taking a yet-unknown amount of business away from Central Asia.
The U.S. is reportedly now planning on removing more than half of the 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the next year. That means that the "retrograde" routes out of Afghanistan that U.S. military planners have been establishing will soon be operating in full gear. Repeated delays had kept the bulk of cargo in and out of Afghanistan passing through Central Asia, a longer route that cost the Pentagon about $100 million a month more than it would be spending to use the shorter route through Pakistan. But with impeccable timing, the Pakistan border has just reopened for U.S. military business, reports the AP:
The United States began its withdrawal from Afghanistan in earnest, officials said Monday, sending the first of what will be tens of thousands of containers home through a once-blocked land route through Pakistan.
The shipment of 50 containers over the weekend came as a new U.S. commander took control of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan to guide the coalition through the end stages of a war that has so far lasted more than 11 years.
The containers were in the first convoys to cross into Pakistan as part of the Afghan pullout, said Marcus Spade, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan....
"This was no democracy," Georgian media reported a frustrated US Ambassador Richard Norland as saying after a violent February 8 bust-up in Tbilisi over Georgian President Mikheil Saakasvhili's annual state-of-the-nation speech.
The US embassy offered a more diplomatic version of the language used, and the European Union and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, among others, have expressed similar grievances. But the impression left was the same: Four months after becoming the first ex-Soviet republic in the South Caucasus to see a change of government via the ballot box, Georgia nonetheless is still having trouble getting democracy to fit right.
Ever sensitive to the political risk of being blamed, both at home and abroad, for causing Georgia to miss yet another chance at success, both government and opposition are now putting on a determined effort, by hook or by crook, to show that they're all about dialogue.
A new school has opened in Almaty to prepare perfect brides for discerning Kazakh husbands-to-be.
Bride School is teaching women all the skills they need to keep their men happy, reports Tengri News. Diligent students can go on to enter a competition for Kazakhstan’s best bride.
The skills deemed necessary to be the perfect kelin – Kazakh for bride – range from cooking to applying makeup to parading like a model.
“At the lessons the students will be able to learn to cook, parade, grasp the basics of makeup; there will be classes in family psychology – in how to understand your husband, for example,” Bella Satmyrza, the woman who runs the school, said. “We want to create our ideal of a real kelin – a modern girl who looks after herself, looks good, is educated and well-read, but at the same times pays attention to national traditions, habits, culture and cooking.”
The culinary classes will naturally involve cooking beshbarmak (“five fingers”), Kazakhstan’s signature dish of flat noodles with mounds of meat heaped on top. The cut of choice is horsemeat, currently the subject of controversy in Europe but beloved in Kazakhstan.
Satmyrza is bringing in experts to advise the girls on how to please their husbands, from a choreographer who worked on the recent Kazakh dance film Forbidden Dances to “experienced mothers” offering training in how to raise children.
One of the more impressive success stories of the last decade has been the growth of the Turkish Cooperation and
Coordination Agency (TIKA), Turkey's foreign aid agency. From being a country that frequently received international assistance, Turkey has gone on to become a quite interesting and dynamic player in the foreign aid field. As academic Saban Kardas points out in a very interesting report for the German Marshall Fund, TIKA's development assistance funds shot up 27 fold over the last decade, today standing at some $2.3 billion, with Turkey now playing a leading development role in a number of countries, particularly in Afghanistan and Somalia.
More interesting, as Kardas writes, is the mix of humanitarian and foreign policy goals that lie behind Turkey's growing foreign aid program. From his analysis:
While in some cases, Turkey’s assistance is motivated by
purely global humanitarian considerations and takes the
form of technical assistance or development credits, in other
cases, Turkey supports cultural projects and works toward the
goal of reconnecting with the countries with which it shares
a common, cultural, and historic heritage. The emphasis
that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu places on Turkey’s
historic responsibility towards civilizational kin has provided
added impetus for channeling aid to specific regions.
In addition to carrying out technical assistance projects
that are intended to bolster ties with the countries in
the Ottoman-Turkish cultural zone by contributing to
their economic and political development, some projects
supported by Turkey focused on the discovery or restoration
of historic artifacts or monuments in a geography
stretching from Mongolia to the Balkans. Similarly, Turkey
[UPDATE: According to Today's Zaman, Turkish Airlines is denying it has changed its policy regarding serving alcoholic beverages on domestic flights.]
It looks like Turkish Airlines (THY) is cutting off one of the main perks of flying the carrier's domestic business class: free booze. As the Hurriyet Daily News reports today, THY planes will no longer be serving alcohol on domestic flights, except when traveling to six apparently boozy destinations (the airline, though, will continue to free alcoholic drinks on most of its international flights). From HDN's article:
After surveying the preferences of passengers over the last year, Turkish Airlines has decided to remove alcoholic drinks from the service menu except during flights to İstanbul, İzmir, Bodrum, Dalaman, Antalya and Ankara.
Alcoholic beverages used to be served to business class passengers aboard domestic flights up until last week. Planes flying domestic routes will now not stock alcoholic beverages on board as part of austerity measures regarding service goods.
Recently, THY aroused public criticism with several passengers having reported that when they asked for alcoholic drinks the cabin crew denied their requests, saying that alcohol had been forgotten to be loaded with the plane’s cargo.