Team Kazakhstan hasn’t bothered with anything but gold at the London Olympics, doubling its haul of first-place medals over the weekend to place fifth in number of gold medals per capita.
Former husband-and-wife team Ilya Ilin and Svetlana Podobedova triumphed in the weightlifting arena. Ilin set a new world record when he hefted 418 kilograms, a 12-kilo improvement on his gold-winning lift in Beijing in 2008. The two-time Olympic champion attributed his success to the supplies of kazy – smoked horsemeat sausage – that Kazakhstan brought to London.
Podobedova triumphed in the 75-kilogram division for her adopted country. She left her native Russia in 2007 after she was cut from the national weightlifting team for a doping offense. The Russian authorities refused to allow her to compete for Kazakhstan in the 2008 games, but now she has gotten revenge by narrowly beating Russia's Natalya Zabolotnaya to take the gold.
The judge did drop the longest jail sentence -- handed to former oil worker Roza Tuletayeva -- from seven years to five. She was a prominent figure in the seventh-month oil-sector strike in Zhanaozen that sparked the violence. Appeals brought by 14 others convicted of involvement in the turmoil (of whom 12 are serving prison terms of three to six years), were rejected.
An appeal from four protestors from the nearby village of Shetpe also serving time over the clashes has already been rejected, as has the appeal of five police officers imprisoned for unlawfully shooting protestors.
Residents in the Caucasus breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh voted in elections for the de-facto president on July 20.
EurasiaNet.org contributing photojournalist Anahit Hayrapetyan, who lives in Yerevan, is originally from a village in Nagorno Karabakh. She returned to her native region to document the de-facto presidential election. This is a collection of Polaroid portraits taken of Nagorno Karabakh residents before and on election day.
We at EurasiaNet.org are shocked, shocked that Turkmenistan finds itself embroiled in an international corruption scandal.
On August 2, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) announced that Turkmen referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov had been banished from the London Olympic Games after he presided over a bout in which Azerbaijani boxer Magomed Abdulhamidov was knocked down six - yes, that’s not a typo - six times in one round, yet somehow managed to walk away with a decision on points.
Thankfully, justice was done, and the outcome of the bout was overturned on appeal, giving Japanese bantamweight Satoshi Shimizu the victory over Abdulhamidov. According to international amateur boxing rules, three knock-downs in one round should prompt the referee to stop the fight.
The one-sidedness of the refereeing in the bout is raising questions in boxing circles of whether money was involved. The British Broadcasting Corp. in late 2011aired a report about a suspicious payment made by Azerbaijani officials. The payment could be construed as an apparent bribe attempt designed to promote the interests of Azerbaijani boxers at the Olympics.
Funnily enough, the same day it announced that Meretnyyazov had been sent home, the AIBA also said it had expelled an Azerbaijani technical official, Aghajan Abiyev. The association did not elaborate on the move.
That a Turkmen ref might be on the take would be in keeping with Turkmenistan’s reputation as one of the most corrupt places on earth.
Uzbekistan has adopted a law banning foreign military bases on its territory, ending feverish speculation that a rapprochement with the United States – and recent distancing from Moscow – was the precursor to Tashkent welcoming the US military back in.
Uzbekistan’s new foreign policy doctrine, passed by the lower house of parliament on August 2, specifically prohibits foreign military bases from operating on its territory, the government-run Uzdaily.com website reported.
Speculation that President Islam Karimov was preparing to welcome the US military had been fed by Washington’s courting of Uzbekistan ahead of the drawdown of troops from neighboring Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is a key cog on the Northern Distribution Network supply route into and out of Afghanistan, and the US operated a military base in the country until 2005, when Tashkent ejected it following Washington's criticism of the shooting of protestors in Andijan.
In June, Tashkent’s abrupt suspension of its membership in the Russia-led regional Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) also fed the rumor mill.
The US State Department’s annual terrorism report, released this week, provides a brief overview of how Foggy Bottom views terrorist threats abroad. On Central Asia, unfortunately, the cautious survey adds little to our understanding of the problem.
In its introduction to the region, the report notes that Central Asian governments “faced the challenge” of balancing human rights with security concerns. Further down, the report lists myriad examples where authorities heavily favored security, often at the expense of basic human rights.
State hedges on Central Asian governments’ tendency to hype threats. For the most part, the report simply lists what authorities describe as terrorist attacks and as anti-terrorist operations, but uses qualifying terms – “reportedly”; “potentially” – that make it clear State is as in the dark on the nature of the events as the rest of us.
The report does cautiously point out that Central Asian governments’ widespread human rights abuses may end up creating terrorists.
For example, Kazakhstan’s 2010 amendments to the law on “religious activities” had “severely restricted the peaceful practice of religion,” the report says, adding that some commentators linked subsequent violent incidents to the new law.
In the Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan sections, the report states the widely held belief that the three countries misuse counterterrorism statutes to persecute legitimate political and religious actors. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, despite their well-documented use of the same playbook, are not censured directly on this point.
Two years after the tragic Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turks were killed by Israeli commandos who stormed a ship attempting to break Israel's blockade on Gaza, Turkish-Israel relations remain frozen. Ankara maintains that only an Israeli apology, compensation to the families of the victims of the lifting of the Gaza blockade will allow it to restore relations. Israel, on the other hand, is ready to express its "regret" about the incident and pay some compensation, but is most certainly not ready to apologize or to consider changing its Gaza policy in order to appease Turkey.
Still, some recent reports would indicate that, at least on the Israeli side, there is a desire to break out of the impasse (or at least create the impression that such a desire exists). Although it's been clear for some time that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and some top military leaders believe apologizing to Turkey would make strategic sense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far balked at doing this. But as veteran Israeli journalist David Horovitz writes in The Times of Israel, the news website he edits, this may be changing. Writes Horovitz:
As US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Israel on Tuesday night, the Iranian nuclear drive was, as ever, high on the agenda for his talks with Israeli leaders. So too, unsurprisingly, was the bloodshed in Syria, and concerns over President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, or other terror groups.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the the European Union's decision to grant Georgia the exclusive right to market its wine bottles with the slogan "Georgia - The Cradle of Wine" to create some controversy in the Caucasus.
As the Hvino News website, which covers the Georgian wine scene, reports, the Union of Winemakers of Armenia is looking into how it might appeal Brussels' decision. From Hvino's report:
As noted by the Chairman of Union Mr. Avag Harutyunyan, not only Georgia can claim the status of "the cradle of wine", but also other countries in the region, primarily Armenia.
Armenian archeologists agree that in Georgia there are facts which prove the antiquity of the local wine. But for the moment the wine-making complex in Areni is considered the world's oldest, discovered during excavations "Areni-1" in 2011. According to the Director of Academic Institute of Archeology and Ethnography Mr. Pavel Avetisyan, both Georgia and Armenia can be considered the cradle of wine, as well as Iran, and even part of Azerbaijan, in view of the fact that the relevant archaeological materials have been found in all these countries.
This would not be the first time wine is dragged into the region's rivalries. In late June, Azeri hackers took over the website of an Armenian wine company in order to score some political points. More on that in this previous post.
As Tajik authorities celebrate their success disarming rebels in the restive mountainous east, their tight control over information from the region is fostering skepticism that all is rosy in Gorno-Badakhshan.
Nationwide, authorities are blocking more websites every few days, while telephone and Internet connections with the province remain erratic.
As of August 2, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti, Vesti.ru, BBC Russia and YouTube were not accessible, along with a handful of other Russian-language news sites. Authorities have also continued their blockade of Asia-Plus, perhaps the country’s largest and most influential independent media outlet.
Fighting in Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan, left at least 48 dead between July 24 and 26, including, officially, one civilian. But reports continue to trickle out of anywhere between 15 and 100 civilian casualties. Stories of Tajik soldiers committing atrocities against civilians are also beginning to surface.
The blackout makes those reports harder to confirm or deny. (Cell phone connections with Khorog are still down, some landlines have been restored and some Internet users in the town are able to use landlines to connect, but their access is intermittent.) The information vacuum is spreading confusion and forcing concerned Tajiks to rely on rumors, which include some outrageous claims not worth reprinting.
The London Olympics have offered mixed successes for Central Asia in their first week.
Kazakhstan got off to a great start, meeting its target of three gold medals in the first four days of competition. Uzbekistan has picked up a bronze and also the dubious distinction of seeing a gymnast kicked out for failing a drug test. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have yet to trouble the winner's podium.
Kazakhstan's weightlifting sensations Zulfiya Chinshanlo and Maiya Maneza struck gold on July 29 and July 31, after cyclist Alexander Vinokourov sped to victory on July 28.
The victories were not without controversy, however. Chinshanlo and Maneza's roots were called into question, as some years previously they had been part of China's weightlifting set-up. A Kazakh official refuted charges the athletes had no right to represent Kazakhstan.
“We led them to this victory for a whole Olympic cycle, and before that they were already members of our national team,” Aleksey Kryuchkov, acting head of the sporting body in charge of Kazakhstan's national teams, told KTK television.
It's been a busy games for Kryuchkov, who also had a kit malfunction to deal with. Some weightlifters from Kazakhstan were shown in competition wearing uniforms reading “Kzakhstan.” An investigation revealed five or six rogue, misspelled T-shirts.