It was not us, but even if it was us, we still blame Armenia, said Azerbaijan about a fire exchange over the weekend that left two Armenian soldiers dead. Earlier on, Armenia ominously threatened a “disproportionate” retaliation for these latest deaths on the face-off line between Azerbaijani and Armenian and separatist Karabakhi forces.
Both Baku and Yerevan keep repeating the same “they started it” mantra, so the response from Azerbaijan was fairly predictable. “We only respond to the fire from the opposing side,” claimed Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesperson Teimur Abdulayev, and advised the Armenians to look for the fire starters amongst their own number, rather than blame Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the de facto military authorities in separatist Nagorno Karabakh are making similar, eye-for-an-eye threats.
One Armenian commentator argues that the gunfire exchanges are not sporadic and tend to coincide with developments in internationally mediated efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. One Azerbaijani analyst, however, has noted that the real problem goes far beyond international mediators -- even after years of talks, Baku and Yerevan remain too far apart on the central issue at hand, the status of Nagorno Karabakh. That means look for the blame game to continue.
The government, sources said, has now decided to go back to Tajikistan and open a military hospital. The original proposal to revive its presence in Tajikistan was taken a year back, but the defence ministry sat on it. With prodding from the security establishment, sources said efforts are now underway to open a field hospital before winter sets in. At a high level meeting a few days ago, the government decided to speed up the plan, a senior source said.
Sources said an Army team has already completed reconnaissance in Tajikistan and has identified a location outside Dushanbe, the capital city. Army has also identified personnel from its medical corps to set up a 20-bed field hospital. "They are ready to leave on a short notice," the source said.
"The proposal (to open hospital) was first mooted when the Army chief (Gen V K Singh) visited Tajikistan last year. But the entire proposal has been pending with the MoD for a year now," a senior source in the security establishment told TOI. The hospital would cater to both civilians and Tajik military, he said. The Tajik Army has for long been engaged in fighting a bloody insurgency. "So, our hospital would be of great assistance to the Tajik Army," the source said.
It's not clear why, exactly, India decided to accelerate the establishment of this hospital, but the news comes as India's army chief is visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (and not Tajikistan) amid what seems to be a push to increase their presence in Central Asia.
But more intriguingly, almost as an afterthought, the report adds this:
This year, the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Soviet empire going belly up. No less importantly, on November 23, Georgia will be marking St. George’s Day and the eighth anniversary of the 2003 Rose Revolution. So, what better way to celebrate all three events than to unveil a monument to Ronald Reagan in downtown Tbilisi?
Tbilisi residents strolling in one downtown park will soon find the crusader against the “evil empire” sitting casually on a bench with crossed legs, and gesturing for passers-by to join him for a chat; probably on the ills of Communism or the merits of economic deregulation.
Both topics have many a fan in the Georgian government and sympathetic circles -- could we be seeing soon some familiar faces seated alongside the 40th US president?
Granted, other ex-Communist countries also have commemorated Reagan, but Georgia clearly has a thing for US presidents, dead or alive.
Travelers arrive and leave eastern Tbilisi via George W. Bush Street, which features the 43rd president waving a hand from a placard to outbound traffic. George W. may have earned the honor largely for swinging by in 2005 to say hi to Georgia as a "beacon of democracy," in his own words.
On November 16 at the conference, Bayramgeldy Nedirov, Turkmenistan's minister of oil and gas industry and mineral resources, met with Yury Sentyurin, Russia's deputy ministery of energy, the opposition website gundogar.org reported, citing the Russian ministry's website.
Nedirov said that Turkmenistan was interested in "the active involvement of Russian companies in investment and also innovation projects in Turkmenistan." He then touched upon the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Indian (TAPI) pipeline, noting that by the end of this year, the project would be ready for "implementation in the framework of a consortium with the participation of interested companies." That was quite a bit warmer than the frosty response last year, when Russian Deputy Vice Premier Igor Sechin seemed to jump the gun assuming Gazprom would be involved, and then got slammed by irate Turkmen Foreign Ministry officials who felt the Russians were being too presumptuous.
The annual Oil and Gas Turkmenistan (OGT) Conference wrapped up November 17, and as noted, it was less attended this year by contrast with last year, with about 500 delegates from energy companies and governments. No dramatic new announcements were made, although Turkmen gas officials emphasized yet again how large Turkmenistan's reserves were (estimates have been revised upwards to 71.21 billion tons of fuel); how much Ashgabat intends to diversify its delivery routes; and how it will sell gas at the border, i.e. let foreign partners concern themselves about further pipelines.
Interestingly, Turkmen ministers said they were now hoping to receive international help to build the East-West pipeline within the country, which will help boost capacity for exports to Europe, Reuters reported. When the East-West project was first envisioned two years ago, Turkmenistan announced an international tender, then revised the deadline, then unexpectedly cancelled it and said it would do the construction itself.
According to Reuters, Amanali Khanalyev, chairman of the state gas firm Turkmengaz, said the 800-kilometer East-West pipeline would enable Turkmenistan to supply 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year to Europe by delivering gas from the South Yolotan fields to the Caspian shore -- where it would presumably link up to an undersea route, presumably the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP).
A former correspondent for the state-run newspaper Neitral'niy Turkmenistan has suffered an attack of his home, Chronicles of Turkmenistan (chrono-tm.org), an independent news site, reported.
On November 11, vandals threw rocks into the home of Annamamed Myatiev, breaking a window and a mirror in his bedroom. Police are investigating the incident.
Myatiev believes the attack was directed at him, as he lives in a five-story building with many apartments and three stones were aimed at just his windows.
On October 26, an unknown young man in sunglasses came up from behind Myatiev on the street, punched him in the face, and ran away. He suffered a split lip, but didn't go to the police at the time.
Now with the rocks thrown through his windows, he is concerned that the authorities may be trying to send him some kind of "message," possibly suspecting him of ties to foreign media. His wife told chrono-tm.org that he fears for his life and health.
In June 2010, Annamamed was supposed to fly to the Netherlands for an eye operation, but he and his wife were not permitted to leave the country. At that time, human rights defenders, including the late Russian human rights leader Elena Bonner, protested and he was finally allowed to leave. He later returned home to Turkmenistan.
Myatiev worked for 30 years as a journalist, and was dismissed from the state newspaper in 2009 ostensibly for health reasons, although he had not submitted a resignation.
Another reporter, Gurbansoltan Achilova, who worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, suffered a very similar attack in December 2010.
A government commission has been formed to investigate the explosion on the Termez-Kurgan-Tyube rail line, "for the purposes of determining the reasons and conditions for the crime committed," according to Uzbekistan's state newspapers and the pro-government site gazeta.uz. There were no casualties according to official reports.
The explosion too place in the south of Surkhandarya region, near the Uzbek-Afghan border and not from from the border with Tajikistan.
The semi-official website uzmetronom.com, which often gets leaks from Uzbekistan's power ministries, says an official announcement of the explosion only appeared in the government and parliament newspapers today.
Uzmetronom.com didn't have much more to add to the official announcement, except that the Interior Ministry held an emergency session on the 17th and that their main version of events is that it was a terrorist act.
The Russian daily news service regnum.ru also waited two days to report the Russian Railways announcement of November 17 that tickets would not be sold from Galaba to Amuzang because the line was closed, and also that tickets on the Moscow-Kulyab line would not be sold for Amuzang and Kulyab because "the supports for the rail bridge had been destroyed."
An explosion on a railroad on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border was a "terrorist act," according to local media, via RIA Novosti (in Russian). The explosion apparently happened on the line between Termez, at the southern tip of Uzbekistan, and Kurgan-Tyube in Tajikistan, between the Galaba and Amuzang stations. I can't find either of those stations on any map, but the stretch of that route that's inside Uzbekistan is pretty short, and hugs the Amu Darya river, the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The explosion took place the night of November 17, there were no injuries and local authorities are investigating.
There is very little information about this so far, but there hasn't been a terror attack in Uzbekistan for several years. And the fact that it's so near to Termez, the hub of the U.S.'s Northern Distribution Network that carries military cargo through Central Asia to Afghanistan, has to have people worrying in Tashkent and the Pentagon. This line isn't the main line of NDN train traffic, which goes a more northerly route from Termez to Karshi, which would be an argument that it may not be NDN-related. Nonetheless, the location of the (alleged) attack is suggestive. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov's number one fear is the rise of Islamist extremism in his country, and so if this does turn out to be NDN-related -- meaning that cooperation with the U.S. has brought terrorism back to Uzbekistan -- expect discussions between the U.S. and Uzbekistan over the NDN to get a lot more difficult.
Still, it's too early to jump to many conclusions. We'll see what more information emerges.
The photos above were taken in 2007 by human rights defenders who cannot give their names for safety reasons. Google Earth also provides a satellite view. The middle rectangle on the north-western diagonal is the general-regimen camp, where the prisoners of conscience are being held. The upright rectangle on the western side is the strict-regimen camp. The main gate of the camp is on the lower long side, with the road leading down to the southeast.
Imurad Nurliev, the pastor for Light of the World, a Protestant congregation in the town of Mary, is one of the prisoners in Seydi. Pastor Nurliev was sentenced to four years of imprisonment on October 21, 2010 for allegedly swindling funds from four of his parishioners who had visited a shelter run by the church in 2010. All four alleged that Pastor Nurliev forced them to pay a contribution to the congregation, which a trial court ruled as swindling.
Yet as the human rights organizations have reported, one of the alleged victims was in prison for much of the time the alleged swindling was said to have taken place. And in May 2010, the congregants of Light of the World Church were summoned to the Mary city police department, where they were threatened with further harassment, in the presence of police and Ministry of National Security officers, if they did not give evidence against Pastor Nurliev.
Forum 18 reports that ten other religious prisoners are serving sentences for refusal to perform compulsory military service. They are all Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Russian Okno satellite-tracking station in Tajikistan
Tajikistan could threaten a crucial satellite-tracking station if Russia continues its hostility toward Tajik migrant workers, an adviser to President Emomali Rahmon says. His comments were made before Tajikistan announced that it would release the pilots whose imprisonment sparked the recent brouhaha. But Dushanbe and Moscow are still wrangling over the price of rent for the Russian 201st military base in Tajikistan, and in a piece on Asia Plus, the adviser, Suhrob Sharipov, suggests that the Okno station could become a bargaining chip in the increasingly contentious negotiations between the superpower and its tiny, isolated client state. Translation via BBC Monitoring:
"Well, let us say Russia introduces a visa regime with Tajikistan. What will change in migration processes? There will be nothing serious... If Russia loses its base and the Okno space monitoring complex in Tajikistan then Tajikistan will turn into an absolutely alien country for Russia. It is hard to imagine what consequences it will have for Russia," Suhrob Sharipov said...
"Tajikistan is the only serious outpost of Russia's geopolitical interests in the region. Russia's interests in Tajikistan are the space monitoring station Okno, the 201st military base, geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation in Central Asia, influence on Afghanistan and so forth. There is no doubt that the current crisis in relations with Russia is shortcomings of Russian diplomacy and the Russian embassy in Tajikistan. I hope that Russia's hysteria is above all because of the election campaign and elections. Of course, Russia is a big country and still have levers to exert pressure on Tajikistan," he said.