As Eurasianet's Justin Vela recently pointed out, the dispute over who has the right to explore for oil and gas in the waters off the divided island of Cyprus has all the ingredients for a major geopolitical confrontation. But oil and gas are not the only natural resources that are fueling the Cyprus conflict. Turns out cheese is also one of the island's disputed commodities.
As anyone who has visited Cyprus knows, the island essentially runs on one kind of cheese, the rubbery, briny white kind known as "halloumi" in the Greek-speaking south and "hellim" in the Turkish north. As one Greek Cypriot website puts it, the cheese is "the flagship of Cyprus’s authentic cuisine." On both sides, the cheese -- made from a combination of goat, sheep and cow's milk -- is often fried or grilled in chunky strips.
The cheese of either side of Cyprus's dividing Green Line might taste the same, but the issue of who gets to claim halloumi/hellim as their own is pitting the two parts of the island against each other. Greek Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union, has asked Brussels to give halloumi Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which would mean that only Cypriot cheese could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.
The ongoing face-off between the Georgian government and billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili took a fresh twist on June 14 when American investor Alexander Ronzhes, a partner in a cable TV provider targeted by a campaign-finance investigation into Ivanishvili's parliamentary election campaign, was detained at the Tbilisi airport while trying to leave the country.
Ronzhes, who owns 17.2 percent of the provider, Global TV, is currently being held for questioning related to a money-laundering investigation, according to a statement from the Ministry of Finance cited by the Georgian news agency Interpressnews. No information has been released about the target of the investigation.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance confirmed that Ronzhes is being questioned related to allegations that he tried to take “a considerable” amount of money out of the country without declaring it.
Citing the ministry statement, Interpressnews reported that Ronzhes had sold a piece of property on June 8 to a Tbilisi-based company, Lizingi 21, for 3.1 million lari (about $1.89 million).
Archil Kbilashvili, a lawyer and member of Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, told EurasiaNet.org that Ronzhes has not been officially charged with any crimes.
State auditors claim that Global TV distributed satellite antennas to 25,000 households free of charge, courtesy of Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose brother, Alexander, owns 66.8 percent of the company.
On June 11, a Tbilisi court fined the billionaire 126 million laris (about $77.65 million) for allegedly violating campaign-finance regulations.
“If Armenia wants its soldiers to stop dying, it should withdraw from Azerbaijani territories,” Amidst a recent, deadly pickup in ceasefire violations, ending the two countries' 24-year conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh territory is as simple as that for Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
The bloodshed, coinciding with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's June 4-6 visit to the South Caucasus, has set off a fresh flurry of expressions of concern from world leaders.
“The cycle of violence must stop,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore at a joint news conference in Baku with his Azerbaijani counterpart. Gilmore, chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which oversees negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, called on both sides to remove snipers from the line of contact and set up a mechanism for investigating the conflict zone incidents.
Mammadyarov said that frontline snipers will have no targets if Yerevan pulls back its forces. He also expressed Baku’s conditional support for incident-investigation mechanism. “But this will work only if Armenian forces withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” he said. “If the mechanism is put to work now, it would mean consolidating the status quo, which is unacceptable.”
Newspaper owners around the world worry obsessively about circulation figures, but Turkmenistan’s state media is getting around that problem by forcing government workers to buy subscriptions.
Mandatory attendance by state employees at horse races and concerts to celebrate national holidays has been standard for some time now, so this practice is only part of the bigger picture.
Turkmenistan has no independent media, and the state newspapers and magazines that are published are to a great extent exercises in praising the policies of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Perhaps for that reason above all others, they are not overly popular in their own right.
In what appears to be an exercise to compensate at least partially for the outlays involved in producing print publications, government workers are, as of the second half of 2012, being obliged to take out subscriptions.
So, for example, people working in schools and universities will now have to commit to buying at least four newspapers and one magazine, which should include the capital city government’s newspaper, “Ashgabat,” and education workers’ newspaper, “Mugalymlar Gazety” (Teacher’s Newspaper).
Perversely, postal service workers, who have access to all the newspapers in the country -- at the workplace anyway -- are being made to spend at least $17.50 twice a year on publications they could have already read.
The forced subscriptions drive has yielded most returns for weekly newspaper “Turkmen Dili,” (Turkmen Language) which costs around $1 for six months and has 117,500 subscribers. It popularity may have more to do with its cheapness than anything.
By way of comparison, the only available Russian-language newspaper, “Neutralny Turkmenistan,” has a circulation just over 49,100.
Gunboats from Azerbaijan's coast guard threatened international oil company ships working on behalf of Turkmenistan on at least two occasions in 2008, U.S. diplomatic cables from Wikileaks show. The incidents, which don't seem to have been previously reported, caused Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov, to accuse his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev of "personally insulting" him and "running like a little boy."
One incident was in April 2008, and involved a vessel from the Malaysian company Petronas in a part of the Caspian that both sides agree is Turkmenistan's:
[U]pon closing in on the Petronas ships/rig, the Azeri gunboats instructed the Petronas captain to move away. He reportedly refused to move, stating that he was nowhere close to Azerbaijan's claimed border. The standoff reportedly lasted for more than a day. In the end, the Petronas captain agreed to move slightly to the east (although not as far as the Azeri border guards at first had demanded), which apparently satisfied the Azeris.
The second was in May 2008 and involved a ship from Canadian company Buried Hill and was in a spot that was (and remains) in dispute between the two countries, around the Serdar/Kyapaz and Omar-Osman/Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli fields:
In the second episode, the Azeri gunboats again intercepted a vessel that Buried Hill had hired to do some research in block III related to its plans to begin drilling in the first quarter of 2009. Buried Hill told him this time calls were made from Ashgabat to Baku, and that the Azeri vessels subsequently backed off. According to
Buried Hill, there were also Iranian vessels in the area at the time of the interception.
Turkey's on-again-off-again "Kurdish initiative" -- a democratization and reform effort introduced in 2009 that was intended to help solve the decades-old Kurdish issue -- has taken another unexpected turn with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent announcement that his government would soon allow for the teaching of Kurdish as an elective course in public schools. Up until now, the teaching of the language in public schools had been banned. Reports the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Erdogan said Tuesday that elective Kurdish language classes could be introduced in Turkish schools “if a sufficient number of pupils gather” to request Kurdish language instruction.
“Kurdish can be taken as an elective class; it can be taught and be learned. This is a historical step. This way, our citizens with different mother tongues can develop their languages according to their needs and demand,” Mr. Erdogan said, speaking to his party’s lawmakers. He added that necessary legal framework already exists in Turkey to allow this.
Kurdish teaching has been banned so far in Turkish schools, despite the country’s millions of Kurds, some of whom only speak different Kurdish dialects. Children in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast provinces are taught in Turkish starting in first grade, whether they know Turkish or not.
A young man, believed to be the sole survivor of a massacre late last month at a border post near Kazakhstan's frontier with China, has confessed to murdering 15 people because of disagreements within the military unit, according to video released by the prosecutor’s office.
The film showed 20-year-old conscript Vladislav Chelakh describing the catalyst for the murder as an argument with a fellow soldier who refused to get out of bed, which made Chelakh “boil over and flip.”
This was part of wider disagreements at the border post where “I was humiliated […] insulted too often,” he said.
While the motive may seem weak, it lends weight to an initial theory that the murderer was the victim of hazing, the practice of senior soldiers bullying junior ones common in the armed forces of some former Soviet states.
Chelakh was shown confessing on video at the scene of the crime. Evoking scenes straight out of a horror movie, he confessed to hunting the victims down around the unit and shooting them, setting fire to the building, then killing a gamekeeper in his lodge to eliminate a witness. Chelakh spoke coherently, with no sign of reciting a prepared speech.
Further video showed him confessing to his mother and, in a clip reportedly filmed by Chelakh himself after the crime, hiding in what appears to be a cave in the forest.
Political money is the most precarious kind of money in the Caucasus these days. Whether they spend or earn, opposition figures are finding that state auditors and security services have suddenly developed an active interest in keeping them au courant with campaign-finance regulations
Shortly after speculation picked up that Armenia’s second-largest party, Prosperous Armenia, a former government coalition member, may go into opposition against the ruling Republican Party of Armenia ahead of next February's presidential elections, a money-laundering investigation was launched against senior Prosperous Armenia member Vartan Oskanian, who served as foreign minister from 1998 to 2008.
“Money, laundering, Oskanian… are words that just don’t go together,” fumed Oskanian, who described the probe as political retaliation.
Government officials, in turn, instructed the angry ex-cabinet-minister not to jump to conclusions. Do not immediately allege “a political subtext,” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was quoted by RFE/RL as saying. “We are only clearing up some circumstances.”
And the circumstances are that a Yerevan think-tank founded by Oskanian, Civilitas, allegedly received a $2-million donation from two US companies, Polymer Materials and Huntsman International. Armenia’s National Security Service claimed that Oskanian failed to disclose the donation to the tax authorities and that there are suspicions of legalizing a large amount of money obtained by criminal means.
Gay men are not welcome in Kazakhstan’s military on the grounds that the state classifies homosexuality as a “disorder,” Defense Minister Adilbek Dzhaksybekov has declared.
Asked by a visitor to his official blog if gay men are called up for Kazakhstan's mandatory army service, Dzhaksybekov ruled this out on the grounds that homosexuality is a “disorder of sexual desire” that prevents “entry into military service in the armed forces, other forces and military formations of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
Citing the health requirements soldiers have to meet by law (which do not explicitly rule out such “disorders” but establish mental health standards), Dzhaksybekov said that homosexuality is determined through psychiatric checks.
This attitude harks back to Soviet times, when homosexuality was classed as a mental disorder and sodomy was punishable by law (most former Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan, have now decriminalized it).
The question of whether homosexuals can serve in Kazakhstan’s military has not featured prominently on the agenda in the past, but the defense minister’s remarks place Kazakhstan among countries that explicitly ban them from serving.
The policy is at odds with practice in neighboring Russia, where gay men and women are allowed to serve. The United States has relaxed its policy in recent years, abandoning its “don’t ask don’t tell” strategy -- which barred openly gay people from serving -- last year.
UPDATE: On June 14 Asia-Plus reported, and local users confirm, the site is again available in Tajikistan.
Authorities in Tajikistan blocked access on June 12 to a widely read, independent online news service.
Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus is still publishing at news.tj with the help of proxy servers, but the content is not available to Internet users in Tajikistan. Users can, however, continue to access the site’s content on Asia-Plus’ Facebook page or through widely available proxy servers.
The head of the state agency in charge of IT and telecommunications, Beg Zukhurov, reportedly told Asia-Plus that the site was blocked because editors refused to pull comments that included slander and insults aimed at high-placed officials.
The website took down one comment Zukhurov found objectionable and he promised the site would be unblocked soon.
Asia-Plus regularly publishes material critical of the government of President Emomali Rakhmon, who has been in office since 1992. While the government jams some foreign news sites, it has not yet blocked such a prominent local source of news. The comments section of Asia-Plus is often full of wild innuendo and libelous anonymous commentary, as are comments sections on news sites around the world. Perhaps a reader wrote something that struck a particular nerve?