"Life on Nanchang Lu" is a wonderful blog written by an Australian doctor named Fiona who is currently living in Shanghai and documenting her life in China with lovely photos, especially of the food she's eating. A recent trip took her out to China's western Xinjiang province and her report from there is a mouthwatering visual treat. Check it out here.
The saga of the mysterious drone shot down over Nagorno-Karabakh keeps getting more and more intriguing. You'll recall that the Armenian de facto authorities of Karabakh released photos of the downed UAV and claimed that the drone was from Azerbaijan. Makes sense: Azerbaijan operates drone similar to the one shown in photos, with which they try to surveil the area of the line of contact between them and the Armenians. Azerbaijan's state news agency countered with another theory: that the drone was actually Israel's. That was last month, and the story has gone cold since then.
But now, an Israeli website, DEBKAfile, has a new scoop/conspiracy theory: it was Russia! Their take:
Western sources believe Moscow had the Azerbaijani drone shot down as a one-off incident for four objectives:
1. A hands-off road sign to Israel to stay out of the Caspian Sea region and its conflicts. Moscow has taken note of Israel's deepening economic and military footholds in four countries: Azerbaijan, which is the largest, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Georgia, and regards its supply of arms to these countries as unwanted interference in Russia's backyard.
2. Revenge for Israel reneging on its 2009 commitment to build a drone factory in Russia. Moscow decided to confront Israeli drone technicians with Russian antiaircraft crews with an unwinnable ambush.
3. Moscow was also telling Tehran that it was serious about cooperating with Iran to safeguard its rights in the Caspian Sea and willing to use diplomatic, military and intelligence means to halt the spread of Azerbaijani and Israeli influence in the region.
Speaking in Washington on October 27 following her return from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that bipartisanship is essential if the United States is to achieve its strategic objectives in the region.
Clinton defended the Obama administration’s approach in the face of growing skepticism among Republican Party members of Congress. She insisted that the administration was "meeting our commitments and progressing towards our goals" in Afghanistan and across the region and needed to remain fully engaged.
“America paid a heavy price for disengaging after the Soviets left in 1989,” she said. “We cannot afford to make that mistake again. … We have to be smart and strategic. And we have to work together to protect our interests.”
Clinton stressed a need to strengthen security in the Afghan-Pak border area. In Islamabad, she joined with senior US military and intelligence leaders in insisting that Pakistan’s government and military get out of the terrorist sponsorship business since “trying to distinguish between so-called good terrorists and bad terrorists is ultimately self-defeating and dangerous.”
Clinton reassured committee members that “talking” with the Taliban and their allies did not mean that administration was abandoning its core goals. “Insurgents must renounce violence, abandon al Qaeda, and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women and minorities,” Clinton said. “If insurgents cannot, or will not, meet those redlines, they will face continued and unrelenting assault.”
Here’s some good news for the Ferghana Valley: Uzbekistan has reopened its frontier with Kyrgyzstan, 18 months after unilaterally screwing it shut. Tashkent closed the border during the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, dramatically wounding trade in southern Kyrgyzstan.
One study last winter found commerce in the region’s largest market, Kara-Suu, had fallen by 75 percent, encouraging higher food prices and smuggling.
The Dostuk (“Friendship”) border post between Osh and Andijan reopened early on October 26, Bishkek’s AKIpress news agency reported. There is no word yet whether other posts along the 1100-kilometer frontier will open.
But why now, four days before Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, when Bishkek is bracing for more political or ethnic violence? Wasn’t Tashkent’s original logic to keep Kyrgyzstan’s messy politics contained?
A few possibilities come to mind:
For one thing, the reopening, decided on in Tashkent, looks like a vote of confidence for Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, the leading candidate in the October 30 poll. Opening the border would revive commerce, which could add a notch to the premier’s belt. Moreover, though the rights of minority ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan may not be the top priority on Uzbekistan’s foreign-policy list, Tashkent has shown concern about the issue, and Atambayev stands apart from the two other leading candidates as less of a nationalist hothead. (Besides, if, heaven forbid, the election should trigger a new round of interethnic strife, Kyrgyzstani Uzbeks in the south would have somewhere to run.)
After all the haggling that has kept gas-thirsty Europe on tenterhooks, Baku and Ankara finally made an agreement this week on the transportation of Azerbaijani gas to Turkey, and further afield to Europe. If all goes as planned, once 2017 hits, Europe will be able to tap into as much as 10 billion cubic meters per year of the much-wanted, non-Russian gas, news agencies report. As middle man, Turkey itself will receive 6 bcm per year.
The news may come as a smelling salt for the long-delayed Nabucco gas transit project and its rival proposals, but most news reports overlooked one small detail.
Both Turkey and Azerbaijan's energy ministers will revise the agreement's details -- a process that "should not take more than a year," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters, one Azerbaijani news site reported,echoing a report in Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News. Details were not provided, but, as the past has shown, both Turkey and Azerbaijan can revise with the best of 'em when it comes to energy agreements. Arguably, the EU and US appear more impatient about calling it a day.
The France-based media freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has just issued an interesting brief expressing concern over what the group believes to be increasing pressure against journalists who are covering the Kurdish issue and the escalating conflict between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). From the report:
Pressure is mounting on journalists in eastern Turkey as the government intensifies its military offensive against the armed separatists of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an offensive that is spilling over into neighbouring countries.
As well as a spate of trials and cases of prolonged detention, journalists are now the target of government directives. Journalists who cover Kurdish issues critically continue to be accused of supporting the separatists by officials who cite the war on terror as their overriding imperative. And concern is growing that the government is trying to control coverage of its offensive.
Jailed for an interview?
The Turkish judicial system continues to treat the publication of interviews with PKK members as terrorist propaganda, even if they are accompanied by commentary that stops far short of praising the PKK.
Nese Düzel, a journalist with the liberal daily Taraf, and his editor, Adnan Demir, for example, are being prosecuted for two April 2010 reports containing interviews with former PKK leaders Zübeyir Aydar and Remzi Kartal. A prosecutor asked an Istanbul court on 14 October to sentence them to seven and a half years in prison. The next hearing in their trial is to be held on 9 December.
Prosecutors at the same court are preparing to try the journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu over a report in Radikal in October 2010 that contained an interview with Murat Karayilan, one of the leaders of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), regarded as PKK’s urban wing.
Behroush Sharifi, a New York-based spice merchant better known as the "Saffron King," has developed a growing business based on importing his good from Iran. But the trade sanctions imposed by Washington last year on Tehran have left the King with a dwindling supply of saffron. As he tells the Washington Post's "All We Can Eat" column:
“We’re about to run out of saffron, and it’s 80 percent of my business. Even the remaining 20 percent, we’ve already run out of a number of the other ingredients, and we can’t replace them. We do eventually want to source everything out of Turkey. As I said during the course of dinner, 70 percent of what we import from Iran is not of Iranian origin. From India, from China, from Syria, from Afghanistan, from Turkey. All of these items can still come into America, but not from Iran."
Sharifi, who has become a favored spice supplier for several high-end restaurants across the US, also explained to the Post why good saffron -- which can cost hundreds of dollars per ounce -- is so expensive:
Yazkuliev is evidently the first political prisoner to be released in an amnesty under the rule of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who took power in December 2006 after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, and then prevailed in state-controlled elections in February 2007. The Turkmen leader has repeatedly announced amnesties tied to various state holidays and special occasions, but they have never included any long-term or newly-arrested political prisoners as far as is known.
Although Turks have shown an incredible level of unity in the wake of Sunday's devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the east's Lake Van region, it was probably inevitable that politics would soon start working their way into the story, especially since the the quake's epicenter was also right in the heart of a predominantly Kurdish area.
Many of the municipalities in the area, for example, are run by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which in the last few years has been engaged in a bitter fight with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win votes in Turkey's mostly-Kurdish southeast. The fight appears to be continuing. Speaking in parliament yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while admitting that the government failed to properly deliver aid and relief in the first 24 hours after the earthquake, also took a dig at the BDP. From a report in Today's Zaman:
[Erdogan] also criticized the lack of coordination in aid distribution in spite of large amounts of supplies being sent to the disaster area. “The İstanbul Municipality can reach out to Van, the municipalities of Bursa, Ankara and Erzurum can reach out to Van, but the municipalities in that region fail to reach out to an area that is right next to them,” in apparent criticism of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) municipalities. “Those who are able to organize people to throw stones at police and soldiers, vandalizing the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails, you see, are nowhere to be seen in the hour of disaster.”
The strange case of the Armenian-Moldovan-Libyan-Latvian arms deal has reached a sort of conclusion: Moldova's ambassador to Baku has apologized for the deal, reports News.az:
'Those responsible for arms sale have been called to the Security Committee of Moldova and commission for security issues of the parliament and brought to responsibility. Though no sanctions have been applied in Moldova related to arms sales to any country, it was politically incorrect to sell arms to Armenia. We will try not to tolerate such cases anymore', the ambassador said.
That's some pretty serious groveling. At least from the official Azerbaijani perspective, relations between them and Moldova are not all that strong, with just $1 million in trade: "The products imported into Moldova from Azerbaijan were natural juice and medicines." They do have a common cause as countries with territories occupied by another country. But there is likely some nuance to Moldovan-Azerbaijan relations I'm missing, that would explain why it is so "politically incorrect" to sell arms to their neighbor. Anyone with the answer, let me know.