Gulnara Karimova, the controversial daughter of President Islam Karimov, dictator of Uzbekistan, is expected next week in New York at Fashion Week at Lincoln Center.
Today the New York Post reports that Human Rights Watch is questioning whether the sponsors of Fashion Week should include Karimova, who is her country's ambassador to Spain and associated with the oppressive regime of her father.
“There’s nothing fashionable about lending a high-profile platform to the senior official of one of the world’s most repressive governments," Steve Swerdlow, HRW's Uzbekistan researcher is quoted as saying.
Karimova will be showing her "Guli" fashion line which includes Middle Eastern and Asian ethnic clothing said to be "green" in its use of native cotton. But that makes it suspect for labor rights campaigners, however, as Uzbekistan is documented as using forced child labor to pick cotton.
Not content with the highest, Tajikistan will now also have the longest flag in the world. Fear not the expense: Tajiks can surely overlook their brutal poverty to take pride in a two-kilometer-long national flag.
“The flag was made by employees of the Dushanbe-based Tajiktekstil [textile plant] and the Dushanbe mayor’s office has already lodged an application to the Guinness Book of Records,” the spokesman said.
Speaking of greatness, Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev is feeling especially sycophantic with all these new monuments in his city. Though often considered a rival to President Emomali Rakhmon, Ubaydulloyev, speaking on state television September 6, said the president’s deeds (presumably more than just producing poles, flags and the like) should be “written with golden letters” in that great book of Guinness.
With its relations in Israel in freefall, following the release of a United Nations report about last year's Gaza flotilla, Turkey has increasingly been turning up the heat on its former ally. In particular, Ankara has promised that it will be increasing its naval patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean to show Israel its displeasure with the ongoing naval blockade of Gaza. But could these beefed up patrols (if they materialize) actually be aimed at flexing some muscle towards Cyprus? From Reuters:
Some Turkish and Israeli commentators have suggested Turkey might use the feud with Israel to build up naval patrols in seas between the Jewish state and the divided island of Cyprus.
Turkey has bitterly complained about recent Cypriot-Israeli energy deals. The presence of Turkish ships would have a menacing effect and could be seen as a provocation by neighboring Greece, also a NATO member.
Noble Energy, a U.S. firm, is due to start exploratory drilling for natural gas off Cyprus in October despite warnings from Turkey against such concessions.
Turkey and Cyprus have been at odds for decades over the ethnically split island, whose internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government is an EU member. Turkish Cypriots live in a breakaway state in northern Cyprus recognized only by Turkey.
Asked about exploratory drilling for natural gas by Greek Cypriots, Egemen Bagis, Turkey's European Union minister, told Turkish media last week: "It is for this (reason) that countries have warships. It is for this (reason) that we have equipment and we train our navies."
A think tank chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has come up with an interesting idea for getting the largely ineffective Collective Security Treaty Organization off the ground: Kick out Uzbekistan.
The Institute of Contemporary Development, known by its Russian acronym, INSOR, is presenting a report on the CSTO at the Global Policy Forum in the Russian city of Yaroslavl this week that will include proposals to reform decision-making within the bloc from the current consensual format to a simple majority vote.
"In light of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014, we need to decide what is more important: [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's opinions or the security of Russia and its allies," he said. "It is evident that nobody needs the CSTO as just a talking shop."
Karimov's strongest objections to the internal organization of the CSTO have been over the implementation of a rapid reaction force. Uzbekistan remains deeply wary of Moscow's ultimate intentions and appears to suspect the Kremlin of attempting to gradually take over Central Asia's security.
The report also proposes overhauling relations between the CSTO and NATO. While the Russian-led bloc was initially intended as a counterweight to NATO, it is increasingly evident that the two groups share joint challenges dealing with security in and around Afghanistan.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi believed that the Georgian government was "overly focused" on getting American weapons, according to a cable written in February 2010, in advance of then-Afghanistan envoy Richard Holbrooke's visit to the country, and released by Wikileaks:
It is hard to overestimate the extent to which an intense climate of insecurity permeates Georgian society and political culture. Russian forces, located as close as 25 miles outside of Tbilisi, are building permanent bases and Georgians hear a steady drip of Russian statements alleging Georgian aggression or announcing the latest step in incorporating Abkhazia into Russia's economy. Moscow's statements suggesting that Georgia is planning provocations in the North Caucasus have raised fears among Georgian officials that Russia is looking for another pretext. Tbilisi, in turn, is overly focused on weapons acquisition as an antidote to its jitters. It fears our approach to defense cooperation (heavily focused on developing the structures and processes to assess threats, develop appropriate responses and make informed decisions about use of force before moving to acquisition) is a trade-off to secure Russian cooperation on other issues, such as Iran. ... Your discussion of our broader efforts with Moscow will help reinforce with Saakashvili that we do not see this as a zero-sum equation - and that Georgia also benefits from Moscow's cooperation on the wider agenda.
Good news for singles in Kazakhstan – a new dating site promises to bring lonely hearts together, and – unlike many such forums which are simply an excuse to peddle sex – nikah.imam.kz has lofty aims: It seeks to help pious Muslims find their other half.
Along with information about attributes such as height, eye color and ethnicity, the site offers users the chance to provide information about their views on questions pertinent to Islam.
Answers to “how do you feel about the hijab?” range from “not obligatory” (Aynur, a 27-year old female from Almaty) to “only in the mosque” (Asiya, a 20-year-old female from Petropavlovsk) and “obligatory for women” (Rakhat, a 22-year-old male from Pavlodar, and Nazyma, a 35-year-old female from Almaty).
The photos accompanying the would-be daters’ profiles show a range of attitudes to the headscarf among the women – some have their heads uncovered, some are wearing headscarves and some are in the full niqab.
Another question asks users how they feel about polygamy, which – as RFE/RL reported earlier this year – is on the rise in Kazakhstan. Answers range from “negative” (Asem, a 20-year-old female from Petropavlovsk), “I don’t know” (Akmalya, a 20-year-old female from Almaty), to “normal” (Rauan, a 26-year-old male from Karaganda, and Roza, a 26-year-old convert to Islam from Almaty).
Maxim Popov, an Uzbek HIV/AIDS campaigner and educator handed a harsh sentence of seven years of prison last year for distributing sex education booklets, was quietly freed early from prison in June, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, noting that the news of his release was only made public August 30. Popov is still confined to his home and has been given a job as an unskilled laborer, but has his wages garnished by the state.
Popov, a psychologist by training who ran various youth programs, was accused of "corrupting minors" for distributing booklets about safe sex. He was also charged with embezzlement of foreign donor funds, a claim the foreign agencies themselves didn't make,which seems to have been trumped up by the authorities. Numerous NGOs signed a petition on behalf of Popov, but as we noted last year, USAID (the U.S. government's Agency for International Development) and other international agencies that had once given grants and publications to distribute to Popov seemed to disappear when it came time to defend him publicly.
An alleged cable recently released by WikiLeaks indicates how USAID backed away from his case and UNICEF said they were not following it; there was disagreement about the origins of the booklet he was said to have distributed but there was no evidence for the charges of financial mismanagement. The State Department privately raised his case with Uzbek officials.
It may not be as famous as the Elgin marbles, which were taken from Greece by an Ottoman-era British diplomat, but a marble head sitting in storage in a London museum could create friction between England and Turkey. From the Independent:
Turkey is demanding the return of an ancient marble head, now languishing in the stores of a London museum, which was taken from Anatolia more than a century ago.
The Turkish culture ministry has asked the Victoria and Albert Museum to return a 1,700-year-old life-sized marble carving of a child's head, described as bearing a likeness to Eros, the Greek god of love.
Tolga Tuyluoglu, the director of Turkey's culture and tourism office in London, said: "The Turkish ministry of culture thinks this item belongs to Turkey. We believe if an item has been removed from a country then it should be returned to the original place."
In 1882, the archaeologist Sir Charles Wilson, then Britain's consul-general in Anatolia, removed the head from the Sidamara Sarcophagus, a huge tomb dating from the third century, which he had excavated. The sarcophagus, which now sits in Istanbul's Museum of Archaeology, is one of the finest and most widely known of its type and period.
Sir Charles, who served in the Royal Engineers, conducted archaeological surveys in Palestine and Lebanon before moving to Anatolia, which corresponds to most of present-day Turkey, in 1879. He removed the head from the Sidamara Sarcophagus, which he then re-covered in the hope of acquiring the whole object. The head is that of a child with curly hair looking over his shoulder. Sir Charles's family later donated the head to the V&A, where it is held in the museum's stores.
"It's a complicated issue," said Mr Tuyluoglu. "There are many agreements between the two countries. We are discussing the matter."
Azerbaijan's defense minister told U.S. officials that the country was interested in "active cooperation with NATO up to full membership" but couldn't say so publicly, according to a diplomatic cable recently released by Wikileaks. The cable recounts a 2007 meeting between Defense Minister Safar Abiyev and a U.S. delegation from the Pentagon and State Department headed by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Peter Rodman:
Abiyev said that Azerbaijan's cooperation with NATO had a goal in mind. He said that this goal "could not be announced, for certain reasons" at present, but that Azerbaijan sought "active cooperation with NATO up to full membership". He said that the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the only inhibitor of Azerbaijan moving even more quickly with NATO: "It is time for more serious, more active steps by the US in Minsk Group. Our cooperation with the US and NATO would be more open and more decisive in this case."
There is ample reason for suspicion here. It's not clear what the "certain reasons" for Baku's reticence were, perhaps the fear of a bad Iranian or Russian reaction, an issue that's frequently cited in the cables from Baku. There is reason to doubt the sincerity of that fear (see below). But even if you take the Azerbaijanis at their word, if you can't even announce publicly that you want to join NATO, the obstacles are so daunting as to make any such wish meaningless.