Scotland’s dabbling in secessionism has been closely watched in the ex-Soviet Union, the Shangri-La of separatism. From Transnistria to Karabakh to Crimea, all eyes have been on the UK recently, in hopes that the Scottish example would change hearts and minds about claims to independence.
In South Ossetia, approaching, on September 20, the 24th anniversary of declaring itself independent from Georgia, many were inspired by the “peaceful and civilized” conduct of the Brits. Abkhazia produced a video, in which a group of people unfurl a giant Scottish flag to the sound of Mel Gibson bellowing “Freedom!” in Braveheart.
Yet with Scotland’s September-18 vote to stay with the United Kingdom these public expressions of separatist-solidarity with Scotland have suddenly fallen silent. Only Nagorno Karabakh, which itself has seen a referendum proposed as part of the solution to its differences with Baku, issued a statement, observing that “regardless of the result,” the Scottish referendum had shown that letting people decide their own fate is “the norm in a democratic society.”
The little pistachio may be best known as the main ingredient in baklava, but it's worth remembering that it's only the emerald green inside of the nut that gets used up to make the flaky pastry. The outside shell ends up serving as an unwanted floor- and sidewalk-covering in cities, towns and villages across the Middle East.
But it appears that scientists in Turkey, the world's third-largest producer of pistachios (and home of Gaziantep, what is arguably the city producing the finest baklava in the world), have finally figured out what to do with all those unwanted shells: make electricity. Reports Turkey's Anatolian news agency:
Scientists in Turkey have been working to produce biogas from pistachios on an experimental level for more than three years in a collaboration between the government, a small business development organization and the Middle East Technical University.
One ton of pistachios can produce 1.1 million cubic meters of biogas, which in turn can generate 14 kilowatt-hours -- enough to meet the needs of a typical Turkish house for a year, said Goksel Demirer, a professor in the Department of Environmental Engineering at Middle East Technical University in Ankara.
Turkey produces 112,000 tons of pistachios a year, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, making it the third-largest producer in the world after Iran and the U.S.
Gaziantep is the center of pistachio cultivation in Turkey, producing 100,000 tons a year. The city, formerly known as Antep, even lends its name to the Turkish term for pistachio -- Antep fistigi, or "Antep nut."
Turkmenistan's armed forces have entered the territory of Afghanistan in an apparent effort to drive back Taliban forces that had settled on the border between the two countries, Afghan residents have told the Turkmen service of RFE/RL.
The report is in Turkmen but has been translated into Russian by Alternative Turkmenistan News. It quotes residents of the Qaisar region of Afghanistan's Faryab province saying that Turkmenistan soldiers crossed the border about three months ago and have dug trenches and built fences.
This would seem to be the latest escalation in an increasingly tense situation on the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border. Earlier, there had been reports of Turkmenistan border guards making incursions in Afghanistan, and the Turkmenistan armed forces carrying out exercises close to the border. But now they seem to be going even farther.
"The Turkmenistanis came here, dug trenches, set up wire fences," one resident told RFE/RL. "No one asked them what they were doing here. The trenches they dug are four meters wide and five meters deep. Besides that, in the same place they are paving a road."
And the Turkmenistan soldiers have apparently blocked access to the area where the villagers had previously grazed their animals. "Now we can't use our pastures like before. We don't have anywhere to graze our livestock, the animals are starving. Turkmenistan has taken what really belongs to us."
Another resident echoed that complaint: "We had grazed our sheep on this land, we had grazed all our livestock there. Let them open a road for us and let us graze our livestock there again."
Russia's embargo on foodstuffs coming from several western and European countries may mean no brie on the shelves in upscale Moscow supermarkets, but it also means less cheese sold (and, thus, less income) for French cheesemakers.
In fact, it appears that the Kremlin's moves against western foods -- which came in response to sanctions imposed on Russia because of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Moscow's role in stoking it -- is starting to take a bite out of the European economy, forcing the European Union to respond. Reports the EUobserver website:
The EU is preparing to unveil new aid for EU fruit producers hit by the Russia food ban.
Agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos promised extra assistance in the coming days for suppliers of citrus fruit, apples, and pears at a hearing with MEPs in Strasbourg on Monday (15 September).
The European Commission has since August earmarked €158 million for aid to fruit and vegetable growers who have had to take products off the market, as well as €30 million for dairy suppliers who are putting stock into cold storage.
The money is to come from a “margin” - money allocated by EU countries but unlikely to be needed - in the EU’s 2015 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget....
....Ciolos also noted the compensation for citrus, apples, and pears will be paid out using new rules, to enter into life next week, which tie the money more directly to volumes affected by the Russia ban.
The change comes after Polish producers filed massive claims - worth €145 million - in the €125 million envelope.
Screen shot of video of the opening ceremony of the Rapid Trident 2014 U.S.-led military exercises in western Ukraine.
Georgia and Azerbaijan are among the participants at U.S.-organized military exercises now underway in western Ukraine, while Armenia -- which was originally scheduled to take part -- is absent.
The exercises, Rapid Trident, have been held every year since 1995 and this year involve about 1,300 soldiers and are being held in Yavoriv, in Lviv province. Obviously this year's exercises are being held under very different circumstances than previous iterations have been. And naturally they are being seen by the Kremlin as yet another way in which the U.S. and its European partners are carrying out an anti-Russian agenda using Ukraine as a proxy.
For Bug Pit readers, the most interesting element of Rapid Trident 2014 is the participation of the South Caucasus states. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have all taken part in previous versions of the exercise. Unsurprisingly, given its firm pro-West, anti-Russia stance, Georgia has taken part again, sending a platoon to Ukraine for the drills.
Also unsurprisingly, Armenia is not taking part. As a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led post-Soviet military bloc, it would be awkward if Armenian troops were training alongside NATO forces. (Interestingly, though, as late as March Armenia was still being listed as among the scheduled participants in Rapid Trident 2014; apparently they changed their minds between then and now.)
It’s not often that a Kyrgyz film wins praise abroad, as an epic biopic has in recent weeks. Proud Internet users in Kyrgyzstan are seeking to ensure that the recent burst of international acclaim endures with an online campaign to rank the new film highly at the online movie database IMDB.com.
“Kurmanjan Datka” is reportedly the most expensive Kyrgyz movie ever, and the first feature-length film commissioned by Kyrgyzstan’s perennially impoverished government. The Montreal Gazette called the film a “haunting poetic piece” that “transports you to another world.”
Two weeks after opening in cinemas in Bishkek and Osh, the historical epic – about a queen who united Kyrgyz tribes in the face of Russian aggression in the 19th century before succumbing to Moscow – has garnered more than 1,200 10-star ratings (out of 10 stars) at IMDB. Local social media users believe most of the votes come from Kyrgyzstanis who hope their ratings will help the movie attract prominent American distribution companies, and positive publicity for their remote country.
Journalist and blogger Ulugbek Akishev used Facebook to push his idea to organize a voting campaign on the day the film premiered in Bishkek, August 31. He believes a high IMDB rating would draw the interest of big distribution companies, help “Kurmanjan Datka” go global, and recoup the $1.5 million the government spent on production.
In an initiative new to Muslim Azerbaijan, its parliament has broached the topic of legalizing civil partnerships. A group of lawmakers believe that recognizing such partnerships as legal unions is needed to protect the often neglected rights of the growing number of children born out of wedlock. Also, the change will help ensure the “genetic health” of the nation, parliamentarians say.
As part of that “genetic health” campaign, Azerbaijan also plans to introduce mandatory premarital health checks. A set of amendments to what is known as the Family Code is meant to toughen requirements that couples inform each other of their medical conditions before their wedding-day.
“Making these amendments to the Family Code does not conflict with human rights, as we are talking about a healthier national genetic pool and healthier children,” Parliamentary Commission on Social Policies Chairperson Hadi Rajabli told the Interfax-Azerbaijan agency.
The Code’s Article 13.3 states that concealing from a spouse a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases provides grounds for the annulment of a marriage. Rajabli proposes expanding the list of medical conditions that must be reported before a wedding.
He said that the idea of premarital checkups had been dismissed before on concerns that couples, especially in rural parts of the country, could simply buy a health certificate from a doctor — an understandable concern in what is often rated among the world’s most corrupt countries. Henceforth, though, physicians will face charges if they sell fake certificates, Rajabli said.
By now, it's a well-established fact that foreign fighters looking to join extremist groups -- most worryingly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or simply the Islamic State (IS), as it now calls itself -- fighting the Assad regime in Syria have been using Turkey as a gateway to that country.
But more recently concerns have been rising about ISIS's activity inside Turkish cities, particularly with regards to the recruitment of vulnerable Turkish young men in poor neighborhoods. In a deeply reported piece in Newsweek, reporters Alexander Christie-Miller and Alev Scott take a look at ISIS's activity in Istanbul, telling the story of Deniz Sahin, a 28-year-old woman whose estranged husband recently went off to join the extremist group in Syria, taking their two children along. From the Newsweek piece:
Stories shared with Newsweek in recent days by Deniz and others show the group has sunk its tendrils deep into Turkey, a country that may now be in its firing line after being named as part of a Nato alliance to combat the jihadist group. Many fear Isis has the capacity to wreak havoc in a nation that attracts 35 million tourists a year and whose porous border adjoins Isis-controlled territory.
South African Marauder armored vehicles at a military parade in Baku. (photo: gulustan, Wikimedia Commons)
The government of South Africa is facing criticism for allowing arms exports to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.
South Africa's National Conventional Arms Control Committee has recently released reports detailing the country's weapons exports over the past three years. MP David Maynier, the country's shadow defense minister, has in the past criticized the government for arming Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe and North Korea; now he has set his sights on post-Soviet countries.
In the case of Turkmenistan, South Africa allowed the export of 50 sniper rifles earlier this year. Maynier said that such a sale would seem to violate South Africa's law requiring companies to "avoid transfers of conventional arms to governments that systematically violate or suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms." On similar grounds, he objected to two airborne observation stations being sold to Russia.
And in 2012, South African companies sold sniper rifles and ammunition to Azerbaijan, and submachine guns to Armenia. That would seem to violate South African laws requiring companies to "avoid transfers of conventional arms that are likely to contribute to the escalation of regional military conflicts, endanger peace by introducing destabilizing military capabilities into a region or otherwise contribute to regional instability."
What parent would not want to make their child’s first day of school memorable? But few may rival parents in Azerbaijan, where many first-graders arrived on September 15 in cars resplendent with flowers and bows, and cortèges of kith and kin in tow.
Short of tin-cans tied to the rear bumper, many a car was adorned with full-on wedding-style decorations, to hear the cops tell it. The showy processions — purportedly a growing whim in this oil-and-gas-rich Caspian-Sea republic — careened down the streets of the capital, Baku, giving quite a headache to traffic police. “Sometimes a first-grader is conveyed by up to 15 to 20 cars,” complained Baku traffic police spokesperson Vagif Asadov to Trend news agency.
Asadov claimed that these cars end up parked everywhere, turning the traffic situation in this city of over 2 million from bad to worse. “This has practically paralyzed traffic on the streets,” fretted Asadov. “Should a policeman stand at every meter [of roadway] ? Why can’t these people understand that they are causing an inconvenience to themselves and to others, and that this is not normal and looks ridiculous?“ he went on to ask.
But the inconveniences to others may not be the upmost thing on the minds of these parents. As in neighboring Georgia or Armenia, where students often come bearing flowers for their teachers, they want to make sure their children’s education starts with due pomp and circumstance.
Asadov is having none of it. “Parents must understand that their kids are going not into the army, but to school, and actually will be back home in a few hours," he advised.