Political candidates around the world routinely insert God into their election campaigns, but, in passionately Orthodox Christian Georgia, politicians appear to be experiencing a particularly pressing need for divine assistance ahead of the October 1 parliamentary vote.
The popularity of the Georgian Orthodox Church at times could make the entire country seem like one big, happy parish. The Church always tops approval charts for public institutions and no public figure can challenge the celebrity of Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II. In the streets, drivers and pedestrians often halt -- sometimes in hazardous traffic situations -- and make signs of the cross whenever they see a church, whether near or far.
So, perhaps it is only logical for politicians to try to identify themselves with the Church and turn parishioners into voters. President Mikheil Saakashvili, leader of the ruling United National Movement, was recently spotted hoisting a cross over the newly-rebuilt, 11th-century Cathedral of the Dormition in Georgia's second-largest city, Kutaisi. Meanwhile, in Tbilisi's outskirts, a flag for billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition flies outside the St. Ilia Chavchavadze church.
Both the billionaire and the president are rumored to be closet religious skeptics, but keeping a distance is proving harder as the elections draw nearer.
Used to public shows of piety, some clerics don’t take kindly to reporters seeking an explanation for the occasionally blurred line between Church and campaign.
Kazakhstan’s government is moving to prevent state media outlets diverging from the official line when covering emergencies -- from terrorist attacks and accidents to earthquakes and, it seems, labor unrest.
New agreements with editors of state media would prevent “the dissemination of alternative information through all distribution channels – TV, newspapers, the Internet,” Minister of Culture and Information Darkhan Mynbay said in comments carried by Tengri News this week.
That would include flagship TV channels Khabar and Kazakstan, which play a major role in forming public opinion, as well as radio stations like Kazakhskoye Radio and newspapers such as Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.
The minister said Astana was in the process of reaching agreements with editors of state media outlets “on not permitting the distribution of unofficial information and a negative interpretation of official information which casts doubt on the veracity of information, or the competence of the speaker, or calls on citizens to commit some actions.” He did not specify what actions he had in mind.
Mynbay added that the government was forming a pool of approved journalists to which it would pass information during emergencies.
Turkey's already strained relations with Iraq continue to worsen, with the two countries now engaged in open disputes over several issues, with little hope for reconciliation in sight.
The main bone of contention between the two neighbors is the fate of fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi. Recently sentenced to death by a Baghdad court on charges that he ran death squads, the Sunni politician is currently living in self-imposed exile in Turkey. After the verdict was announced, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Hashemi is safe in Turkey. "I'll say it very clearly. We will be willing to host Mr. Hashemi as long as he wants, and we will not hand him over," Erdogan said in Ankara the other day.
It didn't take long for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to respond, announcing Thursday that it has stopped registering new Turkish companies that want to do business in Iraq for, ahem, "regulatory and statistics" purposes. The move is not a minor one, considering that Iraq has become Turkey's second largest export market, with Iraqis buying some $8 billion worth of Turkish goods in 2011, up from $2.8 billion in 2007. (In response, Ankara summoned the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey to explain his government's move.)
Are elected officials in Yerevan trying to take any local color out of the city's food scene? That certainly seems to be the case. Last year, the city's mayor issued a ban on street vendors -- many of them fruit and vegetable sellers -- in an effort to "clean up" Yerevan. More worrisome for Yerevan residents, it now looks like local leaders are turning a blind eye while the city's well-known indoor market, the now shuttered Pak Shuka, is in danger of being demolished by a businessman cum politician who reportedly wants to turn it into a supermarket.
In a detail-rich report, The Armenian Weekly lays out the whole sordid tale:
Tajikistan and Russia have reportedly agreed on the terms of the continued presence of Russia's 201st Division in Tajikistan. The term of the agreement is 30 years, and Russia will continue to not pay Tajikistan for the base's presence, CA-News has reported, citing "sources close to the negotiations" (so proceed with the appropriate amount of skepticism).
According to the report, the 30-year term was a compromise between the 10 years Tajikistan wanted and the 49 years that Russia wanted. And though Russia will still not pay cash for the base (its second largest outside its borders, behind the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Ukraine), Tajikistan will get additional in-kind aid, like additional spots in Russian military academies and "modern technology and weapons." So if the report is true, Tajikistan failed to force Russia to pay rent for the base, as Kyrgyzstan managed earlier this year.
The deal will reportedly be officially signed during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trip to Tajikistan in October.
If there is any conclusion that can already be made about the September 13 bomb attack against separatist South Ossetia’s de-facto deputy defense minister, it is that it is always a good idea to own a large plasma TV.
It was such a television set that shielded Ibragim Gaseyev, his mother and daughter from shrapnel and detritus as an explosion ripped through the door to their apartment in Tskhinvali in the wee hours this morning, investigators told the Russian newspaper Izvestia. Gaseyev and his family survived the attack.
Other deductions made by South Ossetia investigators are both speculative and predictable. Separatist officials claim that the blast is either a product of domestic turf wars or a result of the work of a foreign country's secret services; a list, which, in Tskhinvali’s books, can mean only one place -- Tbilisi.
De-facto General Prosecutor Merab Chigoyev reasoned that Gaseyev is one of South Ossetia’s better military minds, so an enemy state might have tried to cripple the territory’s army. But formidable as those forces may be, it, arguably, was Russia’s involvement, rather than the South Ossetians' display of military know-how, that decided the outcome of the 2008 war with Georgia.
That said, logic does not always come first in the Caucasus.
South Ossetia's de-facto leader, Leonid Tibilov, echoed Chigoyev’s assumptions, but he didn’t rule out the attack being homegrown, either. In the past, violence has marked the competition for political and economic clout in the territory.
One problem for anyone seeking to foster regional integration in Central Asia (“New Silk Road” or otherwise) is the frequent border disputes between the countries involved. Uzbekistan, which abuts all the other Central Asia states, has been particularly uncooperative, often closing its border posts without notice, hampering trade and hurting economies around the region.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), a multilateral lender, has announced it will grant $100 million to help people and goods cross one of those tricky borders. Much of the money will be used to repave a 113-kilometer stretch of road in Tajikistan connecting a major highway with an isolated valley leading to the border with Uzbekistan.
“Improvements to this road will increase regional connectivity, reduce transport costs, and strengthen competitiveness,” said Zheng Wu, a transport specialist at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department, in a September 13 press release. Part of the money will also be spent on upgrading infrastructure at the Sarazm border post on the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan frontier.
But that post has been closed for almost two years. Uzbekistan sealed it in late 2010, cutting Panjakent – a Tajik town in the valley, home to some 33,000 people – off from the Uzbek city of Samarkand, only 60 kilometers away.
The new road project, expected to begin later this year, will certainly help connect the isolated Zarafshan Valley with the rest of Tajikistan, and thereby with a new source for the goods and supplies local residents used to buy in Uzbekistan. At present, in winter Zarafshan’s access to the “mainland” is often restricted to irregular flights to Dushanbe.
US-based watchdog Freedom House has published a report documenting alleged abuses of due process at the trial of opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov and two others charged with fomenting fatal unrest in Zhanaozen last December which left 15 dead.
The report alleges violations of the rights to a fair trial of the three defendants—Kozlov, opposition activist Serik Sapargaly and former oil worker Akzhanat Aminov, who was prominent in a labor strike that preceded the unrest. Kozlov and Aminov face three charges of fomenting social unrest; calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order (tantamount to calling for the overthrow of the state); and setting up a criminal group. Sapargaly faces the first two counts.
The abuses documented by Freedom House include the denial of a defense motion to question individuals whose names have been mentioned frequently at the trial; the inclusion of testimony from prosecution witnesses whom the defense has not questioned; and the “possible falsification of testimony.”
The return of ethnic Armenians from Syria to their ancestral homeland has born its fruit. RFE/RL has posted a video of a baby boy born in Yerevan late last month to one of the many Syrian-Armenian families who have escaped the fighting in Aleppo for refuge among their ethnic kin. In a symbolic gesture, the baby has been named "Christ" in recognition of Armenia's status as the first country in the world to adopt Christianity.
The baby Christ weighs 3.5 kilos, is 53 centimeters tall and is the first child to be born to a Syrian-Armenian family in Armenia after fleeing Syria.
There may not be three kings in Yerevan to greet and shower the baby with frankincense, gold and myrrh, but there is Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian. She visited the mother and child in the hospital, and promised state assistance should Christ decide to make Armenia his home.
But not all the Syrian-Armenian news is that heart-warming. In the hometown of Christ's parents, Aleppo, four Syrians of Armenian descent were killed and 11 were wounded on September 11 after returning from Yerevan. The rebel Free Syria Army reportedly shot at the group as they were looking for a safe way to head home from the airport, according to Armenpress.am.
Five suspected terrorists have been shot dead in a security operation in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west, following a blast in the city of Atyrau last week in which one man died.
The shootout with police took place in the town of Kulsary, 230 kilometers from the energy hub of Atyrau, Tengri News reports. Another suspect and one police officer were injured.
Security forces moved in on suspects “involved in the activity of a terrorist group” on September 12, Tengri News quoted the prosecutor’s office as saying, and shot the five dead after they reportedly exploded some devices and opened fire on police.
The incident follows a September 5 explosion in an Atyrau apartment in which one man died. Investigators believe he was making explosive devices in order to attack the security forces and have arrested four suspected accomplices.
Once-calm Kazakhstan experienced a spate of extremist-related incidents in 2011, and – after what appeared to be a lull in terrorist activity in the first half of 2012 – incidents are again occurring with frequency.
On July 11 an explosion in the village of Tausamaly outside Almaty killed four adults and four children. Investigators believe the blast was an accidental detonation in a house being used to make bombs. Then, on July 30, six men suspected of murdering two law-enforcement officers were shot dead by police in Almaty.