Imprisoned human rights defender Azimjan Askarov is in grave physical condition and requires urgent treatment, according to one of his lawyers. Askarov is being confined in the basement of Penal Colony No. 47 in Bishkek, his lawyer Evgeniya Krapivina tells the Vechernii Bishkek newspaper, rather than in the cell normally reserved for those serving life sentences.
Askarov, 60, a dedicated monitor of police misconduct working near the southern city of Jalal-Abad, was arrested in June 2010 in connection with the deaths of police officers during ethnic violence that month between local Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. According to multiple reports, Askarov, who is Uzbek, was beaten, tortured, and threatened while in detention. Observers also witnessed physical attacks on him during his trial, including in court buildings.
Rights activists have repeatedly denounced Askarov’s conviction for multiple and blatant violations of due process. Nonetheless, on December 20 the Kyrgyz Supreme Court denied his final appeal.
Georgia’s feuding Mr. President and Mr. Billionaire went to Washington on January 30 -- one in person and the other in writing -- to compete for the good graces of Barack Obama's administration.
Obama essentially heard two songs from the Georgians -- “Got What You Need” from President Mikheil Saakashvili and “Take a Chance on Me” from opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Saakashvili may have gotten the face time with Obama, but Ivanishvili tried to mitigate whatever political scores the Oval Office meeting may give Saakashvili. In op-eds published in The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Forbes List billionaire asked Obama to pressure Saakashvili to make Georgia's upcoming parliamentary elections air and competitive.
“We urge the leaders of the USA… to apply all available assets to secure free and fair ballot for our citizens at the October 2012 election,” reads the op-ed.
Saakashvili, in the meantime, emerged from his White House meeting satisfied, telling the BBC it had "elevated" the two countries' ties "to [a] new level," and thanking Obama for Washington's continued commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity, eventual NATO membership, and for the prospect of signing a free trade agreement.
There are growing signs, though, that the battle for Georgia’s political future will play out inside the beltway as much as back in Tbilisi. Much of the Saakashvili administration’s success is attributed to their lobbying dexterity and ties in Washington. Ivanishvili seems bent on going mano-a-mano with Misha in this field.
Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov likes to remind his countrymen that the development of sport is a national priority. You might think then that sports would be comprehensively covered in the servile local press, and yet there was barely any news of the country's performance at the football Commonwealth of Independent States Cup that ended January 29 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
That may, alas, have been due to the fact Turkmenistan placed last out of the 12 national teams taking part.
The 20th edition of the under-21 competition, which pits several former Soviet nations (and Iran in this edition) against one another, was subject of some unusual international attention. Both FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA chief Michel Platini turned up to watch.
Turkmenistan started well by beating Estonia 1-0, and sure enough we learned all about it in great detail on the local news. Government mouthpiece daily Neutral Turkmenistan trumpeted the achievement, as did the Vatan television program, which is normally dedicated almost entirely to hailing the president's accomplishments.
National youth team coach Bayramdurdy Durdyev enthused about his players in the post-match press conference, saying, "they are great."
Then things began going downhill. Kazakhstan handily brushed aside the Turkmen team 3-1. And finally, a 0-0 tie against Russia denied the team qualification into the quarterfinals.
These performances were greeted by a stony silence in local media at home.
Still from video of Obama and Saakashvili's White House meeting
Presidents Obama and Saakashvili has their much-anticipated Oval Office meeting Monday afternoon, and their comments to the press afterwards suggested that differences of opinion remained over the question of the U.S. supplying weapons to Georgia. That has become the most fraught element of the U.S.-Georgia partnership, with Tbilisi pushing hard to get the U.S. to give or sell the Georgians "defensive" weapons, and the U.S. demurring. Congress recently tried to force Obama to restart a more robust defense cooperation, including arms sales, but Obama then declared his intention to ignore Congress, setting up the potential of a small crisis between the tiny Caucasus nation and its would-be superpower patron. At the White House meeting, in spite of the formal professions of strong cooperation, it wasn't hard to see cracks in that facade.
Obama spoke first, and made an unfortunate slip of the tongue: he praised the "institution-building that's been taking place in Russia -- in Georgia." (Saakashvili did display remarkable restraint during the second or so before Obama corrected himself, sitting stone-faced.) After mentioning the possibility of a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Georgia, he then discussed defense cooperation:
We talked about how to continue to strengthen our defense cooperation and there are a wide range of areas where we're working together. And I reaffirmed to the president, and reassured him, that the United States will contnue to support Georgia's aspirations to ultimately become a member of NATO.
By contrast, here is what Saakashvili said about defense cooperation:
Here’s one for the “exercise-in-futility” department: a governmental commission convened recently in Ashgabat to review Turkmenistan’s stance on Caspian Sea-related issues.
Don’t expect Ashgabat to be leading the charge for a breakthrough in the long-stalled Caspian Sea talks. Judging by a January 30 item distributed by the semi-official Turkmenistan.ru news website, the meeting accomplished very little. Commissioners seem merely to have revisited existing Turkmen government policies.
Just about the most interesting nugget contained in the Turkmenistan.ru report was that meeting participants reaffirmed that “goodwill, equality, mutual respect and healthy pragmatism” are the “guiding principles” of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy.
The five Caspian littoral states – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – have been haggling over the sea since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Their inability to settle on territorial limits has hampered the development of energy reserves sitting under the seabed.
A major obstacle blocking a comprehensive Caspian treaty is a dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over where to divide their respective portions of the sea. Both states are claiming possession of a rich oil field that Ashgabat calls Serder and Baku knows as Kyapaz.
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia have settled their mutual differences concerning the sea. The chief hang-up for a comprehensive pact remains Iran, which continues to insist on all five Caspian states getting an equal, 20-percent share of the sea. Under a proposal advanced by Russia, Iran would be entitled to only about a 13-percent share.
“Think of all the beautiful moments we had together. Think of your international commitments. Don’t do it, Fiji!”
That's essentially the message from Tbilisi as the tiny South Pacific country of Fiji prepares to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on February 1 for what Georgia fears could be a lot of sweet talk from Moscow about recognizing the independence of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Moscow has denied having any plans to bribe Fiji, a developing country, in exchange for recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It says it's just in the region for (with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein) some "happy talk."
As Eurasianet's Nino Pasturia wrote last year, Georgia's efforts to break into the American wine market had been stymied by the fact that some famous Georgian wine brand names were actually trademarked to a company based in New Jersey.
It turns out the Georgian government was facing similar problems in Germany, where the trademark on three types of Georgian wines were held by a Russian company. Considering the ongoing trade battle between Georgia and Russia, which banned the import of Georgian wine in 2006 in the wake of political tensions with Tbilisi, finding out Russians held those trademarks could not have been good news for Georgian winemakers. But now it appears the Georgians have managed to gain the upper hand. From a report on the website of Georgia's Democracy & Freedom Watch:
Georgia has reclaimed three brand names of wine that had been patented in Germany by a Russian company.
The company, Moscow Wine and Spirits Company GmbH, had been selling the wine brands Tsinandali, Kindzmarauli, Khvanchkara.
Irakli Ghvaladze, head of Sakpatent, Georgia’s intellectual property agency, says these brands are of Georgian origin and have been Georgian property for centuries. In 2011 Sakpatent became aware that the Russian company had registered the brandnames with the German patent and trademark office.
Last year Georgia reclaimed the trademark of Khvanchkara from the U.S. patent office, which had granted the rights to use it to Dozortsev & Sons. According to the agreement, all rights to use the Khvanchkara trademark in the United States have been transferred to Georgia, which means that no one will have the right to import goods and sell it on the American market under this name without Georgia’s permission.
A strike has broken out in western Kazakhstan at a local subcontractor for American energy giant Chevron, Radio Free Europe reports. News of fresh unrest is sure to cause disquiet in Astana, coming six weeks after a long-standing industrial dispute in the western energy hub of Zhanaozen descended into fatal violence.
Radio Free Europe said that around 200 workers employed in Atyrau Region by two companies affiliated to the Senimdi Kurylys firm, which carries out construction work for the Tengizchevroil oilfield operator (50 percent owned by Chevron), had downed tools on January 25, demanding salaries be almost doubled from 80,000-90,000 tenge ($540-$600) to 150,000 tenge ($1,000). EurasiaNet.org could not reach Senimdi Kurylys for comment.
Tengiz is the largest oilfield in Kazakhstan.
On January 29 Radio Free Europe reported that managers had offered a 25-percent raise, but workers continued to demand that pay be doubled. The report quoted unidentified activists as saying that management had ordered strikers to leave their company-provided hostels if they were not going to return to work.
This labor dispute in the Zhylyoy district of Atyrau Region near the Caspian Sea is over 1,000 kilometers north of Zhanaozen by road, but the row echoes the strike that broke out in that town last May, which also centered on pay.
Performance artist and activist Kanat Ibragimov whips-up the crowd at an opposition rally in downtown Almaty on January 28.
More leaders of Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition were imprisoned after holding an unsanctioned protest rally in Almaty today.
OSDP party co-leader Bolat Abilov received an 18-day sentence, and 15-day terms were handed to deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov and the party’s Almaty boss Amirbek Togusov.
“We have just left court and are on our way to prison,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org by telephone late on January 28.
OSDP had organized the morning rally to protest against the results of the January 15 parliamentary election, won with a landslide by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s party. OSDP won 1.7 percent of the vote, leaving them outside parliament after they failed to clear the electoral threshold. Opposition leaders and international observers said the vote was rigged. Astana denies electoral fraud.
At the rally, leaders protested over the election results and demanded a fair investigation into the shooting of protestors in Zhanaozen on December 16. Authorities have announced that five police officers will be prosecuted over the deaths.
Kosanov linked the leaders’ imprisonment to their public discussion of Zhanaozen at the protest, for which they did not have the legal permission required under Kazakh law.
“Today we brought up what is the most painful subject for the authorities—Zhanaozen,” Kosanov said, accusing Astana of seeking “to create an atmosphere of fear” to intimidate the public.
No one is about to start calling Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov “the education president.” But the leader of the energy-rich Central Asian state just signed a decree to develop standards for the “comprehensive reform of the national education system and improving teaching methods,” the semi-official Turkmenistan.ru news agency reported January 27.
The report was short on specifics. It hinted that the government would emphasize the teaching of scientific subjects in schools. The aim was to create “all conditions so that youth could get access to modern education in line with international standards,” Turkmensitan.ru quoted the decree as stating.
Shortly after Berdymukhamedov assumed power back in late 2006, he talked about a need to make improvements in the educational system. "The development of education takes precedence over other aspects of my policies," he declared in a speech given at Columbia University in September 2007.
Not much has happened since then to bring back Turkmenistan’s education system to the level it was at before Berdymukhamedov’s predecessor, the zany Saparmurat Niyazov, declared war on learning. Just about the only positive thing Berdymukhamedov has done to date is deemphasize the use of the Ruhnama -- an all-purpose manual for living, supposedly penned by Niyazov – in schools.
In 2009, Berdymukhamedov introduced rules that made it more difficult for university students to go abroad to pursue degrees.