Azeris looking for Nestle chocolate bars or Nescafe on their supermarket shelves may soon be in for a rude surprise. As the Swiss company has recently confirmed, it is indefinitely suspending the supply of its entire range of products in Azerbaijan, which means Azeri warehouses are now left with perhaps a two month stock of chocolate and other Nestle goodies.
While Nestle officials have blamed the suspension on "some supply problems," Azeri outlets have said it is due to the company uncovering evidence of extensive corruption in dealings between its local supplier and customs officials. More here.
Officials in Tajikistan are heaping new confusion onto the ongoing shutdown of Facebook. While users triumphantly explain to each other how to access the site through proxy servers, a group close to President Emomali Rakhmon has suggested that Tajikistan should build its own social network to promote “the ideals and national values of the Tajik people.”
The state agency in charge of IT and telecommunications has claimed the March 2-3 block – condemned by a Tajik Internet lobby and US-based Freedom House – is “temporary” and for “prophylactic maintenance.”
Internet service providers have said they were ordered to block Facebook last weekend, along with three or four news portals, by the state Communications Service, after one of the portals published an article severely criticizing Rakhmon and his government. When queried by news agency Asia-Plus, the head of the service, Beg Zukhurov, denied any order to block Facebook, but said the authors of offensive online content “defaming the honor and dignity of the Tajik authorities” should be made “answerable.” Tajikistan frequently uses libel cases and extremism charges to silence critical journalists.
Zukhurov promised to restore the Facebook connection “soon.” (Meanwhile, what seems to be a copy of his order is circulating on – you guessed it – Facebook.)
The Armenian performance in the world’s most anti-Armenian city had promised to be the biggest event at Eurovision -- and not for musical reasons. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at hammers and tongs with each other ever since the 1994 cease-fire that ended their fighting over the right of the predominantly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno Karabakh to independence from Azerbaijan.
But, amidst an arms buildup, frontline killings, and a dead-end for international talks on Karabakh, the mood in Armenia has not exactly been conducive to a sequined sing-off on enemy territory.
Earlier on, many famous Armenian singers demanded that Armenian Public Television, which oversees Eurovision matters in Armenia, withdraw from the show. The protesting singers said that the Armenians should not perform in a country where “hatred of Armenians is state policy.”
Pop music, powerful a force as it is, may have been unlikely to heal the deep scars left by the 23-year-long Karabakh conflict, but, now, we'll never know if Armenians and Azerbaijanis could have managed to put aside their differences for at least the short space of a syncopated beat.
The Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia won't be sufficient to get U.S. military supplies out of Afghanistan, senior U.S. military officials have said, saying that they need Pakistan to reopen its territory again to military transit. On Tuesday, the head of U.S. Central Command, General James Mattis, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and said: “The withdrawal out of Afghanistan, we do need the ground line of communications through Pakistan.” That reinforced comments from last week by his colleague, General William Fraser, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, when he testified in front of the same committee. “With the amount of equipment we need to move ... we need the Pakistan [ground lines of communication] open,” Fraser said. “Because of the large numbers that we are talking about that we need to bring out in a timely manner.”
While the U.S. recently concluded agreements with all the Central Asian states for "reverse transit" -- bringing equipment out of Afghanistan when the U.S. and NATO start withdrawing in 2014 -- the generals' testimony emphasizes that won't be enough. General Mattis is going to Pakistan next week to try to negotiate a reopening of those routes, which have been closed since December, when a U.S. attack killed more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers.
Some politicians in Bishkek have again set their eyes on the American University of Central Asia (AUCA). But they’re not looking at how they can support one of Central Asia’s few Western-style centers of higher education. Instead, they see the university, housed in a government-owned building, as a potential source of cash, offering yet another reminder of how unreliable contracts can be in Kyrgyzstan.
AUCA is housed, rent-free, in the historic Communist Central Committee building, surrounded by parks in downtown Bishkek. Under the terms of the 1998 agreement that set up the school, the Kyrgyz government provides the building “for a thirty year period free of any rental charges.”
In the summer of 2009, the government of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev tried to evict AUCA. When his kleptocratic family was ousted, an interim government honored the 1998 agreement. But now university executives complain they are the target of a government-sponsored campaign to shame the school.
An AUCA executive told EurasiaNet.org that the school’s books are completely in order and it pays all of its taxes. “We are sticking to the terms of the agreement, so the government is having a difficult time forcing us out. And so they use tools such as bad coverage in the government-owned media” to discredit the school, the executive said.
The resemblance, far-fetched as it may sound, was also detected inside Armenia itself, where, as in many other small countries, there is sometimes an eagerness to trace various things around the world back to Armenia. One Armenian blogger, no doubt with thoughts of former Armenian-populated territory that's now part of Turkey in mind, even called the new lira design a Freudian slip on the part of the Turks.
The voice of reason came from the designer of the Armenian dram, Karen Kamendarian, who told Mediamax he'd already discussed the similarity with some concerned Turks on Facebook. The design of the Turkish lira symbol is clearly based on the Latin letters "t" for "Turkish" and "l" for "lira," he asserted, and its two intersecting lines are also sported by the Mongolian tugrik and the euro as well as the dram.
But amidst the jingoistic shouting on either side, don't expect anybody necessarily to listen.
So much for the Russian Spring: “skewed” campaigning, an alleged drop of Botox and a reported bit of voting magic, and Vladimir Putin is back as Kremlin boss. Putin owes much of his victory to the Caucasus, and, already, the congratulations are coming in from territories and countries in the Russian-owned, Russian-occupied or otherwise Russian-preoccupied region.
South of the Caucasus ridge, separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both safely tucked inside a wall of Russian arms, reported 90 percent support for Putin among registered Russian voters. The separatist chiefs of these territories, both existentially dependent on Moscow, did not opt for an interpretive dance, but did cast their votes for Putin and encouraged their electorates to follow suit.
The only member of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s family to be imprisoned following the ex-president’s bloody 2010 overthrow has gone missing, according to Kyrgyzstan’s penal service.
On March 6, parliament deputies began inquiring about rumors that Akhmat Bakiyev – who was charged with organizing unrest in Jalal-Abad following his brother’s ouster and sentenced to seven years in a high-security penitentiary – had disappeared from a Bishkek hospital. He had been taken to the hospital in late January, after getting transferred to Bishkek’s lower-security Penal Colony No. 35, where he was not required to reside permanently but to check in at regular intervals. According to local press reports, Akhmat Bakiyev’s sentence, which was reduced by about 1.5 years, was due to end in September 2014. The penal service says Bakiyev disappeared a few days ago, though one lawmaker is publicly saying he’s been gone for a month.
Deputy Shirin Aitmatova went to the penal colony to try to find the former first brother. She reports he was actually discharged from the hospital a month ago and argues that Akhmat Bakiyev received some help escaping. He’s long gone by now, she suspects. Some posts from her Twitter feed, translated from Russian:
As explained by the prison warden, the judge issued a ruling on A. Bakiyev’s free movement and the prosecutor didn’t appeal. And here’s the result))
Akhmat Bakiyev was released from the hospital a MONTH ago!
Among the most recent additions to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault -- a repository located deep inside a Norwegian mountain some 600 miles from the Arctic Circle that's designed to safeguard the world's botanical gene pool -- is wheat from Tajikistan, where the harsh environment has created a particularly hardy strain of the plant. From a story that first appeared on the Salt, NPR's food blog:
Every seed that arrived this week has its own story. The shipment included seeds from a barley variety that came to the U.S. from Poland in 1938, and from a kind of amaranth collected from a small farm in Ecuador in 1979.
It also included the first seeds from Tajikistan — a small mountainous slice of the former Soviet Union, just north of Afghanistan.
To find out more about those seeds, I called Alexey Morgounov. He's a Russian who now lives in Turkey,and works for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
When you go to Tajikistan, Morgounov says, you'll see something you can't find most other places: farmers still planting and harvesting the same kinds of wheat that their ancestors have grown for thousands of years.
"People don't want to give up growing them," he says, because they know that those traditional varieties of wheat are the key to making bread with exactly the taste and texture that they want.
Homemade bread, from homegrown wheat, is the centerpiece of life in Tajikistan, Morgounov says. People there get half of all their calories from it.
And when they leave home, they like to take some along with them.
"They always bring this homemade bread to me," he says. "They take a plane from Duchanbe to Istanbul, with Turkish Airlines, and they know that there is breakfast, and drinks, and bread. They still take some flat breads, just in case."
The trials of those facing charges over December’s fatal violence in Zhanaozen are approaching: Investigators announced on March 2 that they had finished work, paving the way for hearings to start within the coming weeks.
The trials will be open, but – belying official statements that the situation in the town has stabilized – they will be held 120 kilometers away, in Aktau, since Zhanaozen is too “restless” to host them, Aktau-based newspaper Lada quoted a local prosecutor as saying.
The number of protestors standing trial vastly outnumbers the five police officers facing charges, though security forces caused most of the 17 deaths that occurred amid the violence when they opened fire on demonstrators in Zhanaozen and the nearby town of Shetpe.
At least 40 protestors are facing trial, including three on charges of organizing the unrest; 29 people are under arrest, 11 are out on bail and six have been amnestied.
Three police officers face charges of abuse of office over the fatalities, and the former deputy regional police chief will be tried for failing to “prevent the illegal actions of subordinates.” The head of a detention center in which one man, Bazarbay Kenzhebayev, was beaten to death is being charged – but the police officers who inflicted the beating have not been identified.