Up-and-coming movie directors will be in the spotlight this week as Almaty hosts its ninth-annual international film festival, Shaken’s Stars.
The event highlights the work of young filmmakers from Kazakhstan, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Austria, England and a host of other countries. Some 55 films will be competing in three categories--Young Cinema, made by directors under 35, Student Cinema, and Debuts.
The festival has become a regular spring event for Almaty's film buffs. Named after Shaken Aimanov, a leading light in Soviet-era Kazakh cinema, whose name also graces the 'Kazakhfilm' studios in Almaty, the event runs May 11-15 at the Silk Way City multiplex.
This year there will be a special focus on new cinema from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Eight films produced in the country in the past year will be featured in a separate showcase running alongside the main program.
Georgia's The Financial has a great story up about a Georgian company's failed efforts to break into Azerbaijan's banana market. Encouraged by Azeri President llham Aliyev's recent calls to streamline the country's customs procedures, the company registered itself as an importer in Azerbaijan and sent truck laden with bananas to the border, only to be denied entry.
According the the article, Azerbaijan's banana business is controlled by a monopoly. Says a representative of the Georgian company: "We will not be discouraged and will keep our trucks at the Azeri border for as long as it takes to break the monopoly no matter our financial losses; I find it laughable reading a statement from the Azeri Ambassador to Georgia claiming that there are no monopolies in Azerbaijan and that the market is open to everyone.
We will invite all the Georgian and Azeri press next week to the Azeri border to witness how our trucks are prohibited from entering the country; I will also personally invite the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to attend the event along with the media."
[UPDATE -- It's been pointed out to me that this blog may have slipped on a banana peel by quoting The Financial, which doesn't have a very good reputation in Georgia as a news source. Point well taken.]
Via Jenny White's Kamil Pasha blog, I just came across the incredible Mashallah News website, which reports on culture, art, politics and lots of other things from several Middle Eastern cities. Their Istanbul section is particularly engaging, with photoessays and videos that explore the outer edges of Turkish culture and go beneath the surface of current events. Highly recommended.
When it comes to human rights, the Armenian government needs to get the concept of proportionality right, believes the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg.
After visiting Yerevan this January and hearing grievances from the country's highly polarized political camps and civil society groups, Hammarberg penned a report, released yesterday, that targeted a range of human rights problems -- from police brutality to restricted civil liberties -- characterized by the adjective "disproportionate."
Taming opposition-minded media? Putting up hurdles to gatherings of government critics? Attempting to control civil society groups? Disproportionate, disproportionate, disproportionate!
The powers that be in Armenia promised to consider Hammarberg’s instructions, but getting the proper sense of proportionality may prove tricky. The commissioner characterized the use of police force in the deadly 2008 clashes as “on the whole” proportionate, but with disproportionate elements.
So, where to draw the line? Is it okay to have a fistfight until somebody picks up a bottle? Defining "disproportionate" might be a good place to start.
It's not often the human rights community celebrates a victory in Kazakhstan, but this week offers an opportunity with news that global tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) has – under international pressure – committed itself to improving conditions for migrant workers on tobacco farms in Kazakhstan.
The news comes nearly a year after Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a damning expose of the conditions tobacco pickers were suffering in Kazakhstan, with many working in what HRW described as “virtual bondage.” The watchdog found abuses including the “frequent use” of child labor (it documented 72 cases, including children as young as 10) and cases of forced labor.
PMI has now declared itself “committed to achieving safe and fair working conditions on all farms from which it sources tobacco and to progressively eliminate child labor and other labor abuses where they are found."
It also pledged to implement an Agricultural Labor Practices Code, regulating working hours and salaries and obliging farmers to ensure fair treatment, safe working conditions and the right to collective bargaining for their employees.
PMI is working on this with the international NGO Verite, which on May 2 issued a report sponsored by the tobacco company on labor conditions on Kazakhstan’s tobacco farms.
Stump speeches? Election promises? Party platforms? Forget about those boring old things. What really appear to be making a difference in how the upcoming Turkish parliamentary elections will turn out are surreptitiously recorded "sex tapes" that have caught some of Turkey's top politicians with literally their pants down.
The outcome of the June election is already a foregone conclusion, with most pollsters predicting that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will again cruise to an easy victory and hold on to a strong majority in the 550-seat Turkish parliament. The main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) is expected to do better than last time around, when it received around 20 percent of the vote, almost solely because the party was finally able to get rid of its long-term leader, Deniz Baykal, a year ago. Baykal, of course, was forced to resign after a mysterious video recording was posted online showing the 71-year-old and his (not much younger) former secretary engaged in some fairly tame hanky panky. It's not clear if the tape was a successfully executed inside job or a hit job that backfired, but either way, thanks to it the CHP has been able to execute a successful makeover (see this previous Eurasianet article for more on this).
It's the conventional wisdom that Turkey's Islamist Justice and Development Party is leading it "eastward," i.e. away from NATO and its traditional (for the last century, anyway) defense alliance with the West and into the arms of Iran, China and other "eastern" countries. But that's not a correct reading of Turkey today, according to a poll flagged by the Wall Street Journal's Emerging Europe blog.
The poll notes that the unpopularity of NATO in Turkey has been driven not by the AKP, but by nationalists. The poll asked Turks whether NATO is "still essential" or "no longer essential" to Turkey's security. And it found that supporters of the AKP were in fact less likely to say that NATO is "no longer essential" than supporters of the nationalist Nationalist Movement Party and -- possibly more remarkably -- the Kemalist Republican People's Party. And while NATO has become less popular over the past five years among all political groups, it's become much less popular among nationalists than among other Turks.
The Journal suggests that it's nationalists who are in fact pushing the AKP prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan into a more anti-NATO posture:
That’s a finding more surprising to foreigners than to Turks, who have long watched nationalist leaders attack the ruling AK Party for selling out the country to foreign, and in particular U.S., interests.
Special police units descend from a helicopter in joint counter-terror exercises held between China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have carried out counterterrorism exercises in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang province, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And while exercises like this are often conducted against hypothetical or at least thinly veiled enemies, that's not the case with this one, named Tianshan-II -- it was all about the Uyghurs:
"Signs are the 'East Turkistan' terrorists are flowing back," Vice-Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei said after the exercise. "The drill was designed against the backdrop that they are very likely to penetrate into China from Central Asia..."
A spokesman for the National Counter-terrorism Office of China said that while the region is generally stable, the "three forces" have been colluding with "East Turkistan" terrorist forces both in and out of China to involve in cross-border activities in recent years.
They wait for opportune moments to start up disturbances that have remained a common threat to SCO member states, the spokesman said when describing the reason why Xinjiang was chosen for the exercise.
In July 2009, nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in Urumqi, the capital of the autonomous region, in violence believed to have been masterminded by a separatist group based overseas.
Uyghur separatism, of course, is not a "common threat" to any SCO member state other than China, and the violence in Urumqi was, by all accounts, the product of local grievances rather than being "masterminded" from abroad. But anyway, the specific scenario of this exercise, according to Peoples Daily Online::
The scenario called on the three countries to coordinate a manhunt for separatists who had set up a training camp on the Chinese side of the border, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
May 9 is a post-Soviet family holiday. And, with that in mind, Russian President Dmitri ("Dima") Medvedev did not forget today to send out greeting cards to the heads of state of all of Russia’s World-War-II-era cousins (minus the black sheep, Georgia) to congratulate them on the 66th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
He also had a few words of advice.
“Our duty is to prevent any attempts to rewrite history and foster in the young generation the sense of patriotism and pride for our common history,” Medvedev wrote to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who was commended for resisting attempts to “reassess the outcome of World War II.”
Azerbaijan indeed celebrated May 9 in a traditional way. But its neighbor and sworn enemy Armenia chose to focus on Armenian soldiers' and Karabakhi separatists' May 8-9, 1991 seizure of the town of Shusha from Azerbaijan in the war over the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh.
Matters went much further afield in Georgia. Just as Medvedev feared, many Georgians are busy reconsidering the May 9 observance.
Staying true to his vow to never-ever-speak-to-Saakashvili-again, the Russian leader passed on his good wishes to the Georgian people, but not to their president. Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze's response was succinct: “There are many ways to be a clown," he observed.
Ivar Dale, advisor on Central Asian issues at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, was in New York this week to take part in an aptly-titled panel organized by the Open Society Institute, "Human Rights in Turkmenistan: Bleak and Getting Bleaker". (EurasiaNet is funded by Open Society Foundations through its Central Eurasian Project--ed.)
The authors of the report cannot be named due to fear of reprisals.
The women's prison holds more than 2,000 female inmates who are serving their sentences under very harsh conditions which NHC says amount to inhumane treatment and torture. A particularly nasty feature of the Turkmen police state is to arrest the relatives of suspects and torture them for information on their family members -- then lock them up, too. Such "enemies of the people" are kept in a special compound, and include Guzel Atayeva, wife of Ovezgeldy Atayev, the former chairman of the Mejlis, or parliament.
NHC has presented the study to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), which will review Turkmenistan's first report to the treaty body May 17-18. The Norwegian activists are also hoping that as international companies are now gaining more access to Turkmenistan to develop its considerable hydrocarbon reserves, the international community will press for access of monitors to the prison and the release of those unjustly held.