As Uzbek President Islam Karimov prepares to visit to China this week, a human rights group in Tashkent is warning that the two nations' economic ties are growing thanks, in part, to their shared disregard for human rights.
Karimov will visit China on June 5 and 6 as articles in both China’s and Uzbekistan’s state-run papers are pre-praising the deepening of ties between the two nations.
But the Expert Working Group, one of the few human rights organizations still working in Uzbekistan, released a reminder on June 4 of the other things China and Uzbekistan share, like abysmal human rights records.
Uzbekistan sees China as a very convenient partner, in particular because of China’s silence over human rights situation in this Central Asian country. It is for that reason statements in the Uzbek mass media on “strengthening bilateral cooperation in the field of human rights” and “the Uzbek support for the Chinese position on the issues of Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet” raise irony and offend the ear.
NATO reached an agreement with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to ship military equipment out of Afghanistan through Central Asia, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reported today:
We also reached agreement on reverse transit from Afghanistan with three Central Asian partners: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need....
With Russia we have a transit arrangement, a reverse transit arrangement already, and the fact that we have now concluded a transit arrangement, three concrete transit arrangements with Central Asian countries at the Chicago Summit, will make the use of the Russian transit arrangement even more effective.
In response to a question on payment for the reverse transit, he implied that there was some, but wouldn't specify: "I do not comment on details in the transit arrangements, but it goes without saying that we have concluded agreements that are of mutual satisfaction of the involved partners."
Meanwhile, he said negotiations with Pakistan on reopening those lines of communication continue: "I'm not going to comment on details in negotiations with Pakistan. I'll just reiterate that I still hope that a solution can be found in the very near future."
These NATO deals are not related to separate deals the U.S. has reached. Obviously the U.S. is a member of NATO, and it's not clear if this new NATO deal now covers all NATO member countries besides the U.S., or what.
The most interesting subplot here is what this means for Pakistan. The AP story on Rasmussen's comments had an intriguing bit of analysis:
China’s top military officer, Gen. Chen Bingde, is making an extended visit to Central Asia in advance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Beijing.
Chen’s first stop on his Central Asian swing was Uzbekistan, where he held talks on May 31 with Uzbek Defense Minister Kabul Berdiev. "Uzbekistan firmly sticks to the one-China policy and supports China's stance on issues related to Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet," the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported. During meetings with other Uzbek military officials, Chen expressed a desire for an expansion of “pragmatic cooperation” between Beijing and Tashkent, according to a separate Xinhua report.
Also on Chen’s itinerary are stops in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. While in Tajikistan, Chen, who serves as the chief of People’s Liberation Army’s general staff, will attend a meeting of SCO military chiefs on June 7 in Tajikistan, according to the People’s Daily online. He is also slated to attend a SCO-sponsored counter-terrorism exercise in Tajikistan that will run from June 8-14.
Meanwhile, Tajik President Imomali Rahmon, is wrapping up a five-day visit to China that began on June 1. Following the bilateral portion of his trip, Rahmon will attend the Beijing SCO summit on June 6-7.
Talk about changing the subject. For the last few weeks, Turkey had been consumed by a heated debate over last December's Uludere incident, in which 34 Kurdish smugglers were killed near the Iraqi border after the Turkish military mistakenly thought them to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants. Questions about the slow pace of the investigation into the incident, new allegations about the role that intelligence provided by American drones played in the attack, and some truly unfortunate remarks by Turkey's Interior Minister all threatened to turn the months-old incident into a major headache for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The U.S. State Department is considering allowing a sale of surveillance equipment to Azerbaijan, which supporters say is needed to help protect against Iran. But Washington's Armenian-American lobby and its allied members of Congress are objecting, arguiing that it could be used against Armenian forces in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, as well.
The equipment in question hasn't been precisely identified, but it is some sort of surveillance equipment that would be installed in Mi-35M attack helicopters that Azerbaijan has lately been acquiring from Russia. The State Department and Azerbaijan are saying that the equipment would be used by Azerbaijan's border service, and an "action item" by the U.S. Azeris Network emphasizes that the equipment is required to police the border with Iran:
[I]t is the moral responsibility of the U.S. Congress and Government to show their support to their strategic ally in that turbulent region and stand strong with Azerbaijan. Such support should start with statements and resolutions in support of sovereign, secure and independent Azerbaijan, to supplying it with defensive systems such as Patriot air-defense systems (PAC3), border protection equipment, helicopter protection systems, simulators, Command and Control gear, and any other defensive and border-protection military hardware and software that would protect Azerbaijan’s energy infrastructure, make it less vulnerable, and send a strong message to Iran to stop bullying and threatening. We should show our allies that we value their partnership and friends, and are not ignoring the threat Iran poses.
As readers of this blog may know, Kebabistan has been diligently tracking the global expansion of caviar production from its ancestral home in the Caspian region to such far flung places as Argentina, South Korea and even the desert of the Arabian Gulf. Now add Israel to the list of countries that are churning out caviar for the upscale masses. Reports NPR's The Salt food blog:
At Galilee Caviar in Kibbutz Dan, Israel, there are pools of sturgeon everywhere you look. The massive fish aren't much to look at — they look like a cross between a seal and a catfish. But they demand a high price — about $2,500 each, says Yigal Ben Tzvi, the owner of the company.
And each fish is a 10- to 15-year investment, he says. When we visited, it was the day Ben Tzvi began hauling these monsters out of their ponds and checking them for the quality of the caviar inside.
The fish are carefully cultivated and the females selected for osetra caviar production. The whole thing has the air of a hospital operation. The fish are reeled in by net, and then anesthetized in smaller tanks. Biologist Avshalom Hurvitz sits at a small white table, gingerly pulling back tissue with a scalpel to show us what's inside.
"These are the eggs, and they are 3 millimeters in diameter. They have a pale gray color, which is nice. I see no fat tissue here. It means that the yield of caviar will be high," Huvitz says.
Considering the growing number of sturgeon farming operations are out there these days, can caviar prices maintain their high level? Will the world's gourmet markets be soon flooded with cut-rate caviar? Stay tuned.
Three Armenian soldiers were killed by gunfire from neighboring Azerbaijani just as US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton was about to go country-hopping in the South Caucasus.
Clinton arrived in Yerevan today and, after a stop in Georgia, is due in Baku on June 6.
To hear the Azerbaijani news service APA tell it, the “preventive measures,” which wounded three Armenian soldiers as well, were directed at stopping the Armenian military from infiltrating Azerbaijan from Armenia's northern Tavush region.
But, as is the standard case in Caucasus countries hosting Clinton, you need to tune into the news on the other side of the conflict line for the second side of the story.
Armenian news reported that the Armenians died in a shootout as they tried to halt an infiltration from Azerbaijan. “Thanks to [the] courage[ous] actions of the soldiers… [the] enemy was drawn back,” ArmenPress cited Armenia’s Ministry of Defense as saying.
The not-so-frozen Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region is most definitely going to be discussed with Madam Secretary in both places.
Civil rights as well. An area where there's a lot to chat about with both sides; Georgia, too.
It’s rare the West has anything nice to say about the state of press freedom in Tajikistan. But this week, Dushanbe got some deserved praise.
On May 31, the lower house of parliament unanimously approved the president’s March proposal to remove libel and insult from the criminal code, and make them administrative offenses carrying fines but no jail time. The senate and the president must still approve the change.
“I welcome President Emomali Rakhmon’s initiative and the Parliament’s subsequent steps to decriminalize defamation. Once implemented, they will help safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Tajikistan,” said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatović.
Tajik prosecutors regularly use libel charges to silence critical journalists, selectively interpreting legal provisions as necessary, says Freedom House. “Independent journalism has been marginalized” under Rakhmon, the watchdog wrote in its latest report on press freedom in Tajikistan. Moreover, “journalists who criticize authorities or expose government corruption continue to report threats and intimidation.” Last month, a television presenter in Dushanbe was attacked and hospitalized shortly after announcing a new project to report on cronyism and corruption.
Moscow's new anti-NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has promoted itself as a tool for putting down Arab Spring-style uprisings in the post-Soviet space. But now backers are going a step further, proposing the CSTO deal with the Arab Spring at its source, by sending CSTO peacekeepers to Syria.
The proposal was made by Igor Yurgens, the head of Kremlin-affiliated think tank Institute for Contemporary Development, according to a report in the newspaper Izvestia:
“We should take a more flexible stance on Syria,” he said. “Let’s propose sending CSTO peacekeepers to Syria. The unit has 20,000 well trained and armed servicemen. Let’s send them to the assistance of Kofi Annan – at our expense.”
Ahead of last year's CSTO joint military exercises, Russia's Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said the exercise's scenario would deal with "possible negative developments following the example of events in Libya and Syria." But it's a big step from putting down those uprisings at home, and another to put them down in another part of the world.
If the CSTO has 20,000 well trained peacekeepers, 19,000 of them are Russian. The remaining CSTO member states -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- have shown only occasional enthusiasm for Russia's ambitious plans for the alliance, and it's hard, if not impossible, to imagine any of those countries sending their soldiers to Syria.
Yurgens's proposal came the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly blamed Russia for blocking international assistance to Syria. Yurgens alluded to the fact that Russia's position on Syria is doing it no favors in the international arena:
Eurovision may now be over, but the controversy over Azerbaijan's freedom-of-speech practices keeps grooving on.
The latest matters at hand kicked off with the burlesque. Norwegian-Iranian satirist Amir Asgharnejad, a sort of Norwegian version of Borat, claimed he was stripped and forced by Azerbaijani policemen to step on an Iranian flag in the Baku airport, Norwegian media reported. Norway reportedly nearly pulled its Eurovision contestant, Tooji, out of the contest over the incident and a diplomatic exchange is ongoing.
In the run-up to Eurovision, Asgharnejad, who has a comedy news show on Norwegian public television, pretended to be a reporter from Iran and dispatched several tongue-in-cheek video reports from Baku, one of which described Azerbaijan as a "lousy country" that "has lived in the shadow of great Iran," and is now busy "draining the earth for oil" with help from "their Satan worshiping partners from the West."
Such humor was reportedly lost on Baku, which is engaged in a longstanding face-off with Tehran over issues of Islam, pop and homosexuality. Baku denies that airport police mistreated Asgharnejad or any other member of Norway's delegation, but has stopped short of an apology.
On May 26, the Norwegian ambassador to Baku, Elring Skonsberg, went to the Azerbaijani foreign ministry to clarify matters. “I emphasized that freedom of speech is very important in every democratic society. We agree on that,” Skonsberg was quoted by The Norway Post as saying.