If you run a successful international chain of casinos and are after new places to open a branch, you look for somewhere suitably glamorous and wealthy, right?
Well, no, not if you're Storm International.
In an apparently counter-intuitive move, the company last year opened a casino in Kyrgyzstan's desperately impoverished Batken Province, near the border with Tajikistan.
Really, who in that part of the world would have the disposable income to spare on high-stakes gambling? What kind of person in Tajikistan or southern Kyrgyzstan has money to fritter away on expensive leisure pursuits or, say, expensive SUVs and such?
Whoever these people are, the fun is seemingly all over for them, for authorities in Kyrgyzstan have apparently decided to shut down the Shangri-La Casino, Tajik news portal Asia-Plus reports.
As the site cautiously notes, "the reason for the suspension of the casino's operations is unknown, but according to some sources, operations were suspended following a ruling handed down by a chief prosecutor in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Province."
NATO is currently undertaking a review of its nuclear posture, including the status of the tactical nuclear weapons that the U.S. maintains in five NATO countries, including Turkey. Some NATO members -- mainly the Baltics and ex-Warsaw Pact states -- want the U.S. to keep the nuclear weapons in Europe, while others (like Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway) are pushing for a dramatic move, including possibly completely removing the nukes from Europe. Turkey falls somewhere in between those countries, but more on the side of maintaining the nuclear weapons, writes Steven Pifer, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution, in a new paper "NATO, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control."
Turkey has hosted U.S. nuclear weapons since 1961, and currently at the Incirlik air base the U.S. has an unknown, but small, number of tactical B-61 nuclear bombs and fighter-bomber jets that can drop them. (The total number of U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe is thought to be about 200, down from a Cold War number of 7,000.)
The question of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey is one that Ankara has been quiet about, and on which the government hasn't taken a public position. That's not too surprising: according to a 2006 survey, 77 percent of people in Turkey were "very or somewhat concerned about the presence of nuclear arms on their territory," the highest percentage in any of the five countries in which NATO hosts nuclear weapons. (The others are Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.) One would expect, too, differences of opinion between the country's current government (which has been reaching out to improve relations with Middle Eastern neighbors) and the military elite (with a strong Western orientation). And probably neither side sees anything to gain in bringing the issue out into the open.
The sight was apparently a bit too much for one embassy guard who threw a kick-and-punch fit when the topless protesters started demonstrating in front of the embassy, attracting a horde of male photographers in the process.
Holding fake cameras, the handful of women, members of Ukraine's FEMEN protest group, who routinely go au naturel to protest various ills, teetered around in underpants emblazoned with the word “press.” Their backs featured images of a crossed-out camera, a symbol used by many Georgian journalists to protest the photographers' arrest.
As a video clip of the incident made the rounds on Facebook, the embassy issued an apology for the guard's behavior to "those who attended the gathering, journalists and the Ukrainian people." The guard has since gotten the sack.
But the PR problems related to the photographers’ case do not end there.
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are included in a U.S. immigration service's special watch list of countries whose people should come in for extra scrutiny to make sure they're not terrorists. The list (pdf), of "specially designated countries (SDCs) that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members" is a fairly crude one, the logic of which seems to be, "if a country has a lot of Muslims, it's a terrorist threat." But even by that standard, the list is curious. It doesn't include other post-Soviet Muslim republics like Kyrgyzstan or Azerbaijan, for example, or countries like China or Russia which have significant numbers of Muslims (which have been known to engage in violent anti-state activities). The U.S. Azeris Network, a pro-Azerbaijan lobbying group, called attention to the list and complained, in the spirit of pan-Turkic solidarity:
It is absolutely incomprehensible how countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan could have made it to the DHS ICE SDC list. There are simply no known cases of these countries or their nationals or residents, to “promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members”. Neither current, nor past lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. State Department, has ever included any terrorist organizations from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan.
This being an Azeri group, they ask why Armenia is not included on the list, citing "a long string of terrorists and terrorist organizations promoted, produced and protected by and in Armenia." (They don't name those alleged terror groups.)
In a post from a few days ago, I linked to a column that suggested there might be some new hope for the stalled reconciliation process on the divided island of Cyprus.That hope was based on the understanding that with last month's elections behind it, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) can now get back to focusing on some of the unresolved political and diplomatic problems that are blocking Turkey's forward path.
Well, only a few days later, its seems like that hope might quickly be vanishing. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is today making a visit to Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus and what he had to say there offered little comfort to those hoping for a new day on the island. From a Today's Zaman report:
Turkey is no longer prepared to accept the concessions it has agreed to in order to help with the reunification of Cyprus in line with a UN plan back in 2004 and the Turkish side will accept nothing short of recognition of a two-state solution on the island, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
Erdoğan, speaking to a group of Turkish Cypriot journalists ahead of a Tuesday trip to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), said 2012 was a final deadline for a settlement on the island. “We will see if this is resolved by 2012 or not. If it is not, we will have to find solutions ourselves,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency on Tuesday. The news conference took place on Monday.
This one is certainly going to hurt Greek national pride: According to the Wall Street Journal, famed Athenian baklava seller Epe has not only been importing Turkish baklava for the last decade to sell in its stores, but has now had to be bailed out by its supplier from the east. From the WSJ's article:
Greeks and Turks have bickered for centuries over which nation makes the better baklava, a sticky-sweet dessert of layered pastry devoured in huge quantities across the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. But for the past 10 years, Turkey's best-known producer, businessman Nadir Gullu, has been supplying Greece's closely held Baklavas Epe, which operated five stores in Athens. He provided about two tons of baklava and other Turkish sweets per month.
Old rivalries aside, Athenians lapped them up—until, that is, they ran out of cash.
Baklavas Epe's most profitable shop is on Athens's landmark Syntagma Square. Before the crisis, tourists and locals queued up in droves to buy the pastries. But as the government embarked on a severe austerity program to reduce its debt burden and qualify for international support, demand sank.
Baklavas Epe closed three of its five stores in Athens as sales dropped. Meanwhile, it ratcheted up close to €160,000 (about $226,000) in debt for deliveries of sweets from across the Aegean Sea, according to the company. Plunging revenue made it impossible for Baklavas Epe to finance baklava purchases from Istanbul.
"Baklava has become a luxury. Think about it: Three kilos of minced beef costs the same as one kilo of baklava," said a company spokesman. (A kilogram is about 2.2 pounds.)
In Turkish newspapers, Mr. Gullu, the owner of Karakoy Gulluoglu, a well-known baklava shop near the shores of the Bosporus in Istanbul, said the Greeks should pay their debts within a year and the business relationship was in jeopardy.
The report (which isn’t available on Bild’s site) said President Nursultan Nazarbayev was in the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf for unspecified treatment. Nazarbayev is meant to be on a short vacation, according to his office.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry referred EurasiaNet.org’s queries about his whereabouts to the president’s office, which could not immediately be reached for comment. Sources in Germany didn’t confirm the Bild report – the Federal Foreign Office told AFP it had no knowledge of Nazarbayev being in Hamburg, while Reuters quoted the hospital itself refusing to confirm or deny the news and a spokeswoman at the Kazakh embassy in Berlin saying she couldn’t confirm it either. “He's on vacation and he could be anywhere in the world," Reuters quoted the spokeswoman as saying.
Nazarbayev, who’s been at Kazakhstan’s helm for two decades, turned 71 earlier this month. He appears to be in a robust physical and mental condition, but any sign that his health is failing would cause concern among foreign investors, and among members of the Kazakh elite who’ve fared so well under his rule. Even as the succession issue looms ever larger as he ages, Nazarbayev has given no sign that he’s grooming anyone to take over, potentially paving the way for a vicious succession battle.
If a character like Kyrgyzstan's human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun didn't exist, you would have to make him up.
On July 18, his office distributed an email summoning journalists to a press conference to mark Nelson Mandela Day, which is held yearly to coincide with the retired statesman's birthday.
It is certainly no bad thing that Kyrgyzstan should be celebrating the life of a great man who devoted his political career to forging reconciliation, a concept utterly alien to the country's venal political class.
And pretty alien to Akun, too, while we're at it. He has said some notably worthy things about the ethnic clashes in Osh last year, it must be conceded. But one has to worry about a human rights ombudsman who criticizes an international report on the violence by complaining that it failed to realize the main cause of the unrest was that at the time of the Kokand Khanate (in the 18th and 19th centuries), the Kyrgyz were forced to seek employment from Uzbeks and other ethnic groups.
Anyway, back to Mandela Day.
With mercurial Akun running the show, one just had to expect the event to be somehow weirdly compromised, and he didn't disappoint.
As negotiations between Dushanbe and Moscow continue over how much Russia should be paying for its use of military facilities in Tajikistan, the price apparently keeps rising. The Tajikistan government is demanding $300 million a year for the use of the Ayni air base outside Dushanbe, according to a report in RIA Novosti. In January, Russian media were reporting that the asking price was a mere $125 million per year. Tajikistan's foreign minister Hamrokhon Zarifi told a press conference Monday that ""Russia is our important strategic partner..." but "our land cannot be free; it has its price, and no one can use it without paying." (He didn't, however, mention a specific ruble figure.)
Zarifi also said that Russian border guards would not be returning to Tajikistan, as Moscow has requested, and downplayed the U.S. role in the new training center at Qaratogh, reported Asia Plus:
Commenting on rumors about deployment of the United States military base in Tajikistan, Zarifi noted that Tajikistan has never conducted negotiation with the United Sates on that issue and “such a dialogue is not expected in the foreseeable future.”
“As far as the construction of the live-fire training building at the National Training Center at Qaratogh is concerned, the construction of the center is carried out under financial support of the United States, the center itself is property of Tajikistan,” the minister said.
If you think dolma (or "tolma," as pronounced in Armenia) is simply grape leaves stuffed with rice, a visit to Yerevan's "Tolma Festival" might be in order. The event, which is being run as part of the current "Golden Apricot" film festival, certainly seems to add a whole lot to our understanding of what dolma/tolma can actually be. Among the varieties on offer (via ArmeniaNow.Com): "bean-leaf tolma (Artsakh), pumpkin unfecundated flower wrapped tolma (Lori), raspberry leaf tolma (Tavush, Sevan) and Lent tolma with rice (Dilijan)." One purveyor is offering fish dolma, wrapped in strawberry leaves. Another claims to have found an ancient recipe for dolma written in cuneiform:
Chefs say that they find many recipes in archives, even in cuneiform records, such as the recipe of the Erebuni tolma.
The Afrikyanneri Pandok restaurant chef says they got the Erebuni tolma recipe from the Erebuni museum in Yerevan. He says they adapted it to our own days and present it anew. This tolma variation was known still in 782 BC in the fortress city founded by King Argishti, the son of Menua. The recipe was in historical archives.
“It is made of chicken meat, mushrooms, string cheese, nuts. We serve it with mushroom and walnut sauce. We also present the Taron tolma. It was a dish on the tables of the Mamikonyan royal dynasty. This tolma is of sliced beef tongue, we serve it with cherry sauce. In the ancient times all tolmas were sliced. And we have an old Bayazet Lent tolma with rice and vegetables, we serve it with Cornelian-cherry sauce,” says Antinyan.