Taking protesters on a road trip has become a favorite crowd-control technique for the Azerbaijani police. After treating the participants in a March 10 rally in Baku to a dose of rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons, the police drove a group of detained demonstrators tens of miles away from the capital city and dumped them in the middle of nowhere.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova, one of those detained for hours by police and then taken for the ride into deepest Gobustan, said that she was able to call her friends, who followed the police bus and picked up the detainees. “I hid my phone and did not give it to the police,” Ismayilova said. (Ismayilova also has worked for EurasiaNet.org.)
Army officials have tried to explain several of the conscripts’ deaths as accidents or suicides. Relatives, gathering in Baku's Fountain Square with photos of the dead soldiers, angrily have rejected such claims, and demand justice.
Armenia may not have a sea, but the Yerevan city government was once proud to say that, like “many developed cities in the world,” it did have a dolphinarium. Not any more. To the cheers (and jeers) of environmentalists, the Ukrainian company that ran the controversial facility has decided to set sail for fresh waters.
The 900-visitor dolphinarium, one of three in the South Caucasus (Baku and Batumi also have dolphin tanks), was built in 2010 in a downtown Yerevan park at about the same speed with which it is now being dismantled. The facility’s senior management cite the end of their “period of operations” as the reason for the decision to pull out.
“The animals have been moved to Ukraine; the performances are over since the period of operation has expired,” Nemo Dolphinarium Director Lili Sahakian told EurasiaNet.org. “This is the only reason.”
But environmental activists claim the real reason is entirely different.
“How could the dolphins survive in Armenia, which has no sea? Could they bear the extremely chlorinated water of the pool, the endless performances, or the frozen fish they were fed?” asked Silva Adamian, chairperson of the Bird Lovers’ Center, a non-governmental organization which heads an alliance of 50 NGOs which opposed the dolphinarium’s opening.
“Back in 2010, we talked to international specialists and they said the animals won’t last even two years. So, we now have what we have.”
The question of whether, or how, to give military aid to Uzbekistan is probably the hottest question among Central Asia policymakers in Washington these days. The U.S. has agreed to leave some equipment behind for its partners in Central Asia after its forces withdraw from Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan has made clear that it has high expectations for the sort of equipment that it will get. But some in Washington are concerned that giving military equipment to Uzbekistan would only abet the misrule of President Islam Karimov, who heads one of the most repressive governments on the planet. This question will undoubtedly be at the top of the agenda this week when a large delegation from Uzbekistan, headed by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, visits Washington.
Publicly, the U.S. says it can provide military aid to Uzbekistan while still respecting human rights. At a recent congressional hearing, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake said that "the approach we have taken with Central Asia helps proactively strengthen the region’s capacity to combat terrorism and counter extremism, while encouraging democratic reform and respect for human rights.” But Blake didn't provide specifics. And It's easy to say you can give military aid while respecting human rights, but the devil is in the details. Meanwhile, behind closed doors there are discussions about expanding donations or sales of U.S. military equipment to Uzbekistan.
Seeing as its International Women's Day today, Hurriyet Daily News economics columnist Emre Deliveli uses the occasion to remind readers that the labor force participation (LFP) rate for women in Turkey is a woeful 29.5 percent (the average among countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which Turkey is a member of, is 61 percent).
Improving the visibility and participation of women in the workplace has certainly been one of the areas where the current Turkish government has failed to take any strong action. The most recent World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, for example, finds Turkey ranked 124 out of 135 countries. Beyond the low LFP rate for women, Turkey also has extremely low numbers of women in senior and managerial positions in government and academia.
Still, despite the discouraging numbers, things may be changing. From a recent article by Guven Sak, executive director of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey:
Before Cola Turka, Turkey's domestic answer to Coke, the country's soft drink imagination revolved around gazoz, a vaguely fruit-flavored carbonated beverage. Like wine and its regional variations, almost every Turkish province and large city once had its own favorite brand of locally-made gazoz, said to be imbued with something of its home district's flavor and character. Before "small batch," "artisanal," and "local" became such foodie buzzwords, gazoz was quietly and unassumingly serving as the real real thing.
These days, most of these small gazoz brands have gone the way of the dodo bird, unable to compete with Coca Cola and other big soft drink producers. But, as Culinary Backstreets' Ansel Mullins reports, one cafe in Istanbul is working hard to keep the spirit of gazoz fizzing. From Mullins' writeup:
Avam Kahvesi’s owner, Barış Aydın, came of age in the 1980s drinking the now-defunct Elvan Gazozu, and even experimented with homemade gazoz back then. He believes drinking gazoz is a statement against cultural imperialism, a “provokasyon.” The menu at Avam, which boasts 14 different kinds of gazoz, includes notes on the flavor, origin and history of each producer in Turkish and English. Aroma Meltem Gazozu, for example, was big in the 1970s and is featured in Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Barış admits that there are some flavors of gazoz that he doesn’t even like, but he says they all “taste of nostalgia.”
A top Iranian official has made waves in the Caucasus by claiming that Iran secretly helped Azerbaijan during the latter's war with Armenia over Nagorno Karabakh in the 1990s. The official, Mohsen Rezaee, is in a position to know: he was the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards at the time. He told Sahar TV (translation by Oye Times):
“I personally issued an order … for the Republic of Azerbaijan army to be equipped appropriately and for it to receive the necessary training,” he said. “Many Iranians died in the Karabakh War. In addition to the wounded, who were transported to [Iran], many of the Iranian martyrs of the Karabakh War are buried in Baku.”
“Karabakh is a part of Islamic lands and the Republic of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity must be guaranteed through peaceful means.”
Embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad probably gets very few visitors these days, and rightly so. Still, it appears Assad can count on the friendship of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's main opposition party, which recently sent a high-level delegation to visit the Syrian autocrat in Damascus. Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
A parliamentary delegation from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad early yesterday. The three-member group, which consisted of deputy leader Şafak Pavey and deputies from the neighboring Hatay province, Hasan Akgöl and Mevlut Dudu, was in Syria following an invitation from al-Assad, according to CHP sources.
Al-Assad told the team there was “a need to distinguish between the stance of the Turkish people, who back stability in Syria, and the positions of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, which supports terrorism.
“The Syrian people appreciates the position adopted by forces and parties in Turkey that reject the Erdoğan government’s negative impact on our societies, which are multi-religious and multi-ethnic,” al-Assad added.
In its cautious, arduous attempts to make up with Russia, Georgia brought to the negotiation table its key natural resources: wine, mineral water and folk dancing. But the ongoing cultural and business rapprochement, which Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili hopes will usher in a diplomatic reconciliation, is pitting pragmatic Georgians against patriotic Georgians in an increasingly bitter fight.
After nearly seven years of abstinence from Georgian alcohol, Russia on March 6 essentially allowed wine and mineral water from its southern neighbor back on its national dinner table. The decision came after Russia’s federal wine-tasters spent many hours in Georgia, scrupulously sampling the wine to make sure the NATO-aspiring country’s alcohol didn’t taste anti-Russian.
Concurrently, one prominent Georgian cultural act took place in Russia. But the performers face stone-pelting at home for what some call selling-out to the oppressor, as many Georgians are not buying the art-and-business-are-above-politics argument.
A series of Moscow performances by the Erisioni ensemble may be a success in Russia, but is a flop in Georgia. The collective of folk dancers, musicians and singers has become the target of vitriolic attacks online and in the media.
International Women’s Day on March 8 is seen in much of the world as an opportunity to raise awareness about gender equality – but, as in most other former Soviet states, in Kazakhstan the holiday is more about giving flowers and chocolates and making saccharine speeches extolling the virtues of the fairer sex.
While women’s rights activists in other parts of the former Soviet Union – including neighboring Kyrgyzstan – have stepped forward to try to reclaim Women’s Day, in Kazakhstan the image of the female as either beauty idol or perfect wife remains central to the festivities.
To celebrate the rising role of women in the military – and there are over 8,500 of them, including 750 officers, according to the Defense Ministry – why not vote for Miss Military Kazakhstan? Vox Populi, a magazine, is running an online contest featuring uniformed women striking sexy poses, with readers voting for their favorite military sex bomb.
Not to be outdone, Kazakhstan’s rail industry has its own beauty queen: This year's proud Miss Railways is HR specialist Minuar Sarkynshakova, who won the beauty pageant after a stiff competition in the pages of trade magazine Kazakhstan Railroader.
Turkey's decision in 2011 to host a radar for NATO's missile defense system has been widely interpreted as a reaffirmation of Turkey's commitment to NATO, and more generally to a western geopolitical orientation, at a time when a number of analysts and policymakers have worried that Turkey is "drifting eastward." As analyst Ömer Taşpınar put it last year, "That decision, in my opinion, was almost a make-or-break move for the Obama administration in terms of testing Turkey's commitment to NATO, testing Turkey's commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership." More recently, on the occasion of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Ankara, as EurasiaNet's Yigal Schleiffer pointed out, Turkish commentators again noted the significance of the decision to host the radar:
In Washington, Turkey’s realignment with the U.S. particularly after the employment of the missile radar system and Ankara’s decision to side with the Syrian opposition despite Iranian and Russian objections appeared as good news.
But that may not be a correct interpretation of Ankara's decisionmaking, notes Aaron Stein, an Istanbul-based researcher at the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies who studies Turkish defense issues. Turkey's reluctance to host the radars originally -- and then its decision, ultimately, to accept them -- both had more to do with Turkey's calculations of its own security rather than about geopolitics, he said in a brief email interview with The Bug Pit.