In case anyone still doubts that a 1,400-year-old religion is compatible with a 21st-century social-networking tool, a new Twitter-based project in Kyrgyzstan should put those doubts to rest.
On July 20, the country’s Muslims joined with millions of their co-religionists across the world in marking the start of Ramadan, Islam’s annual holy month of fasting, self-sacrifice and contemplation.
Sticking to the rules of the fast – which forbid eating or drinking during daylight hours – can tax even the fittest of the faithful in Central Asia, where summer temperatures regularly rise above 30 Celsius and the sun stays out from before 6 a.m. until after 8 p.m.
But this year those new to Ramazan, as it is called in Kyrgyzstan, or simply worried about missing their pre-dawn breakfast, can sign up for a free text-messaging service that will send morning and evening reminders about prayer and meal times, as well as 140-character-max hadiths (sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed) and ayahs (Koranic verses) about the importance of love, attentiveness, loyalty, caring, knowledge and Ramadan itself.
The new Russian-language resource, called @RamazanTime, was the brainchild of a 22-year-old Bishkek resident whose two female friends, aged 21 and 22, then joined her as co-writers.
“We created this service to morally support our compatriots who are planning to keep the fast,” the idea's author wrote in an email to EurasiaNet.org. (She asked that neither her name nor her friends’ be printed as they were doing this “not to promote ourselves, but to gain Allah’s pleasure and motivate others.”)
Let's all agree that no political campaign event anywhere is complete without balloons. But it can help to make sure that whoever supplies them has taken Chemistry 101.
On May 5, just two days before Armenia's parliamentary elections, Armenian politics literally became explosive when scores of balloons exploded over a Yerevan rally for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. Over 150 people were hospitalized, and some underwent plastic surgery. Now, after almost three months of guesswork, Armenian police have revealed that a certain Serob Bozoian and several like-minded people allegedly filled the balloons with, well, natural gas. A Republican Party supporter’s cigarette supposedly touched off the ball of fire.
Natural gas, cheaper than non-inflammable helium, is usually available in every kitchen in Yerevan, and, to hear Armenian police tell it, that’s exactly where entrepreneur Bozoian filled up over 6,000 balloons. The group could face heavy fines and up to five years in prison for ignoring public safety standards.
But the official version has raised a few suspecting eyebrows in Armenia. Questions are being asked why the government would hire such a small-time entrepreneur. Some say that the ruling party’s alleged attempts to scrimp on campaign spending may also be at fault here. The party denies any guilt. In any case, here's betting that it's helium all the way next election. The public-safety risk of this gas usually includes only a high-pitch, cartoon-character voice. But that could actually add weight to campaign promises.
All this week, CNN International, part of that “most trusted name in news,” has aired a series of reports on Kazakhstan. But what looks to the unsuspecting viewer like more of CNN at its finest appears in fact to be sponsored advertisements paid for by none other than Kazakhstan’s oil-rich government.
The spots are part of CNN International’s “Eyes On” series. Pay close attention and only the one-minute promo for the series ends with an announcement, "In association with the following," leaving the viewer to try to read two logos on screen. One is clearly Samruk Kazyna, the state fund that owns all state assets. The other, particularly fuzzy, logo is the Astana Economic Forum, the brainchild of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Both link to a page promoting Astana's bid to host Expo 2017.
Most of the spots are quirky, soft-core reportage and travelogue sprinkled with carefully framed shots of the glitziest parts of Astana and Almaty. Topics include economic diversification, transportation infrastructure, skiing, and dating games. CNN International offers no coverage of labor strikes, human rights abuses, nascent violent insurgencies, violence against women, or any other diversions from the narrative of relentless growth and limitless opportunity.
Tajikistan is sitting on “super-giant” oil and gas reserves, says the head of a Canadian firm prospecting in the country’s southwest since 2008.
Tethys Petroleum says Tajikistan may have more hydrocarbons than what remains in the British segments of the North Sea. The company’s stock surged in London on the July 19 announcement. Such a reserve, if extracted (and shared with the people), could radically alter the economy of Central Asia’s poorest state.
The announcement came after Gustavson Associates, an American mining consultancy, estimated that seismic data shows Tethys’s Bokhtar Production Sharing Contract (PSC) area contains 27.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent, including 114 trillion cubic feet of gas and 8.5 billion barrels of oil and condensate. The 25,000-square kilometer Bokhtar PSC is a “highly prospective region which has existing oil and gas discoveries but which has seen limited exploration to date,” according to Tethys’s website.
“Tethys is operating in a world class basin with enormous and untapped potential,” said CEO David Robson in a press release. “The deep prospects being pursued in Tajikistan have 'super-giant' potential and any exploration success will be transformational for the company.”
The press release cautioned, however, that the reserves are not definite and a variety of factors (including “government regulation” and “political issues” – realistic concerns in a country as corrupt as Tajikistan) could prevent Tethys from extracting the oil and gas.
It's been a given for quite some time now in Turkey that charismatic Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's next political act will be that of serving as the country's president, albeit only after influencing the legislative process so that the office becomes a more powerful one, akin to that of the American or French executive.
Short of retirement, moving over to the presidential palace is the only move Erdogan could make, since the bylaws of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) prevent members from being elected to parliament for more than three terms and the PM is currently serving his third. With what will be Turkey's first direct presidential elections (up until now the choice has been made by parliamentary vote) set for 2014, there are indications that Erdogan's plans are becoming clearer. From a recent report in The National:
Mr Erdogan has not said publicly whether he wants to become president, but Huseyin Besli, one of his closest advisers, told a television interviewer last month that "Erdogan will be president in 2014".
The fact that Mr Erdogan has called on a parliamentary committee working on a new constitution to give the president new executive powers is also seen by political observers as an indication that he will seek the position.
This is the fifth de-facto election in the separatist history of Karabakh and the fifth time the international community has shrugged its shoulders at the territory’s claims that it is an independent country with on-the-level elections.
Azerbaijan says that without the ousted ethnic Azeri population, no vote can be legitimate in Karabakh. Most of the world concurs.
But the de-facto election matters for the impoverished, ethnic Armenian population of Karabakh. They face a choice between five more years of the same with incumbent Bako Saakian, the onetime head of the region's de-facto security servicesl, or a new broom with his two challengers, one ex-military and one academician.
Saakian’s main challenger, former de-facto Deputy Defense Minister Vitaly Balasian, a veteran of Karabakh’s war for de-facto independence from Azerbaijan, takes a hard-line stance toward both Enemy Number One, Azerbaijan, and Friend Number One, Armenia. As a de-facto parliament member, he opposed surrendering any war-won Azerbaijani lands, a critical theme in talks over the territory’s status, and criticized Armenia for conducting international negotiations on the enclave’s status without the participation of de-facto Karabakh officials.
All three candidates are pushing for Karabakh's re-inclusion in the internationally mediated talks. Where the three differ is the economy and allegations of corruption.
A clash on the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan frontier that left one dead on each side has sparked a spat between Tashkent and Bishkek about who was responsible. In response, Tashkent has reportedly closed the border to citizens of Kyrgyzstan.
Bishkek says the July 17 shootout occurred when Uzbek border guards opened fire as a dispute with local villagers got out of hand. But Tashkent, after reportedly firing the head of the Border Service, has upped the ante by describing it as an “armed bandit attack” by Kyrgyz guards, regional media report.
The shootout happened in an undemarcated (hence potentially disputed) sector of the border between eastern Uzbekistan’s Namangan Region and southern Kyrgyzstan’s Jalal-Abad Province.
According to the Kyrgyz Border Service, villagers from the settlement of Bulak-Bashi and staff from the nearby Bozymchak gold mine started repairing a road in the undemarcated sector, refusing to heed Kyrgyz guards’ entreaties to stop.
When border guards from Uzbekistan demanded a halt to the repairs, villagers “reacted aggressively,” Kyrgyzstan’s Border Service said, in comments carried by Kyrgyzstan’s state news agency. “As a result the border detachment of Uzbekistan used weapons; Kyrgyz border guards opened return fire,” it continued, leaving one Kyrgyz border guard dead and two Kyrgyz citizens wounded.
After seven years of filming, thousands of interviews, and the arrest, torture and even murder of some of his sources, journalist-turned-activist Michael Andersen is about to release his documentary investigating the 2005 Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan.
On May 13, 2005, military forces loyal to President Islam Karimov opened fire on protestors in the eastern city of Andijan. Uzbekistan has ignored calls for an impartial investigation and said it was battling Islamic militants, rather than peaceful protestors. The official death count is 187, while some activists say over 1,000 may have perished.
Andersen, a Dane, was inspired to make the film because of what he calls the “hypocrisy of Western governments who coddle Karimov in exchange for military supply routes and basing rights to support the war in Afghanistan.” Andersen has covered the region since 2000, and lived in Uzbekistan from 2000 to 2002. He was unable to film in Uzbekistan, however: He says Uzbek authorities “utterly ignored” 28 applications for a visa and repeated requests for comment. Instead, he relied on footage collected over the years from numerous sources and on interviews with witnesses outside the country.
The film, “Massacre in Uzbekistan,” seeks to inform Westerners about the events and shine a spotlight on the pattern of engaging (now fallen) dictators like the Shah of Iran and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. But more importantly, perhaps, Andersen hopes to reach Uzbeks who, he says, don't even know about the tragedy, by translating the film into Uzbek and Russian and putting it online – the only space for free information that Karimov has trouble controlling.
Customers line up outside a Ucell office in Tashkent on July 18. MTS clients mobbed rival mobile providers after the company was forced to suspend operations in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan has suspended the operations of Russia’s largest cellphone company amid accusations of legal violations in the use of equipment, prompting an exodus to other operators and sending rumors swirling that vested economic interests are behind the move.
The suspension of all operations of O’zdunrobita, MTS’s Uzbekistan arm, took effect in Uzbekistan from 6pm on July 17 for 10 working days, under a decree from Tashkent’s Communications and IT Agency.
The shutdown left 9.5 million clients -- a third of Uzbekistan’s 29.5-million population -- without MTS mobile communications at least until July 31.
MTS insists it has complied with all government requirements and is operating within the law. A July 17 press release spoke of “ungrounded attacks” on its business, including the shutdown and “the use of the tactic of intimidation and arrest of O’zdunrobita staff.” Five managers are in detention facing criminal charges, while general director Bekzod Akhmedov has fled Uzbekistan.
The arrests came after what MTS described as “synchronized inspections” over recent months, leading to accusations of tax evasion, theft and breaches of Uzbekistan’s complicated currency regulations.
MTS customers reportedly mobbed other providers to buy new SIM cards. “People are going crazy trying to get numbers from other companies,” said a Tashkent resident who subscribes to rival operator Perfectum Mobile on condition of anonymity on July 18.