Two residents of the village of Yangizamov in the Izboskan district of Andijan province were detained for trying to sell cotton in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported October 10.
Hurshidbek Abdujalolov, 30 sold a fellow villager, Malika Ahmedova, some of the cotton he had picked.
Ahmedova in turn was detained by Uzbek border guards when she went to try to sell the cotton in Kyrgyzstan just across the border. Both were fined the equivalent of 10 and 5 monthly wages, a district court official told Radio Ozodlik.
In recent years, Uzbek authorities have cracked down on farmers trying to sell their cotton outside the state system, particularly around the border areas.
A policeman who withheld his name told Radio Ozodlik that a circuit judge had come to try the cotton-sellers. Ahmedova had purchased 13-14 kilograms from Abdujalolov, and had also as well as additional cotton from a minor, and was caught with 60 kilos at the border.
The authorities' attention turned to the farmer who owned the field where the cotton was picked, but he said he was not present when the sales took place. He urged Radio Ozodlik not to cover the story and said that the two villagers regretted their offense and had apologized, saying they had only sold the cotton out of severe economic need. He said he had not experienced thefts before, but was now forced to hire watchmen day and night.
Another policeman told Radio Ozodlik that everyone was being turned out for the cotton harvest now, and were being warned that any theft would be harshly punished.
Andijan regional television covered the story and interviewed the two culprits, noting that their incentive was powerful: while people could only earn about 150 soums per kilo of cotton in Uzbekistan, they could sell it in Kyrgyzstan for 500 soums.
In time for its 20th anniversary of independence, Turkmenistan held a ceremony to announce its plan to launch a communications satellite into space, ITAR-TASS reported.
Thales International Vice-President Blaise Jaeger presented a model of the satellite last week to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
Berdymukhamedov announced plans for Turkmenistan's space program back in 2009, saying the satellite would be used to "accelerate the development of the country's communication systems, Internet and television, promote environmental programs and survey of new deposits, and assist successful implementation of some other state programs," turkmenistan.ru quoted him as saying at the time. (In covering the story this month, ITAR-TASS left out the words "communications systems" and "television" when citing Berdymukhamedov's quote about the satellite from 2009.)
Apparently these thing take time. It wasn't until May 2011 that the Turkmen leader founded the Turkmen National Space Agency, and Christophe Bauer, vice president of the U.S. company SpaceX said at a Turkmen-US business forum that his company would launch the Turkmen satellite in 2014, says ITAR-TASS.
A Gazprom Space Systems satellite has been providing digital TV and broadcast of Russian TV programs. Turkish TV is also available. Satellite dishes abound in Turkmenistan, as EurasiaNet's David Trilling has reported, and have been an important tool of Russia's influence.
But Berdymukhamedov wants to get rid of Russian TV's effect on his population, and its (relatively) more free coverage of world news events, including those in his own country, like the Abadan explosion. Two words might describe his main motivation: "Arab Spring."
Uzbekistan has been keeping the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-dominated security bloc of post-Soviet countries, at arm's length: formally, it's a member, but it hasn't lately participated in any CSTO events, like the recent large-scale military exercises the group held. And now Belarus's president Alexander Lukashenko says it's time for Tashkent to decide -- and that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agrees:
“Even Uzbekistan that today has a specific stance will eventually understand that it will find it hard to preserve independence without the CSTO,” the President of Belarus said. He emphasized that the accession is a domestic matter of Uzbekistan and “we are not interfering”. “Although I have recently shared my thoughts with the President of Russia. We need to make a decision on Uzbekistan. Because Uzbekistan cannot join the CSTO as long as it is playing this triple game,” Alexander Lukashenko is convinced. After all, Uzbekistan has not ratified a single significant document of the CSTO yet, it only formally stated that it is allegedly returning to the CSTO."
Well, as of this week, he'll be able to look forward to a car, a personal driver, lifetime diplomatic immunity, all-inclusive, taxpayer-funded medical service and a pension of about $6,358 (5,000 manats) per month. If that doesn't convince Azerbaijan's 49-year-old head of state to retire one day, nothing will.
This post-presidential future was offered to President Aliyev by Azerbaijan's parliament, dominated by his Yeni Azerbaijan Party, which, in a stroke of generosity on October 25 adopted a new law on ex-presidents.
Retiring, though, doesn’t run in the family. Running Azerbaijan was pretty much a lifetime job for his father, Heydar Aliyev (President: 1993-2003; Azerbaijan Communist Party boss 1969-1982; Azerbaijan KGB chairman 1967-1969), and Aliyev junior can also run Azerbaijan till death do them part.
Aliyev's current term expires in 2013; if Azerbaijan still considers itself in "a state of war," then Aliyev, pending a Constitutional Court ruling, potentially could just stay put.
But if the habit of retiring or losing elections comes back to Azerbaijan, then life after the presidency may not be that bad at all.
Ex-President Ayaz Mutalibov may also benefit from the law as well as the family of late Abulfaz Elchibey, said senior YAP parliamentarian Ali Ahmedov. But parliament is still debating.
"Life on Nanchang Lu" is a wonderful blog written by an Australian doctor named Fiona who is currently living in Shanghai and documenting her life in China with lovely photos, especially of the food she's eating. A recent trip took her out to China's western Xinjiang province and her report from there is a mouthwatering visual treat. Check it out here.
The saga of the mysterious drone shot down over Nagorno-Karabakh keeps getting more and more intriguing. You'll recall that the Armenian de facto authorities of Karabakh released photos of the downed UAV and claimed that the drone was from Azerbaijan. Makes sense: Azerbaijan operates drone similar to the one shown in photos, with which they try to surveil the area of the line of contact between them and the Armenians. Azerbaijan's state news agency countered with another theory: that the drone was actually Israel's. That was last month, and the story has gone cold since then.
But now, an Israeli website, DEBKAfile, has a new scoop/conspiracy theory: it was Russia! Their take:
Western sources believe Moscow had the Azerbaijani drone shot down as a one-off incident for four objectives:
1. A hands-off road sign to Israel to stay out of the Caspian Sea region and its conflicts. Moscow has taken note of Israel's deepening economic and military footholds in four countries: Azerbaijan, which is the largest, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Georgia, and regards its supply of arms to these countries as unwanted interference in Russia's backyard.
2. Revenge for Israel reneging on its 2009 commitment to build a drone factory in Russia. Moscow decided to confront Israeli drone technicians with Russian antiaircraft crews with an unwinnable ambush.
3. Moscow was also telling Tehran that it was serious about cooperating with Iran to safeguard its rights in the Caspian Sea and willing to use diplomatic, military and intelligence means to halt the spread of Azerbaijani and Israeli influence in the region.
Speaking in Washington on October 27 following her return from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that bipartisanship is essential if the United States is to achieve its strategic objectives in the region.
Clinton defended the Obama administration’s approach in the face of growing skepticism among Republican Party members of Congress. She insisted that the administration was "meeting our commitments and progressing towards our goals" in Afghanistan and across the region and needed to remain fully engaged.
“America paid a heavy price for disengaging after the Soviets left in 1989,” she said. “We cannot afford to make that mistake again. … We have to be smart and strategic. And we have to work together to protect our interests.”
Clinton stressed a need to strengthen security in the Afghan-Pak border area. In Islamabad, she joined with senior US military and intelligence leaders in insisting that Pakistan’s government and military get out of the terrorist sponsorship business since “trying to distinguish between so-called good terrorists and bad terrorists is ultimately self-defeating and dangerous.”
Clinton reassured committee members that “talking” with the Taliban and their allies did not mean that administration was abandoning its core goals. “Insurgents must renounce violence, abandon al Qaeda, and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women and minorities,” Clinton said. “If insurgents cannot, or will not, meet those redlines, they will face continued and unrelenting assault.”
Here’s some good news for the Ferghana Valley: Uzbekistan has reopened its frontier with Kyrgyzstan, 18 months after unilaterally screwing it shut. Tashkent closed the border during the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, dramatically wounding trade in southern Kyrgyzstan.
One study last winter found commerce in the region’s largest market, Kara-Suu, had fallen by 75 percent, encouraging higher food prices and smuggling.
The Dostuk (“Friendship”) border post between Osh and Andijan reopened early on October 26, Bishkek’s AKIpress news agency reported. There is no word yet whether other posts along the 1100-kilometer frontier will open.
But why now, four days before Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, when Bishkek is bracing for more political or ethnic violence? Wasn’t Tashkent’s original logic to keep Kyrgyzstan’s messy politics contained?
A few possibilities come to mind:
For one thing, the reopening, decided on in Tashkent, looks like a vote of confidence for Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, the leading candidate in the October 30 poll. Opening the border would revive commerce, which could add a notch to the premier’s belt. Moreover, though the rights of minority ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan may not be the top priority on Uzbekistan’s foreign-policy list, Tashkent has shown concern about the issue, and Atambayev stands apart from the two other leading candidates as less of a nationalist hothead. (Besides, if, heaven forbid, the election should trigger a new round of interethnic strife, Kyrgyzstani Uzbeks in the south would have somewhere to run.)
After all the haggling that has kept gas-thirsty Europe on tenterhooks, Baku and Ankara finally made an agreement this week on the transportation of Azerbaijani gas to Turkey, and further afield to Europe. If all goes as planned, once 2017 hits, Europe will be able to tap into as much as 10 billion cubic meters per year of the much-wanted, non-Russian gas, news agencies report. As middle man, Turkey itself will receive 6 bcm per year.
The news may come as a smelling salt for the long-delayed Nabucco gas transit project and its rival proposals, but most news reports overlooked one small detail.
Both Turkey and Azerbaijan's energy ministers will revise the agreement's details -- a process that "should not take more than a year," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters, one Azerbaijani news site reported,echoing a report in Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News. Details were not provided, but, as the past has shown, both Turkey and Azerbaijan can revise with the best of 'em when it comes to energy agreements. Arguably, the EU and US appear more impatient about calling it a day.
The France-based media freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has just issued an interesting brief expressing concern over what the group believes to be increasing pressure against journalists who are covering the Kurdish issue and the escalating conflict between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). From the report:
Pressure is mounting on journalists in eastern Turkey as the government intensifies its military offensive against the armed separatists of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an offensive that is spilling over into neighbouring countries.
As well as a spate of trials and cases of prolonged detention, journalists are now the target of government directives. Journalists who cover Kurdish issues critically continue to be accused of supporting the separatists by officials who cite the war on terror as their overriding imperative. And concern is growing that the government is trying to control coverage of its offensive.
Jailed for an interview?
The Turkish judicial system continues to treat the publication of interviews with PKK members as terrorist propaganda, even if they are accompanied by commentary that stops far short of praising the PKK.
Nese Düzel, a journalist with the liberal daily Taraf, and his editor, Adnan Demir, for example, are being prosecuted for two April 2010 reports containing interviews with former PKK leaders Zübeyir Aydar and Remzi Kartal. A prosecutor asked an Istanbul court on 14 October to sentence them to seven and a half years in prison. The next hearing in their trial is to be held on 9 December.
Prosecutors at the same court are preparing to try the journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu over a report in Radikal in October 2010 that contained an interview with Murat Karayilan, one of the leaders of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), regarded as PKK’s urban wing.