Media takeovers happen every day, but rarely do they come with scenes straight out of an action thriller. But that's the drama now engulfing Maestro TV, Georgia's main anti-government television channel.
The group then locked themselves into Maestro's premises. Spotting the intrusion, the channel’s morning-shift reporters responded by locking themselves into the control room.
"Why?" you might ask. Keep asking. No one appears to know. (Including why Kitsmarishvili could not simply walk through the front door.)
A tense stand-off ensued. Hunkered down, Kitsmarishvili fired the station's executive producer/co-owner/founder Mamuka Ghlonti and other senior management. Ghlonti, in turn, rescinded Maestro's contract with Kitsmarishvili's managing firm.
And so the matter stands. The fence-hopping Kitsmarishvili and men refuse to let the company’s owners into their section of the station, and, over in the control room, Maestro reporters and Ghlonti are not letting Kitsmarishvili inside their camp, either. “We are keeping the doors locked,” Ghlonti told EurasiaNet.org. “He [Kitsmarishvili] is there with some 15 men, but he is not going to get in here.”
Celebratory artillery boomed from the White House lawn this morning in downtown Bishkek as Roza Otunbayeva handed power to new President Almazbek Atambayev.
The ceremony, which lasted roughly an hour, was conducted almost entirely in Kyrgyz, the “state language” of this multiethnic republic that is rarely spoken by the minorities who make up 30 percent of the population. Many Kyrgyz, moreover, particularly in Bishkek, do not speak the language at all or only with difficulty.
Atambayev’s inaugural speech opened with the obligatory reference to Kyrgyz epic hero Manas, who has become a symbol fraught with nationalist implications, even as relative moderates like Atambayev present him as a hero for all ethnicities in the country.
In the brief part of the speech delivered in Russian, Kyrgyzstan’s “official language,” Atambayev made an effort to reach out to ethnic minorities.
First he described how many Russians and Uzbeks had left the country, only to find that they missed their homeland.
“This is because we can only be happy where we were born, where we grew up, where our ancestors are buried. Only together are we Kyrgyzstan!” he said, following with the kind of dog-whistle phrasing often used to slander Uzbeks after the June 2010 ethnic violence: “And those who try to divide people by nation or by region are enemies of the country!”
A senior Russian official has blamed the U.S. and NATO for the "murder" of Russian peacekeepers during the 2008 war in South Ossetia. The official, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council Vladimir Nazarov, made the comments at a conference in Moscow on Wednesday. From Itar-Tass (in Russian):
"The United States was directly involved in the murder of South Ossetia, Russian peacekeepers, soldiers and citizens," Nazarov said. "We have concrete evidence."
Unfortunately, he declined to present that evidence, so it's not really clear what he's talking about. His further comments suggest he may have been talking about a more indirect involvement, a general backing of Georgia:
“We would like to remind our NATO partners about the role the alliance has played in arming the Saakashvili regime, in pushing Georgia into that war and towards Georgia’s involvement in NATO in 2007 and 2008, at any cost.”
There was a rumor during the war that some African-American soldiers were involved in the war, a rumor furthered by RT. Is that what Nazarov is talking about? Is this some sort of smokescreen intended to divert attention from the embarrassing debacle unfolding now in Tskhinvali? We'll have to wait for him to present his evidence...
Via the Turcopedia blog, I learned that celebrity chef and world-class pain Gordon Ramsay recently took his show "Cookalong Live" into a London Turkish restaurant called Kazan, where the chef learned how to make some classics of the Turkish kitchen. Better than watching Ramsay learn how to stuff dolma is the reaction of the Turkish chef, who seems completely unimpressed about having the star in his kitchen. Take a look:
Is Turkey's defense industry a dangerous place to work? It certainly was for three engineers working for Aselan, a large military-owned defense contractor, all of whom died under mysterious circumstances in 2006 and 2007 that were ultimately ruled suicides. But questions have lingered about the deaths. For example, if one of the engineers, Huseyin Basbilen, had actually committed suicide, why was he found with his throat slit? Could there have been something more to these three deaths? In the case of Basbilen, investigators are now saying he was murdered. From a Hurriyet report about the case:
A Turkish engineer working on secret military projects was murdered and did not commit suicide, a court-appointed criminal expert has said, contradicting previous explanations for the man’s death in 2006.
Hüseyin Başbilen, an engineer at Turkey's military research and development enterprise, Aselsan, was found dead in his car on Aug. 7, 2006. A court ruled in 2009 that he committed suicide.
The case was reopened by a specially authorized prosecutor in Ankara as part of the "Ergenekon" investigation, which is probing an alleged ultranationalist gang that stands accused of attempting to overthrow the present government by force.
The criminal expert said Başbilen was not alone in his car at the time of death, drawing on material evidence, photographs and video recordings from scene of the incident, Arzu Yıldız of daily Taraf reported.
Other people’s fingerprints were found in the car, and his briefcase was planted in the vehicle after his death, the criminal expert's report said.
As Turkmenistan continues to pursue its own pipeline projects -- primarily with Beijing, but also promoting the Turkmen-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and indicating some support for the Trans-Caspian Pipeline -- Russia has become increasingly belligerent. Maybe this is just to gain a bargaining position, as there are indications that Turkmenistan's new gas deal with China will help delay the Trans-Caspian Pipeline between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, designed to circumvent Russia.
But could the Kremlin really start a war over the monopolist Gazprom losing one third of its business due to the TCP, if Turkmenistan really has enough gas -- and foreign investments -- to supply all comers?
The Bug Pit has asked the question of whether Russia would start a war, quoting various Russian analysts including Mikhail Aleksandrov of the Institute of CIS Countries: "Remembering what NATO did in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Russia has no barriers, moral or legal ones, for the use of force in the Caspian Sea."
The theory is that Russia would need a pretext to start military action -- but past experience shows that Moscow can exploit accidents (or -- as some in Ashgabat darkly hint -- cause them) such as the explosion in April 2009 on a Turkmen pipeline which triggered (or displayed?) deteriorating relations between Russia and Turkmenistan. The two countries are still arguing over whether it was Gazprom's fault for shutting off gas too quickly when it sharply reduced purchases after failing to get a lower price, or Turkmenistan's fault for having aging infrastructure.
Past experience has also shown that Russia can force other countries to allow themselves to be provoked -- as it did with Georgia. Could this happen with Turkmenistan?
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, November 23, 2011, China.
While the European Union was left still fretting over how much Turkmenistan was committed to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, and while Russia was left fuming that Turkmenistan shouldn't be building a pipeline without its consent (and supposedly didn't have enough gas to fill it anyway), President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov waltzed off to Beijing last week and picked up an order for an additional 25 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas.
The generous purchase from the Chinese National Petroleum Company brings to 65 bcm the amount to be pumped annually from Turkmenistan to China with soft loans of more than $8 billion -- double the volume of gas originally announced when construction began on the pipeline in 2009.
Turkmenistan has had diplomatic relations for 20 years with China. "The Turkmen and Chinese peoples are united by the respect for rich and unique culture and traditions of their countries," said the official Turkmen government website -- in other words, Berdymukhamedov never has to hear about human rights from Chinese leaders. For its part, Ashgabat supports China's "one-state policy" and opposes Taiwan independence in any form.
The Turkmen leader met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders on November 23 to discuss expansion of trade relations. Hu proposed a five-point plan including "strengthening political trust with high-level exchanges" between the two countries' governments, legislatures and political parties (Turkmenistan has only one; China has the dominating Communist Party but eight other parties under its direction). The Chinese president also suggested the two countries should consult "on major issues of mutual concern"; increase cooperation in non-resource sectors such as transportation and telecommunications; and expand people-to-people cultural exchanges.
Amidst reports of gunfire, a homegrown controversy over breakaway South Ossetia's de facto presidential election on November 30 threatened to degenerate into violence.
To most of the outside world, the November 13 poll in South Ossetia was illegitimate to begin with, but it sparked a major power struggle. Alla Jioyeva, a onetime education minister, has claimed the presidency following a runoff that gave her over 56 percent of the vote.
But the Kremlin-backed candidate Anatoliy Bibilov, alleging funny business, wasn't buying it. Bibilov petitioned the region's de facto Supreme Court to throw out the results. On November 29, the court complied, with the de facto parliament setting a fresh election date in March 2012.
Jioyeva, however, went ahead and set up a "state council," and headed with her supporters (numbering in the high several hundreds, according to Russia's RIA Novosti) out into the streets of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital, to protest the court's decision.
In response, the de facto government led by Eduard Kokoity accused Jioyeva of attempts to stage a "color revolution" -- an event portrayed within South Ossetia as the ultimate in dastardly deeds -- and threatened to take retaliatory measures. Apparently, those were limited to guards firing into the air as the Joiyeva crowd approached the de facto government headquarters, and tried to enter the region's de facto Central Election Commission.
With banners flying and policemen guarding the city’s main avenues, Bishkek is getting ready to inaugurate its first democratically elected president, Almazbek Atambayev, on December 1. But hopes for democratic justice are fading for one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent human rights defenders.
On November 29, the Supreme Court appeal of Azimjan Askarov and his co-defendants was delayed until December 20 when several lawyers for the accused failed to appear in court. The lawyers say the court purposefully informed them of the hearing too late.
Askarov, once a brave critic of police brutality, was convicted in September 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment for organizing other ethnic Uzbeks in attacks that killed a police officer in Bazar-Korgon, just outside Jalal-Abad, during the June 2010 ethnic violence.
The proceedings were punctuated by physical and verbal attacks by family members of the slain police officer on Askarov, the other defendants, and his lawyer. Throughout the extended appeals process the family has kept up the pressure, often with the overt support of local authorities. After one appeal in November 2010, local police officers reportedly joined family members in beating the defendants in a courthouse corridor.
Up until the Arab Spring spilled over so violently into Syria, the rapprochement with Damascus could have been considered one of the great successes of Ankara's outreach to its neighbors. But Turkey-Syria relations have deteriorated as rapidly as the situation inside Syria has, leaving Ankara with some very difficult policy choices, among the most prominent ones being how to deal with the issue of sanctions against the Assad regime. Ankara has suggested for weeks now that it will roll out a host of sanctions aimed at the Damascus regime, but has yet to make the details public. (Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu today said sanctions would soon be announced, after he holds consultations with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is recovering from a recent operation. More details here.) (UPDATE- Ankara Wednesday unveiled its new sanctions program, which includes a freeze on certain Syrian assets in Turkey and a hold on dealing with Syria's Central Bank, among other measures. Details here.)
The issue is, of course, a political one. But for Turkey, which uses Syria as an important trade route and whose imports to the country have boomed in recent years, the sanctions issue is also very much an economic one. In a recent piece in The National, analyst Henri Barkey, says Ankara's hesitation regarding Syria sanctions is strongly influenced by economic concerns: