Freedom House's latest Nations in Transit report doesn't tell any new story about Uzbekistan, but arranges the data in a compelling fashion to help us reflect on comparisons with the Arab Spring and the potential for change in this despotic Central Asian country.
A graph showing the years of entrenched leadership of the post-Soviet region is a vivid indication of the problem -- the highest bars are in Central Asia, with Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov among the longest in power (19 years), and with others showing change only by ensuring continuation of a family dynasty (Azerbaijan) or a "tandemocracy" (Russia) or changing nothing fundamental about the past dictator's legacy (Turkmenistan).
Uzbekistan has ranked at the bottom of the scale for assessment of the post-Soviet nations for years due to its harsh crackdown on political and religious dissent.
“The recent upheaval in the Middle East should raise real questions among authoritarian, seemingly entrenched regimes in the former Soviet countries,” says David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House, in a preface to the report.
The Turkish Prime Ministry's "Board for the Protection of Children from Harmful Publications" has struck again. The body, which has the power to go after publications that it deems dangerous to children, has recently imposed a $90,000 fine on Harakiri, a small adult-oriented graphic magazine, for having "a harmful influence on the moral of minors." From an article in the Bianet website:
In the notification sent by the protection board, the caricature "Relations" by Mehmet Ersoy is alleged of "encouraging extramarital relations". The decision continues, "Next to the writing entitled "selfish" on page 15 the female genitals can be seen. On page 44, pictures show a naked couple in different positions of sexual intercourse. The cartoonish pictures enhance sexual incitement. The drawings supported by speech bubbles and drawings ordered like a photo romance plus the narration have a stronger influence on our children. (...) Societies established social norms in order to protect their assets and to provide social order. Press and publication outlets must comply with these norms".
More details here. The board was also behind the recent fining of an Istanbul publisher that issued a Turkish translation of William S. Burrough's 1961 novel "The Soft Machine." More on that in this previous post.
This post was amended on 6/30/11; the report does not cover the May 26, 2011 clash between police and protesters in Tbilisi.
In keeping with a persistent trend, the state of democracy in the South Caucasus ranges from so-so (Georgia) to bad (Armenia) to really bad (Azerbaijan), according to the recently released "Nations in Transit," an annual democracy health test for the former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe, prepared by the Washington, DC-based Freedom House.
First case: Azerbaijan. The country was diagnosed with a “Consolidated Authoritarian Regime,” a chronic and “severe disregard of basic freedoms” and of “due democratic process.” The richest in resources and the poorest in democracy of the three South Caucasus countries, energy-rich Azerbaijan saw its 2011 score slip by a seventh of a point to 6.46, a notch above the absolute-failure score of 7.
Last year’s parliamentary vote, widely seen as a state-managed show to lend a whiff of legitimacy to Azerbaijan's ruling Aliyev dynasty, contributed to the decline. The report holds that the ruling elite continues to bathe in the country’s natural resources -- oil and gas -- and allows no leeway for opposition, media or civil oversight; in effect, leaving Azerbaijan vulnerable to the same pressures that led to the Arab uprisings.
A Washington, DC neighborhood blog has a very tantalizing post up about the possibility of Uighur activist and businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer opening a kebab restaurant in the city's historic Anacostia neighborhood. With that neighborhood located just a hop and a skip away from Capitol Hill, it's not hard to imagine that Kadeer's culinary venture (if it opens) will have a a bit more than kebab and lagman on the menu. Politics or no politics, this is a development that DC foodies should definitely keep their eye on. More details here.
PS -- Visitors to Istanbul looking for good Uighur food (sans politics) should visit Mihman, near the Grand Bazaar. An Istanbul Eats review here.
"Neutral Turkmenistan" prides itself on balancing relations with many competing powers. Yet it's hard to know why Sudan's dictator, Omar Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, was turned away by Turkmenistan when he sought to fly from Iran to China over Turkmen territory on Monday.
According to reports from Bloomberg and other wire services, Bashir was requested not to fly through Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, because of concerns about the enforcement of the ICC warrant. Tajikistan is a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC; Turkmenistan is not.
Wasil Ali, deputy editor-in-chief of the Sudan Tribune has a different story. In a comment on Twitter June 27, he said, "#Sudan parliament said #tajikistan and #turkmenistan fell under #US pressure to block #Bashir plane #ICC
He said Sudanese newspapers carried reports yesterday about how US fighter jets were supposedly planning to intercept Bashir's plan en route to China. Yet officially, the Sudanese papers said Turkmenistan refused to allow Bashir's plane "due to turbulence" and recommended he take the route across Afghanistan. Reuters also quoted the Foreign Ministry's explanation that the route across Turkmenistan had to be changed, causing the pilot to return.
Turkmenistan had no comment about the incident and it has not been covered by state media.
Last week's joint military exercises between Russia and Kazakhstan posited an intriguing threat scenario -- a cruise missile attack, which a top Kazakh military officer called "topical" because it reflected "the latest events happening in the world." The reference to the U.S./NATO war in Libya was unmistakeable. But Roger McDermott, writing in Jamestown's Eurasia Daily Monitor, takes that analysis a step further:
An analysis of “recent events” influencing the splicing of this aspect into the planned scenario fits the intervention against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya by France, the UK and US forces, but is NATO intervention in eastern Kazakhstan even remotely plausible? The range factor is perplexing: at the upper limit of long-range cruise missile systems. Indeed, the location of this rehearsal suggests that the “hypothetical opponent” most likely has a much closer proximity.
McDermott doesn't spell it out here, but could they have instead be envisaging a Chinese attack, and masking it by making a veiled NATO reference? As distrustful as Russia is of the U.S., it definitely recognizes that China is more of a threat in its eastern flank. And Kazakhstan, too, is likely more worried about China's intentions than those of NATO. But politically, it's easier to make references to a NATO threat than a China one, especially as the SCO summit just concluded in Astana. It would be interesting to know how this exercise is being seen in Beijing...
Originally Prokudin-Gorskii made an estimated 3500 photos from his travels all over the old Russian Empire, using his own three-plate color process. When he fled Russia in 1918, half of them were confiscated by the Bolshevik government and never recovered.
Even in linguistics and nomenclature, Tbilisi is keen to embrace Western ways, it seems. The Georgian government on June 27 told the world to quit using the Russian name for Georgia, "Gruzia," and to switch to the international, English-language version, "Georgia."
As expected, the members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) boycotted today's swearing-in ceremony of the new Turkish parliament to protest the exclusion of six of the party's members who are either in jail or had their eligibility to enter office stripped.
Now it seems the party might be upping the stakes in their standoff with the state and creating a kind of "shadow parliament" in the Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir, in southeast Turkey. From the pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency:
Labor, Democracy and Freedom Block has announced that they will continue to boycott the parliament and hold the group meetings each week in Diyarbakir until the problem of six detained deputies is resolved.
Making a statement to the press on behalf of block deputies after the meeting at Diyarbakır Cigerxwin Youth Cultural Center, Siirt MP and former BDP Co-Chair Gültan Kışanak has repeated the Labor, Democracy and Freedom Block's decision to boycott the parliament.
Kışanak, remarking that they are aware of their duties and responsibilities, criticized that the political power doesn't take any concrete steps towards a solution.
Kışanak underlined that the YSK's decision to strip off Dicle of his legal mandate and not to release five deputies who are detained under the "KCK case" is a political coup against the solution opportunities, noting that they will continue their struggle in an active way until a solution is found to the current problems.