Almost 24 hours after the vote, and after a widespread public outcry in Bishkek, parliament has published the text of the controversial resolution it passed last night. It turns out, though MP Irgal Kadyralieva is still insisting to the press that she wishes to protect the Kyrgyz "gene pool,” the final resolution does not limit travel for women based on their age.
In the confusion -- fueled by multiple press appearances where Kadyralieva insisted women under age 22 or 23 must be forbidden from traveling abroad without a parent's consent -- early on June 13 activists in Bishkek lashed out at the resolution.
“This legal act is absurd,” Vechernii Bishkek quoted Aikanysh Jeenbaeva, co-founder of the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ as saying. “It's not going to protect anyone. It will only increase corruption. Now girls will have to pay bribes at the border.”
“Deputies acted ignorantly by passing the resolution,” human rights Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun was quoted as saying. “Don't they know that they're violating the Constitution, civil rights, and freedom of movement?”
Americans are still forbidden from adopting Kazakh children, an official in Astana has said. The ban will continue until Kazakhstan receives a satisfactory explanation from US authorities about the circumstances in which two orphans from the Central Asian state were found in a home for troubled kids last year.
The two children were found on a ranch housing children with “deviant behavior” in July 2012, Raisa Sher, chairwoman of the government’s Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights, told Tengri News on June 12.
She did not name the children’s home, but last July there were children from Kazakhstan among those staying at the Ranch for Kids Project in Montana when a group of Russian officials turned up with a film crew in tow to demand access to Russian orphans and created an outcry when they were refused.
The ranch describes itself as “a respite care home for adopted children who are experiencing difficulties in their families.” Russian children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, a member of the delegation that visited last summer, described it as “a trash can for unwanted children.”
Sher said that Astana had not received “information” from the American authorities despite requesting clarification over the incident, and therefore “we are not renewing the adoption procedure with the United States of America until we receive a response from that country under the Hague Convention on the fulfilment of international obligations.”
The United Nations’ International Labor Organization has designated June 12 as World Day Against Child Labor.
Unfortunately, child labor remains a serious problem in Central Asia, especially in the cotton sector. Uzbekistan is particularly notorious for forcing school-age kids into the cotton fields to help gather the crop.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has posted a photo essay highlighting the problem of child labor. It’s well worth a look, and serves as a reminder that there is a lot of work still to be done to make sure Central Asia’s kids don’t keep having their childhoods stolen.
Wounded in Afghanistan by both weapons and words, Georgia appears to be busy with damage-control for its participation in the NATO-led mission there.
A June 6 truck-bomb attack that killed seven Georgian soldiers, the deadliest such incident to date for Georgian forces in Afghanistan, has sparked an unprecedented outpouring of domestic criticism of the Afghan campaign. With a presidential election just four months away, that criticism is something the Georgian government is eager to check.
In a TV talk-show interview on June 11, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania emphasized that troop security is first and foremost on the government's mind, and in its discussions with NATO. Among other security measures, he said, at Tbilisi's request, NATO's joint command will change the deployment areas for Georgian troops, currently stationed in the southern Helmand province.
The June 6 attack on the Shir Ghazay base happened just as Georgian forces were about to vacate the site, he added. He underlined that the risk to Georgian soldiers will decrease as the NATO pullout gets underway, and their mission shifts from combat to training.
Repeating previous warnings, he also advised Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili not to announce beforehand his plans to visit Afghanistan (as Saakashvili is wont to do), noting that the information puts soldiers' lives at risk.
Finally, he dismissed calls for bringing the troops home, saying that Georgia will see its Afghan mission through.
With Tuesday's violent police operation to clear out the protestors from Taksim Square, the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have temporarily won the battle to control that patch of downtown Istanbul, but its actions came with a high price, inflicting heavy damage on its international standing and setting the stage for what is likely to be prolonged conflict, something that will only further harm the country.
One only needed to take a look at CNN and its hours of live coverage devoted to the police takeover of Taksim and the ensuing protests to realize that a new narrative was being developed about Turkey. Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) may have spent the last ten years cultivating an international image for Turkey of a tourist- and international finance-friendly democracy on the rise, but the images that were being shown on international television screens told a very different story.
In that sense, today's events helped speed up what was becoming a problematic dynamic for Erdogan and his government over the past 11 days of ongoing protests in Istanbul, Ankara and several other cities, in that the kind of questions about the PM's increasingly autocratic rule that were previously only asked domestically were now starting to be discussed more regularly internationally.
To make sure exiles from Syria feel at home in Armenia, the government has commissioned the construction of an entire settlement called New Aleppo.
Located 20 kilometers shy of the capital, Yerevan, the residential project will accommodate some of the thousands of Syrians of Armenian descent, who escaped the war in Syria.
New Aleppo, named in honor of the wartorn northern Syrian city that houses most of Syria's ethnic Armenian population, will sit on 4.8 hectares (some 11 acres) of land in the industrial town of Ashtarak.
Armenia's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs reports that some 600 families have expressed willingness to move into the development's apartments. They will be expected to pay half the cost of the flats; the authorities and charity groups are expected to pick up the rest of the tab.
With some 7,000 Syrian-Armenians now seeking residency in Armenia, the government says that more Syrian quarters will be popping up across the country as well.
The Syrian Diaspora, estimated to be over 100,000-strong, descends from ethnic Armenians who fled World-War-I-era massacres in Ottoman Turkey. Now, a century later, the bloody rebellion in Syria has driven the community back to what is considered their ancestral homeland.
Some commentators say that preserving the Armenian community in Syria should be the main priority for Yerevan. Fears exist that the Diaspora exodus could reduce Armenia’s ability to exert any influence in the Middle East, long seen as an important Diaspora outpost.
Every Sunday morning a fenced area near the Georgian city of Marneuli fills with sheep, horses, cattle, and other livestock. The market is an important source of income for locals, most of whom are ethnic Azeris. It's also a prominent trading spot for shepherds from other regions during their seasonal migration through the area.
Temo Bardzimashvili is a freelance photojournalist based in Tbilisi.
After giving a nice fake pass and suggesting he may veto the controversial new alcohol law recently signed by parliament, Turkish President Abdullah Gul today went ahead and signed the new bill, a move that will likely only increase tensions in Turkey.
The Hurriyet Daily News gives a rundown of the new law's restrictions, here. Among its main features are a complete ban on retail alcohol sales between 10pm and 6am, an almost complete ban on the advertising of alcoholic beverages, a restriction that requires establishments selling alcohol to be 100 meters away from "religious and educational" facilities and a ban on screening images in films and on television that show (or even "glorify") the consumption of alcohol. (A similar provision in an anti-smoking law passed in Turkey several years ago forced broadcasters to blur out the screen any time someone lit up.)
Sign promoting Rahmon and the Rogun hydropower project, in the town of Rogun. (photo: The Bug Pit)
The conflict between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over the proposed Rogun dam could, as Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov has threatened, lead to war between the two countries. Thanks to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, I was able to take a reporting trip to Tajikistan in April and May. And while a detailed report will be coming out later this summer, here's a bit of a taste, with some photos from Rogun:
The conflict, of course, is more than just about the dam, which is why it's so interesting – and also difficult to solve. The roots, everyone in Tajikistan told me, date from the 1920s, when Soviets drew borders of the two republics that rendered Tajikistan so dependent on Uzbekistan for any access to the outside world (as well as, from the Tajik perspective, depriving Tajikistan of the jewels of their culture, Bukhara and Samarkand). That was more or less irrelevant during the Soviet period, and early post-independence when the governments of the two countries got along. But as relations soured (due to a variety of reasons, including both governments' support of rebel groups agitating against their respective neighbors), Uzbekistan began to use its geographic position as a means of bullying Tajikistan – by requiring visas for Tajikistan citizens, by mining the border, cutting off train routes, raising import duties, and on and on. And Rahmon sees Rogun as not just a way to get out from under Uzbekistan's thumb, but to do a little bullying itself. This is an illuminating U.S. diplomatic cable from Wikileaks:
It doesn’t suggest confidence in a currency when a prominent company refuses to accept it. That’s especially true when the company is owned by the same folks printing the money.
Uzbekistan Airways, the Central Asian country’s state-run flag carrier, reportedly plans to limit the number of tickets it sells in exchange for Uzbekistan’s national currency, the sum.
The airline will adopt quotas to limit its intake of the hapless Uzbek sum from July 1, report Uzmetronom.com and Fergana News. Under the new rules, only World War Two veterans, some disabled, some business travelers, and those attending the funerals of immediate relatives may continue to purchase tickets for sums, Uzmetronom – a site believed to be used to distribute leaks from Uzbekistan's security services – reported June 7.
"All other citizens will have to buy tickets in US dollars,” Uzmetronom said. Cash only, it added.
Moscow-based Fergana News notes that the airline stopped accepting sums for trips originating outside of Uzbekistan in August 2011.
Anyone holding a sack full of sums won’t be surprised. Authorities have long failed to eliminate the black market for the currency. Dollars are currently exchanging hands at about 2,750 sums each, while the official exchange rate stands at 2,085 sums to the dollar. Even at official rates, though, it is difficult to get any bank to part with its dollars.