President Almazbek Atambayev meets his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Ankara.
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has made his first foreign trip since becoming president, to Turkey. And while trade and aid seemed to top the agenda, the two sides also agreed to increase military cooperation, reports 24.kg:
Turkey will assist Kyrgyzstan in strengthening of Defense Ministry, Security Council and Frontier Service. It was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Ruslan Kazakbaev during the official visit of President Almazbek Atambayev to Turkey.
According him on bilateral negotiations the issues of security, fighting against international terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, strengthening of Defense Ministry, Frontier Service and law machinery,” said Ruslan Kazakbaev.
As the minister noted the issue of quota increasing for students, officers and young diplomats wishing to study in Turkey was also discussed. “Turkish part is going to support our request,” added the Minister.
And Central Asia Online reports, citing a Kyrgyzstan defense ministry statement, that Turkey will help build a military school in Osh and build up the country's defense industry:
“One of the high-priority issues for Kyrgyzstan is construction of an Armed Forces Military Institute in Osh,” said Kyrgyz Defence Minister Taalaybek Omuraliyev. “Its creation would permit us to train highly skilled officers for the Armed Forces and other Kyrgyz military forces.”
“Another important direction that we’d like to develop is the opening of joint defence industry factories,” he said. “We could foresee the conduct of joint tactical counter-terrorism exercises in Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.”
A pseudonymed analyst writing in Asia Times suggests that the visit was an effort by Atambayev to add more vectors to his country's foreign policy:
Azerbaijan continues to take the flak for roughshod treatment of the media and political critics. But sitting on an embarrassment of hydrocarbon wealth, the country is in no hurry to change its ways. Behind the maquillage of spruced-up buildings and streets in Baku, rights groups see a ruling political dynasty plagued by rampant nepotism and corruption.
Call this wishful thinking, but could a change in the approach to ethnic tensions be underway at Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, the GKNB? This week its new boss suggested that his agency may no longer conflate ethnic tensions with Islamic extremism – a welcome development and a stark change from the rhetoric under his predecessor.
Shamil Atakhanov told parliament’s defense and security committee on January 16 that his GKNB was watching 29 especially sensitive ethnic flashpoints, the 24.kg news agency reported, and creating contingency measures to calm local populations in the event of violence. At the same hearing, Deputy Interior Minister Baktybek Alymbekov listed 147 potential flashpoints. There was no mention of Islamic extremists.
Atakhanov, who was appointed by newly elected President Almazbek Atambayev in December, also censured Batken Governor Arzybek Burkanov and his subordinates for failing to respond to a December 29 fight between local Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the far distant Lyalyak District, where Kyrgyz residents complain that Tajik nationals are illegally settling on Kyrgyz land, a process they call “creeping migration.”
Batken, Kyrgyzstan’s most remote province, shares porous borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In some places the frontier is not defined, leading to frequent disputes over land and water resources that many observers worry could explode into the kind of ethnic violence Osh has seen twice in the last generation, or worse.
Foamy on top, viscous in the middle, sludgy on the bottom -- Turkish coffee is a multilayered and complex thing. Likewise the drink's history, which turns out to be a complicated and no so sweet one. As NPR's Salt blog recounts in a recent post, during the reign of one 17th-century Ottoman sultan, taking a sip of Turkish coffee could lead to big trouble. From the blog:
Sultan Murad IV, a ruler of the Ottoman Empire, would not have been a fan of Starbucks. Under his rule, the consumption of coffee was a capital offense.
The sultan was so intent on eradicating coffee that he would disguise himself as a commoner and stalk the streets of Istanbul with a hundred-pound broadsword. Unfortunate coffee drinkers were decapitated as they sipped.
Murad IV's successor was more lenient. The punishment for a first offense was a light cudgeling. Caught with coffee a second time, the perpetrator was sewn into a leather bag and tossed in the river.
But people still drank coffee. Even with the sultan at the front door with a sword and the executioner at the back door with a sewing kit, they still wanted their daily cup of joe. And that's the history of coffee in a bean skin: Old habits die hard.
The rest of the post can be found here. And for a taste of Turkish coffee as it should be, check out this Istanbul Eats recommendation.
Kazakhstan likes to portray itself as open to dialogue with the West – but is it open to criticism?
After observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) slammed Kazakhstan’s January 15 parliamentary vote as fraudulent, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has announced that in future certain “experts” voicing critical views will be banned from attending Kazakhstan’s elections.
“We are no longer going to invite to Kazakhstan experts hired by someone who criticize our elections,” Nazarbayev said on January 18.
He did not name the OSCE or any other organization or individual, but his remarks came two days after the OSCE-led observation mission issued a stinging critique of Kazakhstan’s poll, which it said “did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections.”
Nazarbayev, on the other hand, said the vote was “unprecedented in terms of transparency, openness and honesty.”
He pointed out that most international observers had found the vote to be free and fair, which is true – cooperative regional bodies such as the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States (a club of former Soviet countries) gave the election a ringing endorsement, right on cue.
Ever since Azerbaijan won the right to host Europe's main music powwow, the big question has been whether or not next-door Armenia would opt to send singers to the event. After the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the bloodiest of the post-Soviet world's conflicts, many Armenians and Azerbaijanis can barely stand the sight of one another.
Although Azerbaijan promised a safe, open-to-all show, safety concerns persisted in Armenia. Now the two countries have an opportunity to rise above their endless feud and deliver a positive message. Or, at the very least, to shelve the conflict for a few, brief, sequin-studded minutes.
Granted, the contest is unlikely to resolve the deep-running grievances over the still-smoking Karabakh fight. Yet with the right act, it could help break the ice.
But things could also go wrong if the two sides choose to deliver rebukes to one another through their songs. And don't think it couldn't happen. Eurovision generally tends to be highly political, but even more so in this part of the world. Neighboring Georgia’s entry for the 2009 Eurovision in Moscow got cut when the Georgians tried to poke fun at much-hated Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
In any case, with the Armenians in it, the contest is shaping up as the event of the year in the South Caucasus, and one that no war, riot or election can overshadow.
Georgia’s richest housewife has set aside the cares of hearth and home and walked onto the political stage in a big way. Make way for Ekaterine Khvedelize, the wife of billionaire-cum-opposition-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The little-known Khvedelidze last week became the commander-in-chief of the Ivanishvili political army -- known as the Georgian Dream movement -- that hopes to give the boot to President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement party in this year's parliamentary elections.
Ivanishvili cannot chair his own political movement because his Georgian citizenship has been revoked by the government, which argues that his Russian and French citizenship violated Georgia's laws on citizenship. Khvedelidze’s Georgian citizenship, though similarly revoked, was reinstated late last month. And a political career was born.
With a decision today to give life in prison for one of the several suspects in the 2007 murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, an Istanbul court brought the drawn-out and controversial case to a close, but offered little closure to Dink's family and supporters and found itself facing strong criticism over its verdict.
Dink, the outspoken editor of the Armenian-Turkish weekly Agos newspaper, was gunned down in front of the paper's Istanbul offices on Jan. 20, 2007. His assassin, a 17-year-old named Ogun Samast, was sentenced (as a minor) to 22 years in jail in July. But the sentencing of Samast still left open the question of what role did the 19 other people arrested in the case play in the murder and, more importantly, what was the involvement of certain elements of the police and other state bodies in the killing?
Today's verdict did little to answer those questions. Despite fairly strong evidence indicating there was an organized plot with links to the police, all 19 were acquitted of being part of a conspiracy (or a "terrorist organization," as the indictment put it) to kill Dink and only one of them convicted for instigating the murder. As the New York Times reports, the verdict was swiftly criticized by Dink's lawyers and other observers:
Russia will be holding a series of military exercises in the North Caucasus, Armenia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia this fall, reportedly in preparation for a possible U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran. The exercises, called Kavkaz-2012, will be held in September and won't be tactical/operational but strategic (i.e. won't involve large numbers of troops). The exercises will, however, include officers from the breakaway Georgian territories. The focus on surveillance, air defense and logistics suggests that Russia is tailoring the exercise to prepare for a U.S.-Israel-Iran war, says Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta:
As suggested by the head of the Center for Military Forecasting, Colonel Anatoly Tsyganok, "Preparations for the Kavkaz-2012 exercises seems to have begun already largely due to the increasing military tensions in the Persian Gulf." "In a possible war against Iran may be drawn some former Soviet countries of South Caucasus. How, then, to ensure the viability of Russian troops stationed abroad, for example, in Armenia? Apparently, the General Staff will plan some proactive measures, including learning to organize in critical logistic supply of troops," said the expert.
“Water is the source of life and a sea of energy,” the ministry's bureaucrats warble (with varying degrees of talent) in their hymn to the country's as-yet only abundant source of energy. “We’ve come to sing of love," they add for good measure.
Georgia has been busy building hydropower plants and electricity transmission lines in hopes of becoming the region’s main electricity hub, with power exports not only to neighboring Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia and Turkey, but further afield to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In the second quarter of 2011 alone, Georgia exported $14 million worth of electricity, making hydropower one of its main exports, according to the National Statistics Office.
Electricity, though, still lags behind such export staples as metal, scrap metal and ammonium fertilizers. Used cars top the main exports, but there is no song about old cars yet.
Georgia, long renowned for its singing prowess, is not the only one in the neighborhood singing energy songs, however. Gazprom’s company song is already a classic, which has merited international criticism, including from The Financial Times.