A screenwriter taking on an all-powerful, dynastic national leader in a presidential election sounds like a film script that Academy-Award-winner Rustam Ibragimbekov could have written. Except that this one could well be autobiographic for Ibragimbekov.
Elected on June 7 as the chairperson of Azerbaijan's opposition coalition, the National Council for Democratic Forces, screenwriter Ibragimbekov has not yet been nominated as a candidate for office in Azerbaijan's October presidential elections, but local news outlets like the daily newspaper Zerkalo believe that it is only a matter of a few weeks. The coalition plans to nominate a joint candidate at their next convention. Ibragimbekov, 74, told Reuters that, if nominated, “I’ll have to take this on and I am not afraid to."
The rival camp, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijani Party, predictably nominated President Ilham Aliyev to run for a third term in October. Apart from the tightly-run state apparatus, much of the business elite and a largely muzzled media, Aliyev has his family on his side. His wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, was elected the deputy head of the ruling party. The cultivated image of his late father, the celebrated President Heydar Aliyev, also provides support.
An Afghan Mi-17 helicopter, the same type India is reportedly giving to Tajikistan. (photo: U.S. Army)
India will give two military transportation helicopters to Tajikistan when its defense minister visits Dushanbe in July, Indian press is reporting. During his visit next month, A K Antony also will inaugurate a military hospital in Farkhor in southern Tajikistan, according to a report from the Press Trust of India.
I asked a well-connected Indian defense journalist about this and he said his sources confirmed the report, and that the helicopters in question would be two Mi-17s. The plan to give them to Tajikistan had been made some time ago, but India's requirements for UN peacekeeping and for fighting the Naxal rebellion in India meant that there were no spare aircraft until now, the source tells The Bug Pit.
Separately, another news item also speaks to how Central Asia's militaries are looking to new sources for hardware: Kyrgyzstan is reportedly acquiring air defense systems from China. From CentrAsia.ru:
"Our cooperation will enter a new level and will continue to gather momentum. Moreover, we are glad that the company [CETC International] expresses interest in realizing projects of air defense systems and radar stations, as these questions are relevant for us," said [Kyrgyzstan's deputy defense minister Colonel Zamir] Suerklov.
It's not clear whether Kyrgyzstan is buying these systems or China is giving them as aid, or what kind of air defense we're talking about. Either way, it's an intriguing development given that Russia just promised Bishkek more than $1 billion in military aid, and that there are ongoing plans to create a joint CSTO air defense system.
In late 2011, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan underwent surprise surgery on his digestive tract and rumors were swirling that the leader was sick with cancer and didn't have long to live, even Erdogan's most vocal critics seemed to have a hard time imagining a Turkey without the mercurial Erdogan running it. The shoes were simply to big to fill, the political space he took up almost impossible to occupy.
Cut to today and it seems that in the wake of the recent protests in Istanbul and other cities, even some the PM's supporters are already contemplating a post-Erdogan Turkey. Sure, Erdogan still has a solid base of support and can still rally his troops and deliver one of his classic barnstorming speeches to get them fired up, as he did at Istanbul's Ataturk airport upon his return to Turkey earlier today from a trip to North Africa, but it's hard not to get the sense that there's something diminished about him. As commentator Mustafa Akyol put it, the recent turmoil in Turkey may signal that we may be looking at Erdogan’s "'solstice' — a turning point marking the shift from a steady rise to a gradual decline."
The latest and deadliest attack on Georgian troops in Afghanistan is putting to the test Georgia's patience with participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign there. Many Georgians now say the price the country is paying for moving up on the defense alliance's membership waiting list is too high.
A truck bomb attack on June 6 in Afghanistan's Helmand province killed seven Georgian soldiers and wounded nine more. Less than a month ago, three Georgian servicemen were killed in a similar attack. The short interval between the attacks and the growing Georgian military death toll (a total of 30 servicemen) has led to the most vocal outpouring of frustration within Georgia about the campaign in Afghanistan, where the South Caucasus country is the largest non-NATO troop contributor.
The June 6 appearance of a questionable YouTube video, in which supposed Taliban fighters declare jihad on Georgia, has added to that debate.
A close inspection of the video, which was posted from Georgia, has raised suspicions of a domestic job or even of Russian intelligence, but the video's timing has contributed to the unease.
A protest movement must be fed, and that’s exactly what the backbone of Turkish society – its exceedingly quick thinking and entrepreneurial merchant class – is doing.
In "occupied" Taksim Square, it wasn't long after the tear gas cleared that food started being supplied to the protestors, either by generous local businesses or more bottom-line oriented food cart operators. Reports Today's Zaman:
Food vendors probably made the most profits out of all of the vendors as endless customers swarmed around the sellers of meatball subs, watermelon, orange juice, corn and çiğköfte, a traditional dish made with bulgur wheat and spices. As many food places closed due to clashes between riot police and some protestors in the early days of the protest, the few buffets left made record high sales. In addition, many people flocked to street vendors to feed their hunger. A slice of watermelon was priced at TL 5 and the price of meatball subs rose by 50 percent from TL 5 to TL 7.5.
Sellers of tavuk pilav -- a mix of rice and chicken -- are also present among the vendors in Taksim. However, as their numbers increased, the price of a tavuk pilav plate went down from TL 5 to TL 3.5.
(Check out this Istanbul Eats Facebook page for more shots of food vendors in Taksim.)
You would think that after his near-death experience on the track a couple of weeks back Turkmenistan’s top jockey, Gurbanguly Berdymukhemedov, might stop playing with ponies for a while. But nooooo. …
Berdymukhamedov was back in the saddle the other day hosting Turkish President Abdullah Gül at the track in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat. Gül was in Turkmenistan on a state visit, during which he signed an array of bilateral agreements, including one on energy cooperation. Berdymukhamedov also lavished some nice swag on his Turkish guest, including a state medal, an honorary professorship and an Akhal-Teke horse.
It’s ironic that as Gul was buddying up to Berdymukhamedov, whose regime is ranked by watchdog groups as one of the most despotic on earth, protests were erupting in Istanbul over the Turkish government’s increasingly authoritarian ways. Makes you wonder whether Berdymukhedov has been giving Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointers on how to trample on individual rights?
Speaking of horses, Berdymukhamedov clearly suffers from a strange strain of equinophlia. If you delve into the history of horse-obsessed despots, you may recall that the Roman Emperor Caligula expressed an intention to make his favorite horse a consul. So don’t be surprised if Berdymukhamedov issues a presidential decree one of these days appointing an Akhal-Teke stallion as education minister.
Yesterday was World Environment Day, a tricky occasion for the Turkish government, considering its brutal bulldozing of trees in the heart of Istanbul was the spark that led to the recent mass protests there and to what now might be a long-term "occupation" of the city's Taksim Square.
Tapped to give an official address to mark the day was Erdogan Bayraktar, the minister responsible for environmental issues. The environment was "number one" on the global agenda, the state-run Anatolian Agency reported the minister as saying. “The ability of ecological systems to renew themselves is severely limited and deteriorating every day,” Bayraktar further said. “Environmental issues have become topics that countries of diverse cultures and geographical characteristics have all agreed or have had to agree on.”
If Azerbaijani parents want to know the gender of their baby, they will have to wait for the baby to be born. The government could be about to land a ban on prenatal gender detection as a way to prevent sex-selective abortions.
In Azerbaijan and the rest of the macho, Caucasus vicinity, when parents ask an obstetrician if it's a boy or a girl, the response often determines will there be a child or not. The traditional preference for male children and increased access to medical technology are causing an alarming rate of discriminative abortion of female fetuses.
“Before ultrasounds, parents and grandparents did not know the sex of the baby before birth and were accepting any babies as a gift from the God,” Khady Rajabli, head of the Azerbaijani parliamentary committee for social policies, told the Kavkazsky Uzel news site. “Now that people are better informed, the ultrasound often is the cause of selective abortion practices.”
The practice is reflected in the demography of the country. The sex ratio at birth is 112 boys to 100 girls. Along with neighboring Armenia and Georgia, Azerbaijan is among the world’s most gender imbalanced countries, according to international data.
Apart from the moral argument against what is often called gendricide, specialists warn that, at this rate, Azerbaijani men may find it harder and harder to find female partners within Azerbaijani itself. The draft law, broadly supported and scheduled for parliamentary review in the fall, is expected to help change that situation by making responding to the question "Is it a boy or a girl?" illegal.
A model of the ship Dearsan is building for Turkmenistan. (photo: Cem Devrim Yaylali)
Turkmenistan is buying eight new well armed naval vessels from Turkey, marking a substantial increase in capability for the country's nascent navy.
The ships will be built by Dearsan, the Turkish shipyard which had already been contracted by Turkmenistan for two fast patrol boats. The eight new ships will be of the same size as the two previous ships, but better armed. Each will be equipped with four anti-ship missiles, two remote-controlled MANPADS-sized surface-to-air missile launchers, a 40 mm main gun, a six-barreled anti-submarine mortar, two remote-controlled 12.7 mm guns and two remote-controlled 25 mm guns.
This is according to Cem Devrim Yaylali, who blogs at Bosphorus Naval News. Yaylali spoke to a Dearsan representative at the recent IDEF defense expo in Istanbul, and took a photo of the model that Dearsan was presenting. And he was generous enough to pass along the information and photo to The Bug Pit.
Turkmenistan had already been reported to be acquiring five missile boats from Russia, in addition to the two Dearsan fast patrol boats.
I asked Dearsan for confirmation and more information, but didn't hear back. That is not surprising: they have been very quiet about their previous deals with Turkmenistan, no doubt at Ashgabat's request.
When Tea Tsulukiani became Georgia’s justice minister her task seemed tough, but straightforward: Take former corrupt officials to task and build an apolitical, widely trusted institution.
She worked hard, and, finally, made a chilling discovery: Many of Georgia's government-issued personal IDs contain the number 666, which is, of course, the mark of the Beast; a phenomenon of the end times, according to the Bible's Book of Revelation.
Tsulukiani hurried to share her find with the public. “I don’t mean to frighten believers, but tens of thousands of old IDs contain the number six three times in a row,” she said on June 4, Interpress reported. But fear not, she went on. Tsulukiani has vowed to make sure that Georgia's new, electronic ID cards will be free of the Beast and his number.
Many Georgians refused to accept the new, smart ID cards after some Georgian Orthodox groups affirmed that the card could bear the stamp of the Antichrist. (The Georgian Orthodox Church itself, however, denied it.) Of particular concern were personal details, which, the thinking went, might come in handy for the Antichrist whenever he might choose to strike.
Tsulukiani has said that including information beyond name and date of birth would be optional.
President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government had no patience to entertain such -- or, critics might charge, any -- public concerns about the cards. But the new, Georgian-Dream-led cabinet is eager to show that they're listening to voters -- particularly in a presidential election year.