Fresh revelations have emerged about the war of attrition between Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev.
According to The New York Times, since falling out spectacularly in 2007, the two sides have unleashed “an extraordinary lobbying and public relations war” in Washington that was once described by an unnamed State Department official as a “blood feud to the death.”
The report details how the two camps hired “dueling lobbyists” that recruited members of Congress to their rival causes. Aliyev hooked up with RJI Government Strategies to promote himself as a wronged democrat (though that idea is seen in Kazakhstan by the administration and the opposition alike as risible), while the Kazakh Embassy riposted with three lobbying deals worth $3.7 million, the report explained. Lobbyists for Astana – which says these PR agreements are not linked to Aliyev’s attacks – include APCO Worldwide and Policy Impact Communications.
Academic institutions also got involved in the mudslinging. “Kazakhstan paid institutes affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies more than $350,000 in the three years [studied] to subsidize research, resulting in largely favorable reports on the nation,” The New York Times found.
And now for news of bikini-wearing Turkish ladies and European integration.
The German newspaper Deutsch Tuerkische Nachrichten reports that 22-year-old Berna Keklikler of Gelsenkirchen has been named Miss Turkuaz Germany 2011, or the year’s prettiest Turkish-German woman. Kekliker, who works as a bookkeeper and is preparing to enter university, topped the list of some 250 contestants, winnowed to 22 for the final showdown in Cologne on May 18.
The ladies – unmarried, 18-26, and of Turkish heritage – appear to have engaged in usual beauty pageant fare: swimsuit competitions; ball gown strutting; waving theatrically with their arms. Of special concern for the organizers, a marketing firm called Ekip Group, however, was the winner’s ability to portray “the beautiful face[s] of successful integration.”
“Integration is not just subway fights, the Islamic conference, the debate around head covering, and education about Islam," the organizers of the event, Ekip LLC, write in a press release. Apparently, it is also a nice body and the desire to compete for the title Miss Germany, the prize of the competition along with a modeling contract and an iPad.
“Fifty years after the labor recruitment agreement between Turkey and Germany, integration is more important than ever. And prettier than ever,” the same high-minded press release goes on to say. “The return of the very impressive MISS TURKUAZ, Germany’s only beauty contest honoring the prettiest German of Turkish origins, illustrates this as well this year.”
Armenian journalist Nikol Pashinian and former parliamentarian Sasun Mikaelian left prison on May 27 as part of what many observers believe is a peace-making deal by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's government with ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosian's opposition Armenian National Congress coalition.
The two men, both prominent Ter-Petrosian backers, were imprisoned for their alleged role in deadly clashes between police and protesters after Armenia's 2008 presidential elections -- charges rejected by the opposition and many human rights activists as politically motivated.
President Serzh Sargsyan's amnesty order comes on the heels of a period about an "open dialogue" with the opposition; a dialogue that has not yet formally begun.
Only in Georgia can you see in one day and in the same place a bust-up between police and protesters that leads to the deaths of two people, followed by a military parade, and, finally, the resumption of life as normal.
Presumably, Nino Burjanadze knew she was spoiling for a fight when she stayed put on Tbilisi's Rustaveli Avenue and threatened to disrupt the May 26 Independence Day parade, an event that had had a full dress rehearsal -- fighter jets and army helicopters included -- just a week before.
You don’t get between the Georgian government and its love for pageantry. That said, there are limits. A kilometer-long performance of the military folk dance khorumi by Sukhishvili dancers wearing Georgian army uniforms was canceled.
Still, the show -- in one form or another -- is going on.
The government’s PR counterattack to claims of excessive force by police has been the usual talk about a Kremlin-orchestrated attempt to overthrow Georgia’s pro-Western government, with Burjanadze as the attack matrioshka.
To back up this point, police yesterday released a recording of alleged conversations between Burjanadze and her son, Anzor; today, government-friendly TV stations have looped footage of Burjanadze hanging out with Russia’s Vladimir Putin after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. It's anyone's guess what tomorrow will bring.
The Turkmen regime never forgives and never forgets.
Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, a former political prisoner, jailed for his broadcasts on Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was released in 2006, but has continued to suffer difficulties.
This week unknown vandals came and scrawled crude obscenities and drawings on the wall of his home, calling him a "traitor" and his wife a "prostitute," the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights reported.
Durdykuliev's arrest in 2004 came after he asked to hold a peaceful demonstration to express disatisfaction with past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. He was then thrown in a psychiatric hospital. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and the US Congress appealed on his behalf. He was finally released in 2006.
Although the hit song "Namag," which sounds like many other Turkish pop songs, doesn't break any new artistic ground, it certainly has broken political ground in Turkey. The video to the song, sung by Armenian Turk Sibil Pektorosoglu, is the first ever Armenian-language music video to be aired on Turkish television. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
“Namag” (Letter) by Sibil Pektorosoğlu, an Istanbul Armenian, has been gaining mainstream popularity and can now be heard echoing from shops along the city’s iconic İstiklal Avenue. The lyrics were written by master Armenian poet Hovhannes Şiraz while the singer’s music video was produced by one of Turkey’s most famous directors in the field, Özkan Aksular.
Pektorosoğlu said it was like a dream to release her album and broadcast her music video on Turkish television. “When I hear my songs on İstiklal Avenue, I cry,” she recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
The showing of Sibil's video seems to follow an interesting pattern in Turkey where various political efforts to reconcile with historic problems (Armenian and Kurdish, in particular) have faltered, while interesting new ground is being broken on the cultural front. More on that here.
Armenia's announcement this month that it was tripling its troop commitment to Afghanistan raised some eyebrows. It has no NATO aspirations, and has largely thrown in its strategic lot with Russia, as evidenced by the agreement it recently signed allowing a large, decades-long Russian military presence in the country.
But the newest trend in Eurasian geopolitics is multi-vectored foreign policy (i.e., trying to balance relations between various big powers rather than becoming dependent on a single one), pioneered by Kazakhstan but now increasingly deliberately employed across the region. And that means that even faithfully pro-Moscow states like Armenia have to hedge their bets a little. Thus, Armenia's contribution of two extra platoons (81 soldiers) to help guard the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif, bringing its troop contribution to a total of about 130. As Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan told Mediamax:
First of all, this step is based on Armenia's interests in accordance with the multi-layer and initiative foreign policy of our country, and demonstrates our particular place in the world order after the "cold war".
And he played down suggestions that cooperating with NATO in Afghanistan was somehow incompatible with Armenia's membership in the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, emphasizing the CSTO's cooperation with ISAF in Afghanistan:
Vladimir Norov, Uzbekistan's first deputy foreign minister, faced some significant heat on his country's poor human rights record during meetings this week in Berlin.
And apparently Germany also felt the heat, because Berlin stepped up with more public statements on human rights as a result, according to BBC's Uzbek Service. This could possibly signal a shift in Germany's policy of tending to keep such conversations to quiet diplomacy, given its friendly relations with Tashkent.
Yesterday, Umida Niyazova, head of the Uzbek-German Forum and a campaigner against forced child labor in Uzbekistan, met with Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at Germany ’s Federal Foreign Office.
Niyazova told Choihona that Löning informed her that he will keep raising the issue of forced labor in Uzbekistan, and believes that greater progress could be obtained on that issue than on more "political" issues such as the release of human rights defenders from prison.