Relations between former allies Turkey and Israel have been on the skids since last year, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turks in an attempt to take over a ship that was part of an aid convoy heading to Gaza. Turkey demanded Israel apologize and pay compensation for the deaths (and later added a third condition, that Israel lift is blockade of the Gaza Strip), but -- despite negotiations and efforts by Washington to bridge the divide -- Jerusalem refused to meet Turkey's demands.
After the flotilla incident, both countries joined a United Nations panel created to take a look at the event and perhaps assign some responsibility for what transpired. After months and months of delays, the report (here) was leaked yesterday to the New York Times. While strongly criticizing the conduct of Israel's military in both taking the ship over and in how it treated the passengers afterwards, the report deems Israel's naval blockade of Gaza and the interception of the ships heading there legal. It also has some harsh words about the motives of the flotilla's organizers, saying the convoy was more of a publicity stunt than a humanitarian effort.
The release of the report, as expected by many, has resulted in a futher -- and quite severe -- downgrading in Turkey's relations with Israel. From Hurriyet:
Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador and senior Israeli diplomats and suspended military agreements on Friday, the day after it emerged a U.N. report said Israel had used unreasonable force in a raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks, Reuters reported.
The Public Radio International news program, The World, recently went on one of Istanbul Eats' culinary walks and filed a report about the six-hour strolling and eating experience. Text here, and audio here.
New evidence annuls Kazakhstan's claim to be the place where horses were first domesticated. Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have uncovered evidence that pushes back the date of horse-taming by some 3,500 years.
A 2009 dig in Kazakhstan unearthed proof that horses had been tamed in the area some 5,500 years ago. The discoveries suggested that the horses were ridden and milked by the people living in the area at that time, around 1,000 years earlier than humans previously were believed to have used horses.
But now, DNA and carbon dating tests have revealed finds at Al-Maqar in Saudi Arabia to be 9,000-years old. Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, says these discoveries prove Saudi Arabia is the true birthplace of horse husbandry.
The once-nomadic, horse-loving Kazakhs might be outraged that the Saudi's have usurped their position. A cradle of Kazakh national identity, horse-related sports and food products are widespread in Kazakhstan. Kokpar, a furious version of polo played with a headless goat carcass, is popular in rural areas. Kumys -- fermented mares' milk -- remains a favorite springtime tipple and no Kazakh feast is complete without thick slices of kazy (horsemeat sausage) liberally adorning the table.
A bungled announcement about the end of Ramadan in Kyrgyzstan caused a minor scandal in Bishkek.
The AKIPress news agency reported that Orozo Ait, or Eid al-Fitr as it is known in the Arab world, was declared when Mufti Chubak-aji Jalilov caught sight of the moon at dusk on August 29. This marked the end of the 29th day of the fast, and with the Mufti’s declaration, according to the Labor Law of Kyrgyzstan, automatically made the next day a national holiday.
Unfortunately, such strict observance of Islamic law resulted in an overnight announcement, after many Kyrgyz had already gone to bed. As a result, a significant number of workers arose the next morning and went to work, only to learn via presidential announcement at 11:30 a.m. that they could have stayed in bed.
A commentary posted by the Paruskg.info news website worried that the incident represented the rise of an Islamic state in Kyrgyzstan. By declaring the holiday himself, the website wrote, the Mufti had superseded the state’s authority and undermined parliamentary governance.
Uzbekistan launches its own version of Facebook, Muloqot, on September 1 with claims the new social networking site will be “a convenient and cheap communication platform” for Uzbekistan’s mushrooming legions of social networking addicts.
The name of the bilingual Uzbek-Russian site says it all: Muloqot means “dialogue” or “communication” in Uzbek, and the forum is being touted as cheaper-to-access than sites hosted on foreign servers, with the added bonus of offering an Uzbek-language interface.
So has Uzbekistan – which global watchdogs call an “internet enemy” and say ranks as one of the most repressive countries on earth – suddenly committed itself to freedom of information? Hardly, say critics: Muloqot is more likely just another way of controlling the flow of information.
Uzbek IT company Simple Networking Solutions, which operates the site, is promoting Muloqot as a “web-based project which helps people express themselves and find an audience.”
The company does not mention that the website can also help the government’s cyber-spies find people who are trying to express themselves too freely.
To open an account, Muloqot users must give an Uzbek cellphone number, providing an easy means of monitoring who is posting what. There is no option to sign up without an Uzbek number, reducing chances the system will be infiltrated with dangerous foreign ideas. And to register for an Uzbek cellphone number, of course, one must present a passport.
More trouble in western Kazakhstan, which is beginning to acquire a reputation as a hotbed of Islamic militancy: Police in the oil city of Atyrau have shot dead a suspect they feared was plotting to commit “violent acts,” the Kazinform state news agency reports.
The suspect was mowed down in a gun battle on August 29 as law enforcers rounded up a group of 20 people they suspected of plotting “violent acts both on the territory of Atyrau Region and in neighboring regions of Kazakhstan,” Kazinform reported, citing “operational information.” The other members of the group were detained, reportedly in possession of weapons and explosives.
The incident comes on the heels of a bloody shootout in another energy-rich western region, Aktobe, last month. That episode left nine suspects and four law-enforcement officers dead. Officials offered the baffling account that the suspects were organized criminals sheltering behind the guise of religion.
In late July another cop was killed in Aktobe by gunfire from inside a house in which a man then blew himself up.
Until now, officials have appeared intent on denying that Kazakhstan faces any terror threat: The country’s first-ever suicide bomb in May in downtown Aktobe was blamed on the mafia rather than militants, and a later blast in Astana remains shrouded in mystery.
Usually Kyrgyzstan’s politicians kiss up to Moscow. So it’s peculiar when one says something that looks (if anyone is looking) deliberately designed to provoke the Kremlin.
Russia must pay billions for its “Kyrgyz genocide” 95 years ago, says Nurlan Motuyev, one of Kyrgyzstan’s 83 presidential candidates in the upcoming October 30 polls. Motuyev – nicknamed the “coal king” for allegedly seizing a profitable mine during political unrest in 2005 – has reemerged on something of a pro-Islam ticket and seems to be looking for an enemy. While usually China or the United States make easy, anodyne targets, Motuyev is pointing a finger, according to an account in the Kyrgyz press, at Russia.
Back in 1916, as the Russian Empire was losing World War I in Europe, the Tsar attempted to draft non-Slavs into the army. Rebellion, which the Russians brutally suppressed, broke out in the distant provinces of Central Asia. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands were killed or died fleeing over the mountains to China. Hushed up throughout the Soviet era, today the episode is commemorated as Urkun (“exodus”).
Genocide is a strong word, as Kyrgyzstan knows well from the global opprobrium following last year’s bout of ethnic violence in the south. That was not genocide either, but the word – bandied about in press reports – stung many Kyrgyz who still feel the international community has unfairly judged them.
Amb. George Krol (L) and Sen. Lindsey Graham at President Karimov's residence, August 27, 2011
US Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina was received by President Islam Karimov at his residence in Tashkent on August 27, Uzbek state media reported. Ambassador George Krol, the new US envoy to Tashkent, also attended the meeting. Uzbek TV quoted Karimov as saying Uzbekistan “highly values relations” with the US and has seen “great positive things in our relations, especially most recently.“ According to the typically filtered government reports, the American senator was said to discuss resolution of the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan and ways to stabilize the region.
Gov.uz quoted Graham as stressing the importance of economic renewal and solving social problems in Afghanistan. While official reports didn't specifically mention the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) which supplies NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, no doubt the senator discussed Tashkent's crucial role in helping the NDN. Uzbekistan is known to serve as a key transit air hub through Termez and has supplied food and fuel by train as well. The US has been actively involved in promoting business and economic opportunities around the NDN, seeing it as important to security of the region and an evenutal "Silk Road" to prosperity.
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the UN
Logo for 20th Anniversary of Uzbekistan's Independence
In preparation for the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence, to be celebrated September 1, authorities have been furiously cleaning out any "undesirables" from the capital of Tashkent. Months ago, under the rubric of urban renewal, more than a thousand small businesses were destroyed, reportedly without compensation, and numerous people have lost their homes, EurasiaNet reported. Police are also capturing and destroying stray cats and dogs.
Police are checking documents and anyone found without a mandatory resident permit is subject to detention and removal. Those detained are taken to a special Center for Detention and Assignment of Vagrants and put on buses home. While the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, independent Uzbekistan still retains the Soviet-era system of propiska, or residential registration.
Turkmenistan celebrates its famous melons in August, and every year, the festivities become more elaborate as the holiday is invested with patriotic and political significance in the "Era of New Revival," as President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has dubbed his reign.
Following the tradition, the national holiday, the Turkmen Melon Day is widely and solemnly celebrated throughout Turkmenistan on the second Sunday of August. Serving as a hymn to diligence and constructive talent of Turkmen melon growers, it has gained a new scale and content today, in the epoch of new Revival and become a vivid embodiment of historic changes taking place in the ancient Turkmen land.
The holiday involves elaborate festivals, concerts, scientific conferences, displays and so on, prompting the State News Agency of Turkmenistan to claim that there is likely no agricultural holiday in the world of this nature celebrated so extensively at a national level. And they may be right.
Turkmenistan boasts 420 melon types that scientists claim have existed for 14 centuries, and 200 of these are still grown today.
This year, the state horticulturalists outdid themselves.
According to the daily state newspaper Neitralnyi Turkmenistan, Omurguly Akhmedov from Lebap province, the oldest melon cultivator in Turkmenistan, has bred three special melons this year: one named "Ruhnama," after the cult book imposed by past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov which still remains a required subject for university exams; another called "Arkedag," which is the title increasingly used to refer to Berdymukhamedov, and which means "Protective Mountain" or "Protector" and a third, a watermelon, called "President."