Villagers in southern Kazakhstan have sacrificed a camel to ward off the evil eye after a spate of teenage suicides, a local TV channel reports.
The sacrifice was carried out in the village of Karabulak near Kazakhstan’s southern border with Uzbekistan to “drive the evil spirit out of the village,” Otyrar TV said, after two teenagers hanged themselves.
“Sixty years ago there was a similar case in our village,” Mayor Alimzhan Nishankulov told the TV channel. “At the time one elder said that it was necessary to sacrifice a white camel. Only then would there be peace and quiet here again. Our aim is to shelter young people from all afflictions.”
The local imam said that three teenagers who were saved during botched suicide attempts in recent weeks had subsequently told him of having strange dreams about an old man dressed in white. “In the visions the old man told them that life was pointless and called on him to follow them, pointing to a rope around his neck,” Imam Abdurrafi Rakhmutallayev said.
The creepy man who appeared in the dreams, the imam suggested, “was the devil in the form of a man who was manipulating them.”
Otyrar TV said that, in addition to the latest suicides, 14 people (mostly adolescents) had committed suicide in Karabulak in 2011. The previous year Kazakhstan also faced a baffling spate of teenage suicides.
Call it Godwin’s law in action; the longer an online debate goes on, the higher the probability becomes that one side will compare the other to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Hence, it took only so much German criticism of Azerbaijan's human rights record ahead of next month's Eurovision show in Baku before the country's ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party compared the Germans to the Nazis.
Like many Azerbaijani critics, many German officials and journalists have been thinking out loud that the continent’s major song contest should be used to push for an end to crackdowns on political dissent, free media and basic property rights, among other problem areas.
As the trial of 37 people accused of crimes related to fatal unrest in Zhanaozen last December continues in western Kazakhstan, prosecutors have singled out foreign journalists in their indictment of suspected ringleaders.
The Associated Press reported on April 27 that one of its correspondents was among reporters named in the charge sheet, which also named correspondents from the BBC and Kazakh newspaper Respublika, and a researcher from New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The indictment included transcripts of their December 16 conversations with Roza Tuletayeva, who faces up to 10 years in jail on charges of organizing mass unrest that day. It said she reported by telephone during the violence “to domestic and foreign correspondents,” described in the indictment as “miscreants.” In the transcripts, the reporters ask Tuletayeva what is happening and she describes events.
Tuletayeva is a former staff member from the OzenMunayGaz energy company who was involved in a strike that descended into violence last December. At least 16 people died when police fired on protestors.
Tuletayeva and others on trial have told the court that testimony was extracted from them by torture.
The indictment alleges that Tuletayeva was among ringleaders who organized premeditated unrest. It published transcripts of her SMS messages and calls, suggesting that her telephone was tapped before the unrest erupted.
Vegetarians in Central Asia must often explain to well-meaning restaurant staff that chicken and lamb (even when it’s ground) are meat. The idea that someone would purposely choose to avoid eating meat can be perplexing in a region where lamb, beef and sometimes horse are considered the heart of any good meal. Vegetarians have been known to swoon with joy over a plate of fried eggs at a truck stop -- after politely pushing aside the greasy hot dogs, of course.
Vegans? Stay at home.
In this desolate landscape, impoverished Tajikistan offers some traditional peasant fare that gives solace to Central Asia’s meat-avoiders, and anyone else looking for an alternative to shashlik.
Not just any eatery will do. In Dushanbe, seek out a café called Hojiyon – “pilgrims” in Tajik – in the city’s 112th “micro-district,” a Soviet-built suburb of faded, five-story cement blocks surrounded by kitchen gardens and rusting playgrounds.
Hojiyon’s specialties are kurtob and shakarob -- similar dishes, both eaten from shared wooden bowls, usually by hand. Kurtob is a jumble of flaky bread called fatir, fresh tomato and onion, oil (your choice of flax seed or vegetable) and kefir, a mildly fermented milk drink. A bit lighter and less soupy is the shakarob – fatir, tomatoes, onion and yoghurt, without the oil. Add salt and slices of hot, green pepper to taste. The result brings to mind a Central Asian take on Tuscan panzanella, a mushy salad of day-old ciabatta, tomatoes, onions and vinaigrette whose name comes from the word for “little swamp.”
He's naming no names, but outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev claims that Russia can’t follow the suit of some small countries (such as Georgia; nudge nudge, wink wink), and sack its entire (and legendarily corrupt) police force.
“Excuse me, but we are not a midget, a tiny little state that is sometimes brought to me as an example [of successful police reform],” Medvedev elaborated in an April 26 TV interview that some Russian media have termed his political swan song.
In one "tiny little state" south of Russia's border -- namely, Georgia -- the line from the Kremlin provided some grist to the government's ever-ready PR mill. And to its Policeman Number One, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili.
If the Russians hope that some of Georgia’s luck in reforming the police fobs off on them, “we are happy to help,” Merabishvili told the Georgian parliament on April 26.
But while its police overhaul still gives a major bragging point to the Georgian government, it is all too easy to look progressive and reformed given what kind of police forces are in the neighborhood. Shakedowns of drivers, public job-seekers and prisoners may have become a thing of the past, but a whole slew of domestic criticisms stands against the Georgian police, and the sheriff-in-chief was in parliament to address them.
The new complaints focus on abuse of authority by law enforcement officials and the government’s frequent reluctance to take matters in hand. Critics claim that the Georgian police have become a political instrument inseparable from President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration.
Cpl. Giorgi Kharaishvili, Company A, 31st Georgian Light Infantry Battalion, on patrol in Afghanistan.
Georgia lost its 16th soldier in Afghanistan this week, when Sergeant Valerian Khujadze died in a roadside bomb attack in Helmand Province. The mounting death toll has made Georgia's participation in the Afghanistan war an increasingly controversial issue in Georgia, with opposition politicians speaking out against it and soldiers trying to avoid being sent to Afghanistan.
The country's most formidable opposition figure, Bidzina Ivanishvili, does not seem to have spoken publicly about the Afghanistan mission, though he has endorsed NATO membership. Several of his political allies in his Georgian Dream movement, though, have been publicly critical of Georgia's role in Afghanistan, in a series of statements which Vladimir Socor has enumerated:
Georgian Dream’s defense and security working group chief, Irakli Sesiashvili, stated in print: “[President] Saakashvili organized a joint special operation with the Americans in Afghanistan. The [combat deaths] could have occurred because of the badly planned special operation, or due to Saakashvili’s public-relations needs.” Sesiashvili also stated on prime-time national television: “This special operation was carried out for [President] Saakashvili’s public relations needs, to honor his visit to Afghanistan." Sesiashvili is also a member of Georgian Dream’s top political team. The head of Georgian Dream’s working group on regional policies, Mamuka Areshidze, stated: “Georgian troops are now being used as cannon fodder. Armenian troops face lesser risks than do our soldiers. Our soldiers get much less pay than NATO troops".
Georgia's NATO aspirations didn't exactly get a ringing endorsement from a State Department official at a Congressional hearing Thursday previewing next month's alliance summit in Chicago. U.S. officials have been hinting that Georgia would get some sort of reward at the summit for their recent constructive steps, like compromising with the Kremlin on Russia's bid for the World Trade Organization. As the U.S.'s next ambassador to Tbilbisi, Richard Norland, said at his confirmation hearing last month:
"Serious efforts” were being undertaken by the U.S. administration to use upcoming NATO summit in Chicago “to signal acknowledgment for Georgia’s progress in these areas and to work with the Allies to develop a consensus on the next steps forward.”
That reward won't be a NATO Membership Action Plan, the holy grail for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and a virtual guarantee of future membership. But Washington still wants to signal to Georgia that they are valued -- they are, after all, the highest per-capita troop contributor to the coalition in Afghanistan -- while continuing to press them on political reforms. Norland said that the conduct of upcoming elections would be a "litmus test" for Georgia's NATO aspirations: parliamentary elections will be held this year and presidential elections next year, and Saakashvili appears determined to throw up as many obstacles as he can to his main opponent.
“So, this is a family situation,” the police officers commented, mockingly, after realizing that the fight they had come to break up was between a female couple. “So, which one of you is a guy and which one is a girl?” they asked, according to a report on Georgian lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.
The report, prepared by the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), describes the lives of LBT women as mostly closeted, lived in the shadow of the social mainstream, and surrounded by discrimination and various phobias.
The problems start inside families, which, in Georgia, often means an extended network of relatives actively monitoring younger members’ personal lives. One young lesbian respondent told WISG that, after finding out about her sexual orientation, her family placed her under tight control.
“I don’t have a job and I cannot live on my own,” she said. “The only way out that I see is to get married… I want to marry some gay man, so he can do his thing and I will do mine.”
Opinion polls have shown that 90 percent of Georgians persistently disapprove of homosexuality. But while issues related to gay men do make it into public discourse occasionally (though the national media mostly explore the topics for their scandal value), fear of ostracism, ridicule and/or violence means the LBT community maintains a much lower profile.
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has launched a broadside against the West, warning in a TV interview of the dangers of seeking to export Western values to states with different traditions.
Speaking to Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24, Nazarbayev identified the West’s use of media spin to manipulate public opinion and generate protests as a “threat.” He attacked the West for attempts at “implanting their own ideas with the aim of influencing states’ domestic policy, creating people who are pro-protest.” Though he did not name a Western state, the position jives closely with his allies’ in Moscow.
“What is needed is evolution not revolution,” Nazarbayev added, repeating one of his favorite mantras.
Nazarbayev believes revolutions bring poverty in their wake, adding that “permanent revolution” in neighboring Kyrgyzstan (which has seen two presidents overthrown since 2005) was not making people’s lives better.
Even before Middle Eastern leaders started toppling like dominoes last year, Nazarbayev had made improving the lives of ordinary people in Kazakhstan a stated cornerstone of policy. In his interview he named poverty and unemployment as the chief causes of the Arab Spring – but added that “external forces” also played a role.
This was the second time in a week that Nazarbayev had condemned the Arab Spring: On April 20 he described the events as an “erosion of international law” that had shown that “society is not ready to accept the value reference points of the Western mass media.”
With NATO members meeting soon to discuss the future of the alliance's nuclear weapons, and next-door neighbor Iran threatening to get nuclear weapons itself, it's a volatile time for Turkey and nukes. Currently, Turkey hosts some U.S. nuclear bombs, along with four Western European countries. NATO has been undergoing a review of how U.S. nukes should be deployed in Europe, which was supposed to be finished by next month's summit in Chicago. But according to a recent paper from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the alliance "is unlikely to resolve the question of what to do about its forward deployed nuclear weapons before the summit."
The most likely eventual outcome, however, would seem to be that some of the European hosts of U.S. nukes (Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands) would decide to give them up, while Italy and Turkey would keep them. Turkey has been interested in maintaining that concrete measure of NATO's dedication to its defense, but some other analysts are wondering if other developments are causing Turkey to rethink its nuclear strategy.
Sinan Ülgen, also writing for Carnegie, notes that many policymakers (generally with an interest in ginning up the Iranian threat) have claimed that if Iran got nuclear weapons, that Turkey and other countries in the region would follow suit: