Ambassador Robert E. Patterson, Jr. has arrived in Ashgabat and presented his credentials to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the US Embassy and wire services reported. Nominated by President Barack Obama, Patterson was sworn in April 26 for a three-year term.
The new US ambassador -- the first to be appointed as chief of mission in five years -- headed off quickly to Turkmenistan, where the Embassy is now convening a two-day US Business Exhibition May 19-20, to be attended by more than 50 American companies with interests in Turkmenistan. The US is also sending a delegation headed by Department of State Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Geoffrey R. Pyatt and the U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia Juan Verde.
In his meeting with President Berdymukhamedov yesterday reported by the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH), Ambassador Patterson was quoted as speaking of the "high interest of business circles in the US to expand their presence in the promising Turkmen market," including through new joint ventures, and the prospects for cooperation coming up at the business expo.
The central mosque in Aktobe. An official said today's suicide bombing had nothing to do with Islam. But analysts say western Kazakhstan could become a breeding ground for radicalism.
A suicide bomber has detonated a bomb at the security service HQ in Kazakhstan’s western oil city of Aktobe, Kazakhstan Today news agency reports. The suicide attacker reportedly entered the National Security Committee (KNB) and set off a bomb early on May 17, injuring two people, a KNB employee and a watchman, Prosecutor-General’s Office spokesman Zhandos Umiraliyev clarified.
He moved to quash initial media speculation that an Islamic radical had attacked the security service – instead, he said, it was a criminal kingpin who blew himself up in what must be the first known mafia suicide attack in Central Asia, and possibly beyond.
Umiraliyev identified the bomber as Rakhimzhan Makatov, who was “suspected of committing a number of crimes within an organized crime group.” His motive? Makatov blew himself up “with the aim of avoiding responsibility” for his alleged crimes, Umiraliyev added.
An Aktobe resident told EurasiaNet.org that the KNB building had been cordoned off since the morning and there was a heavy police presence in the city, though most residents are going about their business as usual.
Her case against one of the most irreverent Paris media outlets is slowly turning into a public relations fiasco for her and the oil-producing Central Asian republic, Uzbekistan, where her father, Islam Karimov, has reigned supreme for more than two decades.
The trial is scheduled this Thursday, May 19 in Paris. Augustin Scalbert, a rue89.com journalist, is charged with libel for an article he wrote a year ago, "AIDS: Uzbekistan Represses at Home but Parades in Cannes," on a gala fund-raising event involving Tilyayeva-Karimova. Scalbert is optimistic, says the Telegraph:
"It will be interesting to discuss in court whether Islam Karimov is dictator or not," he said. "If we're not condemned, it will set in French law that we can write that Uzbekistan is a dictatorship. If it goes the other way, we're going to make all possible appeals up until the European Court of Human Rights, and at every new moment the law suit will give again and again more coverage to the problems in Uzbekistan."
A U.S.. naval ship, the USS Mahan, visited Istanbul last week for a short port visit. These sorts of things happen all the time and aren't usually noteworthy. But the blog Bosphorus Naval News paid close attention to this visit, and noted that the visit may have been driven by commercial, rather than merely friendly, motivations. The destroyer's visit happened to take place during a big defense exposition, IDEF, and the U.S. ambassador's comments at the expo used the ship as a showpiece for U.S. defense industry:
I join Commander Mondlak and his crew in inviting you to tour the proud USS Mahan. This fine example of American high technology and advanced engineering, and is itself the result of partnerships between numerous American companies, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, McDonnell Douglas, General Electric, Alliant, Gould, and Sikorsky, many of whom are represented at IDEF.
In particular, the Mahan has a sort of radar that is under consideration for the next generation of Turkish ships. And U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin had just signed a deal with Turkish manufacturer Havelsan involving production of those radars.
The signed contract of course raises the question whether the next generation of Turkish warships will have SPY radars and components of AEGIS systems on board.
The blog, in a separate post, takes issue with that deal given that Turkey also manufactures naval radars:
Not to be outdone by the banana war in the Caucasus reported recently by our sister blog, Kebabistan, over in Central Asia Kazakhstan is also going bananas over this tropical fruit: A farmer in the south of the country has cultivated a decent harvest in an agricultural area better known for its cotton and tobacco fields.
Avazkhan Khandaliyev managed to reap over 2,000 bananas by tending them in a greenhouse, Kazakhstan Today reports. They’re smaller than the average banana, measuring in at just 10-12 centimeters, but they’re also reported to be tastier and sweeter than run-of-the-mill imports.
Could this be what Leader of the Nation Nursultan Nazarbayev had in mind when he launched into a tirade against the world trade system recently, accusing rich countries of seeking to keep poor countries as “banana” republics?
“Poor countries are enjoined to remain countries dependent on raw materials or ‘banana’ countries, while developed countries develop further,” Nazarbayev ranted, accusing the rich world of hypocrisy and protectionism.
Of course, he probably didn’t mean to hint that Kazakhstan is some sort of banana republic – but the banana harvest might just add grist to the mill for critics.
Hairatan, the Afghanistan border crossing that's the hub of the NDN
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are at the crisis stage as a result of the raid by U.S. forces to kill Osama bin Laden -- and Uzbekistan could benefit. On Saturday, Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution calling for a thorough review of cooperation with the U.S., including of of the transportation of U.S. and NATO materiel through Pakistan to Afghanistan. From the Los Angeles Times:
The resolution also took aim at the CIA's drone missile campaign in Pakistan's tribal areas, an effort that Pakistan historically has condemned publicly but tacitly approved. "Drone attacks must be stopped forthwith," the resolution warned. Otherwise, the government would "consider taking necessary steps, including withdrawal of transit facility allowed to [NATO and coalition] forces."
Pakistan plays a vital role in keeping supply lines open for U.S. and Western troops battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. About 40% of NATO's non-weapons supplies move by truck from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to two crossings along the Afghan border.
The rest of NATO's supplies get to Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network, through various post-Soviet states. The NDN routes enter the former USSR at a variety of points -- Georgia, Latvia and over the Arctic Circle into Russia, for example. But as they get closer to Afghanistan, almost all is winnowed through a single border crossing, at Termez-Hairatan on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. (A recent U.S. military press service story describes some of the logistical efforts in Hairatan.)
ArmeniaNow.com recently published a great feature about an extended Yerevan family that has cornered the market on khash, a traditional Armenian dish made out of boiled tripe and the lower part of a cow's leg. From the article:
Since the 1990s, the seven families of Vardanyan brothers who reside in 154 Mashtots Street are the initiators of this business that has become something of a tradition. In the town, it is well known as “khash district”.
Hasmik Makaryan, 53, wife of one of Vardanyan brothers (Arayik Vardanyan), says that her mother-in-law started their business, and later they – the daughters-in-law and their husbands continued it.
“This is how we earn money. We have all got education, but we needed to live, to survive somehow, therefore we started this khash business. People were telling our address so often that as a result the name of our district has become ‘Khashi Tagh’,” Hasmik says.
The brothers’ houses are next to each other. If Arayik does not have the product a client wants, then he sends him or her to Vardan’s house, and if Vardan does not have it, then – to Rafik’s house, and so on.
More details about this true cottage industry here.
Hold on tight, Georgia and Armenia, it's time to run scared: Now that two Azerbaijani performers have triumphed at Eurovision, the continent’s annual pop mega-extravaganza will be headed next year to your next-door neighbor, Azerbaijan, leaving a trail of glamor and camp in its wake.
Singers Nigar "Nikki" Jamal and Eldar "Ell" Gasimov, who got the Euro-pop crown for their “Running Scared” love ballad, received a hero’s welcome at home and, as a bonus, a personal audience with President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva.
It is no small feat to win the world’s glitziest pop contest, in which voting often tends to reflect Europe’s political fault lines. But despite the winners' expressed desire "to bring Europe together," those fault lines are not likely to disappear when the show comes to Baku next year.
On the foreign policy front, there's neighboring Armenia, a hardcore Eurovision enthusiast and former contest finalist, that's already debating whether or not to participate in an event hosted by its archenemy, Azerbaijan.(One MP, disappointed by this year's loss, has even proposed a parliamentary debate about how Armenia's Eurovision candidates are chosen.)
Heydar Aliyev, the former president of Azerbaijan, would have turned 88 years old on May 10. So naturally, the government pulled out all the stops. Like last year, thousands of flowers from 50 countries literally covered the park between the Heydar Aliyev Palace and the statue of Heydar Aliyev as two hot air balloons were inflated in front of the giant flower mosaic of Heydar Aliyev (pictured here), ensuring that his unmistakable Kremlin-Mona-Lisa smile would soar above the city already covered by his portraits.
Vladic Ravich is a freelance photojournalist based in Turkey.
Two months after passing a deficit-plagued budget, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has amended it, reallocating about $12.9 million to compensate those who lost relatives in last June’s ethnic violence in Osh and Jalal-Abad. While the effort seems commendable on its face, the political pressure surrounding it and the implementation process to come both raise doubts about how fair and transparent the payouts will be.
Under a decree signed by Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, made public May 10, families of Kyrgyzstani citizens killed in the clashes will receive a one-time payment of 1 million soms (about $21,500); families of the missing will also collect a million soms; those who sustained serious bodily injuries -- as determined by experts in forensic medicine -- will get 100,000 soms; and those who received “less grievous bodily harm” -- ditto the official diagnosis -- will get 50,000 soms.
Here are two of the biggest challenges to an equitable compensation process: