The days of Kazakhstan's national sport kokpar being a wild free-for-all with a headless goat may be numbered since plans have surfaced to replace the bloody carcass at the center of the game with a plastic dummy.
The move comes at the instigation of Kazakhstan-based animal-rights group KARE-Zabota (Kazakhstan Animal Rescue and Education), acting on complaints from animal-lovers who object to the killing of goats for the sport, a local take on buzkashi.
KARE-Zabota says it received a letter from Kazakhstan's Agency for Sports and Physical Training Affairs agreeing to introduce dummy goats.
Already, the Agency has carried out tests on models from Pakistan and a locally produced imitation goat from Taras, but, lacking flexibility, these were deemed unfit for play. Hopes are now being pinned on an artificial carcass from Shymkent, with testing scheduled for later this year.
Kokpar is a macho sport where two teams of horsemen grapple over a decapitated goat, which they try to deposit in the opponent's goal. The fierce struggle is a test of strength for both riders and horses. It’s unclear how this affront to tradition will be received.
But all sports move on. Football (the game known as soccer in the US) was originally a tussle between villagers in 12th-century England over a pig's bladder before it developed into the relatively tame sport we know today. Could kokpar – which is rumored to have already given the world polo – evolve into a worldwide phenomenon by adopting fake, bloodless goats?
Amid the negotiations between Russia and Azerbaijan over the Gabala radar station, Armenia has stepped in and said they would be willing to host a Russian radar if a deal over Gabala falls through.
The current lease for the radar station expires in December, and Azerbaijan has gradually been raising the price it says it wants to charge Russia under a new agreement. The latest reports had Azerbaijan's price rising from $7 million now to a whopping $300 million. Another set of talks on the issue between the foreign ministers of the two countries took place this week, with no apparent resolution. But Armenia's prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Armenia would be willing to host a replacement radar, and that it could even be a better site for it than Azerbaijan:
“There may even be advantages, because Armenia is a mountainous country. Coverage can be broader,” Sargsyan said.
Meanwhile, the Russian and Azerbaijani public bargaining continued. Ali Hasanov, a top adviser to Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev, tried to emphasize that the negotiations were taking place on Azerbaijan's terms:
"Gabala radar station is our property. We decide on to whom and on what terms to lease it, taking into account the interests of the state. We take into consideration its cost, policy and its impact on relations with neighboring countries" Hasanov said.
And he downplayed the threat of an Armenian counteroffer:
"We do not have anything against that. Of course, why the Armenian outpost cannot be a radar post as well? If Russia needs to build this post in Armenia, we will not have any objections" he said.
At an April 4 press conference in Baku, Ismayilova described how, together with several fellow journalists, she revisited the apartment where she had been secretly filmed in her bedroom in an intimate relationship for clues to how the video had been made. During several visits to the apartment, the team found a hidden network of wires leading to an outside telephone box.
The findings were shared with investigators, who declined to summon a telephone company expert to pinpoint where the wires led, the team reported. Instead, Ismayilova said she contacted the telephone company to provide a technician to examine the box and wires. The technician, who spoke with investigators' approval, told the team that he had been ordered by the company in July 2011 to connect the phone box to Ismayilova's apartment.
The wires have since been removed, but the technician's testimony not entered into the official evidence.
Ismayilova, her lawyers and associates say that the evidence they collected offered valuable clues for the official investigation, but that police have failed to document or act on it. No official response has yet been released.
The official investigation targets the video as a violation of the right to privacy, rather than as a crime against a journalist, as requested by Ismayilova. In a joint release, the team maintains that the response to their findings indicates that the “[P]rosecutor’s Office fails to act as an independent investigative body."
When a massive earthquake rattled Soviet Armenia in 1988, entire towns imploded, killing an estimated 25,000 people. Survivors' stories are well known in Armenia, but now it seems that their genes also have a story to tell. A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study of the DNA of 200 Armenian earthquake survivors has revealed a connection between gene types and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), The Los Angeles Times reports.
People with two gene variants (TPH1 and TPH2) which affect production of the “happiness hormone” serotonin tend to display more severe PSTD symptoms, found ULCA psychiatrist Armen Goenjian, an Armenian-American who headed the research group. Believed to contribute just 3 to 4 percent each to PSTD's intensity, the two variants appear to pack a tiny punch, but identifying their role could lead to more effective treatment for PTSD, the BBC reports.
Goenjian said that further studies are required among a more heterogeneous population to consolidate the findings.
Muslims in northeastern Kazakhstan have been scandalized by the appearance of a new brand of vodka bearing the name of God.
KTK television reports that vodka bottles with the Arabic inscription, “Allah’s strength is enough for everybody," have appeared in shops all over the city of Semey (formerly Semipalatinsk) for approximately $4.40 a pop.
“Imams are outraged: They haven’t seen a bigger sin,” says the report.
“It’s difficult for me to even speak about this. The only salvation for those who did this is to repent. After all, Allah is against alcohol. And here you have such mockery,” Imam Bekzat Boranbai uly told KTK.
A representative of the Aktobe factory that produces the vodka denied intentional blasphemy, insisting the labels and caps are manufactured in Russia.
Drinkers in the former Soviet Union often have dozens of choices when it comes to vodka, which enjoys pride of place in any self-respecting corner store. In Khorog, Tajikistan, I once saw Marlboro Vodka, with a red and white label that looked like a pack of the American cigarettes. Sitting next to that was Mercedes Vodka, stamped with the iconic luxury car emblem.
They suspected that Tuvalu, already known for its surprise recognition of the independence of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, might again be preparing to pull a fast one.
Granted, not on its own steam. Drawing on their own history with Russia constantly breathing down their necks, South Caucasus countries rarely see other small countries as operating on their own initiative; somewhere, in the wings, must stand a deep-pocketed Big Buddy.
Georgia, locked in a dispute with Moscow over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is convinced that Russian rubles motivated what Tuvalu claims was an act of trans-Oceanic friendship. Now, it's Azerbaijan’s turn to ask questions.
Will Tuvalu accept money from Armenia (via Russia, Armenia's own Big Buddy) for recognition of the independence of Nagorno Karabakh?
Has the White House inadvertently stepped into one of the Mediterranean's oldest unresolved conflicts, namely: which country in the region gets to claim itself as the inventor of baklava?
The issue has been heating up over the last few years. In 2006, for example, Turkish makers of the flaky dessert were outraged when European Union tourism posters featured baklava as a, gasp, Cypriot invention. But the baklava battle has opened up a new front after a March 22 White House dinner in honor of Greek Independence Day. Although it was a closed affair, Maria Loi, a New York-based Greek chef who prepared the evening's dinner, told a Greek-American publication that President Barack Obama "loved baklava." Picked up by the Turkish press, the story became one of the President saying how much he loved "Greek baklava," leading to angry denunciations from columnists who suggested Obama brush up on his Balkan culinary history and that Loi's entire menu for the affair -- moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, Greek salad and the offending baklava -- was comprised of nothing more than Turkish dishes dressed up as Greek ones.
Worried about the Greeks claiming other cross-border staples as their own, some Turkish foodmakers are now taking preemptive action. Reports Turkey's Cihan news agency:
The İstanbul Simit Tradesmen Chamber has launched a process to get an international patent for the number one Turkish street food, the simit, a ring of chewy bread coated with toasted sesame seeds.
A top U.S. military official has finished a trip around Central Asia, and while most of the official news about his visits with the region's leaders was prettyvague, there were a couple of interesting items from Kyrgyzstan.
After meeting with the U.S. official, CENTCOM commander General James Mattis, the chair of Kyrgyzstan's national security council Busurmankul Tabaldiyev suggested that Kyrgyzstan is open to keeping the Manas air base open after 2014. That would be a shift from recent public rhetoric from Bishkek, which has stressed the need to close the base as soon as the current agreement expires in 2014. From 24.kg, quoting Tabaldiyev:
Kyrgyzstan is interested in ensuring security and stability in the country and is ready to participate fully in the efforts of the international community to assist Afghanistan. The Kyrgyz side expressed its readiness to assist the U.S. government to continue after 2014, but in the interests of the country, the views of the people and the security of Kyrgyzstan.
In his meeting with Mattis, Tabaldiyev also apparently broached the topic of getting drone aircraft from the U.S., reports RFE/RL:
Tabaldiev told RFE/RL the request was for U.S. drones to be left for Kyrgyzstan during the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan due by the end of 2014.
...Mattis, leader of the U.S. delegation, reportedly replied that Washington is ready to consider the request.
Turkmenistan has refused to extend the visas of half a dozen Peace Corps volunteers who had been in the country for two years, but has not (yet?) booted the program out of the country, as has happened in other parts of the former Soviet Union. An official at the US Embassy in Ashgabat confirms that 18 volunteers continue to work in all five of the country’s regions.
“Six US Peace Corps Volunteers departed Turkmenistan at the end of March 2012. They departed after 24 months in Turkmenistan, but a few months earlier than originally scheduled because their visas were not extended,” the official wrote on April 3 in reply to emailed questions. “Peace Corps leadership and the US Embassy leadership are in an on-going dialogue with the Turkmen government about the future of the program, including its size and scope.”
The Peace Corps program in Turkmenistan, which has seen 750 volunteers rotate through since September 1993, has had its fair share of visa problems, delays, and other uncertainties in the last few years, so closure of the program would not come as a complete surprise to Central Asia watchers.
Indeed, it would fit into a larger trend. Kazakhstan last year abruptly closed its Peace Corps program, citing its “great progress” in development as a reason it no longer needed young American volunteers teaching health, business development and English, and providing information about the United States. Volunteers in Kazakhstan also circulated reports, as EurasiaNet.org wrote at the time, of “sexual assaults, the threat of terrorism, and an uncomfortable operating environment, in which allegations of espionage have been aired in the mass media.”
As previously reported on this blog, the discovery of what could be very large reserves of natural gas off the coast of Cyprus has led to increasing tension between the Greek Cypriots, who would like to reap the benefits of these finds, and Turkey, which says Cyprus cannot take advantage of its good luck until negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots over the divided island's status are resolved. The fact that the Cypriot find abuts a large gas field discovered by Israel, whose relations with Turkey have worsened dramatically in recent years, and that the energy company drilling in the Cypriot waters is American- and Israeli-owned, only complicates the picture.
Considering the potential for conflict surrounding the gas issue and inability of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to make any progress in their reunification talks, the International Crisis Group has released a new report that suggests ways to prevent things from spiraling out of control. From the ICG's report:
A paradigm shift is needed. The gas can drive the communities further apart and increase discords, or it can provide an opportunity for officials from all sides, including Turkey, to sit down and reach agreements on the exploitation and transportation of this new find....
....Cooperation on the exploitation of significant gas finds, which Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agree are a common heritage, can help build confidence without prejudicing the eventual outcome of comprehensive talks. If the sides continue engaging in unilateral actions, tensions will rise, accidents will become more likely, and Turks and Greek Cypriots will be on course for a head-on collision in the eastern Mediterranean.