With the call to evening prayer echoing across the Kazakh southeastern city of Almaty, young men run to the Great Mosque at sunset on the eve of Navruz, the annual spring festival celebrated for several days in many Central Asian countries.
Georgia's government believes it's never too early to teach the youth about the importance of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, and has been opening up "NATO Corners" in schools across the country. The corners are "mini-libraries" that include "informational materials on NATO, Georgia’s relations with NATO and other international organizations, papers on international politics, etc." There are even NATO-themed comic books, and a cartoon, “Ani and Rati’s Wonderful Journey to NATO." (Sadly, YouTube does not appear to have the cartoon.) The centers are sponsored by various NATO member embassies.
But Georgia apparently has gone one step too far with its latest NATO Corner, in a school in Ergneti, on the de facto border with South Ossetia, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a stern statement:
“The choice of the settlement of Ergneti for carrying out the propaganda action was not accidental obviously, after all this is the venue for regular meetings within the framework of the mechanism on incidents prevention and response on the South Ossetian-Georgian border which Russian border guards and representatives of the EU Observer Mission also participate in.
“The Georgian side’s intention is clear - to try to get the North-Atlantic Alliance involved this or that way in settling the much talked-about “problems of territorial integrity of Georgia”. At that, as a matter of fact, for some reasons they forget to inquire about the opinion of neighboring states – the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia”, Russian MFA Spokesman adds.
Despite Russia’s time-honored tradition of meddling in its neighbors' politics, one might have thought there wouldn’t be much point in seeking to influence an election with a foregone conclusion. Moscow knows different, though: It wasn’t going miss a chance to express a public view on Kazakhstan’s April 3 presidential vote, which incumbent leader Nursultan Nazarbayev is going to win hands down.
As Nazarbayev met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on March 17, the Russian president was oozing praise for Kazakhstan’s Leader of the Nation and – reported Nazarbayev’s press service – “wished Nursultan Nazarbayev successful participation in the early presidential elections upcoming in Kazakhstan.”
“We respect you very much, Nursultan Abishevich, as a friend of the Russian Federation,” Medvedev gushed in remarks quoted by Nazarbayev’s administration. “You have made a great contribution to the development of our relations. We very much wish you all kinds of success. And I hope that you and I will continue our close work in the coming years, too.”
You can’t get much clearer than that, but there was one thing omitted by Nazarbayev’s press service that was picked up by The Moscow Times: Medvedev’s remark that he knew his comments amounted to inappropriate interference in the internal affairs of another state.
“From the point of view of international politics, it is not completely ethical for the president of another country to comment on upcoming elections, but I will say a few words anyway,” The Moscow Times quoted Medvedev as saying.
Kazakhstan’s presidential election candidates continue to underwhelm.
Party of Patriots leader Gani Kasymov, seen as likely to claim most of the crumbs incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev fails to suck up, has committed what might in most countries be considered a PR disaster.
Ahead of a pre-arranged live interview at RFE/RL’s Kazakh service Azattyk studio Thursday, Kasymov demanded to know what questions would be put to him. Having acquainted himself with the line of questioning, he retorted with a curt “nuh-uh,” leaving Azattyk with no guest to interview.
Still though, to Kasymov’s credit, he has maintained a sustained and eclectic output of pronouncements in an election contest light on policy platforms. He has also been the only one of the four candidates, including Nazarbayev, to do the routine rounds one would normally expect of a presidential election candidate.
He also popped into a fire station in Almaty to find out what contingency measures are in place to deal with an earthquake like the one in Japan. That visit prompted the following enlightening exchange:
Kasymov: “How long are the ladders on your fire trucks?”
Fireman: “37 meters. They’re designed for 13-story buildings.”
Kasymov: “And what if the buildings are taller, what then?”
Fasten your seat belts, put your seat backs in a full, upright position and please mind the Azerbaijani guns pointed at us. Soon we'll be landing in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
Azerbaijan’s aviation authorities warned on March 16 that flights from Yerevan to Karabakh’s newly refurbished airport, expected to start in May, are not authorized and may be shot down. “[T]he airspace over Karabakh is closed,” said Arif Mammadov, director of Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Administration. “According to the law on aviation, airplanes landing in that territory may be destroyed."
Some regional commentators think that Baku’s warning may be little more than a bugaboo meant to disrupt Karabakh's connections with the outside world. But that is still not too comforting for those of us with a fear of flying.
Could the impending nuclear disaster in Japan put the brakes on Turkey's plans to start its own nuclear energy program? That certainly is the hope of Turkish environmentalists, who are asking the government of the earthquake-prone country to reconsider plans to open up two nuclear plants. The green light has already been given for one plant, to be built by the Russian state nuclear power company Rostam on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Discussions for the construction of the second plant, which would be located on the Black Sea coast, are ongoing with Toshiba and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.
Turkish government officials have rejected any calls for stopping the nuclear effort. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, currently in Russia for talks that also include energy issues, was quoted as saying: "I am sure that the nuclear power plant to be built in Turkey will be a model for the rest of the world. We can't drop joint projects because of earthquakes."
Reuters reports on Greenpeace's call for a stop to Turkey's nuclear plans and the Wall Street Journal also has more.
It appears that Greek Cyprus has opened up another front in its ongoing battle with Turkey to claim certain traditional food items as its own. Before it was baklava and Turkish (or, if you prefer, Cypriot) coffee. But now Turkish food makers are crying foul over Cypriot attempts to stake a claim as the creators of lahmacun -- a baked thin round of dough covered with a savory minced meat paste (and which actually has Syrian roots). From the Hurriyet Daily News:
Recent Greek Cypriot claims that lahmacun, a thin-crust snack food topped by minced meat, is a Greek dish have angered Turks, adding a new chapter to a long-running culinary battle about who invented what food.
Greek Cyprus attendants at the International Food and Drink Event in London this week presented “lachmazou” to visitors, defining the food as a “traditional Cyprus home-made pastry.” The culinary claim reportedly angered Turkish visitors to the fair.
“I won’t say anything about Greeks copying baklava and lahmacun from us [Turks] but they can’t manage to make either,” said businessman Hüseyin Özer, who was attending the fair. According to Özer, the “lachmazou” lacked taste in comparison to lahmacun made in Turkey.
Lahmacun belongs to the area from around the southeastern Turkish provinces of Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep, Özer said.
More here. And click here for a recommended lahmacun spot in Istanbul.