Although Ogun Samast, the young man who murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, was recently sentenced to 22 years in jail, court proceedings against several others who were involved in the plot continue. In a recent hearing leading up to the case's finale, the prosecutor representing the state told the judge he believes the murder was ordered by a cell of Ergenekon, a shadowy ultra-nationalist organization that is alleged to have been behind various attempts to destabilize or overthrow the current Turkish government. From Today's Zaman:
A Turkish prosecutor conducting the investigation into the assassination of Turkish- Armenian journalist Hrant Dink said on Monday that the murder was committed by Ergenekon's cell in the Black Sea province of Trabzon.
Prosecutor Hikmet Usta announced his opinion as to who masterminded the assassination and as to the accusations directed at suspects during the 20th hearing of the 20-suspect Dink trial at the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court. The prosecutor said the murder was the work of Ergenekon's Trabzon cell and demanded life imprisonment for seven suspects, including key suspects Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel, on charges of attempting to destroy the constitutional order.
“The Dink assassination was the latest assassination of the deep structures. The suspects acted on ideological motives. The target was the Turkish Republic and public order. There is suspicion that the murder is linked to the Ergenekon network. We have reached the conclusion that the Dink murder was committed by the Trabzon cell of the Ergenekon terrorist organization,” Prosecutor Usta said.
Size clearly does not matter for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their quest for international acceptance of their de-facto independence from Georgia. Tuvalu, the world’s second-smallest island nation, reportedly has become the latest convert to join the Abkhazia and South Ossetia fan club by recognizing the two disputed territories as separate states, the de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments announced today.
Tuvalu government officials could not be reached for confirmation of the reports, which have been disseminated primarily by Russian media.
In case you forgot, the world’s smallest island country, Nauru, which shares an ocean and (apparently) views on Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Tuvalu, recognized the two breakaway Caucasus regions back in 2009. Geographically speaking, the islands combined are many mega-times smaller than the controversial combo of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but as UN members, they bring votes into the equation.
Speaking of the UN, if the reports are confirmed, officials in Tbilisi may well feel like they were just slapped in the face. Last year, Georgia, not a regular international aid donor, gave Tuvalu $12,000-worth of medicine after Tuvalu backed a UN resolution that called for the return of displaced ethnic Georgians to Abkhazia.
Some observers within Georgia, though, were quick to ascribe Tuvalu’s apparent change of mind to Russia, the main and deep-pocketed champion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s recognition as independent states.
Move over, CO2. Activists in Kazakhstan are joining a global initiative to promote alternatives to the fossil-fuel emissions their country helps pump into the atmosphere. On September 24, events focusing on clean energy and climate change will be held all over Kazakhstan as part of the global Moving Planet rally.
Kazakhstan has prospered over the last decade by exploiting its extensive oil and gas reserves. SUVs long ago replaced horses as the chief means of getting around this vast country.
But many Kazakhstanis are planning to switch to two wheels for the day. The online cyclist community Baiga.kz is organizing races in 25 cities, expecting 10,000 participants to compete in prize categories such as most stylish biker, craziest stunt, and youngest and oldest cyclists.
In Almaty, the Velo Almaty campaign will hold two events focusing on the next generation of bikers: cycling competitions for kids aged 3-7 in the city's central stadium and a painting contest for 3-17-year-olds on the theme of biking as a clean form of transport.
There's also a focus on removing garbage from towns and cities. A group called On the Trail of Cleanliness is gathering volunteers to help spruce up Kazakhstan's garbage-strewn towns and cities by resurrecting the Soviet-era subbotnik, a volunteer cleanup of public spaces.
Mongolia's defense minister has said the country is planning to send 850 peacekeepers to South Sudan, according to Xinhua:
"Sending soldiers to South Sudan, which is a newly independent country with civil war, is a matter of honor," the minister said...
In the past, Mongolian peacekeepers had served in conflict zones such as Iraq, Sierra Leone, Chad, Sudan, Kosova and Afghanistan, according to the defense minister.
"The responsibilities of Mongolian soldiers are also increasing. Previously, our soldiers were guarding military bases. Now they are guarding airports," he said.
Earlier this year, Mongolia had announced that it was going to send 850 peacekeepers to Cote d'Ivoire, but then nothing more was heard about that, and the defense minister at the time alluded to some bureaucratic holdups. So it seems reasonable to assume that that mission is now off the table and that the soldiers are going to South Sudan instead. I've tried to contact some sources in Ulaanbaatar for some clarification and more information, but thus far no luck. Will update as I get more information.
UPDATE: I heard back from a Mongolian defense official, who said this:
Yes, we couldn’t send troops to Cote d'Ivoire due to some bureaucratic procedure at UNDPKO. This time we could overcome this procedure, and UNDPKO has confirmed its approval sending our battalion /850 soldiers/ to South Sudan.
Moreover, we are nearly doubling our troop contribution to Afghanistan. Our troop number there will reach 350 instead 190 starting from this November.
Central Asia's Aral Sea used to be a fisherman's paradise. Today the body of water has shriveled up almost completely, with former fishing villages now finding themselves some 20 kilometers from the waterfront. In Kazakhstan, an effort is underway, though, to restock the that country's portion of the with fish and revive the local fishing industry. From an article in The Ecologist:
It is jarring to drive on what was once the Aral Sea. The Ecologist is en route to see the Kok-Aral Dam, some three-hours from Aral City on the border between the North and South Aral Sea and the delta of the Syr Darya River. The desertified sea bed is now home to camels and horses, grazing lazily on bits of grass. A couple of ships lie stranded along the drive, but the fabled ship cemeteries have gone, the victims of looting for scrap metal.
Once the water comes into to view, it isn't the rich wetland ecosystem it once was, but there are now signs of life returning. A few herons, ducks, storks and seagulls can be seen along the shoreline.
Already the Kok-Aral dam has provided a lease on life for the nearby villages. Water levels, which originally were 53 metres above Baltic Sea level, and at the lowest, 38 metres, have now increased to 42 metres above Baltic Sea level. Salinity has decreased 5 times, which has enabled 7 fish species to return, and fish catch has increased 10-12 times.
The Ecologist visits a small fish processing centre near Karaterren village. Along with flounder, there is carp, pike perch, and catfish all caught on the day using small motor boats. Batyrkhan Brekeev, a fisherman and the son and the father of fishermen, recently returned to fishing after years as a 'businessman'.
Television viewers in Kyrgyzstan will say goodbye to foreign news this weekend for the duration of the country’s presidential election season. Between September 25 and the October 30 ballot, Kyrgyzstan’s televisions stations and cable operators are forbidden from rebroadcasting foreign news bulletins that could affect the election’s outcome. Most operators have no choice but to suspend foreign news programming altogether.
Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev, himself a presidential candidate, first proposed the ban this spring after he experienced a thorough bashing by Russian media during last year’s parliamentary polls. His party’s fifth-place finish, by most accounts due to the Russian pressure, was the season’s biggest political upset. The author of Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 constitution and one of the “revolutionaries” who came to power after street riots ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev that spring, Tekebayev is often called “pro-Western” and is said to have angered Moscow by endorsing a parliamentary form of government.
The Indian Army stunt motorcycle team performs in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Mongolia and India are currently performing joint military exercises, as each country is concerned about a rising China, reports Defense News:
Indian and Mongolian troops will hold joint exercises in Mongolia Sept. 15-29, said an Indian Defence Ministry official. Last year, Mongolian troops held joint exercises on Indian soil....
"New Delhi wants to have better ties with the Chinese neighbor with an on eye on containing China," said Mahindra Singh, retired Indian Army major general.
A report in The Diplomat gives a little more context, noting that both sides hope that they can improve trade relations by boosting military cooperation:
An estimated 40 Indian troops will take part in the military exercises, which will focus on counterinsurgency training. Last month, Indian troops took part in the sixth annual Khaan Quest, a week-long Mongolian-hosted joint-training exercise aimed at enhancing cooperation between regional militaries...
The rapid amelioration of Indo-Mongolian security ties was formalized when both countries signed a bilateral defence cooperation agreement during [ Indian President Pratibha] Patil’s visit in July. The pact isn’t overly comprehensive though, as Mongolia remains cautious about getting too cosy with India on defence issues. India, however, seems keen to enhance defence ties rapidly. The rationale behind this is simple—New Delhi believes that it will be more competitive in Mongolia’s lucrative mining and trade sectors if it diversifies its engagement, morphing from investor to strategic partner.
In response to the foiling of an alleged terror plot last month, Kazakhstan is moving at breakneck speed to counter mounting concerns about homegrown Islamic extremists. Critics are anxious that human rights may fall by the wayside as Astana races to stay one step ahead of the terror threat.
One of the recently-stated goals of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won its third term this summer, is to tackle the problem of childhood obesity in the country. Action has actually already been taken on that front, with a directive being issued a few months ago ordering schools to stop selling junk food and unhealthy snacks on their premises.
But now it looks like the government's plan to slim down Turkey's students is being thwarted by entrepreneurial shopkeepers located near schools, who have started selling contraband food to hungry students. From a report in Hurriyet:
The Ministry of Health and Education’s plan to combat obesity in schools is thwarted by outside vendors, who have begun to sell the prohibited items in their shops.
Some bookshops, located outside of the schools have now turned into cafes and begun to sell sandwiches, hamburgers,energy drinks and fried foods.Although the selling of such foods is prohibited in school canteens, there is no regulation to inspect vendors, who sell unhealthy foods outside of the school areas.
he joint efforts of the ministries of Health and Education to combat obesity by banning the sale of unhealthy foods in school canteens have been thwarted by many outside vendors who have now begun to sell the prohibited foods.
“We now grill even meatballs, rather than cooking them in oil. All the products we sell, such as meatballs, fruit juices and ayran [a Turkish drink made of salty yogurt] are guaranteed by the Turkish Standards Institution. Students, however, are buying products sold outside the school without any restraints, thinking they are cheap. Vendors within the vicinity of the school also need to be inspected,” said Mustafa Işık, a canteen operator at the Atatürk Elementary School in Istanbul’s Halkalı district.
If you're looking for proof that the economic bottom-line can outweigh political troubles, has the Tamada got a story for you.
The Armenian investigative news service Hetq reports that at a September 20 celebration of the 20th anniversary of Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union some Armenians sported commemorative t-shirts made in Turkey, a country deemed -- at least, traditionally -- to rank second only to Azerbaijan as a threat to Armenia's security.
As a telephone transcript posted by Hetq indicates, Independence Day celebration organizers initially appeared at a loss to explain the fashion faux pas, leveling blame on the sponsor, scrap metal exporter Metexim, Ltd. Representatives of the exporter, in turn, confirmed that they were responsible for the t-shirts, but dodged questions about the specifics.
This isn't the first time that economic ties -- be it t-shirts, jobs or tourism -- have been shown to exist between the two countries, but, coming on such an occasion, chances are many Armenians may well wish that it could prove among the last.