Sartay’s is a peace-loving village. But when marauding Mongolian Dzungars brutally slay most of the inhabitants, including his parents, the Kazakh youth has no choice but to raise an army of teenagers to fight back, courageously attacking the Mongolians and rallying other youths to the cause.
Across Kazakhstan, an epic historical movie with an unabashedly patriotic tale is playing to packed theaters.
Directed by Akhan Satayev for the state-run Kazakhfilm studio, “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe” opens with the Dzungars’ vicious attack and the making of our hero. Myn Bala in Kazakh means 1,000 children – Sartay (played by Asylkhan Tolepov) actually raises an army of 100, but he tells them before the final battle scene that together they are worth 1,000 warriors.
Director Satayev is better known for making movies with subtle plot twists that tackle modern-day problems such as organized crime, but audiences don’t seem to mind the black-and-white approach to history in his latest film. At a recent showing in Almaty, viewers applauded at the end. As Tengri News reported, Myn Bala is proving a blockbuster, taking a million dollars at the box office in the first weekend after its release on May 3, a Kazakh record.
The film’s success is notable since it was shot in Kazakh (with a bit of Mongolian). Films in Kazakh often struggle in a country where only about two-thirds of people speak the language, but the movie (called “Zhauzhurek Myn Bala” in Kazakh, or “The Brave Thousand Children”) is showing in the original language with Russian subtitles in many theaters.
Foreign Ministers of the SCO member states, in Beijing
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is strengthening its ties with two countries aligned to the West, Turkey and Afghanistan. The foreign ministers of the SCO states met last week in Beijing, in advance of next month's summit there, and apparently one of the decisions made was to admit U.S.-occupied Afghanistan as an observer country, and NATO member Turkey as a dialogue partner.
The Voice of Russia quotes political analyst Stanislav Tarasov saying that the move with Turkey is a "real breakthrough":
"The situation around Turkey is unique. Turkey has been sticking to pro-Western policies. It has been trying to join the EU for ten years but it was in vain so now it has to develop a new scenario of drifting to the East, which implies changes in Turkey’s foreign policy."
That ignores certain moves Turkey has made to strengthen its cooperation with NATO, notably its decision to host NATO missile defense radar. That is certainly a bigger commitment than being a dialogue partner in the SCO. Still, it's an intriguing move, and expect Turkophobes in the West to use this against Ankara.
As for Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai just gave an interview to Russian media, and though the subject of the SCO didn't come up, Karzai framed Afghanistan's security in terms that include a lot of the countries in the SCO (either as members or observers):
“Security is an issue that is not related to us alone… Had it been an Afghan issue, the Americans would have never come here – as they didn’t before September 11 ,” Karzai said, speaking to journalists from RIA Novosti, the Rossiya24 and Russia Today television channels in Kabul.
The plot is thickening in the alleged Georgian-Chechen Sochi Olympics terror plot: the Abkhazian security services are casting doubt on the Russian version of events. According to the Russian Antiterrorism Committee, an arms cache discovered in the Gudauta region of Abkhazia was intended to be used by Chechen terrorists, with assistance from the Georgian security services, to stage an attack in Sochi. The Abkhazian official news agency, Apsnypress, even cited the State Security Service of Abkhazia as confirming that account.
But now a source in the Abkhazian government is saying that the arms cache was not intended for Sochi, but for use in Abkhazia. From a report in the newspaper Kommersant (translation by BBC Monitoring):
As previously reported on this blog, the production of caviar is no longer a strictly Caspian region affair. Far from it. Sturgeon farms turning out the valuable fish eggs are now operating in South America, China and even in the desert of Abu Dhabi. We can now add South Korea to the list of countries that are part of the caviar club. Reports the New York Times:
When Han Sang-hun brought 200 sturgeons on a chartered plane from Russia in 1997, South Korean officials regarded the alien fish with a level of suspicion that the owner of a fish pond might reserve for an invasion of sharks. After all, the sturgeon, because of its prickly looks, is called the armored shark in Korean.
“They said if any of them escaped into the rivers, they would ruin the local ecosystem, attacking and devouring other fish,” Mr. Han recalled with a pained amusement. “The sturgeon is a slow-swimming fish with no teeth to speak of.”
When he finally extricated his fish from customs, he placed them at a riverside farm in this town 90 kilometers, or 56 miles, southeast of Seoul. For the next 12 years, Mr. Han spent $1 million a year feeding and looking after a stock that grew to 50,000 sturgeons, all children of the original 200. But he got little in return until 2009, when the fish were old enough to yield caviar — one of the world’s most expensive delicacies, selling for as much as $400 per ounce, or $14 a gram.
On a recent spring harvesting day, a farmhand gently massaged a sturgeon’s belly as Mr. Han traced a slender steel device up its egg-laying duct and popped a bulging egg sack inside. Roe poured out like so many black pearls into a bowl.
The magic dust was stolen (oh, horror!) by the dark lord Mrakovlast. Who will bring the dust -- and the hope -- back to the people? This sounds like a job for the brave little superhero Cosmoboy, and his goofy, hulking robot friend, but, first, they must do battle with Mrakovlast, a monster from hell and a car junkyard.
You guessed it right. This is an opening scene from "August 8," the latest in the apparently never-ending Georgian-Russian face-off of films inspired by the 2008 Russia-Georgia War.
The Russian-made "August 8" does not boast big names like Andy Garcia and Val Kilmer, as was the case in the Georgian-sponsored, Hollywood-made "Five Days of August," but it does come with shape-shifting evil machines and explosions.
It may not seem easy to work robot transformers into a story about a war with critical geo-strategic consequences that forced thousands of ethnic Georgians out of their homes in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but not when Russian film director Dzhanik Faziyev gets his creative juices flowing. The fantasy robot world is a figment of imagination of the film’s little protagonist, Artyem (Cosmoboy), who is caught in the Georgian-Russian crossfire.
Watching the movie leaves the impression that Faziyev really wanted to do a Russian version of the Transformers series, but chose to throw South Ossetia into it to get Russian state funding.
Much like previous August war opuses, whether Georgia or Russian-made, "August 8" is ridiculously propagandistic and cynically out-of-touch. But it is so wonderfully bizarre, so laden with cinematic platitudes and tacky moments that it almost provides for silly entertainment.
Forbes Kazakhstan has published a list of the petro-state’s 50 wealthiest people. Unsurprisingly, a number of the country's multimillionaires swim close to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
According to the list, published in the magazine's May issue and not available online, Kazakhstan’s richest man is copper magnate Vladimir Kim, who is worth a cool $3.5 billion.
He is followed by mining boss Alidzhan Ibragimov, part owner of the ENRC resource group, with $2.9 billion. (Ibragimov’s partners Aleksandr Mashkevich and Patokh Shodiyev are excluded from the list as they hold foreign passports).
So far, so predictable – Kim and Ibragimov feature as Kazakhstan’s wealthiest people on the international Forbes rich list too – but from here the rankings diverge.
The world rich list features mining and banking entrepreneur Bolat Utemuratov as Kazakhstan’s third wealthiest person – but, according to Forbes Kazakhstan, Utemuratov’s wealth of $1.6 billion is surpassed by oil magnate Rashid Sarsenov’s $1.8 billion. Sarsenov is best known as the one-time business partner of Rakhat Aliyev, the Malta-based disgraced (and wanted) son-in-law of the president.
Sarsenov’s sister Sofya Sarsenova also features (at number 12), with a fortune of $660 million, which she made after acquiring a majority stake in Nurbank from Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva in 2010.
Part of the alleged Chechen-Georgian arms cache discovered in Abkhazia
The Russian and Abkhazian security services say they have broken up a Chechen-Georgian plot to carry out terrorist attacks against the Sochi Olympics. According to a report from the Abkhazian official news agency ApsnyPress, the leader of the "Abkhazian Jamaat," an organization affiliated with the Caucasus Emirate, was arrested and a cache of weapons uncovered in the Gudauta region of Abkhazia. The list of weapons Apsny provides is pretty substantial, and includes a variety of anti-aircraft weaponry and grenade launchers.
The operation was masterminded by the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, with "direct involvement" of the Georgian security services and their allies in Turkey, according to a statement by the Russian Antiterrorism Committee:
Russian Federal Security Service was able to establish that the militants were planning to move these weapons during the 2012-2014 to Sochi and to use them to commit terrorist acts before and during the Olympic Games. Russia managed security services at an early stage to prevent the thugs attempting to launch their criminal plans....
They [the weapons] were brought into Abkhazia from Georgia. According to operational data, their transfer to Russia directly involved the Georgian special services and allied representatives of illegal armed groups in Turkey. The ringleader of an international terrorist organization "Caucasus Emirate" Umarov, maintaining close ties with the Georgian special services, coordinated all the activities of the organization of delivery of the commission of terrorist acts in close proximity to Sochi and marking these caches.
The Antiterrorism Committee website also has a number of photos of the alleged cache.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent statements that his country is united by "one religion" have caused quite a stir, drawing criticism both inside and outside Turkey. Erdogan made the comment in reference to the Kurdish issue in two recent speeches, saying what he advocates for is "one nation, one state, one flag and one religion." (A classic nationalist refrain heard in Turkey, mostly meant as a rebuke to Kurds, is that the country has "one flag, one nation, one language.")
Facing mounting criticism of Erdogan's remarks, Huseyin Celik, a deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said they were a "slip of the tongue":
Çelik suggested that Erdoğan might have intended to emphasize the common religion of Islam that Turks and Kurds share, in the face of “attempts by Turkish and Kurdish chauvinists to trace their origins to Shamanism and Zoroastrianism.” The prime minister “may have meant to say that a common faith is one of the main reasons that no ethnic strife has erupted in this country despite all the efforts of Turkish and Kurdish chauvinists,” he said.
Even Erdogan, a proud politician not prone to admitting his own mistakes, said he slipped up, meaning to say "one homeland" rather than "one religion." In a column in yesterday's Today's Zaman, analyst Lale Kemal takes a look at why Erdogan's "slip of the tongue" struck such an off note:
Tbilisi-based tipster E.O recently sent me a link to a wonderful piece about adjika, a red pepper based hot sauce that is the pride of Abkhazia and an essential part of the region's cuisine. The piece, by Oliver Bullough, a former Reuters correspondent based in Moscow, tells the story of how he first discovered adjika, got hooked on it, and then ended up having numerous conversations about the sauce whenever he went on reporting trips to Abkhazia after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. From his article:
After the war, Russia recognised Abkhazian independence, and the territory became something of a pawn in the struggle between Washington and Moscow. This was always the nominal topic during interviews with politicians but, quite often, we ended up talking instead about adjika. Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba, for example, strongly recommended buying some from a woman called Seda in the market in Sukhum, the capital. “Everyone knows her, she makes the best adjika,” he said, with a degree of passion that had been missing from much of our previous discussion of Abkhazia’s strained foreign relations. “Just ask when you get into the market and they’ll tell you how you find Seda who sells adjika.”
That was a controversial viewpoint, however. Ruben Migranyan, spokesman for the prime minister, did not think much of Seda’s adjika at all.
“Seda’s neighbour in the market has much better adjika. Look out for her, she has blonde hair, though I can’t remember her name,” he said, as we waited for his boss to turn up. He pointed out that, as an ethnic Armenian, he was neutral in the Abkhaz adjika dispute, so his viewpoint was one you could rely on.
“Seda is a brand name. Buy it from Seda by all means, maybe it’s good, but you can find any other person who makes it better.”
If you are a European Union citizen with a voice in your head telling you to quit your daily European cares and run for parliament in EU-aspiring Georgia, this is a good time to do it. There is a time-limited offer from the Georgian government to allow EU citizens with the right qualifications to participate in this fall's parliamentary elections.
And the story gets better: If you become popular with the parliamentary majority, you may even become prime minister, a posting, which, as of this year, will be determined by parliament.
They've even planning to amend the constitution to make it all totally legit.
But don't think that these changes mean just any Portuguese, Belgian or Austrian will be fiercely debating the future of Georgia in the country's new assembly. Interested EU citizens must have lived in Georgia for the past ten years and must have been born in Georgia.
For now, that means that, if elected, Georgian-born billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, an EU citizen, most likely will be as European as the Georgian parliament is going to get.
The parliamentary doors, though, will be open to Ivanishvili and his EU ilk for only three years. If Ivanishvili wants to run again (the next vote would be in 2016), he will need another amendment.