It seems the Azerbaijani capital of Baku is hoping to cash in on the Brooklyn brand.
Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, has established a global reputation for hipness. Thus, imagine the delight of Azerbaijani officials when Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams signed a sister-city agreement back in November with Baku’s Sabail District, a central area of the city once known as the Stalin District.
The sister-city pact is perhaps the highest-profile initiative in a broad campaign by Azerbaijani officials to foster a positive image of Azerbaijan among the American public. The Brooklyn-Sabail District agreement calls for the development of cultural, educational and economic exchanges.
On January 29, Adams in Brooklyn met with a high-level Azerbaijani governmental delegation led by Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfas Garayev, according to a report distributed by the News.az website. Garayev expressed a desire to use the sister-city agreement as a means to promote Azerbaijan as a tourist destination for New Yorkers. “The minister highlighted Azerbaijan’s tourism potential,” the report said.
Adams’ office declined to answer multiple queries from EurasiaNet.org seeking details about the partnership arrangement.
According to a November 19 press release issued by the borough president’s office, Adams said the sister-city pact would highlight the contributions of Brooklyn's roughly 5,000-strong Azeri community to the borough.
Prominent Azerbaijani media-rights activist Emin Huseynov has been living in the Swiss embassy in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, since last August, the Swiss government has acknowledged.
Huseynov, a government-critic who previously had been detained and badly beaten by police, had fled to the embassy to escape possible arrest.
The embassy granted Huseynov shelter on humanitarian grounds, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs wrote the Swiss television program Rundschau in a letter the program made public on February 11. The department confirmed that the Swiss government is in talks with Azerbaijan “to find a solution” for Huseynov’s situation.
After reports surfaced last August from Azerbaijan that he had been arrested, 35-year-old Huseynov, who ran the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a frequent source for EurasiaNet.org stories, was known to be in hiding at an undisclosed location.
Having been denied exit from Azerbaijan, Huseynov already had seen the telltale signs of a pending arrest — his bank account had been frozen, his office raided by police.
Foreign Policy’s Michael Weiss, drawing on an exclusive by "sources close to Huseynov," reported that the activist, whose wife is an American, had first approached the US embassy for help, but allegedly had been refused by Chargé d’Affaires Dereck Hogan. (The US mission to the OSCE did call on Azerbaijan to stop its crackdown on “peaceful activists,” including Huseynov.) The State Department did not respond to requests for follow-up comment, the magazine reported.
As delegates from the four countries hoping to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to South Asia met on February 11 in Islamabad, Pakistani media claimed that a deal is close. Several outlets reported that French energy major Total may lead the long-delayed project, providing much-needed know-how and capital.
Other than rumored ambivalence towards the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline project in Islamabad and Delhi, the lack of a major commercial investor has been a key obstacle for TAPI. Turkmenistan’s refusal to allow any outsider an equity stake in an upstream field has been another stumbling block, with India reportedly pressuring Turkmenistan on February 11 to change its mind.
But The Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, claims a deal is imminent. Citing an unnamed official in the Pakistani Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, the newspaper clarified that Total would not be the owner of the pipeline – which is the privilege of a company created by the four countries called TAPI Ltd. – but would instead assist the Turkmen at the source:
Under a proposed deal, Total will help extract gas from Turkmenistan’s fields, which will be exported to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In return, the company will be paid a service fee in cash or in kind. Sources in the energy sector said that gas companies of the four countries have already established a company to build, own and operate the 1,800km TAPI natural gas pipeline. The four state-owned companies will hold an equal share in the pipeline operator.
In a television-drama project likely to create a stir in the Caucasus, Russian film-industry tsar Nikita Mikhalkov plans to revisit the life and, most controversially, the death of the famous 19th century Russian writer and diplomat, Alexander Griboyedov.
The story of Griboyedov, best known for his pasquinade of Moscow’s aristocracy, Woe from Wit, makes for a perfect plot for a period-drama. His literary defiance of imperial Russia’s calcified upper crust, his marriage to a beautiful Georgian princess in Tiflis (Tbilisi) and his brutal murder in Tehran were all set during the tectonic geopolitical shifts of the early 19th century.
In Mikhalkov’s version of the story, Griboyedov, the tsar’s emissary to Tehran, is not killed by a lynch mob of Persians which, as is widely believed, massacred the entire staff of the Russian embassy to Persia in 1829. Mikhalkov claims he has it on good authority that the hero of his film fell prey to intrigues of the British as they strove to hem in Russia’s regional clout.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are both seeking to strengthen their ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, applying to be formal observers of the organization, the SCO's chief has said.
The China-led economic and security bloc is in expansion mode: in the upcoming summit in Ufa this summer India and Pakistan are expected to become full members. And according to SCO Secretary General Dimitriy Mezentsev, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, and Syria are applying to become observers.
Mezentsev, speaking at a press conference February 10, also put Iran in the same category of applicants as India and Pakistan, and said that there are "no legal obstacles" to them becoming members. So might Iran, too, be slated to join this summer?
Currently the SCO has six members: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Afghanistan are observers, while Belarus, Sri Lanka, and Turkey are "dialog partners."
Neither Baku nor Yerevan has confirmed Mezentsev's statement. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan mooted the idea of becoming an SCO observer in 2013, but nothing came of it then.
It does seem like there is some real interest in Azerbaijan in becoming an observer. Independent member of parliament Rasim Musabekov said in an interview that "the SCO is a quite authoritative international forum, located not too far from Azerbaijan. Countries close to Azerbaijan like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyyrgyzstan are in it. So we're interested in being part of this forum." He added, though, that "this will in no way affect the resolution of the Karabakh problem."
The USS Cole on its most recent visit to the Black Sea, in October 2014. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
A U.S. Navy warship entered the Black Sea this week "to promote peace and stability in the region," according to a Navy statement, but Russia doesn't see it that way.
"The destroyer Cole entered the Black Sea February 8. From the moment it entered the Black Sea straits, surveillance units of the Black Sea Fleet have been carrying out careful tracking of the American ship," an anonymous Russian naval source told Interfax.
The ship's first stop was Constanta, Romania, where it is spending four days. It's not clear what its itinerary is after that.
In June, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Romania and promised to keep a steady U.S. naval presence on the Black Sea. "The U.S. has maintained a regular naval presence in the Black Sea since mid-March, with the USS Truxton, the USS Donald Cook and the USS Taylor all conducting port calls in Romania, and we will sustain this tempo going forward,” he said.
That seems to have been the case. In 2014, American warships spent a total of 207 days on the Black Sea, according to The Bug Pit's calculations based on the careful tracking of the Bosphorus Naval News blog, and the tempo seems to have been fairly consistent throughout that period. In 2013, U.S. warships made just two visits to the Black Sea, spending a total of 27 days.
A street sweeper cleans Moscow’s Tverskaya Ulitsa. Central Asian migrants often do the dirtiest jobs in Russia.
It’s February, so Muscovites are grumbling about their city’s slippery sidewalks. The complaint isn’t unusual in winter, but this year many say they know why everything is covered in ice: The “Tajiks” have left.
Russian media report that the collapse of the ruble and strict new rules for migrant laborers have encouraged an exodus of Central Asians. But preliminary numbers are far smaller than many Muscovites believe. Besides, new government hurdles can be overcome with a bribe.
The startling number often reported and repeated is 70 percent fewer labor migrants than last year. It dates back to January 7, from comments by the head of the Federal Migration Service (FMS), Konstantin Romodanovsky, who cited it as the decrease in arriving migrants year on year. But the comparison is of dubious statistical value, referring only to the first week of 2015, which falls amid Russia’s protracted winter holidays, and also happened to be the first week that the stringent new rules were in place. Nonetheless, even migrants quote the figure when asked for estimates of how many of their compatriots have chosen to leave.
Last week FMS offered more detailed figures. In January, compared with a year earlier, the number of Uzbek citizens in Russia fell 4.3 percent and Tajik citizens by 2.2 percent, according to the RBK business-news website. Yet the number of Kyrgyzstanis had grown by 3.8 percent. (Numbers showing departures in the second half of the year are misleading, as traditionally many migrants leave Russia each winter when seasonal work dries up.)
Kazakhstan is blocking reports of an ethnic clash in the south, in a sign of sensitivities in Astana over friction between two of the country’s 140 ethnic groups.
Reports highlighting the ethnic angle of the unrest in the village of Bostandyk on February 5 – which pitted local Kazakhs against Tajiks after a row over a greenhouse ended in murder – have mostly become unavailable inside the country, while reports that covered the unrest without stressing the ethnic component are largely available.
Individual reports have been blocked on Kazakhstani sites such as Today.kz and in international media such as EurasiaNet.org and RFE/RL (some of whose reports were blocked while others were not).
Blocking individual reports rather than whole sites is a tactic increasingly used by the authorities to restrict access to information Astana deems sensitive. Legislative changes last year gave prosecutors power to block information without a court order. Since last fall law-enforcement agencies have blocked 703 websites and 198 individual reports, general-prosecutor Askhat Daulbayev said last month, mostly on grounds of extremism.
HQ-9 air defense systems on parade in Beijing. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
China has reportedly provided both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan with sophisticated air defense systems, which would represent the largest Chinese military equipment deal thus far in Central Asia.
Reportedly, China has provided one battalion each to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan of the HQ-9 air defense system, as partial payment for natural gas that it imports from Central Asia. (Each battalion consists of eight launchers.)
The information on the deal is spotty: it comes from Chinese-language Canadian defense journal Kanwa Defense Review, and cites an anonymous Chinese defense industry source. "It is possible, even likely, but it is still unclear at which stage the deals are," Vasily Kashin, a Russian military expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies told The Bug Pit. "Both countries need long range [surface-to-air missile] systems to replace their S-200s which are becoming physically old and unsustainable. Both countries are well known for their careful balancing between Russia, China and the West, they are both fiercely independent from Russia. Besides, Chinese currently can provide very good financial terms for such a deal."
Calm has returned to a village in southern Kazakhstan following clashes between ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Tajiks after a Kazakh man was murdered in an argument over a greenhouse.
Enraged friends and relatives of the murder victim, 30-year-old Bakytzhan Artykov, set fire to cars, damaged buildings, and attacked a Tajik-language school (no children were inside) in the village of Bostandyk, local resident Behruz (not his real name) told EurasiaNet.org by telephone.
“They set fire to buildings and cars,” the eyewitness said. “My own car was set on fire.”
He described how some 300 Kazakhs arrived in Bostandyk from the neighboring village of Yntymak on February 5 following the funeral of Artykov (whom police suspect was murdered by Navmidin Narmetov, a Tajik man now on the run). They rampaged through the streets from around 6 p.m. to midnight on February 5, despite the presence of riot police who arrived in response, Behruz said.
Grainy cellphone footage posted on YouTube said to be from Bostandyk (its authenticity could not be verified), a village mainly inhabited by ethnic Tajiks and located in the southern Saryagash District near the border with Uzbekistan, showed scenes of angry locals, some wielding sticks, and a burning car.
The administration of Nursultan Nazarbayev touts Kazakhstan as a model of tolerance because of the level of harmony among its 140 different ethnic groups. This unrest reveals how arguments can quickly escalate and split locals along ethnic lines.
Some of the attackers were shouting that Tajiks should leave for Tajikistan, Behruz said, “as if we were foreigners in our own country.”