Many Georgians might need to adjust their alarm clocks. In a bold initiative for very much a night-owl nation, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has requested public officials to wake up an hour earlier to show up at work at 9 in the morning "like the rest of the world."
Georgia's boss can bet many of his employees, from ministers down to janitors, are mentally cursing him now. The Georgian government starts work at 10 am, more or less, and gets off at 6 or 7 pm. Yet every agency seems always to have at least one employee, who stays on, burning the midnight oil, and doing all the work.
Parliament often fills up late, but, nevertheless, some representatives still grab a power-nap in the middle of the session as exciting new laws are presented.
That perhaps explains why some tend to favor interviews with reporters closer to midnight.
Outside the public sector, the picture is similar. Banks, shops, clinics and so forth also open (and stay open) late. In short, it is not a morning-country.
But since Georgia is enthusiastic to join the Western world, via NATO and EU membership, it might need to adjust its clocks, too. "We must begin working at an earlier time. Ten in the morning is just too late," the prime minister told an early-morning cabinet meeting on August 1.
In the latest from Azerbaijan’s ongoing series of arrests of government critics, an outspoken rights defender, Leyla Yunus, has been arrested, and accused of spying for enemy Armenia.
Yunus never made a secret of her attempts to promote peace with Armenia through civilian initiatives, but what some call citizen diplomacy, Azerbaijani prosecutors called treason. Prosecutors claimed Yunus, who chairs the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was visiting Armenia to impart sensitive information. Her husband, Arif Yunus, was also charged on July 30, but was released pending trial.
Earlier this year, Leyla Yunus spoke up vocally for another imprisoned alleged enemy of the state, journalist Rauf Mirkadirov. Police then detained the Yunuses at the airport and have withheld their passports since. Leyla Yunus has defied several subpoena requests, until she was remanded on July 30. Prosecutors now accuse Yunus and Mirkadirov of spying together for Armenia.
The head of United States Central Command has visited Uzbekistan as the U.S. works to "rebalance" its policies toward Central Asia, a policy which officials increasingly admit has been excessively focused on security.
General Lloyd Austin, head of CENTCOM, visited Uzbekistan and met with President Islam Karimov among other officials. There was no official word on what the visit was about. Voice of America Uzbek service's Navbahor Imamova, who has good sources on these issues, says that her sources say the visit was "purely maintenance" and included "no basing talk."
That didn't convince everyone, and the Uzbekistan news website uzmetronom reported that Austin was in Uzbekistan to negotiate a new U.S. military base there, and that the U.S. was offering Tashkent a billion dollars a year for the privilege, and that Germany was opposing it behind the scenes. That's all pretty unlikely, but it's interesting coming from uzmetronom; the site is well connected to the country's security services and in Uzbekistan there are obviously strict limits on what can be published. Whatever the reason, the report was of course eagerly picked up by the Russian media.
In March, Austin testified to Congress about the U.S. military's posture in the CENTCOM area, and said this about Uzbekistan:
Salty and rubbery, halloumi -- the national cheese of Cyprus -- hardly seems to be the kind of thing people would fight about. But, considering the historical divisions on the island, which has been split into Greek and Turkish sides since 1974, perhaps its not surprising that humble halloumi has been dragged into the Cyprus conflict.
As previously mentioned on this blog, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been fighting over who gets to claim halloumi (or "hellim," as it's called on the Turkish side) as their own, with Greek Cypriots having put in a request with the European Union to give the cheese Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. That would mean that only cheese from Cyprus could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.
The trouble is that because of the island's division, Turkish Cypriots are concerned that the designation will only apply to halloumi made on the Greek side, which is a member of the EU. With the PDO applicaiton in process, the fight over halloumi is heating up, as the Cyprus Mail reports:
The agriculture ministry is the responsible authority for the inspection of halloumi cheese and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Industry (KIBSO) cannot be inspectors for production in the north, said minister Nicos Kouyialis yesterday.
As international sanctions pile up against Russia, Armenia, a country literally powered by the Russian economy, expects to get hit, too.
Armenian officials and economy-wonks are not certain about the size and scope of the impact, but they are positive there is going to be one. Russia is Armenia’s single largest investor, export-outlet and energy supplier, so the lateral effects of the sanctions could be potentially felt in all those directions. “At this stage it is hard to make expert conclusions. Even the Russian experts do not yet have precise calculations,” Economy Minister Karen Chshmatirian was quoted as saying by Regnum news agency.
The latest round of US sanctions targeted, among others, Russia’s VTB Bank, which happens to be the largest private lender in Armenia. “The measures taken by the US Government to restrict VTB’s access to the capital market do not impact the bank’s operational performance and creditworthiness,” asserted VTB, which is majority-owned by the Russian government. Bloomberg, however, reported that major international lenders to the VTB Group already have put on hold a $1.5-billion loan to the bank.
Another target of the sanctions, Gazprombank, also has a presence in Armenia. It is owned by Russia’s state energy giant Gazprom, which essentially is the sole supplier of natural gas to Armenia.
A cement company owned by Russian oligarch Filaret Galchev appears to have become the latest target of an assets grab by Uzbekistan’s government, sparking speculation that this is part of a re-division of economic spoils following the fall from grace of Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of President Islam Karimov.
A Tashkent court has ruled that the post-Soviet privatization of the Akhangarantsement company – owned by Galchev’s Russia-based Eurocement – way back in 1994 was illegal, and froze assets worth 414 billion sums (nearly $180 million), the company said in a July 29 statement.
The claims of illegal privatization “are of an unfounded and illegal nature, as was convincingly demonstrated in the court hearing,” it quoted Mikhail Skorokhod, Eurocement’s president, as saying.
The assault on the firm was quite sudden, he said: The company found out about the lawsuit brought by the government’s antimonopoly committee on July 16. Hearings started two days later, and on July 21 the court deemed the privatization illegal.
The ruling effectively places the firm – Uzbekistan’s second largest cement producer – back in the hands of the state, a full two decades after it was put into private hands in the post-Soviet privatization rush.
Eurocement – whose owner, Galchev, is Russia’s 24th richest man with a fortune of $6.1 billion, according to Forbes – acquired a 75-percent stake in Akhangarantsement in 2006 and now owns an 84-percent share, with the rest in the hands of minority shareholders.
Georgia is now chasing its former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, with criminal charges of abuse of authority. But the leader of the 2003 Rose Revolution has no intention of turning himself in to prosecutors whom some see as fixated on crushing the ex-president and his allies.
The United States Department of State has added Turkmenistan to its shortlist of especially worrying religious freedom offenders, calling the reclusive Central Asian nation a “Country of Particular Concern” for the first time.
Turkmenistan has never been regarded as shining example of religious tolerance. Some of the country’s heavily monitored mosques are even inscribed with folk wisdom from the “book of the soul,” which was written by the country’s eccentric first president, Saparmurat Niyazov—a pertinent metaphor for the ever-watchful eye the state casts over worshippers.
But according to Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on July 28 at the rollout of the latest annual International Religious Freedom Report, last year Ashgabat plumbed new depths in its persecution of the faithful:
When countries undermine or attack religious freedom, they not only unjustly threaten the people that they target; they also threaten their country’s own stability. That’s why we, today, add Turkmenistan to the list of Countries of Particular Concern. We have seen reports that people in Turkmenistan are detained, beaten, and tortured because of their religious beliefs. The Government of Turkmenistan has passed religious laws that prohibit people from wearing religious attire in public places or that impose fines for distributing religious literature. And the authorities continue to arrest and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses who are conscientious objectors to military service.
The last few years have seen Ankara's regional role in the Middle East become severly diminished as its relations with one neighbor after another went downhill. But could the current war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel offer Turkey a chance to reassert its regional relevance?
The promise of that happening is certainly there, especially after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was included in a mini-summit this past Saturday in Paris that brought him together with Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Qatar, France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. in a failed effort to create a ceasefire in Gaza.
The inclusion of Turkey made certain sense, since -- like Qatar -- it is has been a strong supporter of Hamas in recent years and is considered to have an open line to the organization's leadership. Ankara has also been showing its support for Gaza in material terms, recently sending some 17 tons of medicine to the besieged area and also providing funding for fuel for Gaza's only power plant.
In a previous post, this blog wrote about the grill masters of Gaziantep, considered by many to be Turkey's culinary capital. Along with kebabs, the city is also famous for its baklava, sold from countless little shops throughout Gaziantep.
In an article in yesterday's New York Times, writer Elizabeth Field, who recently made a baklava pilgrimage to Gaziantep, provides an excellent take on what make the city such a inviting culinary destination. From her piece:
The first thing you notice among passengers departing from Oguzeli Airport in Gaziantep, Turkey, is the profusion of shopping bags containing baklava, the intensely sweet Middle Eastern phyllo pastry and nut confection that is a staple of every Turkish celebration. This city of about a million people, in the province of the same name and situated on the Silk Road about 530 miles southeast of Istanbul, claims some 100 baklava shops, which supply 90 percent of the baklava consumed in Turkey. Last December, Gaziantep baklava, which is made with locally grown pistachio nuts, was awarded “protected status” by the European Union, a designation that recognizes a specific local food, protects it from imitators and potentially helps boost tourism to the area.
I had never heard of Gaziantep (often called Antep), until I attended the Gastro Istanbul culinary festival in May 2013. Countless Turkish chefs extolled it as not only the baklava capital of Turkey but also the home of Turkey’s richest regional cuisine. “It’s got a great climate that produces outstanding local produce, an ancient history that reflects Anatolian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, and a traditional food culture,” the Turkish food writer Aylin Oney Tan told me.