As the winter editions of the World Student Games come to a close in Kazakhstan this week, questions are still being asked about what went wrong with the ticket sales.
The games, which started on January 29 and will conclude on February 8, have been eagerly anticipated since the city of Almaty won hosting rights in 2011. So much so, that in the days before the competition began, many lamented that they were finding it impossible to find any tickets. News website Nur.kz reported that ticket websites were informing customers they were sold out for multiple events, while ticket offices outside venues also pleaded lack of availability.
The games — which are commonly known in Kazakhstan by the preferred international name of Universiade — have been touted as a major prestige event on a par with the EXPO 2017 international fair taking place in the capital, Astana.
Preparations have been intense, at times absurdly so. Authorities stopped older cars from entering the city (to keep the air clean), shut some of the main bazaars for the duration of the games, ordered schools to close and advised citizens living near venues to refrain from hanging their laundry to dry outside.
Officials say the actions of unscrupulous ticket scalps have contrived to undo some of that hard work.
On January 31, police detained five touts carrying a total of around 120 overpriced tickets. A Nur.kz correspondent bought a 500 tenge ($1.5) ticket for for 6,000 tenge ($18.5) from one dealer.
Still, the numbers of tickets being sold by the touts is relatively small in the broader scheme of things.
Turkey’s campaign against schools reportedly linked to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen got a mega-boost late last week when the Georgian government opted to suspend the license of Batumi’s Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, a private institution earlier denounced by a Turkish diplomat for supposedly “serving terrorist groups” loyal to Gülen.
Georgia’s decision to cancel the school’s operating license came just days after 270 suspects went on trial in Turkey for alleged involvement in a failed coup attempt last July that Ankara blames on the US-based Gülen, now being tried in absentia. Washington does not recognize the 75-year-old Islamic teacher as a terrorist.
Despite its strategic ties with Turkey, Georgia, unlike other Eurasian countries, previously had made no move to close institutions considered part of Gülen’s international network of schools.
The grounds for its decision to do so now are less than crystal clear. The official decision, apparently taken on February 3, may not be published until next week.
The spokesperson for the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement, the body overseeing school licenses, said only that a monitoring group had found “serious violations” of regulations, including for enrollment procedures, Interpressnews reported.
Unusually frigid February weather aside, Armenia's politics is thawing out of its traditional winter slumber unseasonably early as it looks ahead to an April 2 election that now appears far less predictable than it had just a couple of months ago.
As in four preceding parliamentary elections, the ruling Republican Party (RPA) is the presumptive favorite. But a half dozen alliances and individual political parties are expected to offer some real competition for seats in the new National Assembly. Pre-election buzz is real, horse trading is in full swing, and even long-disappeared politicos are reemerging to seek out places for themselves in the electoral lists.
What makes this election different is the new constitutional framework that calls for transition of executive power from incumbent president Serzh Sargsyan – who completes his term a year from now – to a prime minister selected by parliamentary majority. That ups the stakes in these elections, and the buzz is all around three individual politicians.
First, is businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, 60, who heads the Prosperous Armenia Party, the country’s second largest since 2007. Tsarukyan has fairly strong support among less well-to-do Armenians due mostly to his philanthropic activities and his man-of-the-people appeal. He has been endorsed by Armenia’s “first oligarch” Khachatur Sukiasyan, who was a key financial backer of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian’s 2008 campaign, and Stepan Demirchian, the main opposition candidate in 2003 elections, son of former Soviet Armenian leader Karen Demirchian, and the main presidential challenger in 1998. Perhaps most importantly, Tsarukyan is likely to be backed by former prime minister and RPA election manager Hovik Abrahamyan, who happens to be Tsarukyan's relative through their children's marriage.
An official investigation into how the 23-year old son of Tajikistan’s deputy prime minister plowed his Toyota Camry at speed into a public works vehicle, killing two people, has placed the blame on a technical fault in the car.
Ozodagon news website last week reported that representatives of the General Prosecutor’s Office have accordingly determined that there is no need to pursue a criminal case against Faromuz Saidov, the son of first deputy premier Davlati Saidov. Prosecutors said the accident was caused by a “technical problem during the manufacture of the car” and that there was no human factor at play.
General Prosecutor’s Office representative Sharif Habibulloyev gave no details about what particular defect might have caused a loss of control over the car. The accident claimed the lives of a 25-year old woman, Hilola Rahimova, who traveling in the car with Saidov, and a municipal employee who was at the time clearing away decorations erected to celebrate the Independence Day holiday.
Investigations into the accident, which took place on September 10, have taken five months to complete. On January 20, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda noted at a press conference that the findings of investigations have yielded some contradictory data, but he declined to elaborate further, saying the matter was being handled by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Some details do not entirely appear to stack up. Authorities in Tajikistan enforce annual car inspections that would presumably reveal any serious technical shortcoming.
A former prime minister in Kyrgyzstan has declared he plans to run for president in this year’s election, kicking off what could shape up to be an unpredictable race in Central Asia's most vibrant political arena.
Temir Sariyev said on January 4 that he will run on a platform of promoting economic development and upholding rule of law.
The 53-year old was nominated to run by his Ak-Shumkar party. He was part of the interim government that was installed after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in a popular revolt in April 2010. In 2011, he was appointed Economy Minister and then became prime minister in 2015.
Sariyev was forced to resign as prime minister in April 2016 amid allegations of corruption to do with a multimillion dollar road construction contract. He admitted no culpability at the time but said government infighting and unfounded accusations of malfeasance had made his position untenable.
President Almazbek Atambayev is required by constitution to step aside when he completes his first term in October. That has created an unusual air of uncertainty for a region where presidents typically decline to relinquish power.
Sariyev is the first figure of any import to signal his intent to fill the position and has been touted by pundits as a likely prospect. He stressed at this candidacy announcement, however, that he wished not to be seen as an automatic successor.
“There will be no successor. The people will elect the president of Kyrgyzstan. That is not why we fought and risked our lives in 2010,” Sariyev said.
The have been some rumblings of irritation in Kazakhstan over reports that an ultra-nationalist member of parliament in Russia called for parts of northern Kazakhstan to be “taken back.”
According to some flimsily sourced reports, a deputy with the ultra-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Pavel Shperov, is said to have made his remarks, describing parts of Kazakhstan as “temporarily seized” lands, at a January 26 roundtable on the plight of ethnic Russian living overseas. Shperov is then reported to have predicted that the return of those lands was imminent.
There are lingering suspicions the remarks might have been a fabrication, or at best a gross distortion of what was said at some point — Shperov’s colleagues have blamed media in Ukraine.
“I can assure you that nobody had any idea of revising the borders of Russia and Kazakhstan. The quote has clearly been taken out of context and has been accompanied by the subjective and obviously contrived assumptions of the journalist,” the head of the State Duma committee for international affairs, Leonid Slutsky, also an LDPR deputy, told reporters on February 1.
Be that as it may, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry reached out to its Russian counterparts to seek reassurances. On February 1, Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi initiated a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Grigory Karasin, to reconfirm that relations between the countries remained founded on mutual acknowledgement of one another’s borders, among other things.
“Russia asserted that entreaties from the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan have been considered in all serious,” ministry spokesman Anuar Zhainakov told Tengri News.
There was a time in Uzbekistan when hip-hop got a bad rap for being insufficiently traditional and was de facto prohibited from the public scene.
Going by a student festival that took place last month, however, officials appear to have changed their tune. The “World Through Student Eyes” festival hosted, among other things, a competitive face-off between DJs and hip-hop artists, according to news website ut.uz.
The driving force behind the project was a fourth-year student at an Uzbek arts college, Abbos Tamatov.
“More than 100 people from various parts of the country expressed their interest in taking part in the competition,” Tamatov told ut.uz. “I’ll confess that I was only half certain that they would even let us hold the competition.”
Tamatov told EurasiaNet.org that his next plan to is bring together all the country’s top rap artists and hold major competition among them, so as to capitalize on the massive popularity of hip-hop among young people. The student’s own favorite acts are Uzbek rapper Shohruh and Russian star Basta.
The event organized by Tamatov is notable for the fact that hip-hop is a genre that has been under an unspoken embargo since around 2011. In February that year, an Uzbek youth channel aired a documentary entitled "Melody and Calamity” that leveled intense criticism at western music, and at rap in particular. The program described the musical genre as “a dark cloud hanging over Uzbek youth.” By way of evidence, the documentary asserted that “rock music originated from African hunting rituals” and that "rap was originated by inmates in prisons, which is why rap singers wear wide and long trousers.”
Former leader of Abkhazia Alexander Ankvab appears to be contemplating a comeback to politics, this time as a member of parliament, threatening further turmoil in Abkhazia's already stormy political scene.
This week news emerged that Abkhazia's Central Election Commission has registered a nomination for Ankvab in parliamentary elections scheduled for March 12. Ankvab himself, who has lived in exile in Russia since he was forced out of the de facto presidency in 2014, hasn't commented.
Predictably, the news has triggered a harsh response from supporters of Ankvab's successor Raul Khajimba, condemning Ankvab for a host of misdeeds committed while he was president, including illegally granting Abkhazian citizenship to Georgian residents in Gali District (since reversed under Khajimba) and misspending Russian financial aid. They also claim that in the early days of Abkhazia's 1992-1993 war with Georgia, Ankvab, then interior minister, authorized the transfer of weapons to Georgian special forces.
If Ankvab wins a seat in parliament, he may try to return to Abkhazia, protected by the legal immunity MPs enjoy. Having survived six assassination attempts while in power, he would still have reason to fear for his physical safety, especially since the court case against the suspects has stalled under Khajimba.
The late president of Uzbekistan may have died last year, but his name(s) lives on. Literally.
The day that would have marked Islam Karimov’s 79th birthday — January 30 — was marked by an outpouring of adulation, and some baby-naming to fit the theme.
In Andijan, a couple anticipated the event by giving their newborn triplets the names of Isolmjon, Karimjon and Abdugani — that last name being a reprise of the the late leader’s patronymic. The family received a visit from Andijan regional head Shukhrat Abdurahmanov, who bestowed them with gifts.
“We live in a peaceful and prosperous nation thanks to Islam Abduganievich Karimov. That is why we have decided to name the children in his honor,” the mother, Fatimahon. told Podrobno.uz news website.
Naming babies after Karimov was popular in Uzbekistan even before his death last year. There is no certain count of how many little Islams are running around the country, but anecdotal evidence suggests the number is high.
The tradition of giving multiple babies Karimov’s surname and patronymic seems to have been kicked off by Tashkent resident Gulshan Khaydarova in 2013. In September that year, Khaydarova gave birth to four boys, whom she called Karim, Islam and, less deferentially, Hasan and Husan. And in March 2015, a couple in the Karakalpakstan autonomous region gave their newborn triplet the full house, as it were. That gesture earned them three strollers and a milk cow from the local administration.
Self-immolation has in recent times become a recurrent gesture of ultimate despair in Kazakhstan.
In the latest such case, a ex-employee of the Atyrau regional prosecutor’s office, 37-year old Leila Smadyarova, set herself alight in front of her former place of work, local newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk reported.
Smadyarova’s responsibilities at the prosecutor’s office consisted of ensuring state detention facilities were properly ensuring the rights of prisoners. In August, a court in the Atyrau, which is situated in western Kazakhstan, issued an order for Smadyarova to be placed under house arrest pending investigations into allegations that she had taken 3 million tenge ($9,200) in bribes. She denied the accusation.
Trial proceedings have since got underway. Prosecutors have argued that Smadyarova, who was an assistant to the regional prosecutor, took the bribe in two parts.
Ak-Zhaiyk cited unnamed sources as saying Smadyarova was driven to the act of self-immolation to draw attention to her plight. She maintains that she never took any bribes and that she is the victim of a smear campaign undertaken by people that she had previously brought to justice. Other than witness statements from those individuals, prosecutors have no evidence, Smadyarova has reportedly said.
Smadyarova was taken to a local hospital with burns to her face and lower leg. Doctors have said she is no immediate danger to her life and that she is fully conscious.
The case has shocked the public not just because the gesture is an extreme one, but because it has occurred so many times.
Activist Baurzhan Aldybergenov said the incident should serve as a clarion call for greater solidarity.