Sluggish turnout for Georgia’s June-15 local elections suggests that, nearly two years after the country’s first change of power by election, most voters don’t care enough about politics to make it to the polls.
The post of mayor of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital of about 1.2 million, was the biggest prize in the election, which included 12 mayoral and a potpouri of city-council races. But interest ran at a mere 43.31 percent of over 3.4-million registered voters — a lower turnout than in any recent election.
Many voters crossed out all candidates and parties on the ballots, instead leaving messages like “Screw this,” Netgazeti.ge reported.
In the Tbilisi mayor race, early returns placed the ruling Georgian Dream’s mayoral candidate, 35-year-old Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure Davit Narmania, in the lead, though some three percentage points short of the 50-percent cut required for victory. In a second round, Narmania would face the opposition United National Movement candidate Nika Melia, who garnered just under 27 percent of the vote. Whoever gets a simple majority of votes in the runoff will move into the mayor’s office, which is now controlled by the United National Movement.
Tbilisi’s traditional snobbery toward ambitious politicians from the regions (who don't have the moneyed patina of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvilli, that is) may have prevented the Georgian Dream from winning the race in the first go. As an extract from rural Georgia, Narmania has been the target of arrogant attacks by many Tbilisi personalities, including members of the ruling party.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has set up a new "anti-terror unit" in an apparent effort by China to deepen cooperation with Russia and Central Asia in its fight against Uyghur nationalist groups.
The director of the SCO's anti-terror section, based in Tashkent, gave a series of interviews to Chinese media last week and gave a handful of new details about the organization's security efforts in Central Asia. From China Daily:
"Many terrorists who carried out deadly attacks in China watched or listened to video or audio files online with extremist ideological content, but such materials are produced or uploaded outside China," Zhang Xinfeng, director of the Eurasian grouping's regional anti-terrorist structure executive committee, said at its headquarters in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan.
"The regional anti-terrorist structure decided to set up a special unit at the end of 2013 to deal with the new situation."
Xhang doesn't elaborate in that interview on what the new unit is, but in another interview, with the Global Times he reports that "our anti-terrorist structure established a joint expert team from all SCO members later last year to deal with the threat from the Internet." (Members of the SCO are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.)
Turkey's recent approach to regional Kurdish issues has been highly contradictory. In northern Iraq, in an effort to diversify its energy supplies and further establish itself as an oil and gas hub, Ankara has entered into energy deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), something which has infuriated the central Iraqi government in Baghdad but which has helped the Kurds further build a foundation for their independence.
In northern Syria, on the other hand, Ankara has been so alarmed by the growing Kurdish autonomy there that it reportedly has provided support for radical Islamist groups (including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)) in their fight against the the Kurdish militia that controls the region, which is affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Uzbekistan's tightly controlled media has been silent when it comes to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan's (IMU) claim of responsibility for the recent attack on Pakistan's Karachi airport. This silence seems strange given Uzbek authorities' penchant to hype the threat of terrorism as justification for their own repressive policies.
In a statement circulated online on June 10, the IMU claimed its fighters carried out the attack in Karachi as revenge for "bombardments and night attacks with fighter jets" by Pakistani armed forces in the northwestern Waziristan region. The fighting, which the IMU claimed lasted for six hours, left at least 39 dead, including the alleged IMU fighters.
As of June 13, not a single Uzbek official or semi-official media outlet had carried a report on the airport attack, or the IMU's purported involvement. Even the Uzmetronom website, which has a somewhat maverick reputation when it comes to reporting the news, has avoided the topic. Some Uzbekistan watchers believe Uzmetronom has links to Uzbek intelligence services; representatives of the news site vigorously deny any such affiliation.
At least one Uzbek media outlet ought to have reported on the IMU raid, as it appears to have monitored the Pakistani press closely in recent days: on June 11, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry’s mouthpiece, the Jahon news agency, carried a report datelined from Islamabad, repackaging a report on Uzbekistan’s cultural legacy that first appeared on the little-known Overseas Pakistani Friends blog. The headline tells you all you need to know about that report: “Uzbekistan holds the collective wisdom of mankind.”
In its effort to stake claim to the title of being the "birthplace" of wine, Georgia a few years back petitioned the European Union, successfully earning the right to sell its wine in Europe using the tagline "The Cradle of Wine."
Considering there are others -- namely next door Armenia -- that are also claiming to be the place where wine was born, it appears that Georgian authorities are taking extra steps to solidify their claim on the title. As the Georgian wine news site Hvino.com reports, Levan Davitashvili, director of Georgia's National Wine Agency, has said his organization has provided numerous labs -- including one run by the American space agency NASA -- with archeological material that will prove "Georgia’s status as the motherland of wine." From Hvino's report:
According to Levan Davitashvili, the research project can’t be accomplished in a short period of time, but the Georgian side expects that a lot of material will prove that grape vine domestication and wine production started in Georgia.
Director of the National Wine Agency notes that in April new excavations were carried out in the region of Kartli, and the unearthed artifacts will supposedly prove that Georgia is the homeland of wine. "We have a fragmentary material. However, it is not recognized by leading scientists.
We are convinced that we are a wine country, but it must be proved scientifically," said Levan Davitashvli.
The German government released its annual report on the country's arms sales around the world, and what made headlines was the fact that defense exports jumped 38 percent from 2012 to 2013. But in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Germany regularly denied export licenses on grounds of poor human rights records, ongoing conflicts, and the possibility of the equipment being resold to third countries. The report (pdf, in German) specifies the criteria under European Union policy regarding arms exports.
Kazakhstan, for example, was denied exports worth 160,000 Euros under EU criteria having to do with "Respect for human rights in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country of international humanitarian law," "Internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts," and "Existence of a risk that the military technology or equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions." Unfortunately the report doesn't specify what equipment was requested but denied (and in this case, doesn't explain what "tensions or armed conflicts" are going on in Kazakhstan).
Kyrgyzstan was denied four licenses totaling 12,000 Euros under the criteria of "Respect for human rights in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country of international humanitarian law" and "Internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts."
If Armenians want to feel safe, they have got to speak Russian, Moscow’s propagandist-in-chief, Russian media-personality Dmitry Kiselyov, has instructed Russia’s somewhat reluctant Caucasus ally, Armenia.
While the line may sound like an ignorant tourist's throwaway complaint, the comments, in the context of Russian-Armenian relations, chafed a sensitive nerve. Many Armenians think that their country already has compromised much of its sovereignty by becoming increasingly dependent on Russian money, energy and defense. Criticism delivered in the style of a colonial master does nothing to correct that view.
By July 1 (after a few delays), Armenia is expected to enter the Eurasian Union, essentially Moscow’s response to the European Union. It already is part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Moscow-led counterweight to NATO. The country has effectively surrendered much of its energy supply system to Russian energy monolith Gazprom and much of its income generation depends on what migrants send home from Russia.
The rapid advance by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) in northern and central Iraq and their takeover of the Turkish consulate in the city of Mosul is presenting Ankara with a host of new political, diplomatic and security challenges.
After ISIS fighters took over Mosul yesterday with barely a shot fired, members of the previously al Qaeda-linked group stormed the Turkish consulate, taking 49 people hostage, including the consul general and three children (this is in addition to 31 Turkish truck drivers detained earlier by ISIS). The Turkish consulate in Mosul, the only foreign diplomatic presence in the city, a former Ottoman provincial capital, has been a source of pride for Ankara, which saw the mission as an important reflection of Turkey's growing political and economic presence in northern Iraq and its growing outreach to Middle Eastern neighbors.
As the Wall Street Journal explains, the fall of Mosul into ISIS's hands and the capture of the consulate dramatically changes Turkey's position and ability to operate in that part of Iraq. From the WSJ:
[ISIS's] capture of the mission also fuels mounting threats against Turkey's interests across its southern border, with diplomatic hostages joining about 30 Turkish truck drivers who were kidnapped Tuesday while carrying diesel from Turkey's southern port of Iskenderun to a power plant in Mosul.
"There is an emergency situation right now," a senior government official said. "(ISIS) is a very worrying organization and we can't be sure about how they're treating people and we don't know what to expect from them."
In a statement attributed to the IMU, which included this photo montage, the murky terrorist group claimed credit for a June 8-9 attack on Pakistan's largest airport that left at least 39 dead.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – a murky terrorist group that may include jihadis from Central Asia, but likely has little to do with the region these days – has purportedly claimed credit for a deadly June 8-9 attack on Pakistan’s largest airport.
A statement attributed to the IMU began circulating online on June 10. It included photos of 10 men wearing turbans and holding Kalashnikovs, claiming they were IMU fighters who carried out the attack in Karachi as revenge for "bombardments and night attacks with fighter jets" by Pakistani armed forces in the northwestern Waziristan region.
The IMU fighters "wearing their explosive-filled vests" destroyed "many of the fighter jets, American drones and other military planes" in a secret part of the airport, the statement claimed.
The attack left at least 39 dead, including the 10 militants. After securing the airport, Pakistani security forces claimed the gunmen were ethnic Uzbeks. "The militants appear to be Uzbek," Reuters quoted one official as saying.
The IMU emerged in the mid-1990s, but got international attention in 1999 when it clashed with Kyrgyz troops in the Fergana Valley. After its leader Juma Namangani was killed in late 2001 by coalition airstrikes in northern Afghanistan, the group splintered. Analysts believe IMU members have been operating in alliance with other militant networks in Pakistan's tribal areas. The IMU is widely recognized as a terrorist organization by Western governments.
Moscow and Brussels have gone courting Azerbaijan, the last nonaligned place in the South Caucasus, where Russia and the European Union increasingly compete for influence.
Over the next week, two top officials from Russia and one from the European Union will be descending upon Azerbaijan to chat up Baku, which, unlike neighboring Armenia and Georgia, says it is not ready to commit to a serious relationship with anyone, be it the Brussels-based EU or the Moscow-led EU (Eurasian Union). But neither of the energy-rich country's big suitors seem to take no for an answer.
José Manuel Barroso, president of the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, will be visiting Baku on June 12 as a part of his tour of several ex-Soviet republics that Brussels corralled together to prime for integration with the EU. Two of these countries -- Moldova and Georgia -- will be signing association agreements, which include free-trade deals, with the EU in two weeks. Barroso will be checking on both countries to make sure all's set for the big day.
Breaking with the tradition of European leaders binge-visiting all three South Caucasus countries in one fell swoop, Barroso is conspicuously skipping Armenia. Brussels is still disgruntled about Yerevan discarding an association-agreement at the last minute to hop on a train headed in the opposite direction -- toward the Eurasian Union, and economic integration with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.