A young man in southern Kazakhstan has committed suicide by setting himself alight in a gesture intended to draw attention to what he said was the injustice he has suffered at the hands of the police.
The desperate act bears echoes of a similar self-immolation by a street vendor in Tunisia in 2010, which sparked a wave of protests that led to the toppling of that country’s long-term president.
Yerlan Bektibayev, 20, set himself on fire on October 24 in front of the local headquarters of the ruling Nur Otan party in Taraz. The town was the center of much official coverage earlier this month, when it hosted celebrations to mark what Kazakhstan’s authorities say was the 550th anniversary of Kazakh statehood. Those festivities were designed in part to help shore up support for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“I have come here because I hope Nur Otan will help me,” Bektibayev said in a video later posted on YouTube. The footage then shows Bektibayev setting himself on fire before running while screaming with pain into the Nur Otan building.
Police said on October 26 that they had arrested people they suspect filmed the video, but did not specify on what charges. The person filming appears directly complicit in Bektibayev's self-immolation and makes no evident effort to aid the young man once he has followed through on the act.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on his historic days-long tour of the five countries of Central Asia with a small army of businessmen, banking officials and academics in tow.
This is the first time a Japanese leader has taken all the region’s countries, as well as Mongolia, in a single visit — a clear signal of intent to expand Tokyo’s presence in an area increasingly dominated by the rival economy of China.
Energy was at the top of Abe’s agenda, as suggested by the sealing of $18 billion in deals in Turkmenistan on October 23.
“We have signed documents on a range of projects in the chemical industry and for the construction of electrical generation plants for a total value of $18 billion,” Abe told reporters in Ashgabat.
Those projects include development on the huge Galkynysh natural gas field, building of power stations in the east of the country and polyethylene and propylene production plants, according to Turkmen officials.
The agreements will see Japanese companies like JGC Corporation, Mitsubishi, Chiyoda Corporation and Sojitz Corporation collective investing around $10 billion in Galkynysh, which is estimated to possibly hold 21.2 trillion cubic meters of gas.
Meanwhile, Sumimoto Corporation has received a $300 million order to complete gas-fired power plants with a 400 Megawatt capacity.
Large dollars figures were also flung about with abandon on October 25 in Uzbekistan, where the two countries signed off on $8.5 billion worth of deal.
According to Uzbekistan’s presidential website, Japanese investment will be primarily targeted at modernization of energy and transportation infrastructure, developing mineral resources, automobile construction, the oil, gas and chemical industries, and telecommunications.
Central Asia faces a bleak economic outlook and policy-makers should prepare for the long haul as the shocks buffeting the region are likely to be enduring, the International Monetary Fund has said.
In Central Asia, “the situation and outlook are worse than for the world economy as a whole,” Juha Kahkonen, deputy director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, said at a briefing in Almaty on October 23. “This is because the region has been hit by three major external shocks.”
The IMF identifies the wave of external shocks as the fall in global prices for the commodities that Central Asia exports, which range from oil and gas to metals, repercussions from the recession-hit Russian economy, which the IMF expects to contract by 3.8 percent this year, and the shifts in major global exchange rates pressuring regional currencies.
Added to all those woes is the slowdown in China, a major trading partner and investor for the Central Asian states.
The IMF says that as a result, the region will experience slower growth than it has become accustomed to in recent years.
Kazakhstan — which is suffering from low oil and metals prices and struggling with pressure on its currency that has seen the tenge lose around half of its value since the central bank moved to a free float in August — is expected to see growth of just 1.5 percent this year, according to both IMF and government forecasts. That is down from 4.3 percent last year.
Georgian officials on October 26 launched an investigation into an obscure website’s claims of a supposed coup attempt by former President Mikhail Saakashvili and former National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria. The investigation comes amidst stepped-up surveillance of a leading opposition TV channel sympathetic to the former president.
Georgia’s political fights generally escalate overnight, with plot accusations, allegedly leaked conversations and gruesome, incriminating videos everywhere. The country is now having one of those moments — the government speaks of a coup conspiracy and the opposition of a deliberate campaign to be pushed out of the political arena ahead of a national election. Some see the developments an early start of Georgian-style campaigning for next year’s parliamentary vote.
A series of airspace violations related to Russian airstrikes in Syria has raised tensions between Russia and Turkey, adding a military dimension to what has long been a political disagreement over how to deal with the violence in the Middle East.
The controversies began shortly after Russia began its air campaign in support of the Syrian government. Turkish authorities said that Russian jets had entered its airspace from Syria on two occasions, on October 3 and 4. Russia claimed the incursion was an accident caused by the weather but Turkish, NATO, and American officials argued that it was intentional.
The point, said Turkish military expert Aaron Stein, was a warning to Turkey to not challenge Russia in Syria. "Turkey's historical adversary [Russia] is intentionally breaching Turkish air space, obviously to send a message to Turkey," he told RFE/RL.
Days later, Turkish military transport helicopters crossed into Armenian air space on two occasions, October 6 and 7. As in the earlier Russian case, Ankara explained the situation by bad weather, but it was widely interpreted as being a retaliatory measure, albeit an understated one, by Ankara. "Armenia was the least challenging place to respond in a deescalated way," said Emil Sanamyan, a regional security analyst, in an email interview with the Bug Pit. "The Russians and Armenians got the point and just ignored it."
With US talk show host Conan O’Brien in town after an earlier visit by Kim Kardashian, it seems that swinging by Armenia to shoot episodes for US-based TV shows may be becoming a bit of a thing for American celebrities. But whether or not the country can boost their ratings is open to debate.
Regardless, Armenian comedians Narek Margaryan and Sergey Sargsyan were thrilled to have O’Brien on their ArmComedy show on October 14. The pair said the experience would be just perfect if only their celebrity guest agreed to let them make him an Armenian.
“The national sport of Armenia is starting rumor [sic] that this or that celebrity is Armenian,” explained Margaryan, before asking O’Brien to sign a release form that would allow the comedians to claim that he is, in fact, an ethnic Armenian with the last name of O’Briyan.
Despite his new Armenian credentials, O’Brien, unlike the Kardashians, did not get to meet the country’s prime minister, Hovik Abrahamian. But he did get a crash course in the Armenian experience for his November 17 broadcast. He put meat on skewers for grilling, played backgammon, and vowed to export to the US the Armenian (and the rest of the Caucasus’) custom of men walking together, arm-in-arm.
O’Brien said he went to Armenia at the suggestion of his American-Armenian assistant Sona Movsesian, who accompanied him. “It was either that or give her a raise,” he tweeted.
The nomination comes from a Göteborg, Sweden-based group that is not quick to respond to questions. What is known about the group – a certain Swedish Peace Agency (SPA) – is that it is a self-described international organization launched in 2010 to further world peace. The president is 40-year-old Rezha Aghapoor, who was born in “Iranian Azerbaijan,” Iran’s northern province dominated by ethnic Azeris.
SPA did not respond to questions about its sponsorship sources. The organization does not appear to be listed in Sweden’s roster of charities and does not have a working website in Swedish.
Its reasons for nominating Mehriban Aliyeva for the organization’s peace prize are not clear. “Individuals or governmental institutions active in defence of human rights can be nominated for the Prize,” according to the agency's nomination submission rules.
Also in the running is American writer and rights-activist Alice Walker.
A manhunt in Kyrgyzstan for a group of prison fugitives culminated in a bloody showdown on October 22 with police and special forces killing the last escapee at large.
Authorities sought to cast the fugitives as dangerous Islamist militants, but a spate of mysterious deaths and implausible details in the official narrative suggest the focus may fall elsewhere.
According to the government account, the drama began on the night of October 11, when nine inmates at a detention facility outside the capital, Bishkek, overpowered guards and made their escape. Three guards are said to been killed during the breakout, and another to have died of his injuries some days later.
Five of the men were captured almost immediately and again incarcerated. Within ten days, three of them had died in strange circumstances.
But the focus of attention over the past week has been on the four that got away.
Progress was slow to begin with, but all but one from that group has now been killed.
The first to be tracked down was Daniyar Kadyraliev, who was surrounded by police as he holed up in the Dordoi residential complex in the capital, Bishkek.
The Interior Ministry said Kadyraliev was shot dead after tried to attack a police officer with a knife. In a confusing detail, it was initially reported that it was not Kadyraliev that had been killed but another person in the group of escapees, Azamat Masuraliev.
In fact, Masuraliev would end up being killed by police four days later in the a village in the Sokoluk district of the northern Chui province.
An Interior Ministry source told AKIpress that Masuraliev was killed resisting arrest while hiding in a barn.
Ilgar Mammadov, a prominent political prisoner in Azerbaijan, says he was attacked recently by three prison officials, and expressed fear for his life.
Mammadov was arrested in early 2013 and received a seven-year sentence following conviction on a charge of inciting violence. At the time of his arrest, he was a leader of the Republican Alternative (REAL), a group opposing the policies of President Ilham Aliyev’s administration. Rights activists assert the criminal case against Mammadov was politically motivated. Shortly after his conviction in 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his arrest violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The Azerbaijani government has ignored at least two appeals by the Council of Europe calling for Mammadov’s release.
In a handwritten note dated October 20 and written from behind bars, Mammadov described being assaulted by three top prison officials in the facility where he is serving his sentence. The three officials “beat me up severely,” Mammadov wrote, adding that the episode occurred on October 16. He did not speculate about possible causes for the incident.
Mammadov’s letter urges rights activists and foreign diplomats to keep raising his case with Azerbaijani leaders. “The beating is in line with the death threats I had received earlier from top management of the Penitentiary Service,” he wrote. “The Council of Europe and other international bodies, as well as [the] local community, are aware of such threats.”
Afghanistan's Uzbek leader and vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum has kicked off an offensive in the northern part of the country, just two weeks after traveling to Russia to arrange an increase in military aid.
On Wednesday, Afghanistan's security forces started an operation in the province of Jawzjan, which borders Turkmenistan, led personally by Dostum. The offensive is meant to beat back recent Taliban gains in the north, both in Jawzjan and in neighboring Faryab, which also borders Turkmenistan. Dostum led another offensive in Faryab in August, but his advances were quickly reversed.
Dostum's increasing involvement in the fighting in northern Afghanistan comes as he has also apparently sought to strengthen his ties to the former Soviet states to the north. He visited Grozny and Moscow earlier this month, meeting with officials including Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, to arrange increased Russian military aid.
After arriving in the north, Dostum appeared on Afghan television and publicly thanked his northern neighbors. "The countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, from Russia to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, all of these states are ready to stand with us against [the Islamic State], against extremism, against the bloody Taliban," he said.