In addition, by not taxing the Turkmen fuel which is exported to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Ashgabat has declined to collect a significant amount of revenue. Even when the US was paying top dollar for overflight and landing rights -- which it claims it is no longer doing -- the sum was miniscule compared to what Turkmenistan could pocket in fuel taxes.
This level of assistance must come at a price. Turkmenistan may well be a useful partner but it’s probably not a cheap one. “Sacred neutrality” is a high-maintenance concept.
Looks like that while Georgian officials before the 2008 war were busy chasing mobs of alleged Russian spies, they might have missed a high-profile turncoat in their midst. A key official tasked with reclaiming separatist South Ossetia revealed recently that he used to combine his day job working for Tbilisi with moonlighting as a spy for Moscow.
Like any Georgia-Russia spy drama, this one contains a dose of genre-defying quirkiness. Russian websites published a bizarre manifesto, in which the ethnically Ossetian Sanakoyev talks about how he duped Mikheil Saakashvili’s government. Sanakoyev alleges he ingratiated himself with the Georgian government to be granted Georgian citizenship, and then work his way up to become privy to Tbilisi’s plans toward South Ossetia.
Three men were arrested for the negligent handling of a mortar that exploded on January 11, killing three soldiers and wounding 13 other service personnel at a military training center near Tbilisi, the Georgian Ministry of Defense has announced.
“The investigation indicates that the incident was caused by violation of safety norms,” said the ministry in a statement released late on January 11. Military trainer, Col. Tristan Tkesheladze, Col. Mamuka Fareshishvili and Lieutenant Major Malkhaz Kobalia were taken into custody. The three men were responsible for safety measures at Krtsanisi National Training Center, where US servicemen train Georgians for North Atlantic Treaty Organization operations in Afghanistan.
President Mikheil Saakashvili and opposition leaders have demanded a full and transparent investigation into the incident.
In recent years, there has a lot of talk about how Turkey has been charting a "Neo-Ottoman" course in its foreign policy, trying to capitalize on the history and legacy left behind by the Ottomans.
Now, a Turkish television show -- a kind of local version of the "The Tudors" that takes a look at one of the Ottoman sultans and his court -- is causing a major controversy in Turkey. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
A new TV soap has generated a massive reaction from conservative circles in Turkey, with claims that the Ottoman dynasty is portrayed in the show as both “indecent” and “hedonistic.”
The soap, titled “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (The Magnificent Century), is based on events that occurred during the reign of Süleyman I, also known as Suleyman the Magnificent.
Surviving heirs of the Ottoman dynasty and members of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, are among critics of the show.
Reactions started to flow in following the broadcast of the trailer, even before the first episode was aired on Jan. 5.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, is reported to have received thousands of complaints, most of which focus on the Sultan’s alcohol consumption and activities in the harem with his concubines.
After the first episode was aired more criticism followed, with a number of people complaining the women were dressed in too western a style, and that some historical events were retold inaccurately.
Rumor has spread that a gay scene has been written into the script, which the producers of the show deny.
Although there isn't a lack of wineries around the world with impressive historical pedigrees, the Washington Post reports today about an Armenian winemaking "facility" that may put all the rest to shame. As the Post reports, archeologists in Armenia have discovered inside a remote cave what may be the world's first winery, dating back some 6,000 years. From the article:
Scientists have unearthed a surprisingly advanced winemaking operation, surrounded by storage jars, and say it dates back 6,000 years, making it the earliest known site in the world for wine-making with grapes, by far.
Its presence, along with the recent discovery of the world's oldest leather moccassin in the same cave outside the small town of Areni, is requiring professionals in the field to broaden and, to some extent reexamine, exactly what constituted early civilization and where it occurred.
"This is the oldest confirmed example of winemaking by a thousand years," said Gregory Areshian, an archaeologist and co-director of the dig. "People were making wine here well before there were pharaohs in Egypt."
Considering that both neighboring Turkey, Georgia and Iran have previously made claims to being the birthplace of winemaking, could this latest discovery could very well stir up more regional rivalry?
Georgia will be spending less time in the defendant’s seat in the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) after the Strasbourg-based court ejected 1,549 complaints from breakaway South Ossetia against Tbilisi.
The applications belonged to a group of more than 3,300 individual complaints by South Ossetians and Russian peacekeepers, who accuse Georgia of crimes committed during the 2008 war, the ECHR said in a January 10 press release. The court said that, despite repeated requests, the plaintiffs failed to produce information related to their claims. The court struck out five other applications from the same body of complaints.
Georgia took the decision as a victory in its ongoing political battle with Russia and its South Ossetian protégés to prove to the world who was the villain in the 2008 conflict. Russian and separatist officials were quick to accuse the court of bias. “If they did not trust the court, why did they address it in the first place?” scoffed Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze, Rustavi2 reported. Some apparent confusion among the lawyers might explain it. One of them, Vladimir Beykulov, said he does not speak English and is not familiar with the European Court's proceedings, reported Ekho Kavkaza, a regional service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty. Nevertheless, Beykulov told the radio that he had volunteered to take South Ossetian and Russian cases to Strasbourg. Another lawyer, Zinaida Milayeva, declined to explain to Ekho Kavkaza why she did not respond to the ECHR queries.
Almaty is bracing itself for traffic chaos. The city's main arteries will be closed January 12 as officials parade the Olympic flame through Kazakhstan's financial hub in the run up to the seventh Asian Winter Games, to be held in Astana and Almaty from January 30 to February 6.
After touring Almaty, the flame will travel across Kazakhstan and will arrive in the capital on January 30 for a grand opening ceremony. The torchbearers will be mostly young athletes, with 1,020 involved in the relay. A television crew will follow the torch on its procession around the country, documenting its daily progress.
Even President Nursultan Nazarbayev may don his tracksuit and run with the flame, as he did with the Olympic torch when it passed through Almaty in 2008. He surely won't miss this chance to interact with his adoring public -- he's currently riding a wave of popular love after more than a quarter of the country's population signed a petition calling for a referendum to do away with pesky presidential elections until 2020.
Someone alert Thomas Friedman -- or maybe Mullah Omar: As readers of this blog probably know, Orthodox Christmas was last week, and Georgian and American soldiers got to celebrate it in Delaram, Afghanistan, where the Georgians are based as part of the international coalition. The video report below, by a U.S. Marine Corps media team, shows a remarkably well provisioned Georgian "church" inside what appears to be a U.S. military tent, complete with icons, candles, incense and an impressively bearded priest:
When Georgians find their country mentioned in The New York Times, they mostly think trouble. But this time it is not about the chronic conflict with Russia or domestic political vicissitudes. It is about skiing.
Georgia, “a rustic ski wonderland on the verge of discovery,” appeared among The New York Times’s top 41 picks of places to visit this year. Georgia owes its sixth place on the list to three skiing spots: Gudauri, an above- the-tree-line attraction for freeriders and heliskiers; Bakuriani, a pine-tree resort with runs ranging from the beginner to professional level; and Svaneti, the Caucasus' highest inhabited area, a region into which President Mikheil Saakashvili says the government is investing "hundreds of millions of lari" (read "hundreds of millions of dollars") to turn it into a star on the international ski tourism scene.
There's just one catch -- Mother Nature does not appear to be playing along. At last report, only one of these three resorts (Bakuriani) had received adequate snow for skiing.
The Cable, dated March 8, 2008 and signed by then-charge Richard Hoagland, describes American concerns about the government of Turkmenistan's obstructions of the Embassy's efforts to deter Turkmen intelligence agencies' surveillance.
Reftels correctly assert that Embassy Ashgabats Surveillance Detection (SD) operations have been severely restricted by the Government of Turkmenistan (GOT) and that it is unlikely that the GOT will agree to authorize normal SD operations in the near future. Since April 2007 to resent, the SD Team is not allowed to conduct operations outside of the Embassy compound territory. This includes coverage of the Residential compound, Public Affairs off-site location and the USAID/EXBS off-site location.
Despite the obstruction, the post asked for permission to keep the extra personnel to go on conducting surveillance and analysis.
That means if you're talking to someone at the Embassy residences and the various public affairs and USAID locations in Ashgabat, "you're on the air" to the Turkmenistan Ministry of National Security (MNB). No surprise there. The MNB maintains very harsh control over the communications and movements of both citizens and foreigners in an effort to prevent any kind of challenge whatsoever to the authoritarian government.