Five remarkable things about Azerbaijan's unremarkable election

Azerbaijan's presidential election was, as predicted, a non-event. Ever-incumbent leader Ilham Aliyev won his fourth consecutive term with an 86 percent landslide, while his token rivals got crumbs of voter support – in the low single digits – according to early official results. Nevertheless, the vote did manage to produce a number of oddities.

1. Statistical Wonders. For starters, the vote tabulation results will challenge anything you thought you knew about probability theory. For example, one of Aliyev’s rivals, Araz Alizadeh, appears to have received exactly…

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Abkhazia mobilizes against foreign invader: Stinkbugs

Hunter has become hunted in Georgia’s separatist region of Abkhazia, as locals are now capturing stinkbugs to sell to Russia.

Abkhazians are collecting the brown marmorated stinkbug for export by the bucketful, thanks to an offer from Russia’s agriculture authorities, who are willing to pay 1000 rubles (just over $17) per kilo for the swarming vermin. The stinkbug wiped out crops in the Russian dependency and other parts…

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Georgia: Ski Lift Crashes in Gudauri Resort

A ski lift careened out of control, with people jumping or thrown from the chairs, in Georgia's popular Gudauri ski resort on March 16.

Videos taken by eyewitnesses showed terrifying scenes of the chairs speeding in reverse and smashing together at the lower terminal. Most passengers managed to leap out at the last moment, but others were flung into the snow as their chairs swung violently around the bullwheel…

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Teaching Tupac to Georgian Tweens

A middle-aged school teacher pulling off a hip-hop act with her students is not something you see often in the ex-Soviet world. But in Georgia, an English teacher has become an internet star after she posted a video of her and her preteen students jamming to Tupac Shakur’s rap classics.

In the video, teacher Darejan Gurasashvili shakes to the beat of Shakur’s “Me and My Girlfriend,” singing words from an old jazz chant: “I told you not to do it, and you did it again!” Then the kids take it away, chanting “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…

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Georgian Government on Defensive in Journalist Kidnapping Case

Released from prison for a day to attend a memorial service for his relatives, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli said that Georgia’s government was behind his abduction from Georgia and rendition to his native Azerbaijan. The explosive allegations prompted officials in Tbilisi to lash out at Mukhtarli, whose travails have made him a cause celebre among many in Georgia.

“This happened by sanction and, probably, direct order of [Prime Minister Giorgi] Kvirikashvili,” Mukhtarli told…

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Controversy Dogs Rollout of Saakashvili’s Book in Armenia

A memoir by former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has received a rocky reception in Armenia, which the book's Armenian translator alleges is the result of government pressure.

The book – with the Star Wars-esque title, “Awakening of Force” – is an account of Saakashvili's political journey throughout the former Soviet space. The volume describes the making of the Rose Revolution – the peaceful 2003 uprising in Georgia that Saakashvili is now endeavoring to export to Ukraine – and the subsequent reforms that pulled Georgia out of the mire of corruption and chaotic governance…

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Tbilisi Metro Collapse Evokes Memories of the Dark 90s

A suspended ceiling in a Tbilisi metro station collapsed on January 30, injuring 14 commuters in the worst transit accident in the city's recent memory. Eyewitnesses recounted scenes of panic, with commuters running for their lives up the escalators to escape the falling panels.

For those of us who rode the Tbilisi metro in the 1990s, the accident brought back memories of that (literally) darkest era of the city and its subway.

In those days, descending into Tbilisi's metro was a leap of faith. You never knew if a…

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Georgia: US-Funded Media Outlet Grapples with Controversy

An in-house controversy within Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is spilling into the public following the reported refusal of the international news network’s Georgian service to form a partnership with Georgia’s private television stations. The proposal has raised the Georgian staff’s concerns that association with highly partisan local stations could cast a pall on the credibility of RFE/RL’s reporting in Georgia.

The United States government-funded RFE/RL has faced numerous challenges to its illuminating coverage of the post-Soviet…

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Of Saakashvili, His Son and Khinkali

Khinkali and Mikheil Saakashvili are among Georgia's best known brands. Combine the two and you get an instant online hit, as was the case with a video filmed by the former Georgian president featuring the iconic, but tricky-to-eat, dumplings.

The video demonstrates to the world the proper way of eating the messiest of Georgian dishes and stars the ex-president’s younger son, 12-year-old Nikoloz Saakashvili .

Young Saakashvili explains what Georgians are wont to tell the uninitiated who…

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Five Peculiar Soviet Cartoons for the Holidays

Since it’s that time of year again, readers with (or without) an interest in the Soviet Union could use recommendations for Soviet cartoons to watch over the holidays that are the antithesis of the usual Santa-Claus fare.

An outlet for entertainment, propaganda, social commentary and artistic expression, animation was a huge business in the USSR. Arguably, animated films can tell more about the Soviet Union than some history books. Many of them continue to exert vast cultural influence to this day.

The list below attempts to look beyond blockbusters like…

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High-Tech Baby Bed Unveiled in Armenia

A new Armenian-made “smart crib” that can sing lullabies, tell stories and keep a watchful eye over a baby is the latest manifestation of the post-Soviet country’s burgeoning high-tech sector.

Caring for a baby can be an easier job when daddy is a programmer, as was the case with the team behind the Armenian smart bed, Cribby. Gor Shahbazian, one of Cribby’s creators and co-founder of an eponymous start-up, came up with the idea of an intelligent bassinet after his first son was born. A few likeminded programmers and computer designers and he then got together to devise an all-in-…

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Saakashvili: Free Again (Seriously)

For the second time running in less than a week, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on December 11 was again freed from Ukrainian state custody, but, this time, by a Kyiv judge who refused the state’s demand for Saakashvili’s house arrest on charges of criminal conspiracy.
“I think that this proves that you can’t prevail against logic, that they really wanted to isolate me from Ukrainian politics . . . They wanted to hide me from the people and to hide the people from me. In reality, it turned out exactly the opposite,” a beaming Saakashvili told…

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Saakashvili Recaptured, For Now

Arrested, broke free, arrested again -- the spectacle around ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Ukraine seems straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. Following a surreal game of cat and mouse with Ukrainian police, it was ultimately the common cold that got him.   
After a few near-captures on charges of allegedly assisting a criminal organization, the elusive Saakashvili was eventually cornered in Kyiv late on December 8…

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Saakashvili Rallies Supporters in Kyiv after Escaping Arrest

After an hours-long standoff with law-enforcement, supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili gathered outside Ukraine's parliament on December 5 in the hundreds to demand the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The rally follows a failed attempt by special forces to detain the former Georgian president on charges of allegedly plotting to overthrow Poroshenko and collaborating with "the Russian side."

Addressing supporters on Maidan, Ukraine’s revolutionary epicenter, Saakashvili, now an opposition politician battling the Ukrainian government over rampant corruption, vowed…

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Abkhazia: Counting on a Cryptocurrency

Breakaway Abkhazia plans to launch its own cryptocurrency in a bid to avoid potential sanctions and attract international investment, according to the territory’s de facto economy minister, Adgur Ardzinba.

Whether the de facto Abkhaz government can pull it off is unclear, but, if successful, the idea could give separatist regions throughout Eurasia an example of how to diversify the options for their financial survival.

“The advantage of this [cryptocurrency] market has to do with the fact that any citizen in the entire world…

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Georgia: A Church Divided against Itself

The Georgian Orthodox Church is having an eventful year: priests have been dispensing blessings from a helicopter, visiting the US State Department and debating a poison conspiracy. Most notably, Patriarch Ilia II, the aging Church leader and Georgia’s most beloved public figure, has appointed a standby amidst a growing rivalry for his succession.

But odd things first. A few weeks ago, several priests went whizzing around in a state border-police helicopter, dispensing blessings and candies from the sky. The airborne…

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Georgia Suspects ISIS-Linked Ahmed Chatayev Killed in Tbilisi

Georgian State Security Services boss Vakhtang Gomelauri has taken the first step toward validating unsourced media reports that alleged Islamic State commander Ahmed Chatayev, the suspected mastermind of the 2016 Istanbul Atatürk Airport attack, is among three unidentified men killed in a counter-terrorism operation in Tbilisi last week.
In response to a reporter’s question at a November 26 funeral for a Georgian special-forces operative slain in the…

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