Saturday, April 19, 2014


The Week Ahead: April 7-13

April 9 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1989 tragic events, when Soviet troops dispersed a peaceful demonstration outside the parliament building in Tbilisi leaving 20 people dead.

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

MONDAY, April 7:

Azerbaijan/Russia: Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov makes an official visit to Baku (to April 8).

Council of Europe: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) plenary session opens in Strasbourg (to April 11).

U.S./South CaucasusGerman Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington hosts a discussion titled "South Caucasus: The Dividing Lines Are Shifting."

WHO: World Health Day.

Ukraine: UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsak visits Ukraine to gather first-hand information from minority communities in the country (to April 13).

TUESDAY, April 8:

Armenia/CIS: Yerevan hosts a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Air Defense Coordination Council meeting.

Azerbaijan/CIS: Baku hosts a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Croatian President Ivo Josipovic visits Mostar and Sarajevo (to April 9).

IranIran and world powers hold a new round of nuclear talks in Vienna (to April 9).

Moldova: UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri visits Chisinau and Tiraspol (to April 11). 

World: International Roma Day.


: The 25th anniversary of the 1989 tragic events, when Soviet troops dispersed a peaceful demonstration outside the parliament building in Tbilisi leaving  20 people dead.

Russia/U.S.: Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov visits Washington (to April 11).

Ukraine/CoE: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is scheduled to discuss the situation in Ukraine during its plenary session in Strasbourg.

THURSDAY, April 10:

Moldova: Next round of 5+2 talks on the Transdniester conflict settlement is scheduled to begin in Vienna (to April 11).

Russia/CoE: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is scheduled to reconsider the already ratified credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation during its plenary session in Strasbourg.

FRIDAY, April 11:

Czech Republic
: EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele participates in the conference in Prague titled "Ten years since the EU Enlargement to the East."

SATURDAY, April 12:

: International Day of Human Space Flight.

SUNDAY, April 13:

: Presidential election.

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

Rappers Shine In Afghanistan's First-Ever Election Anthems

A still from Afghan election anthem contest winners Sami and Shaheed

Go to the voting stations without any fear,
Go and exercise your voting right.
We witnessed suicide attacks, bombings, and blasts,
We witnessed the leaves of the trees turning pale.
The women, men, and youth are voting for their county.

Those are lyrics from Afghan rap duo Sami and Shaheed.

Along with Sonita Alizadeh, they are the respective winners of the male and female categories of a competition that developed the first-ever election anthem in the country.

The winners were announced at a ceremony last month in Kabul that was attended by a jury made up of professional musicians and election officials.

We profiled the competition here.

Music promoters Argus and Sound Central awarded the three young artists a lucrative prize of $1,000 each. The three have since recorded their songs professionally and made their music videos ahead of the landmark April 5 presidential election.

Here's Sami and Shaheed's winning song:
Here's Sonita's prize-winning effort:
Sami and Shaheed are two brothers from Herat, in western Afghanistan.

The 18-year-old Sonita is also originally from Herat. Sonita, who lived as a refugee in Iran for years, raps about the tough life of Afghan immigrants in the Islamic republic and the challenges facing women and girls in Afghanistan, a deeply conservative and religious society.

The intention of the foreign-funded competition was to encourage young people in Afghanistan to vote. More than 70 percent of the Afghan population is below the age of 25.

Afghanistan's last presidential election, in 2009, was marked by a low turnout, with election officials saying only 30 to 35 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. And young voters are seen as a important demographic to win over to ensure a high turnout and credible election. 

The leading front-runners in the election have all tried to woo young people. The 64-year-old Ashraf Ghani went so far as describing himself as the "embodiment of the aspirations of the young men and women of this country."

Afghan youth have enjoyed unprecedented opportunities and freedoms in the 13 years since the fall of the Taliban, and many are keen to protect them.

Significantly, young voters are likely to break the country's traditional electoral politics in which many vote for candidates based on their ethnic affiliation. Young Afghans, however, have shown during campaigning that they are interested in modernization and development and less with ethnic loyalties.

-- Frud Bezhan

Crimean Tatars Staging 'Self-Preservation' Patrols

Crimean Tatars with a "self-preservation" patrol warm themselves around a fire on a night shift on the outskirts of Simferopol.

For more than a month, Ruslan Dzhepparov has come home from work, rested, then headed back outside for a night patrolling the streets of Akhmechet, a neighborhood of Simferopol that is home to some 8,000 Crimean Tatars.
"We do this peacefully. We don't have any weapons," Dzhepparov tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "We simply do this to prevent provocations. If there is some kind of provocation, we communicate with our headquarters, and with the police, of course."
The headquarters, located inside the courtyard of the local mosque, stays brightly lit all night, as members of the Crimean Tatar community wait for news from the street patrols, which have operated since the first day the Russian military entered Crimea on February 27.
Dulyaver Reshitov, a representative of the local Ashmechet council, says the patrols' main strength is vigilance. "We're not a self-defense force," he says, referring to the informal vigilante units, often pro-Russian, who sometimes resort to violent tactics. "No one is attacking us. We're more of a self-preservation group. It's not the authorities we're fighting against, just hooligans trying to make trouble."

WATCH: Tatar Night Patrols In Simferopol (In Russian)
Tatar Night Patrols In Simferopol's Akhmechet Neighborhoodi
|| 0:00:00
March 27, 2014
Since February 27, when Russian forces first entered Crimea, ethnic Tatars have been staging self-organized security patrols in the peninsula's capital, Simferopol.
Such "self-preservation" groups have sprung up in a number of Tatar communities throughout the Crimean peninsula. Despite being the territory's native inhabitants, Crimean Tatars are vastly outnumbered by ethnic Russians, a result of World War II-era deportations. Now they fear Russia's military takeover may mean a fresh round of ethnic repressions and rights violations. 
The Crimean Tatar assembly, or Mejlis, serves as the main coordinator of the patrols. Nariman Dzhelyal, the deputy head of the Mejlis, said the night watch isn't aimed at monitoring the activities of professional troops. 
"Primarily, this is meant to work against those who want to take advantage of the situation by consciously attempting to create a conflict or turn things into an open confrontation here in Crimea," he said.
-- Daisy Sindelar

The Week Ahead: March 31 - April 6

Supporters of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah wait for the start of an election rally in Parwan Province.

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

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MONDAY, March 31:

Belgium: Brussels hosts an international conference on genocide prevention (to April 1).

Kazakhstan: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal visits Astana and Almaty (to April 2).

Kyrgyzstan: Pakistani writer and journalist Ahmed Rashid holds lectures in Bishkek on security issues in Central Asia.

Moldova/Canada: Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird makes an official visit to Chisinau.

Moldova/RomaniaRomanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean makes a working visit to Chisinau on the occasion of the second session of the Moldovan-Romanian Intergovernmental Commission for European Integration.

Serbia/Kosovo: Brussels hosts another meeting between Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

Tajikistan/China: Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan visits Dushanbe (to April 1).

Ukraine: Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev is scheduled to speak at a UN Security Council meeting in New York.

World: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes its report on climate change.

TUESDAY, April 1:

Azerbaijan: The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) holds a meeting in Geneva to review Azerbaijan (to April 2).

Iran: The 35th anniversary of the official affirmation of Iran as an Islamic republic.

NATO: Brussels hosts the NATO Foreign Ministerial meetings (to April 2).

NATO/Ukraine: Brussels hosts a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting (to April 2).

Tajikistan: Dushanbe hosts a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Defense Ministers meeting (to April 3).

Turkmenistan: Ashgabat hosts a regional meeting on the legal status of the Caspian Sea (to April 2).

World: The 10th anniversary of Google's Gmail free email service. 


Kyrgyzstan: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal visits Bishkek (to April 4).

UN: World Autism Awareness Day.

THURSDAY, April 3:

Azerbaijan: An annual international travel and tourism fair opens in Baku (to April 5).

Czech Republic: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits Prague (to April 4).

Russia: Moscow hosts a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.

U.S./Eastern Europe: Atlantic Council in Washington hosts a discussion with Anne Applebaum titled "Between East and West."

FRIDAY, April 4:

EU: Athens hosts an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the European Union member states, known as the “Gymnich” (to April 5).

NATO: The 65th anniversary of the foundation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Russia: Moscow hosts a CIS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.

Ukraine: The deadline for registration of candidates for the May 25 presidential election.

UN: Mine Awareness Day.

SATURDAY, April 5:

Afghanistan: Presidential election.

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

British Royals Under Fire -- Again -- For Ties To Kazakh Oligarchy

Britain's Prince Harry is no stranger to press controversy. (file photo)

The British royal family has come under fire after Prince Harry, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth, accepted a luxury ski trip to Kazakhstan sponsored by a close associate of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Twenty-nine-year-old Harry and his girlfriend, Cressida Bonas, took a four-day trip to the oil-rich Central Asian nation this week, enjoying heli-skiing, gourmet mountaintop meals, and chairs lined with warm fur blankets.
Britain's " Daily Mail" newspaper reports that the trip was paid for by Burak Oymen, a Turkish-born property developer and the son of senior Turkish politician Onur Oymen.
Burak Oymen and his business partner, Serzhan Zhumashov, have built a number of luxury properties in Kazakhstan. Both men are considered to be close to the Kazakh president.
Buckingham Palace has defended Harry's trip as a "private" holiday, but Amnesty International has condemned the visit, accusing the Queen's grandson of ignoring Kazakhstan's record of brutal rights violations.
"[Harry] might want to spare a thought for the people who aren't going to be sharing the slopes with him," said Amnesty spokesman Allan Hogarth. "Kazakhstan is a repressive country where torture is rife and political opposition is crushed."
It is not the first intersection between Britain's royal family and the Kazakh elite. Harry's uncle, Prince Andrew, came under scrutiny in 2010 when it emerged that he had sold a country house to Timur Kulibaev, a Kazakh billionaire and Nazarbaev's son-in-law.
The purchase of the 600-acre Sunninghill Park estate was notable because Kulibaev, who spent $28.5 million to buy the house, paid nearly $6 million more than the asking price -- fueling suspicion the purchase was more a favor than a simple real-estate transaction. The house, run-down to begin with, remains unoccupied.
Andrew has also been photographed repeatedly with Goga Ashkenazi, a wealthy Kazakh socialite who was also Kulibaev's mistress. The couple had two children together, a fact that did not appear to disrupt Kulibaev's marriage to Nazarbaev's middle daughter, Dinara.
Ashkenazi, for her part, has said she "loves" Prince Andrew.
The apparent coziness between the royal family and the Kazakh elite extends to Britain's top political figures. The firm of former Prime Minister Tony Blair was paid $13 million dollars to serve as a special adviser to Nazarbaev, a deal that earned him jeers from the rights community.
Nazarbaev, who sits atop one of the world's richest sources of oil, gas, and minerals, has courted favor with Western leaders in an attempt to transform his post-Soviet country into an international power.
But its rights record continues to deteriorate, with Human Rights Watch noting in its 2014 global report growing crackdowns on free speech and public assembly, political prosecutions, and the continued use of police torture.

How Well Do You Know Prince Harry?

-- Daisy Sindelar

Armenian Consul Denies Labeling Crimea 'Reunification'

Armenian Consul-General in St. Petersburg Hrair Karapetian (file photo)

Yerevan's consul-general in St. Petersburg, Hrair Karapetian, has denied local reports that he recognized Russia's annexation of Crimea as "reunification," according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service.

The official website of Russia’s Pskov Oblast published a report earlier this week suggesting Karapetian in a March 24 meeting with Pskov Governor Andrey Turchak "congratulated the Russian official and all Russians on the reunification of Crimea with Russia."

Armenia's relations with Moscow -- and indeed Kyiv -- are under particular scrutiny since Yerevan essentially abandoned hopes of an Association Agreement with the European Union by pledging in September to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine's government protested and withdrew its ambassador to Armenia after Yerevan's president endorsed the March 16 referendum in Crimea, which has been occupied by Russian troops and pro-Moscow forces since late February, as legitimate.

Correspondent Aza Babayan writes of the consul-general in St. Petersburg's denial and the previous statements from Yerevan:
Karapetian rushed to deny the report, saying that his meeting with Turchak was of a ‘fact-finding nature’ and that during it they mostly discussed community issues, as well as issues connected with the development of economic ties between the Pskov Oblast and Armenia.

The Armenian diplomat underscored that he did not make any such statements during the meeting, suggesting that the reporter who covered the event "may have confused something."

“Taking the opportunity, I said that, of course, our official position is -- and both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other sources declared about that -- that the right of peoples to self-determination, which was accepted in relevant UN documents, must be respected. I also cited the example of Nagorno-Karabakh as a self-determined territory and our conversation was limited to that," Karapetian explained.

"Probably the regional correspondent, who was listening to our conversation, concluded for himself that this could be presented as a greeting or congratulation regarding the recognition of Crimea [as part of Russia], and that way the wrongwording appeared. I corrected that, turning to the corresponding news service, the problem was corrected,” Armenia’s consul general to St. Petersburg told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (

In their telephone conversation on March 19, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin were quoted as stating that the referendum in Crimea “constitutes another case of exercise of peoples’ right to self-determination via free expression of will.”

Ukraine construed that statement as Armenia’s recognition of Russia’s annexation of what official Kyiv and the broader international community still consider to be Ukrainian territory. Last week Ukraine officially recalled its ambassador from Armenia, warning of serious damage to bilateral ties.

Earlier, United States Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern voiced Washington’s disappointment with the Armenian government’s decision to effectively recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea strongly condemned by the West.

Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service ( on Tuesday, German Ambassador to Armenia Reiner Morell, however, allowed for this to be a simple statement of Yerevan’s approach towards the right of peoples to self-determination in general. He said the German Embassy in Yerevan had got that understanding from its communication with the Armenian government.

-- RFE/RL Newsroom

Video Drop, Squat, Thrust: Putin Revives Soviet-Era Fitness Program

Mass sporting events like those seen in the Soviet era could soon be returning to Russia. (file photo)

If you could turn back the hands of time, what would you wish for?
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, it seems to be to return to the days of mass physical fitness. Not just of Physical Education training in schools -- which already exists in Russia -- but of mass calisthenics in stadiums, mass parades of athletes through Moscow's Red Square, and fluttering banners with slogans urging 'Everyone to the Starting Line!'
On March 24, Putin, a well-known fitness buff, signed an executive order to bring it all back. He ordered the revival of a Stalin-era fitness program from the 1930s called "Ready for Labor and Defense" or "GTO" by its Russian initials.
The state-sponsored program, which mixed fitness, health, and patriotism, had been moribund since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it fell victim to Russians' suddenly greater freedoms of choice.
Now, GTO is due to start in September across the country. How it will look in its modern incarnation remains to be seen. But if it is anything like before, it will be a sight more reminiscent of the bygone days of the U.S.S.R., or Maoist China, than anything around in the world today.
WATCH: Soviet-Era Fitness Programs (In Russian)
Back in the U.S.S.R., people of all ages were expected to participate in GTO. If you were 16 to 18 years old, you were enlisted in your high school's "Strength and Courage" program, which included elements of military basic training.
Not only did you run, swim, and do cross-country skiing, depending on the season, you also ran obstacle courses and practiced grenade-throwing minus grenades. Sometimes there was rifle practice, too.
Older people got off lightly but not completely. Men between the ages of 40 to 60 and women from 35 to 55 were expected to take part in the "Vigor and Health" program run by the GTO's local branch.
Driving the whole program was the quest for medals and glory amid huge pomp and ceremony. In its heyday, the GTO sponsored annual championships in towns and cities across the Soviet Union, with 37 million people taking part in 1975.
The winners were feted on television and lionized in the state press.
But the lock-step nature of the parades and stadium events, with uniformed young people forming a giant Soviet star on the playing field, revealed that there was always more to the games than just sports.
The slogan of the GTO was "Your Motherland Calls for You to Be Ready for Work and Defense" and the program helped create the sense that the country was in a state of perpetual mobilization throughout the Cold War.
In signing his decree on March 23, Putin did not specify why he wanted to bring back the GTO in its Soviet-era form, complete with the pomp and parades. He only said his government had been considering "how to attract the vast majority of our citizens to take part in regular physical training" and that "reviving the GTO would "pay homage to our national historical traditions."
Putin, a devoted sportsman, is reported to have first floated the idea of reviving the GTO a year ago. He said the program will be split into 11 different age groups, beginning with the age of six, and he personally will receive a report each year on his new initiative's progress.

-- Charles Recknagel

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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