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Tajikistan Goes to the Polls, Kasparov Seeks Latvian Citizenship

Plus, Minsk and Ashgabat ink a big trade deal and Kosovo ponders the aftermath of an unruly election.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 6 November 2013
1. Thaci, Dacic to discuss violence-marred Kosovo elections

 

Most mayoral seats contested in Kosovo’s local elections will be decided in runoffs 1 December, Balkan Insight reports. Mayors in 10 municipalities were elected outright in the 3 November elections, while runoffs will be required in 24 others.

 

No results were announced in four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo, where voting was marred by violence.

 

Polling stations in the north were boycotted by some local Serbs who stood outside polling stations shouting at voters. In the Serb-dominated part of the city of Mitrovica, a group of masked men destroyed ballot boxes and threatened the election staff at a polling station.

 

Kosovo polling stationPapers lie strewn on the floor in a Mitrovica polling station 3 November. Photo from a video by euronews/YouTube.

 

All ballots from northern Mitrovica appear to be lost or damaged, Nikola Gaon, a spokesman for the OSCE mission in Kosovo, said, RFE reports. Kosovo election officials and members of the OSCE monitoring team were evacuated from polling stations amid the attack. Ballots from other Serb-majority regions in the north were sent to a central location near Pristina, the OSCE's Kosovo mission chief, Jean-Claude Schlumberger, said.

 

The Central Election Commission has ordered a re-vote at three polling places that were attacked, Balkan Insight reports.

 

RFE also writes that Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga praised the “generally calm and acceptable atmosphere" of the elections, while stressing that any issues will be "thoroughly investigated and prosecuted by the authorities."

 

Zlatko Vujovic, head of the monitoring team of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations, said police in northern Mitrovica took no action when informed of intimidation of voters hours before the polling station attack, according to Balkan Insight.

 

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart, Ivica Dacic, were due to meet the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels today to discuss the elections.

 

2. Self-exiled Kasparov requests Latvian citizenship

 

KasparovGarry Kasparov
Former chess champion and Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov wants to acquire Latvian citizenship, Reuters reports.

 

Kasparov made the request in a letter to Latvian parliamentarians dated 31 October.

 

“The letter is genuine. We submitted it and are his representatives. Tomorrow [6 November] we will start discussions with the political parties,” family friend Arturs Avotins told AFP.

 

Kasparov, 50, a longtime Kremlin critic, writes, “As a Latvian citizen, I will obtain the chance to engage without restriction in political activities in the name of democracy, peace, and justice in Russia.”

 

Reuters quotes another passage of the letter as saying, “Every Latvian has the right to express his opinion freely, participate in the political process, and not be afraid of unlawful persecution.”

 

A spokeswoman for the Unity party, part of the ruling coalition, said Kasparov wanted to retain his Russian citizenship as well. Under Latvian law, dual citizenship with Russia can be granted to individuals of special merit or to those who have been of service to Latvia, AFP reports. The mother of Kasparov’s son Vadim, Yulia, is Latvian.

 

Kasparov, regarded as among the greatest chess players of all time, turned to politics after his chess career and was a leader of the Other Russia opposition coalition in the mid-2000s. In June he fled Russia, saying he feared arrest for taking part in anti-government demonstrations, later telling David Frost he would not be returning to the country. He may now be in the United States or Switzerland, AFP writes.

 

3. Tajik migrants largely excluded from presidential vote

 

Tajikistanis are electing a president today, but the most economically active segment of the population is largely excluded from the process, EurasiaNet.org comments.

 

“[T]he lack of genuine electoral options is a source of frustration for an important constituency − the million-strong community of Tajik labor migrants in Russia,” EurasiaNet.org’s David Trilling writes. Annually, remittances sent home by migrant workers based mostly in Russia amount to the equivalent of nearly half the country’s gross domestic product, the World Bank estimates.

 

The Russian Migration Service estimates that 1.2 million Tajikistanis work in the country. Tajikistan’s population is around 8 million.

 

“In a competitive election, the vote of this migrant population could swing the outcome and would be something that politicians eagerly courted. But throughout the campaign authorities have kept the migrant population marginalized, its leaders complain,” Trilling writes.

 

Observers concur that incumbent President Imomali Rahmon will easily overcome his five obscure challengers to win another seven-year term.

 

Oynihol Bobonazorova, a candidate whose background as a human rights activist might have drawn migrants to her campaign, was excluded from the race for failing to gather the required 210,000 signatures.

 

The elections commission will not accept signatures from migrants because Tajikistani officials cannot certify them, EurasiaNet.org writes.

 

Some migrants in St. Petersburg and nearby districts cast early ballots 4 November, Asia-Plus reports.

 

Tajikistani election workers set up polling stations in 24 Russian cities and regions.

 

However, an elections commission spokeswoman interviewed by EurasiaNet.org last week was unable to specify where the polling stations would be located. A foreman in charge of a work crew of 100 Tajiks in Moscow said he did not know where to vote.

 

4. Belarus to build drone aircraft in Turkmenistan

 

Relations between Belarus and Turkmenistan reached a new high this week as the countries’ leaders announced they will jointly build a factory for drone aircraft in the Central Asian country, RIA Novosti reports.

 

The leaders made the announcement after talks 5 November in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. Turkmenistan will use the craft to “to monitor its territory, its borders, and drug trafficking,” Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said, adding that Belarusian aviation specialists would be posted in the country to develop the project.

 

Berdymukamedov/LukashenkaTurkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov welcomed his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in Ashgabat 5 November. Photo: www.belarus.by

 

Trade between the two former Soviet countries is expanding fast. According to Belta, Belarus’ official news agency, the value of that trade was nearly $400 million, up almost 70 percent from 2011.

 

Turkmenistan imports such Belarusian products as tractors, trucks, bicycles, and pharmaceuticals, and exports some cotton and linen, RIA Novosti writes.

 

The joint drone-building venture marks something of a first for Turkmenistan, EurasiaNet.org writes: although it purchased unmanned surveillance craft from a Russian company in 2009, it apparently lacks the capacity to build such advanced equipment on its own. Belarus, in contrast, has a flourishing military industry and has recently proposed joint defense projects in Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, according to Belarus Security Blog.

 

5. Armenians, Turks discuss their common past at Istanbul conference

 

Armenian and Turkish media report on an unusual conference, “Islamized Armenians,” held 2-4 November at Bogazici University in Istanbul, the independent Armenian news site Hetq writes.

 

Hundreds of guests heard presentations by around 30 speakers under the auspices of a foundation named after the murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. The conference paid special attention to the mass deportations, starvation, and massacres of Armenians in 1915 and the conversion of many Christian Armenians to Islam under Ottoman rule.

 

Many Armenian families did not survive the breakup of the Ottoman empire intact, historian Vahe Tachjian told Hetq. Tachjian's presentation looked at the many Armenian women who married Muslims or turned to prostitution to survive during the destruction Turkey’s Armenians a century ago. When peace returned, many such women were ostracized by Christian Armenians. “Many of these women could never return to the larger Armenian fold, especially if they had children with Muslim men,” Tachjian said.

 

For the French-Armenian historian Raymond Kevorkian, the fact that such a conference could be held in Turkey underscores positive changes in that country.

 

“Turkey has been changing for the good and it would be unfair not to see that. This conference is a result of that,” Kevorkian told Hurriyet Daily News.

 

Another speaker told Hetq the event and others like it are injecting new life into Armenian-Turkish relations by bringing Armenian culture back to a place where it has deep roots.

 

“We are witnessing the reemergence of the Armenian community of Constantinople as the intellectual powerhouse that it once was. Armenian intellectualism is returning to the very place [where] it was cut down in 1915,” German historian Hilmar Kaiser said.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.
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