Melon-dramatic: check out Azerbaijan’s thrilling watermelon smashing competition (SLYT - volume warning) [more inside]
The Company That Bribed The World - It was the company with jet-set style and dirty hands. From the tiny principality of Monaco, Unaoil reached across the globe to pay multi-million dollar bribes in oil rich states. The beneficiaries? Some of the biggest companies in England, Europe, America and Australia.
In 2004, Gurgen Margaryan (from Armenia) and Ramil Safarov (from Azerbaijan) were in Budapest attending a NATO-sponsored language training. While Margaryan was sleeping, Safarov hacked him to death with an axe. Safarov, who never denied his culpability and stated he only committed the crime because Margaryan was Armenian, was sentenced to life in prison in 2006. [more inside]
Look at Azerbaijan! But look beyond the shiny Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) which will be held tomorrow in Baku. Look at the “Dirty Secrets” [SLYT, BBC Panorama, 30 min., English] and at independent film maker Liz Mermin’s film “Glanz und Schatten in Azerbaidschan” [SLYT, 30 min. German but more informative IMHO]. > Locals that voted in the music contest for a country that was not in favor of the ruling family were investigated by the police. And then there is the story of two expensive donkeys (€42,000 each) and a comedic video that landed a young man in jail. Let’s not forget the story of a journalist who was blackmailed with secretly shot sex tapes. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch often report of restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Azerbaijan. Shortly before the ESC young musician Jamal Ali fled the country. While US peace corps volunteers don’t feel like criticizing much and sing a song of their own [SLYT], we see more arrests in Baku today.>
The Eurovision Song Contest 2012's first semi-final begins tomorrow at 3 PM EST (12 PM PST). Watch it online, and listen to the songs (below the jump). [more inside]
House of Happiness - photos by Rena Effendi of women in the Ferghana Valley, part of central Asia's ancient Silk Route now known as "the heroin highway" - "a geographical and cultural mishmash where three countries and many ethnicities cluster." More about the photos. (Some photos NSFW) [more inside]
Azerbaijan is a secular former Soviet state with a rocky past, but this week they are moving towards democracy in an election on November 6th. Bloggers headed to the area are covering the upcoming election and documenting it all.
The BTC Pipeline opened today after more than 10 years and $4B (US) in development. It runs from the Caspian Sea across Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, through the Caucasus mountain range to the Mediterranean. The project is so large and far-reaching some have called it Pipelineistan. The UK Independent calls it The Pipeline That Will Change The World. It travels through some of the most politically unstable regions in Central Asia, but is of such strategic importance political leaders have been replaced and the U.S. is willing to risk the wrath of neighbors Russia (with a competing pipeline of its own) and Iran to place permanent U.S. military bases along its path. It even merits personal visits from the U.S. Energy Secretary and President. Its opening may very well mark the return of the Great Game.
Revenue Watch, yet another project from Soros' Open Society Institute, brings you research, information, and advocacy on how revenues from natural resources are being invested and disbursed--and how responsive governments and companies are to demands for accountability. Currently focused on Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Kazahkstan, you can find information on everything from the CPA's rush to award contracts in Iraq before June 30, to reports on the Caspian Oil Boom, to journalist training and full transcripts of international conferences.