Since our return from Mongolia, I have been much remiss in all matters Central Asian. But if there was an event to kick off my return, this is it.
1) What would Turkmenbashi do? I can assure you that he's turning in his grave cursing President Berdykmukhamedov's name. As the Globe and Mail's article is titled, "April is April again in Turkmenistan."
Happily, there are no signs that the edicts against gold teeth or disco have been revoked.
2) My sister-in-law, Annie, has discovered that Mongols are everywhere -- even when she's on vacation back home in Chicago. My version of this was at the 'Korean deli' just up the street from work. I know just enough Mongolian to know a) when it's not Korean being spoken, and b) to ask the young man and woman behind the counter what they were speaking. Saying 'thank you' in Mongolian when they gave me my change just about made them faint.
Annie also just sent me the Altan Urag album. You can check out their MySpace page here. They bill themselves as folk/rock/metal. First of all, there are no guitars only morin khuur. It's a little bit like Apocalyptica plays Metallica meets John Zorn and Yat-Kha. The only disappointment is that there's no sick drumming.
3) While the Caucusus isn't really Central Asia, it seems as though there are enough parallels in this story about Georgia rushing to join NATO and this entry from Azamat in Kyrgyzstan about the Russian suppression of the Kyrgyz in 1916. I'd suggest reading several of Azamat's recent posts -- about trading land presumably in exchange for either trade concessions or just plain $$$-- and his concern that Kazakhstan has become the United States' new favorite example of democratization through free-trade.
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, claimed that the United States was supporting Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) because "Kazakhstan also... vowed to support the human rights side of the OSCE." Why does this sound like awarding the 2008 Olympics to Beijing? Presumably because Kazakhstan has huge natural resources ripe for the exporting?
Meanwhile our previous Central Asian posterboy, Evan Feigenbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, recently conveyed to the US-Kazakhstan Business Association and the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce:
"Governments create the regulatory, legal, and operating frameworks for markets... But at the end of the day, it's private companies that have to do the work. [And make fat cash-ola!]"
4) I am now updating this since Eric @ Quixotic Cycles left his comment because, while we all know that Mr. Feigenbaum was probably thinking those comments in parentheses above, what he really said was:
"In 2005, almost 30 percent of total FDI in Kazakhstan came from American companies. And over the past five years, U.S. exports to Kazakhstan have increased almost 300 percent... In 2001, our exports to Kyrgyzstan were around $27 million. By 2006, this figure had nearly tripled to more than $71 million. Finally, there is Turkmenistan, with abundant gas reserves and other resources, which could help to bring new levels of prosperity to the country and the region."
I just wanted to be clear just in case anyone thought my editorial comments were slanderous or libelous -- and I didn't want to wake up tomorrow and find that the federal government had broadly redefined its censorship powers over the press just because of something I may have implied he'd said or done. Like divorcing your wife and marrying a champion gymnast. Sorry. That was someone else. Or wasn't.
5) The Chinese government has announced it will hold talks with the envoys of the Dalai Lama regarding the unrest in Tibet. It does not appear that they had actually informed the Dalai Lama of this when they made the announcement.
6) In a follow-up, the campaign to cast Grace Wang's actions at Duke (and her subsequent castigation by Chinese nationalists) continues from both sides. Danwei, a website "about media, advertising and urban life in China," has this summary from last week. I'm listing it because it has links to sources most of us wouldn't find, including a blog that claims that Grace is mentally ill. As ever, reading all comments can be quite instructional.