The New Great Game Round-Up: June 9, 2015

Aliyev Regime Kicks Out OSCE, Afghan Spillover High on the Agenda During CSTO- SCO Meetings & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

After the United States has been bombing Afghan wedding parties for years, it should come as no real surprise that Afghan funerals are now becoming a popular target for U.S. drone attacks as well. The Afghan government was quick to assert that all victims were Taliban, pointing out that the funeral ceremony was for a slain Taliban commander. Therefore, according to Kabul's logic, all the mourners must have been Taliban too. Afghan MPs from the region and the Taliban beg to differ. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also stated that most of the victims were civilians and he condemned the U.S. drone strike in the strongest possible terms. Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who has been doing his best to please Washington since taking office, prefers not to comment on such incidents. Considering that Ghani is already under fire for a lack of leadership, the silence won't help his case:

Leader in Afghan north dismisses Kabul government as a 'show' Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful governor in northern Afghanistan, visited a local amusement park last week and grabbed a video arcade gun. Firing on fictional aliens made a break from the frequent target of his ire: the government in Kabul. Noor, a former general hardened in wars against the Soviets and Taliban but now suited and affluent, complains of a lack of leadership by President Ashraf Ghani and is angry his warnings of rising militant violence in the north were not heeded. "They told me that they will take action, but unfortunately they didn't," the governor of Balkh province told Reuters, recalling a warning he gave Kabul several months ago to prepare for more Taliban violence in the north. 

Afghan Spillover High on the Agenda During CSTO, SCO Meetings

Despite early warnings, the Kabul government has failed to stop the Taliban advances in the north of the country. The latest alarming development is the Taliban's capture of Badakhshan's Yamgan district. Badakhshan and other northern Afghan provinces have seen heavy fighting in recent months, thus the neighboring countries are getting increasingly worried about a spillover of violence. Tajikistan lost no time in taking measures to address the issue and appealed to its allies for support. Russia and the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) immediately promised to help out but Russian military aid has been slow to arrive. Moscow tried to silence the Tajik complaints by promising more military aid and CSTO chief Nikolay Bordyuzha assured Dushanbe that CSTO forces could be at the Tajik-Afghan border within three days if need be. The situation in northern Afghanistan was again high on the agenda during the recent meeting of the CSTO Defense Ministers in the Tajik capital:

CSTO defence ministers agree to change military-technical policy A number of significant measures, including on upgrading the military-technical policy, will be taken following meeting of the Council of Defence Ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held earlier on Thursday in Dushanbe, CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha told reporters. "This concerns, above all, upgrading the organization’s legal framework and legislations of CSTO member-countries, especially in the light of issues we encountered during the transfer of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force to Tajikistan," Bordyuzha said after the meeting, reports TASS. The CSTO Secretary General noted that prior to the meeting the defence ministers had been received by Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, adding that the meeting "grew into a very serious discussion of the situation in the Central Asian region, the challenges faced by Tajikistan and other regional countries and the processes under way in Afghanistan."

Tajik leader Rahmon and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu also discussed the deteriorating situation in northern Afghanistan as well as military cooperation between the two countries. Shoygu stressed the importance of "enhancing the combat capabilities of Tajikistan's armed forces and the Russian military base deployed in Tajikistan" and vowed to implement the "extensive plans" both countries had agreed upon. In addition to the support from Russia and the CSTO, Tajikistan will get assistance from China. The Interior Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) were recently meeting in Dushanbe as well and China's Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun generously offered his Tajik counterpart technical aid with no strings attached - much to the delight of President Rahmon. Moreover, the two countries are reinforcing their cooperation in the fight against terrorism:

A joint exercise for Tajik and Chinese special operations forces to be held in Vahdat on June 6 More than 100 servicemen of special operations forces of the Ministry of Public Security of China have arrived in Dushanbe for participation in a joint anti-terror exercise that will be conducted at the mountain training ground that is located in the Marghov area of the Romit Gorge, not far from the Vahdat Township on July 6, according to the Tajik Interior Ministry press center. The purpose of the exercise is reportedly to rehearse coordination and interaction between the special operations forces of the Tajik Interior Ministry and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security in anti-terror mission in mountain terrains. Interior Ministers of Tajikistan (Ramazon Rahimzoda), Kazakhstan (Kulmukhanbet Kasymov), Kyrgyzstan (Melis Turganbayev), Russia (Vladimir Kolokoltsev) and Uzbekistan (Adham Akhmedbayev) as well as the Minister of Public Security of China (Guo Shengkun) will observe the exercise, the Interior Ministry press center reports.

The meetings in the Tajik capital underline growing concerns in the region about a possible spillover of violence from Afghanistan and the threat of ISIS, which is now being hyped even more due to the defection of Tajikistan's OMON commander. While the CSTO Defense Ministers and SCO Interior Ministers were traveling to Dushanbe, Moscow hosted an important meeting of the SCO Foreign Ministers. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov used the opportunity to point out that ISIS is gaining a foothold in Afghanistan and he urged the SCO to play a bigger role in fighting ISIS in the war-torn country. To this end, Moscow is willing to strengthen cooperation with Kabul "in all spheres." Afghanistan is very much interested in closer cooperation with the SCO countries and wants to join the organization as a full member but the country still has to meet some criteria before it can follow Pakistan and India:

Welcome! SCO Foreign Ministers Agree to Grant Membership to Pakistan, India The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers decided to grant India and Pakistan the status of members of the bloc, which is to be confirmed at the SCO summit in July, Pakistan's ambassador to Russia told Sputnik on Thursday. "The council of ministers met yesterday and there is an agreement to allow Pakistan, along with India, to be upgraded [to SCO member states]. The decision of the council of ministers will be put forward to the summit in Ufa [in July]," Zaheer Janjua said. "We both [Pakistan and India] have requested for association with the SCO by becoming full member-states. Our application for a full member status is under active consideration. We are hopeful that this summit will endorse the membership of Pakistan along with that of India," he added.

Russia: Tough Life for ISIS, Human Rights Groups

The upcoming SCO summit in Ufa is shaping up to become the perfect opportunity for Russia to demonstrate the "international community" how isolated the country really is. Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted during the SCO Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow that twelve new nations are showing interest in working with the SCO and he emphasized that the SCO's main projects, the New Silk Road and the Eurasian Economic Integration, are in the interests of all SCO members. One of Moscow's biggest concerns is that the U.S. and its allies could try to impede Eurasian integration and create problems for Russia and China by fueling conflict in the region, for example with the help of ISIS. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolkoltsev told his counterparts during the recent meeting in Dushanbe that the Russian authorities have already taken measures to contain the ISIS threat at home:

ISIL recruitment spots in Russia known, under surveillance - Kolokoltsev Russia is concerned about new sources of instability threatening Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member countries, in particular, the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev told reporters on Friday. "In the past few months, the Russian law enforcement authorities have seized several dozens of persons on suspicion of terrorism. Fifteen members of terrorist groups have been killed," he said after a meeting of the SCO Council of Interior Ministers. He declined to disclose possible places where Russian and foreign citizens were recruited for the "jihad" and said that information was classified.

Russia's problems with terrorist recruitment have been documented time and again in recent years as more and more jihadists traveled to Syria from Russia. Moscow's Central Asian migrant workers are particularly susceptible to recruitment by ISIS and other terrorist groups but even Russian philosophy students fall for ISIS recruiters. Due to the fact that the Caucasus Emirate has been losing its leaders as well as its appeal, ISIS is also making inroads in the North Caucasus. One leader of a local militant group in Dagestan, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS, was just killed in a firefight with police after they stopped his car. Pledging allegiance to ISIS makes for headlines in Russia but it can have adverse effects on the insurgents' life expectancy. In Chechnya, even just spraying ISIS graffiti can get you into real trouble. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is known for his strong-arm tactics, regardless of whether that concerns dealing with terrorists or dealing with activists:

In Chechnya, Human Rights Group’s Offices Are Vandalized Cheered on by a small crowd, masked men vandalized the offices of a human rights advocacy group in Grozny, the capital of the Russian region of Chechnya, on Wednesday. Employees of the Committee Against Torture, some of whom fled through windows as the vandals smashed into the office with crowbars, said the local authorities had ignored calls pleading for help. They suggested that the attack was officially sanctioned by the government of Chechnya, which is led by Ramzan A. Kadyrov, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. It was not the first attack on the Committee Against Torture, which seeks to draw attention to human rights abuses in Chechnya and throughout Russia. In December, the group’s offices were firebombed.

Kadyrov stirred up the public against the Committee Against Torture at the end of last year when he implicated the group's head Igor Kalyapin in organizing the attack on Grozny on December 4. Shortly thereafter, the offices of the Committee Against Torture were firebombed after a huge rally against terrorism. This week's attack came again after a rally in Grozny, closely resembling last year's actions against the group. While Kalyapin and his colleagues filed a complaint over the inaction of the police, Kadyrov suggested that they had provoked the unrest themselves in order to attract more media attention and obtain more U.S. grants. The Chechen leader vowed to find those responsible for trashing the offices but this should be taken with a grain of salt. He is probably just trying to find out who deserves a thank-you letter. So it is not difficult to understand why Kalyapin and Co. prefer other investigators:

Russian Rights Group Doesn't Want Chechens To Probe Attack The leader of a prominent Russian human rights group whose office was trashed by unknown individuals in Grozny does not want Chechen authorities to investigate the incident. Igor Kalyapin, the chief of the NGO Committee Against Torture (KPP), said at a session of Russia's Presidential Council for Human Rights on June 4 that the doesn’t trust Chechen authorities and wants the incident to be investigated by officials from at least the regional level of the North Caucasus.

Aliyev Regime Not Interested in "Western Democracy", Kicks Out OSCE

Chechen Republic head Kadyrov demonstrates on a regular basis that he knows how to deal with pesky activists, journalists and dissidents but there are a few leaders from whom he can still learn a thing or two - Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev being one of them. In recent months, Aliyev has been making headlines with an unprecedented crackdown on critics. He didn't shy away from jailing U.S.-backed journalists and activists and even CIA propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) was forced to close its Baku bureau. RFE/RL is still operating in the country but the U.S.-backed Azerbaijani opposition has been dealt a heavy blow. Aliyev knows exactly how far he can go without crossing the red line. As long as he doesn't come up with the idea of changing Azerbaijan's close energy or military cooperation with the West, Washington is willing to turn a blind eye to the democratic deficits:

U.S. to hold off democracy dialog with Azerbaijan until it makes sense Washington decided to hold off on carrying a bilateral dialogue over civil society and democracy with the Azerbaijani officials, TURAN’s U.S. correspondent was informed by the diplomatic sources. State Department official Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, was planning to visit Baku early last week to focus on current challenges between the two countries in a wave of an ongoing crackdown against civil society and western institutions in Azerbaijan. The trip, however, got cancelled at the last moment, according to the diplomatic sources, leading to rumors that the Azerbaijani side prevented it. Baku previously snubbed another top U.S. government delegation’s trip prior to 2013 presidential election,which was supposed to be lead by then DAS Thomas Melia on democracy and human rights.

Of course, the U.S. will never stop meddling in Azerbaijan and continue to support the opposition but the pro-government media doesn't mind pointing this out whenever the opposition holds a rally. With the 2015 European Games in Baku just around the corner, the Aliyev regime is getting worried that "anti-Azerbaijani circles" will step up their efforts to discredit the country. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) was the first major European sports authority to join these "anti-Azerbaijani circles" and others will hopefully follow. Baku is already rallying the troops, in this case the pro-government media, which have been ordered to look out for any enemy propaganda about the Games. Aliyev's adviser Ali Hasanov also accused the UN representative for Human Rights and the OSCE of double standards, saying: "If this is Western democracy, then we do not need such democracy." Shortly thereafter, the OSCE was ordered to close its office:

Azerbaijan Orders OSCE To Close Baku Office The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says Azerbaijan has given it one month to halt its operations in the country and that Baku provided "no explanation" for the decision. OSCE spokesman Shiv Sharma told RFE/RL on June 5 that Azerbaijani authorities this week "informed us of their intentions of closing the office" of its project coordinator in Baku and that the 57-member security organization is "now assessing our options." The move comes amid heightened criticism of Azerbaijan's record on civil society and media freedoms by Western officials and international human rights watchdogs.

Unperturbed by all the enemy propaganda, Azerbaijan's pro-government news agency APA uncovered an evil plot by the European Union's mission to Baku and the Greek Embassy to keep Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos from attending the Games' opening ceremony. Understandably, the Embassy of Greece in Baku was "deeply outraged and unpleasantly surprised with unprecedented lies and unfounded accusations, spread by the local media." It is only fitting that Aliyev adviser Hasanov had praised APA & Co. for their "sound journalism" during his recent meeting with pro-government media. The head of Azerbaijan's Press Council, Aflatun Amashov, assured Hasanov that the media will do its best to "preserve the European Games in history." He also complained to Hasanov about the criticism on social media. Hasanov told him to ignore it but that's of course easier said than done:

Azerbaijani Diplomat Criticizes Government On Facebook, Sparking Scandal An Azerbaijani diplomat could be in hot water after he publicly criticized the government following a deadly Baku apartment-building fire. Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry has launched an internal investigation into a scandal that erupted over the Facebook comments made by Arif Mammadov, the chief of mission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's delegation to the European Union. Fifteen people died in the high-rise fire in May, prompting Baku residents to criticize the city's beautification efforts ahead of the inaugural European Games that will be held this month in the Azerbaijani capital.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: April 14, 2015

Gülen Movement Uses Turkey's Uyghur Adventures to Attack AKP, Aliyev Discovers His Faith as Azerbaijan & GCC Eye Closer Ties & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

At the beginning of this year, China's state-run Global Times shed light on Turkey's role in smuggling Uyghur would-be terrorists out of the country and funneling them into Syria or Iraq. It is likely that Beijing made the story public to put pressure on Ankara in the ongoing tug-of-war between China and Turkey over Uyghur refugees in Thailand. But interestingly, the Chinese authorities haven't been the only ones to draw attention to this issue in recent months. In an interview with Turkish daily Hürriyet at the end of last year, Washington's favorite Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer complained that the Turkish government has ignored requests to take action against Turkey-based illegal human trafficking networks bringing Uyghurs to Syria and Iraq. AKP officials and the Islamist press responded by calling Kadeer "an infidel" and "an American agent for sale." The latter characterization is not exactly inappropriate and Kadeer's statement indicates that some people in Washington are willing to reveal information about Turkey's role in the East Turkestan project in order to settle a score with the Turkish government. A recent report in the newly launched newspaper of the Gülen movement supports this assumption:

ISIL recruits Chinese with fake Turkish passports from Istanbul The Turkish daily Meydan has uncovered a network based out of Istanbul, recruiting and facilitating the transport of fighters from China’s autonomous Turkic Uighur Xinjiang region to Syria and Iraq. The network is based out of Zeytinburnu, a district on Istanbul's European side which is home to a community of Uighurs who live in Turkey. It is headed by Nurali T, a businessman who has been facilitating the movement of Uighurs from China to Syria and Iraq via Turkey since 2011. He is known by his code name Abbas. An individual who works for him, AG, says that a total of 100,000 fake Turkish passports have been produced, 50,000 of which have been shipped to China to be handed to fighters recruited to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Gülen Movement Uses Turkey's Uyghur Adventures to Attack AKP

Meydan quoted "A.G." as saying that more than 50,000 Uyghurs have made their way to Turkey via Thailand and Malaysia with these fake passports. A.G. claimed that most of the Uyghurs were caught by police after landing in Turkey and had their passports seized before they were released and sent to join ISIS. The modus operandi sounds familiar and much of the report doesn't seem far-fetched, except for the ridiculously high numbers. Regardless of whether or not there is some truth to the claims, the report shows that the CIA-backed Gülen movement is also prepared to throw the spotlight on Turkey's East Turkestan activities in order to discredit Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his associates. The first issue of Meydan was published last Monday and it didn't take long before Gülen's new paper launched its first attack. Erdogan's mouthpiece Daily Sabah lost no time in responding to the report:

Gülenist media attacks Uighurs fleeing Chinese crackdowns with ISIS claims Uighurs who were forced to seek refuge due to the Chinese government's religious, cultural and language restrictions as well as ethnic discrimination policy faced a smear campaign by several Turkish media outlets that are associated with the Gülen Movement. In efforts to harm Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, fabricated Gülenist media reports claimed that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) was given more than 100,000 fake Turkish passports under the government's authorization and these passports were used by Uighurs escaping to Turkey to enter Syria and join ISIS.

Our old friend Seyit Tümtürk, the go-to-guy for Uyghurs in Turkey, was once again chosen to set the record straight. Tümtürk lamented that Hizmet's smear campaign is "devastating" for Uyghurs living in Turkey and he emphasized that the Gülen movement "has placed its signatures under a great tyranny" by propagating these "baseless claims." As previously discussed, Gülen and his puppeteers in Washington don't flinch from exposing Turkey's role in U.S.-NATO terror operations when the information can be used against Erdogan. The Turkish power struggle has already revealed some of NATO's dirty secrets in Syria and now it is turning the spotlight on the East Turkestan project as well. China won't mind. The Chinese authorities are grateful for any information which can be used to justify the increasingly harsh anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang. Despite the ongoing violence, Xinjiang authorities claim that the overall situation in the autonomous region remains "stable and controllable." Xinjiang's stability becomes ever more important as China expedites more major projects in the region:

China to Build Pipeline From Iran to Pakistan China will build a pipeline to bring natural gas from Iran to Pakistan to help address Pakistan’s acute energy shortage, under a deal to be signed during the Chinese president’s visit to Islamabad this month, Pakistani officials said. The arrival of President Xi Jinping is expected to showcase China’s commitment to infrastructure development in ally Pakistan, at a time when few other countries are willing to make major investments in the cash-strapped, terrorism-plagued country. The pipeline would amount to an early benefit for both Pakistan and Iran from the framework agreement reached earlier this month between Tehran and the U.S. and other world powers to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. had previously threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it went ahead with the project.

Iran says that it has already completed its 560-mile portion of the pipeline and China is now giving Pakistan a hand to construct the Pakistani side of the project. The "Peace Pipeline" will run to Pakistan's Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea, which is under Chinese management. Iranian gas could be shipped from Gwadar to China by sea or a new pipeline could pump the gas along the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Xinjiang. Given that China plans to ship less oil and gas across the Strait of Malacca, Beijing will probably prefer the second option. But this is only going to work if the situation in Xinjiang and Balochistan doesn't get out of hand. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. strongly oppose the construction of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline for obvious reasons and they will do their best to sabotage the project. The House of Saud is not amused about the latest developments. As Pakistan eyes closer ties with Iran, the Saudis are left out in the cold:

Pakistan declines Saudi call for armed support in Yemen fight Pakistan's parliament voted on Friday not to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, dashing Riyadh's hopes for powerful support from outside of the region in its fight to halt Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia had asked fellow Sunni-majority Pakistan to provide ships, aircraft and troops for the campaign, now in its third week, to stem the influence of Shi'ite Iran in what appears to be proxy war between the Gulf's two dominant powers. While Saudi Arabia has the support of its Sunni Gulf Arab neighbors, Pakistan's parliament voted against becoming militarily involved.

Aliyev Discovers His Faith as Azerbaijan & GCC Eye Closer Ties

Some Pakistanis could barely contain their joy and celebrated that "for once Pakistan does not dance to the unmelodious Arab tune." The Gulf Cooperation Council is still raging but it is doubtful whether the "oil-spoilt sheiks" will be able to convince Pakistan of changing its decision: "The sheiks can shoke on their fury for all we care." Fortunately for Riyadh, not all Iranian neighbors are fed up with the Saudis and their GCC friends. Azerbaijan is looking to strengthen its ties with the Gulf states and the best thing is: Azerabaijani leader Ilham Aliyev couldn't care less about the opinion of his people. Contrary to what some American politicians believe, Azerbaijan is not exactly a democracy. At the beginning of this month, Aliyev hosted the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in Baku to strengthen bilateral cooperation:

UAE and Azerbaijan forge deals Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Thursday held talks with Azerbaijan’s president during a two-day visit that resulted in bilateral economic and emergency readiness agreements. Sheikh Mohammed and president Ilham Aliyev discussed ways to strengthen cooperation with Azerbaijan, state news agency Wam said. Mr Aliyev voiced confidence in the results of the bilateral exchange, particularly in investment. Also on Thursday, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a study on investment opportunities with Azerbaijan, Wam said.

A few days after Sheikh Mohammed's visit, Aliyev took his family on a trip to Saudi Arabia. The Azerbaijani leader is not known for his religious piety, quite the contrary, but he used the opportunity to pose for one photo op after another at Islam's holiest sites. During their visit to the holy city of Mecca, the Aliyev family and the Grand Mufti of the Caucasus, Allahshukur Pashazadeh, performed the Umrah, which was extensively documented by camera. Besides all the posing, Aliyev also found the time to hold talks with Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and other Saudi officials. United in their subservience to Washington and in their love for democracy, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia maintain close ties. According to Aliyev, the two countries "are brothers and friends." And in order to put a check on Iran, Saudi Arabia wants to expand cooperation with its brother and friend in all fields:

Saudi King holds talks with Azerbaijan’s president Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in the royal palace at the capital Riyadh on Sunday, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. The president’s visit signals the GCC’s intention of strengthening ties with central Asia states, especially Azerbaijan, according to Mohamad Al Salami, a Riyadh-based researcher on Iranian affairs. “By strengthening economic, cultural, and political ties with central Asian states, which border Iran, GCC states would force Iran to reassess its political stance on issues in the area,” Al Salami told Al Arabiya News Channel.

Considering that Azerbaijan is already touting itself as an economic bridgehead for Arab states, it is safe to say that Baku is not averse to supporting the GCC plans. A big plus of working with the Gulf states is that they won't criticize democratic deficits or the worsening human rights situation in Azerbaijan, in contrast to Baku's Western partners. Human Rights Watch and several other NGOs just called on the European Olympic Committees to speak out against Azerbaijan's crackdown on activists and journalists and urge Baku to release political prisoners ahead of the first European Games in Azerbaijan. It remains to be seen if the Azerbaijani authorities will be swayed by this criticism. Aliyev & Co. know that they can get away with almost anything as long as they don't question Azerbaijan's close energy and military cooperation with the West:

Azerbaijan, US to agree on military co-op Azerbaijan and the United States will agree on the issues of bilateral cooperation in the defense sector, the message of the defense ministry of Azerbaijan said Apr.8.

During the conference, the participants discussed the work carried out in the defense sector between the two countries, the prospects for bilateral cooperation, as well as the project of the “Work plan on military cooperation for 2016 between the armed forces of Azerbaijan and the US European Command.”

Turkey Alarmed As Kardashians Draw Attention to Armenian Genocide

In the end, human rights are only of secondary importance. Washington would never threaten to end its military cooperation with Azerbaijan in response to Baku's relentless crackdown on critics. The country in the South Caucasus is too important as proxy for the U.S. and NATO. Vital NATO member Turkey plays a decisive role in this regard because it is Azerbaijan's closest ally. The two countries maintain very close military ties and regularly conduct joint military exercises. Moreover, they also share a common enemy: neighboring Armenia. As previously mentioned, when relations between Washington and Baku soured, Aliyev turned to his buddy Erdogan for support and he used every opportunity to emphasize the common struggle of both countries against "the invader Armenia, that is laying down groundless claims against Turkey and Azerbaijan." Against this backdrop, it comes as no real surprise that there are some claims about Turkish military involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict:

Azerbaijan denies presence of Turkish soldiers on contact line with Armenia

Azerbaijan has denied reports from the Armenian side that the country has Turkish soldiers fighting on its side on the contact line between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops.

The battles along the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops involve only Azerbaijani servicemen, who are fit with the most modern weaponry and equipment, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry told Trend Apr. 7.

The ministry was commenting on a recent report spread by Armenian media about an alleged involvement of the Turkish servicemen in the battles along the line of contact as part of the armed forces of Azerbaijan.

Irrespective of these claims, Armenia is currently out of sorts with Turkey. Tensions between Yerevan and Ankara have been rising in recent weeks as the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide approaches. The Turkish government spares no effort to discourage people from using the word "genocide" to refer to the mass slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. When Pope Francis called it "the first genocide of the 20th century" and urged the international community to recognize it as such, Ankara lost no time in recalling its Vatican envoy. But to make matters worse for Turkey, Pope Francis hasn't been the only immensely popular figure to draw attention to the Armenian Genocide. American reality TV star Kim Kardashian visited Armenia for a couple of days with her family, rapper husband Kanye West and camera team to explore the Kardashians' ancestral homeland and shoot new episodes for the TV series, making the PR disaster for Turkey perfect:

Kardashian sisters will continue fighting for Armenian Genocide recognition The Prime Minister of Armenia, Hovik Abrahamyan, on Thursday received members of the famous American Armenian Kardashian family (photo). The PM underscored the Kardashian’s contribution to the international recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, and their visit to Armenia ahead of the Genocide Centennial. Abrahamyan stressed the fact that the Kardashian family, just like the other Armenians worldwide, do not forget their roots, and they make Armenia more recognizable by visiting their historical homeland.

Thanks to Pope Francis' comments and the Kardashians' efforts, the Armenian Genocide received more media attention than Turkey would like. While the Armenian press is celebrating the unprecedented interest in Armenia, Turkish media is very concerned that the Kardashians' visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial "can be propaganda of genocide recognition on American TV channels." So Turkish officials will probably watch the next episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians very closely. As Turkey is trying to make the best of a bad job, Azerbaijan is probably relieved that the Kardashians didn't show more interest in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But perhaps that is planned for the next season. Meanwhile, Armenia is preparing the official commemoration ceremony on April 24 and that includes removing some misguided individuals who want to exploit the anniversary for political purposes:

Armenian Opposition Group Leaders Sent To Pretrial Detention Five leaders of an Armenian opposition group have been sent to pretrial detention. A spokeswoman for Armenia's Investigative Committee, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL on April 10 that the five leaders of the Constituent Parliament group had been sent to pretrial detention for two months. The Constituent Parliament had announced plans to organize antigovernment protests during events on April 24, marking the 100th anniversary of what Armenia considers genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: January 19, 2015

Turkey's Role in Washington's East Turkestan Project Exposed, Aliyev Turns to Erdogan for Support Amid War of Words with U.S. & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, was rocked by several terrorist attacks last year. One of these attacks, the double suicide car bombing in May, which left 43 people dead and more than 90 injured, prompted the Chinese government to launch a one-year-long no-holds-barred anti-terror campaign. Especially Xinjiang's Uyghur population is suffering from the anti-terror campaign and Western media outlets lose no opportunity to draw attention to the plight of the Uyghurs. In recent weeks, much of the reporting has focused on Urumqi's burqa ban. Last month, the capital of Xinjiang banned the wearing of Islamic veils in public and legislators approved the regulation a few days ago but it is not clear when it will take effect. Faced with mounting criticism, Beijing is using all available means to prevent the usual suspects from continuing with their propaganda campaign against China. The Chinese authorities are fed up with the "biased reporting," which highlights government repression of Uyghurs and tries to blame all violence in Xinjiang on "China's hostile policy":

Police in China shoot dead six in restive Xinjiang A group of "mobsters" on Monday tried to set off an explosive device in a business district in China's troubled western region of Xinjiang, prompting police to shoot six of them dead, the local government said. 

Police in Shule county, south of the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, had acted on a tip-off about "a suspicious person carrying an explosive device", the Xinjiang government said on its official news website.

China's allegations were an "excuse to cover up the excessive use of force", said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress.

"China's hostile policy will only provoke more turbulence there," he said in emailed comments.

Turkey's Role in Washington's East Turkestan Project Exposed

Dilxat Raxit, Sweden-based spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), surely knows what he is talking about. Otherwise the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) wouldn't pay him and his exile group that much money. Understandably enough, China is upset about the fact that individuals working for the NED-funded WUC or its sister organization, the Washington-based Uyghur American Association (UAA), are being quoted as impartial experts by Western media after every major incident in Xinjiang. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, China's state-run Global Times called on the West to refrain from promoting Rebiya Kadeer & Co. and to abandon double standards on terrorism. However, all indications are that this appeal will fall on deaf ears. A few days ago, the Global Times broke an interesting story, which highlights that the United States and its allies are still working on their East Turkestan project:

Turks, Uyghurs held in smuggling, terrorism scheme Chinese authorities have made arrests in a stowaway case involving 10 Turkish suspects and nine Uyghur suspects from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, authorities told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Ten Turkish suspects were arrested for organizing illegal border crossings. Other Uyghur suspects, including a wanted Uyghur terrorist, are being held for organizing, leading and participating in terrorist organizations, authorities said. 

Police in Shanghai's Public Security Bureau captured the suspects in November when nine Uyghurs attempted to sneak out of China with altered Turkish passports with the help of two other Chinese suspects.

Police found terrorism-related videos on the phones of the Uyghur suspects and some of them confessed that they had planned to go to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Nine of the Turkish suspects had come to China to hand over their passports to traffickers who were trying to smuggle out the Uyghurs. They were reportedly paid $2,000 each by a Uyghur living in Turkey and a Turkish suspect to get visas with fake invitation letters at the Chinese Embassy in Turkey and participate in the smuggling scheme. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not elaborate on the case but stated that the report was "extremely accurate." As is often the case when it comes to U.S.-NATO terror operations, the trail leads to Turkey. Although Turkey's support of terrorists has been exposed time and time again in recent months, the Turkish government tried to convince the public that illegal border crossings are the real issue and that there is no terror connection whatsoever. The Chinese authorities know of course full well that NATO member Turkey is a main conduit for the 'Gladio B' operations and has long played a decisive role in destabilizing Xinjiang. Therefore, Beijing hates to see more Uyghur refugees settling in Turkey under the auspices of the WUC [emphasis mine]:

Turkey offers shelter to 500 Uighur refugees who fled Chinese crackdown Five-hundred Uighurs who have been seeking refuge in Turkey since fleeing Chinese persecution are finally breathing easy after reaching the country that has been eager to receive them. Dozens of people were spotted at a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand in March who were deemed to be illegal immigrants by Thai officials. The group of people identified as Uighurs from China's restive northwestern province of Xinjiang, had fake Turkish passports and sought to escape the shadow of fear in China. "[Some of] those who fled atrocity were caught in Thailand and 367 Uighurs are being kept there. Some of those who could make it to Turkey without being caught have been brought to Kayseri [in Turkey]. The number may increase," said Seyit Tümtürk, the deputy head of the World Uyghur Congress.

Tümtürk, who is also the chairman of the Kayseri-based East Turkistan Culture and Solidarity Association, stressed that the refugees are being taken care of and that all their needs are being met by officials. He then followed the example of his boss Rebiya Kadeer by reiterating old WUC propaganda about China's so-called Ramdan ban and claiming that "on the first day of Ramadan, in the town of Yarkent, two villages were burnt down and 3,000 Muslims were killed." As regular readers of the New Great Game Round-Up will know, the WUC propaganda about the "Ramadan ban" and the "massacre" in Yarkant was debunked several months ago. Uyghur refugees should be wary of Tümtürk, his associates and the Turkish authorities. The Turkey-Xinjiang connection was already exposed in the summer of 2013 when Chinese police arrested Uyghur student turned terrorist Memeti Aili, who had been offered "help" by the Istanbul-based East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association while studying in Turkey. Before he knew what has happening, Aili was fighting in Syria and plotting terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. Moreover, as discussed during the latest Porkins Great Game episode, Turkey is exploiting Chechen refugees as well. Prominent Chechen leader Medet Ünlü learned the hard way that it is very dangerous to take a stand against the exploitation. At the beginning of this week, members of several human rights groups protested in front of the Ankara courthouse to draw attention to the Turkish authorities' reluctance to investigate Ünlü's assassination:

NGOs condemn authorities’ negligence in investigating murder of Chechen consul Öztürk Türkdoğan, the chairman of Turkey's Human Rights Association (İHD), said that Ünlü became a victim of a political assassination for his position on the issue of Chechens being used to fight in the conflict in Syria. Türkdoğan stated that he wished this murder will be solved alongside many other unsolved murders. “Ünlü's stance regarding the Syrian conflict was important. The assassinations of opinion leaders and widely-esteemed people are entirely political,” the head of the İHD said. Stating that the savagery of jihadist organizations is being condemned internationally, Türkdoğan said: “The issue of youngsters joining these organizations is a real problem. Ünlü had an upright stance regarding his opposition towards sending Chechens to fight in the Syrian war. I think they wanted to give the Chechens a message through here [Ünlü].”

Aliyev Turns to Erdogan for Support Amid War of Words with U.S.

The Chechens got the message and joined the war of the NATO-GCC-Israel axis against Syria in large numbers. NATO member Turkey has played a major role in fueling the conflict but close U.S. and NATO allies, such as Azerbaijan, have done their part as well. Given the fact that Azerbajian is also a conduit for the 'Gladio B' operations, Baku's support for the "Syrian rebels" comes as no real surprise. Azerbaijan has already provided lots of cannon fodder for the war and the increasing number of Azerbaijani citizens traveling to the "Islamic State" indicates that the Wahhabi influence in the country is growing. However, some Azerbaijani jihadists seem to have missed the point that they are not weclome at home after they have done their job in Syria. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev takes no chances when it comes to preserving his rule. Depending on how Aliyev's relationship with his "friends" in the U.S. develops, it makes sense to take the "moderate rebels" off the streets before they launch "peaceful protests" in Azerbaijan. His closest ally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can tell him a thing or two about Washington's dirty tricks. As the war of words between Azerbaijan and the U.S. escalates, Aliyev turns to Erdogan for support:

Ankara, Baku to show off strong bilateral ties with grand gestures in 2015 The year 2015 will provide more than one occasion for Turkey and neighboring Azerbaijan to show off the strength of their bilateral cooperation, not only in the global political arena but also in the global economic field. While listing some key joint economic projects during a press conference in Ankara with Azerbaijan’s visiting President Ilham Aliyev on Jan. 15, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recalled that Turkey will host a G-20 summit later this year. “As host of the G-20, we have used our mandate to favor Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan will take part in the G-20 this year as our guest,” Erdoğan said. “From preliminary preparations to G-20 negotiations, Azerbaijan will be with us,” he added.

Aliyev thanked his Turkish counterpart for the invitation, stressing that the "brotherly ties" between Turkey and Azerbaijan are stronger than ever. The two leaders vowed to boost cooperation in trade, investment, energy, defense and transportation projects in an effort to increase the current trade volume of $5 billion to $15 billion by 2023. In particular, the construction of the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) was named as a top priority in this regard, which is interesting in the light of Russia's recent announcement that it will shift all its gas transit from Ukraine to Turkey in the coming years. Turkish President Erdogan stated a few weeks ago that the much-publicized pipeline deal between Russia and Turkey was not binding and required more talks on the details. So it remains to be seen whether or not Gazprom will be able walk the talk. Despite all the speculation about Turkey's and Azerbaijan's geopolitical shifts, both countries are still doing Washington's bidding when it comes to energy and foreign policy. For example, Azerbaijan-NATO cooperation has not been affected at all by the ongoing war of words between Baku and Washington:

More than 1,000 Azerbaijani servicemen to participate in 116 NATO events Under the individual partnership program between Azerbaijan and NATO, more than 1,000 servicemen of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces will participate in 116 events this year.

109 of these events will be held in foreign countries, 7 - in Azerbaijan. Under the individual partnership program between Azerbaijan and NATO, in 2014 more than 1,200 representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces participated in 100 events within the Partnership for Peace programme.

While Brookings bemoans the end of the close political relationship between the U.S. and the Aliyev regime, Azerbaijan continues its close cooperation with the U.S.-led military alliance as if nothing had happened. Last year, a new Training and Education Center was created at the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in order to boost cooperation with NATO and there are no signs whatsoever that Baku considers leaving this path. As previously discussed, the alarmist reports in Western media should be taken with a grain of salt. Azerbaijan's close military ties with Turkey contribute to the NATO integration and Aliyev mentioned during his recent visit that both countries have "great plans for deepening the cooperation in the defense sphere" in 2015. Erdogan reiterated his support for Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and he invited Aliyev to an event marking the 93rd anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli on April 24, when Armenia will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. This adds to other provocations in recent days, which bode ill for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict:

Aliyev Takes to Twitter Again to Attack Armenia Azerbaijan’s dictatorial President of 12 years, Ilham Aliyev, took to Twitter again on Monday to attack Armenia and boast about his accomplishments in a lengthy series of successive tweets. Aliyev spared few words and paid no heed to diplomacy or tact in his inimical tweets, one of which said, “Armenia is a powerless and poor country.” The Azeri President’s tweets come at a time when tensions are very high at the border between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, with intensified exchanges of fire and sporadic skirmishes having taken place in the past two weeks.

Killing of Armenian Family Tests Armenia-Russia Ties

It is not the first time that Aliyev's tweets have caused a stir. Last summer, Aliyev delivered a bellicose speech on the front line after the worst clashes in years over Nagorno-Karabakh had left more than a dozen soldiers dead. The summary of his speech on Twitter was interpreted as a declaration of war but the Azerbaijani leader met shortly thereafter with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan and agreed to resolve the conflict peacefully. If the guys from Stratfor are to be believed, Azerbaijan will now attempt to challenge the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh, while Russia is "more focused on domestic and economic issues and thus less likely to intervene in skirmishes" over the disputed region. The conflict can escalate at any time, as highlighted by the downing of an Armenian helicopter last November. There are so many military incidents that it is sometimes difficult to keep track:

Armenia Claims To Have Retaliated Against Azerbaijan For Helicopter Shootdown Armenia has already retaliated against Azerbaijan for the downing of a military helicopter last month, Armenia's defense minister has said, without saying what the retaliation amounted to. Armenia immediately promised to retaliate, but it wasn't clear how. And on December 23, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said it has already happened: "A disproportionate response to the Azerbaijani side has been given, part of the information about the operation was given to the public. However, it wasn't appropriate to release all of the information." The most significant military incident since the shootdown that was partially reported was a heavy exchange of fire, including relatively rare mortar attacks, in early December. The de facto Nagorno Karabakh government claimed that five to seven Azerbaijani soldiers were killed, though that wasn't independently confirmed. Still, even that would seem to not meet the standard of retaliation that Armenia had been promising.

The downing of the Armenian helicopter marked not only a dangerous period in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but it also put Armenia's loyalty to Russia to the test. Yerevan has often criticized that Russia is supplying both sides of the conflict with weapons, lamenting that these Russian weapons could be used against Armenia. When Karabakh Defense Minister Movses Hakobian alleged that Moscow had supplied Azerbaijan with the Strela air-defense system that was used to shoot down the Armenian helicopter, Yerevan's worst fears seemed to be coming true and Russia was forced to answer some difficult questions. Ultimately, both sides settled the differences and Armenia decided to cast its lot with Russia by joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). But only a few days after the EEU came into force, another terrible incident caused tensions between the two close allies:

Protesters demand Russian soldier’s trial in Armenia, clash with police About a dozen people were injured after police dispersed a rally outside the Russian consulate in Gyumri, Armenia. The crowd demanded that a Russian serviceman accused of killing a family of six be transferred under Armenian jurisdiction. The clashes erupted in Armenia’s second largest city on Thursday after the funeral of the six members of the Avetisyan family, who were killed earlier this week. The protesters – who came “in thousands” according to local media – marched from the Shirak province prosecutor’s office to the Russian consulate service, and then began hurling stones and bottles at police. Demonstrators demanded that Russian solider Valery Permyakov – the key suspect in the murder – stay in Armenia for trial and not be transferred to Russia. The serviceman is accused of gunning the family down with an AK-74, in what is believed to have been a crime of passion. Permyakov, who has admitted to the murders, shot six people – including a two-year-old girl. A six-month-old boy was also stabbed, but survived.

Russia's Defense Ministry acknowledged that Permyakov went AWOL with his weapons before the horrific killings. He was detained one day later by Russian authorities while trying to cross the border into neighboring Turkey. Permyakov's return to the military base in Gyumri has prompted fears among the local population that he would not be held responsible for his crimes but both the Russian and the Armenian authorities have emphasized that the Russian soldier will be prosecuted. At the moment the only question is whether he will be prosecuted under Russian or Armenian jurisdiction. Armenia's Prosecutor General Gevork Kostanian tried to calm the protesters by promising that the country's authorities are doing everything for Permyakov to be brought to justice in Armenia. Yerevan and Moscow are now carrying out a joint investigation and Russian President Putin has also become involved to make sure that Russia's good relations with Armenia will survive this latest test as well:

Putin Vows Justice In Armenian Family Massacre Signaling concerns over unprecedented anti-Russian protests in Gyumri, President Vladimir Putin reportedly assured his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian on Sunday that Moscow will help to punish those responsible for the killing of six members of a local Armenian family. According to official Russian and Armenian sources, Putin telephoned Sarkisian to “once again express condolences to the relatives of the victims and the entire Armenian people” in connection with the slaughter allegedly perpetrated by a Russian soldier. “The president of Russia expressed confidence that all necessary investigative actions will be taken within shortest time frames and that all the guilty will receive punishment envisaged by the law,” read a statement released by the Kremlin.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

                                                       

The New Great Game Round-Up: January 12, 2015

Washington's Regime Change Tools Struggle in the South Caucasus, Tajikistan Scrutinizes Gülen Schools-Prepares for Afghan Spillover & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Since the end of 2013, Turkey has been engulfed in a relentless power struggle between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who left his post as Turkish Prime Minister last year just to become the country's 12th President, and the influential CIA-backed movement of self-described "imam, preacher, and civil society activist" Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in the United States ever since he was forced to flee Turkey in 1999. The conflict between the former allies has now reached a point where President Erdogan is preparing to add the Gülen movement to Turkey's "Red Book," meaning that the organization will be classified as a threat to Turkey's national security. Although the power struggle has largely been taking place in Turkey, other countries, such as Azerbaijan, have been affected as well and Erdogan is not the only one who is currently trying to contain the activities of the shadowy movement. The regimes in Central Asia are increasingly suspicious of Gülen's schools and with good reason. After Russia and Uzbekistan had already closed down the schools more than a decade ago, Turkmenistan followed suit in recent years and Gülen's schools in Tajikistan are now also under high scrutiny, as Erdogan's mouthpiece Daily Sabah triumphantly announced this week:

Tajikistan to discontinue Gülen schools, citing ‘shadowy mission’ Saidov Nuriddin Saidovich, Tajikistan's minister of education and science, announced that they will not extend the agreement they had made with the Gülen Movement over permission to operate schools in the country, since they consider the mission of the schools belonging to the group as "shadowy." 

According to the local press, an official from the ministry, Rohimjon Saidov, also said there will be an end to the agreement between the Gülen Movement and the Tajik government over the schools they run in the region. Saidov added that the deal made with the education institutions in question expires in 2015 and that the country will no longer extend it.

There are currently 10 schools in Tajikistan run by the movement. The first school affiliated with the group was opened in the country in 1992. For the last decade, the purposes of the schools have become a hot debate in the Turkish government. There have been numerous demands for their closure by Ankara.

Tajikistan Scrutinizes Gülen Schools, Prepares for Afghan Spillover

Interestingly, according to Tajik media, Saidov didn't mention the word "shadowy." Instead he said that the Tajik government is going to review the licenses of the Gülen schools because their mission is "unclear." Daily Sabah is known to overstate the case when it comes to the Gülen movement but given that Gülen's schools play a decisive part in the Islamization of Central Asia and the Caucasus region and that they have been used for various covert operations by the CIA, the Tajik authorities should consider referring to the schools' mission as "shadowy." Dushanbe has long lamented that young Tajiks, who are studying illegally at Islamic religious schools abroad, "can be easily radicalized and recruited into extremist or militant groups," while doing little to stop the indoctrination and terrorist recruitment at home. However, recent actions indicate that this could change in the near future:

Suspected Islamist Leader, Subordinates Detained In Tajikistan

The suspected leader of a cell of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and 10 alleged subordinates have been detained in Tajikistan. The Tajik Interior Ministry said in a televised statement late on January 7 that Ikrom Halilov, a former imam of a local mosque, and the others had been apprehended in Shahrinav district, 50 kilometers west of the capital, Dushanbe. According to the ministry, the group is suspected of planning to attack a police station in order to seize guns.

In recent months, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has been making headlines in northern Afghanistan, where Central Asian fighters belonging to the IMU or splinter groups, such as Jamaat Ansarullah, and allied Taliban forces have been massing close to the borders with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. At the end of last year, Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, gave a long interview to Interfax warning of the threat to Central Asia and Russia but oddly enough, he said that the jihadists in northern Afghanistan are from the Islamic State (ISIS). Kabulov described in great detail how many fighters are concentrated on the Tajikistan and Turkmenistan beachheads and he stressed that "our allies in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan know about this, they confirm that they have the same information, and they are taking measures." Why Kabulov referred to the insurgents as ISIS fighters is not clear. A few Tajik ISIS jihadists have lately proclaimed their intention to "fight infidels" in Tajikistan but they haven't gotten permission yet:

IS Militants Asked Baghdadi For Permission To Fight 'Infidels' In Tajikistan Militants from the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq have published a video saying that they have asked permission from the group's senior leadership to wage jihad in Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik service has reported. Abu Umariyon says that he and his fellow Tajik militants asked Baghadi and Islamic State leaders for permission to go back to Tajikistan and fight with the extremist group Jamaat Ansarullah. 

However, Baghdadi did not give his permission. "The emirs [militant leaders] who passed on their message to Baghdadi told them that right now they have to wait," the Tajik militant explains.

This video caused a stir in Tajikistan and the Islamic Center of Tajikistan slammed the jihadists, asking how it is possible "to wage jihad in a state whose population is 99 percent Muslim." But even without the return of Tajik ISIS fighters, the Tajik authorities have every reason to be concerned about the situation in northern Afghanistan. Kidnappings on the Tajik-Afghan border highlighted only recently how serious the threat is. This week, Tajik officials made public the identities of four Tajik border guards, who were abducted last month, and rejected earlier reports saying that the Taliban had made demands for their release. Due to the deteriorating security situation, Tajikistan's special services have reportedly taken "a number of measures to strengthen the most vulnerable stretches" of the Tajik-Afghan border and they are now keeping a very close eye on the activities of the insurgents in northern Afghanistan. On top of that, Tajikistan is also setting up a new military base close to the border:

Eyeing Taliban, Tajikistan Sets Up New Military Base On Afghan Border Tajikistan's armed forces are setting up a new base near the Afghanistan border in response to the apparent massing of fighters on the Afghan side of the border. The base, to be called "Khomiyon," will be in the Kulyab region. "Tanks, armored vehicles and other weaponry" will be deployed to the base, which "units of all security structures of the country will be able to use for conducting maneuvers," reported RFE/RL, citing a source in Tajikistan's Ministry of Defense. While there is no "immediate threat" from the Taliban fighters apparently massing near the Tajikistan border, Dushanbe still chose to take "preventative measures," the official said. An unnamed source in Tajikistan's State Committee on National Security (GKNB) told the Russian news agency TASS that "groups not controlled by Kabul" have massed on the Afghanistan side of the border.

Taliban Reject Government Posts As Ghani Urges U.S. to Stay Forever

On the same day, an unnamed official from Uzbekistan's National Security Service used similar language to warn of the "increased concentration of armed formations not controlled by the government of Afghanistan." Uzbekistan is also taking some measures to address the problem but the Uzbek authorities stop short of building new military bases because they are better prepared to deal with the threat than neighboring Tajikistan or Turkmenistan. After the Taliban became Turkmenistan's immediate neighbor about one month ago by taking over Khamyab District in Afghanistan's Jowzjan Province, the Afghan government is now trying to calm Ashgabat's nerves. Jowzjan's police chief General Fakir Mokhammed Dzhauzdzhani announced last week that Afghanistan's armed forces are preparing large-scale operations in Jowzjan and Faryab Province, where insurgents have repeatedly caused trouble in recent months. Although the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has ended the Afghanistan war in name only, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani lost no time in mourning after the coalition troops:

Afghan president says U.S. might want to 're-examine' pullout deadline Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States might want to "re-examine" the timetable for removing the remaining U.S.-led coalition troops in the country by the end of 2016. "Deadlines concentrate the mind. But deadlines should not be dogmas," Ghani told the CBS program "60 Minutes" when asked about the issue. Asked if he had told that to U.S. President Barack Obama, Ghani said: "President Obama knows me. We don't need to - to tell each other."

Given that Ghani is very much Washington's guy, his words come as no real surprise and this interview will probably earn him even more tributes in the American press. But while U.S. officials and media lose no opportunity to praise Afghanistan's new leader, the Afghan people are less impressed with Ghani's performance so far. According to the latest poll by Afghan news channel TOLOnews and the ART research institute, Ghani has lost popularity among the Afghan people by almost 50 percent since taking office in late September of last year. One of the reasons is most likely Ghani's failure to form a cabinet with the chief executive of his unity government, Abdullah Abdullah. Although the two men reached a power-sharing deal in September, there has been a deadlock over senior cabinet positions. Ghani had also hoped to draw three Taliban leaders into his government but the group rejected the offer:

Taliban 'reject offer of Afghan government posts' The Taliban have been offered posts in the new Afghan government but have turned them down, the BBC understands. The offer came from new President Ashraf Ghani in a bid to end the insurgency that threatens the recovery of the country. The three men whom President Ghani had hoped to draw into his government were Mullah Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who has lived relatively openly in Kabul for some years, Wakil Muttawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, and Ghairat Baheer, a close relative of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose forces are allied to the Taliban.

If Ghani fails to reach some kind of deal with the Taliban, the situation in Afghanistan is only going to get worse and the Afghan President will have a hard time staying in power. In this light, Ghani's appeal to the United States "to re-examine" the pullout deadline makes perfect sense. However, as previously discussed, Ghani's concerns about NATO's so-called withdrawal are completely unfounded. The U.S. military responded to the "60 minutes" interview by saying that the U.S. "plan remains in effect and there have been no changes to the drawdown timeline" but even if the U.S. goes forward with its plan to draw down to a "normal" U.S. embassy presence in Kabul at the end of 2016, that means keeping thousands of contractors in the war-torn country. However, at the moment it doesn't look as if the U.S. is really serious about its drawdown plan:

Lejeune Marines prepare for deployment to Afghanistan Just months after marking the end of the Corps' combat operations in Afghanistan, officials revealed that Marines are headed back into the war-torn country, but details of the deployment remain scarce. The disclosure came in a Marine Corps news release outlining preparations being made by 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The company tested its Supporting Arms Liaison Team Alpha's readiness for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan by tackling various "real-life" scenarios between Dec. 8 and 11, according to the release. Outside of the news release, Marine Corps officials declined to discuss 2nd ANGLICO's upcoming deployment. Citing operational security, a spokesman for II Marine Expeditionary Force declined to specify when — and for how long — the unit will be deployed, where within Afghanistan it will operate and whether other Marine units will accompany it.

Washington's Regime Change Tools Struggle in the South Caucasus

In addition to the American troops, Operation Resolute Support, the follow-on mission to ISAF, will also rely on a number of troops from other NATO countries and close NATO allies, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan. A group of Azerbaijani soldiers just left for Afghanistan to support the NATO-led mission despite the current tensions between the regime of Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev and the West. In recent months, Azerbaijan has repeatedly made headlines with crackdowns on NGOs, human rights activists and journalists, most of whom are supported by the United States and the EU. After the Azerbaijani authorities had already arrested Khadija Ismailova, a leading investigative journalist working for the Azerbaijani service of CIA mouthpiece Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), at the beginning of last month, relations between Baku and Washington went from bad to worse when the Aliyev regime cracked down on RFE/RL's Baku bureau a few weeks later:

U.S. 'Alarmed' As Azerbaijan Targets RFE/RL's Baku Office The U.S. State Department says its concerns about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan are deepening after authorities there raided and closed RFE/RL's Baku bureau and interrogated its employees and contractors. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told a December 29 news briefing in Washington: “These actions, along with the denial of access to legal counsel during these interrogations, is further cause for concern." The offices of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, known as Radio Azadliq, were raided on December 26 by investigators from the state prosecutor's office who confiscated documents, files, and equipment before sealing off the premises.

Predictably, the ongoing war of words between the U.S. and Azerbaijan escalated after the crackdown on RFE/RL. Former RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin condemned Aliyev's campaign against "one of the few independent news outlets left in Azerbaijan" in the strongest possible terms and he warned the Obama administration that Washington's vision of a Europe "whole and free" is at risk. "Europe whole and free" is a code often used but rarely explained because it basically means the consolidation of a unified Europe controlled by Brussels on behalf of the United States. Azerbaijan supports Washington's vision but when push comes to shove, the Aliyev regime is more interested in its own survival than in a "Europe whole and free." Although tensions are running high at the moment, it remains to be seen whether or not Azerbaijan will really "snub the West," as some suggest:

Azerbaijan Snubs the West These events have been reported abroad largely as marking a further constriction in Azerbaijan’s already tiny space for alternative points of view. And they are that. But they also suggest a dramatic change in the geopolitics of the volatile Caspian Sea region: the Azerbaijani government’s growing hostility toward Washington.

The attack on RFE/RL followed months of extreme anti-Western rhetoric. Top Azerbaijani government officials have accused the United States ambassador to Baku of “gross interference” and former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden of being an American spy. In early December, the president's chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev, published a 13,000-word article claiming that the C.I.A. was contriving regime changes in the post-Soviet space (the so-called color revolutions). It also called Azerbaijan’s human rights activists a “fifth column” of the United States.

It is worth pointing out that the Israeli press has also been sounding the alarm regarding Azerbaijan's supposed foreign policy change but Israel's Ambassador to Azerbaijan Rafael Harpaz addressed these reports a few days ago, allaying any fears and stressing that nothing had changed in Azerbaijani-Israeli relations. Therefore, the alarmist reports in Western media warning of Baku's geopolitical shift away from the West should be taken with a grain of salt. The U.S. won't accept losing Azerbaijan considering that neighboring Armenia has now officially become a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), cementing its ties with Moscow. After all attempts to impede Armenia's accession to Russia-led trade bloc have failed, Washington is apparently no longer interested in "advancing democratic values, practices and institutions" in Armenia and decided to shut down the local office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) citing "financial problems," which is obviously a lame excuse:

NDI suspends its activities in Armenia The Armenian office of US' National Democratic Institute (NDI), operating in Armenia since 1995, suspends its operations due to financial problems, Gegam Sargsyan, the head of the office, said on January 7. The NDI has ceased to receive funding from its main sponsor – the USAID (United States Agency for International Development), therefore, starting March 2015 the office will freeze its activities "for an indefinite time, until funds become available," said Sargsyan. "The USAID stopped funding NDI a year ago; then, we received funds from the American National Endowment for Democracy," said Gegam Sargsyan, adding that today the USAID prefers supporting local organizations rather than international ones; while "the NDI is not their current priority."

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: April 20, 2014

Azerbaijan Cracks Down on Mullah Gülen Movement, Azerbaijan’s Syria-Problem, SCO Fights Color Revolutions & Drug Trafficking

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Although the U.S.-backed Gülen movement has tried to topple Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by all available means, the controversial political leader managed to achieve a decisive victory in Turkey's recent local elections, which were viewed as a "referendum" on the Erdogan-led government. The Turkish PM did not waste any time by celebrating and instead continued his crackdown on the Gülen movement. Less than a week after the vote, the fight against the vast network of CIA puppet Fethullah Gülen led Erdogan to Azerbaijan, where Hizmet enjoys a strong presence:

Gülen: Top Issue in the Agenda of Erdoğan’s Visit to Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has always had a tremendous importance for the Gülen movement, partly because that is where they started to expand and where they met success. Further development throughout the Caucasus and post-Soviet Central Asia helped them become one of the most
powerful and influential transnational Islamic movement present in more than 130 countries. Still, Azerbaijan is the one place outside Turkey where the movement is the most involved. Indeed, numerous businesses and educational companies managed by Gülen’s disciples and sympathizers operate here. Among them are the highly visible international Qafqaz University, a network of 15 high schools and more than 20 Araz prep schools spread around the country. Besides, some major media, like the newspapers Zaman Azerbaijan, the radio station Burç and a TV channel, are close to the Gülen movement.

Azerbaijan Cracks Down On Gülen Movement

The transnational Turkish-Azeri Gülen community plays an important role in the bilateral relationship between the two countries and the Azerbaijani authorities have always been very supportive of Hizmet's activities in Azerbaijan. But a few weeks ago, the Aliyev regime demonstrated its support of the Turkish PM by taking measures against the Gülen movement. In late February, while Erdogan stepped up his fight against Gülen's shadowy network in Turkey, Azerbajani media reported that a similar “parallel structure” existed in Azerbaijan. Erdogan then shut down Gülen-associated private schools in order to target Gülen's finances and asked other countries to follow suit. Within a few days, Hizmet's schools in Azerbaijan were put under tight control:

Azerbaijan Backing Turkey's Crackdown on Gülen Movement

In early March, Khalik Mammadov, vice-president of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR), announced that the government-run energy company had taken over 11 Turkish-language high schools, 13 university-exam preparation centers and the private, Baku-based Caucasus University, all run by a Turkish educational company called Çağ Öğrətim (Era Education).

Çağ Öğrətim has never acknowledged a link with the Gülen movement, but most Azerbaijani education specialists and political experts have viewed its facilities as part of the Gülen movement’s 140-country network of schools. Çağ Öğrətim is part of the International Association of Turkish and Azerbaijani Manufacturers and Businessmen, a group that contains many Turkish companies that advocate Gülen’s principles.

 Furthermore, the diplomatic missions of both Turkey and Azerbaijan reportedly provided the government in Baku with a list of local Gülen followers and emails showing ties between Azerbaijani officials and Hizmet were leaked to the media in early March. One of the implicated officials was Elnur Aslanov who is considered to be the "patron of the Azerbaijani branch of Gülen followers". Shortly afterwards, Aslanov lost his job:

Turkey's Gülen Controversy Spills over to Azerbaijan

Aslanov was sacked on March 17 after a decision by President Aliyev, but the document did not name a reason for his dismissal. He headed the political analysis and information department in the President's administration since 2007, and is the son of Rabiyyat Aslanova, a ruling party MP, and reportedly has ties to the influential "grey cardinal" Ramiz Mekhtiyev, head of the President's Administration. He was responsible for supervising the Center for Strategic Studies, some leading pro-governmental media outlets, and the pro-governmental youth organization Ireli. Two days later, Aslanov's department was closed and merged with the Department of public-political issues.

A published list of alleged Azerbaijani Gülenists also included Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov and, ironically, SOCAR’s vice-president Khalik Mammadov, which has prompted some speculation whether Baku is really cracking down on Hizmet by placing its schools under SOCAR's control or if the Gülenists are in league with the state-owned oil and natural gas corporation. Whatever the case may be, the Azerbaijani authorities have detained several Gülenists, who are also often referred to as "nurcu", in the last few days after Erdogan's visit to Baku and are now starting to blame them for Azerbaijan's Syria-problem. In light of the increasing number of Azerbaijani fighters heading to Syria, Sheikh ul-Islam and Grand Mufti of the Caucasus Allahshukur Pashazadeh had already called for harsher measures against Islamic extremists including nurcus at the beginning of this month [emphasis mine]:

Allahshukur Pashazadeh calls for joint fight against wahhabi, nurcu and takfiris not honoring state law 

Pashazadeh underlined the importance of joint fight against believers not honoring the laws of Azerbaijan Republic.

According to him, today there are all necessary conditions in Azerbaijan for religious people: “New mosques are being built. All conditions have also been created for representatives of other religions. Those who call themselves wahhabi, nurcu and takfiris should not pursue their policy against the Azerbaijani statehood. Each state has its own laws. If these people don’t obey the state laws, we all need to fight together with them, not only mullahs.”

The Syria-Problem

Given Azerbaijan's key role in NATO's jihadi operations in the region, the increasing number of Azerbaijani terrorists in Syria is hardly surprising. By now, dozens of Azerbaijani fighters have sacrificed their lifes for the efforts of the NATO-GCC-Israel axis to topple the Syrian government and the Aliyev regime is totally fine with his as long as the jihadists do not come up with the idea of "liberating" their home country. One terrorist learned this the hard way when he returned to Baku a few days ago. But even if the jihadi mercenaries do as they are told and continue to fight in Syria, there might be an unpleasant surprise:

Armenia and Azerbaijan Share a Syria-Problem

The Syrian war is giving a headache to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, with jihadists heading into Syria from Azerbaijan and refugees heading out of Syria into Armenia. Most recently, Azerbaijani news outlets have reported that the leader of an Azerbaijani militant group has been captured by the rebel Al-Nusra Front, which recently took control of the ethnic Armenian town of Kessab, and allegedly sentenced to death.

It is unclear why the Azerbaijani terrorist leader was sentenced to death but the Al-Nusra Front usually does not need a good reason to kill somebody. Since joining "more moderate" terrorist groups can be dangerous, other Azerbaijani jihadists prefer to fight for one of the local al-Qaeda branches. Every other day media outlets in Azerbaijan report about a new video documenting the activities of Azerbaijanis in Syria. The presence of Central Asian terrorists in the Middle Eastern country was likewise first highlighted by online videos, which caused a great stir in their respective home countries. Although the local authorities have tried to contain terrorist recruitment in the 'stans, many young men from the region continue to travel to Syria for jihad. Especially Kyrgyzstan struggles with this problem and so the grand mufti of Kyrgyzstan issued a statement this week calling on Kyrgyz youth to refrain from fighting in Syria. Moreover, two imams were removed from their posts and arrested:

Two imams banned from mosque service in Kyrgyzstan

Two members of extremist religious organizations banned in Kyrgyzstan worked as mosque imams in the Jalal-Abad Region in southern Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security confirmed the arrest: "Efforts are under way to check whether an imam from the Bazar-Korgon District and yet another one from the Suzak District in the Jalal-Abad Region have links to extremist religious organizations."

Over the past few years Kyrgyz police have identified a number of cases where mosque imams were members of banned extremist religious organizations.  

With members of extremist religious organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir working as mosque imams, the influx of Kyrgyz fighters into Syria comes as no real surprise. According to Kyrgyz officials, poor education of imams is one of the main reasons for the rise of Islamic extremism in the country. This has raised some concerns in neighboring Xinjiang, where the local authorities are facing a similar problem:

Xinjiang chairman vows to stop religious extremism

Nur Bekri, chairman of the government of west China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, has vowed to stop religious extremism from spreading in the ethnic region.

In an article in Monday's edition of the Xinjiang Daily newspaper, he said recent years have seen separatists, terrorists and religious extremists renew their efforts to sabotage Xinjiang's prosperity and stability by perpetrating a slew of terrorist incidents.

He went on to say that religious extremism had misled people, particularly the youth, into terrorist activities, and that those deceived became chess pieces in a politically motivated plot. 

SCO to Fight Color Revolutions, Drug Trafficking

Police in Xinjiang clamp down on religious extremism, terrorism and separatism, also known as the "three evil forces", and the law enforcers do not stand for any nonsense. With NATO troops reducing their presence in Afghanistan, the Chinese government is keeping a close eye on the security situation in neighboring countries because Beijing attaches utmost importance to stability in the region. After leading Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has already stated that the "door is wide open for the Taliban" to be included in political process, the Chinese authorities will be even more alert. Beijing is wary of developments, which could further Washington's East Turkestan project. Therefore, China's Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun used this week's meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to warn against new waves of color revolutions:

Guo Shengkun: SCO States are under threat of “color revolutions”

Ministry of Chinese Public Security, Guo Shengkun, stated during a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Security Council secretaries meeting held in Dushanbe on Thursday that the SCO member-states are under the threat of external forces, which are initiating “color revolutions”.

Mr. Guo noted that the SCO should join forces and work out joint measures to combat interference in the internal affairs of the countries. He proposed strengthening the management of NGOs and to strengthen control over social networks in order to “identify, analyze, prevent, and resolve scenarios of ‘color revolutions’ repetition in a timely manner in order to strengthen peace and stability in the region.”

The U.S./EU-sponsored "Brown Revolution" in Ukraine apparently made an impression on several SCO members. Last week, Russian President Putin had also pointed out that Russia faced a threat from NGOs "serving foreign national interests". So other leaders of SCO countries could soon follow Putin's example by enacting "foreign agents" laws or take their cue from Erdogan and ban Twitter. In addition to fighting NGOs and social networks, Shengkun proposed setting up a joint security center to deal with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other terrorist groups in the region. China's Public Security Minister emphasized the role of the IMU and Hizb ut-Tahrir in drug trafficking and wants to deprive them of their funding by tackling the drug trade:

Beijing: Islamists control regional drug trafficking routes

Extremist religious organizations, among them Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan affiliated with Al-Qaeda, control drug trafficking routes which contribute the lion's share of their financing, Chinese Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun said on Thursday.


The notorious terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, are energetically returning to the region, and new terrorist organizations emerge and launch their operations, the Chinese minister told the SCO colleagues.

Many routes of drug trafficking are controlled by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir and the link between terrorism and drug trafficking is growing closer, Guo said.

As Shengkun rightly noticed, Washington's jihadist mercenaries get paid with money from NATO's opium trade, which is booming since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, because the drug money is "off the books". Since the Central Asian authorities are partially complicit in the illegal drug trade, large quantities of Afghan heroin reach Russia and Europe via Central Asia. Small amounts of drugs are regularly seized and minor drug traffickers busted but this does not affect the multi-billion dollar trade with opium from Afghanistan: 

Smuggling of more than 40 kg of Afghan heroin into Russia via Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan prevented in Tajikistan

Tajik special forces prevented the smuggling of more than 40 kg of Afghan heroin into Russia via territory of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the public relations center of the State Committee of National Security of Tajikistan reported on Monday.

Wanted by Interpol drug-dealer from Kazakhstan detained in Bishkek

The employees of the National Central Bureau of Interpol in Kyrgyzstan detained a citizen of Kazakhstan, who is internationally wanted, in Bishkek Manas airport, the press service of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kyrgyzstan reported Friday.

The man was trying to fly to Turkey on a passport with different name and photo. The detained man suspected of illegal possession, distribution and sale of Afghan drugs, trafficking via Kazakhstan to neighboring countries.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst

Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round Up- October 13, 2013

Gas Over Democracy, Xinjiang & the New Silk Road, Meet the World Uyghur Congress & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

This week's presidential elections in Azerbaijan ended with the expected result. Incumbent President Ilham Aliyev was officially reelected, winning almost 85 percent of the vote. Few would have mentioned the fraudulent elections and the crackdown of the Aliyev regime on the opposition if the Azerbaijani authorities had not committed a blunder [emphasis mine]:

Oops: Azerbaijan released election results before voting had even started Even still, one expects a certain ritual in these sorts of authoritarian elections, a fealty to at least the appearance of democracy, if not democracy itself. So it was a bit awkward when Azerbaijan's election authorities released vote results – a full day before voting had even started. [Read more...]

The New Great Game Round Up- September 29, 2013

Ukraine: Future EU, NATO Member?!, Armenia Sticks With Russia, CSTO Addresses Terror Threats & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

As anticipated last week, the CSTO leaders agreed on Monday during the Collective Security Council meeting in Sochi to provide Tajikistan with joint assistance in order to reinforce the Tajik-Afghan border. Tajikistan's President Emomalii Rahmon gave further details of the projects which will be supported by the Collective Security Treaty Organization [emphasis mine]:

CSTO to help Tajikistan strengthen control of its common border with Afghanistan [Read more...]

Weekly Round Up for January 9

Obama’s Whistleblower-Hunt, ‘Rent-A-Generals’ Industry, A Great Example of Intentionally Awful Journalism, One-Tip-Based Terror Watch List & More!

NYA belated happy new year to all our readers and friends here at Boiling Frogs Post. As you can tell I am just coming up for air. The holiday season happens to be the busiest time for my part-time work which involves a retail business, and my full-time motherhood task which has gotten at least three-fold harder during this not-so-terrible-twos stage. You see I say harder, but I’ll never call it ‘terrible’ because despite the tasking aspect it still remains the best and most rewarding role I’ve ever had; ever. My daughter is now 2.5 years old, and I’m happy to report: she is outspoken, highly opinionated, and on her way to becoming a real activist. She is already stopping those engaged in littering in their tracks for an earful lecture, and orders them to stop, ‘Go home, time out, and take bath!’ I am sharing a few of her recent pictures here. Many of you know all about my ‘no venture into my private life’ over here at BFP…except for an occasional relevant experience(s), or, like these here and the ones from last year to mark a new year at Boiling Frogs Post. Again, Happy New Year.

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For the past two months I’ve been collecting and saving lots of articles to share with you here at BFP. The collection kept getting larger, the list of links grew longer, and I kept falling behind and unable to post regular BFP Round Ups. Some of those articles were time sensitive so they got discarded as ‘stale and no longer relevant’. Some are still sitting on the list waiting for the addition of my comments and analyses. And here are a few important and interesting ones from the past few weeks without much need for added sound bites:

Obama’s Whistleblower-Hunt: Whistleblowers Long for Bush-Cheney Era Leniency?

OBYou thought the Bush-Cheney administration was bad? Think again; especially if you happen to be a whistleblower. Despite its awful record, the current administration witch-hunt like pursuit of whistleblowers and truth-tellers has many whistleblowers and truth-telling advocates longing for the Bush era climate. After all, everything is relevant, right? There was the bad, now it is the worse, or probably worst ever. Despite all the threats and muscle-flexing not a single whistleblower, including myself, got arrested or even pursued criminally under the previous regime. With Obama the era of threats has changed into an era of Punishment-Imprisonment and in some cases even torture. Here is one of the latest:

Former CIA officer indicted for leaks to reporter 
Peter Haldis, RCFP

A former CIA officer was indicted last month for allegedly providing a New York Times reporter with classified information. He is the latest in a string of leakers prosecuted by the Obama administration.

Jeffrey Sterling, 43, of O’Fallon, Mo., was indicted on 10 counts, including six counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information and one count of obstruction of justice. He was arrested Thursday in St. Louis.Sterling was indicted Dec. 22, 2010, and the indictment was unsealed Thursday.

Sterling is the fifth leaker to be prosecuted by the Obama administration. The others include: former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who allegedly sent classified information to an unknown newspaper reporter; Stephen Kim, a former Department of State analyst who allegedly leaked an intelligence report to an unidentified reporter; Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army private alleged to have leaked classified information to Wikileaks; and Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI linguist who was convicted in May 2010 of charges related to the leaking of classified information to an unidentified blogger and sentenced to 20 months in prison.

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 ‘Rent-A-Generals’ Consulting Firms: An Industry in Its Own

genLast month I came across the following coverage at War Is Business by Corey Pein. This Monday Peter and I will be interviewing Mr. Pein, meanwhile if you haven’t seen this great website check it out now, and put it in your ‘Favorite’ list of websites. I am really looking forward to this interview, too many topics of interest to cover!

‘Rent-A-Generals’ & ‘the Militarization of Economy’ 
By Corey Pein, War Is Business

This man is William B Burdeshaw, a retired US Army Brigadier General and founder of what the Boston Globe, in its must-read investigation of rampant corruption in Pentagon procurement, calls “one of the oldest ‘rent-a-general’ consulting firms” in the country.

His company, Burdeshaw Associates Ltd, is essentially a fixer for corporations looking to land military contracts. The firm is apparently so good at this, its influential “associates”—mostly retired, high-ranking officers—can sell the Pentagon things it didn’t even know it needed.

Read Globe reporter Bryan Bender describe how Burdeshaw cleverly wrung $109 million from the Pentagon for the firm’s client, Northrop Grumman, which wanted to build a remote-controlled helicopter called the Fire Scout. [Read more...]