Saturday, May 2, 2009

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day is tomorrow and I've been trying to recall how I spent the day last year. I honestly can't remember and I think it is because it passed quietly. I was living in Azerbaijan - a place where journalists aren't really able to write or say anything that might be critical of the government.

World Press Freedom Day activities began today here in Timor-Leste and I couldn't help comparing the differences with Azerbaijan. Here in Dili, journalists began gathering around 9 a.m. at the street named Freedom of the Press Avenue -- where they then walked almost the entire length of it. In Azerbaijan, a gathering of this sort would have been banned. If a small group had gathered in Baku or any other Azeri town or city, the police would have shown up and asked everyone to move on.

Today's event in Timor-Leste drew about 75 journalists -- who distributed free bumper stickers and newspapers. The main reason for this particular event was to remind merchants and motorists that the street was named Freedom of the Press Avenue -- nine years ago. Some people are apparently unaware of that and continue to call it by its old name.

I joined the journalists on their walk along Freedom of the Press Avenue -- which begins near the city center and ends at the foot of the hills -- a distance of several kilometers. We didn't actually get to walk the entire distance. About 200 meters short of our goal -- local police stopped us and asked us to turnaround. They were very polite, but said we should have had a permit.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tipping Point in Azerbaijan?

Today in Baku, one day after the senseless shooting at the prestigious oil academy that left 13 people dead, students took to the streets demanding answers. The government has released very few details of what happened. Based on video shot today at the demonstration and placed on, it looks like thousands of students demonstrated near the school -- they came to demand that the government give them answers and to demand that the government observe a day of mourning for the students. This appears to be totally impromptu and amazingly the police did nothing today -- unlike the last demonstration that was held in Azerbaijan -- in 2005. At that time, protesters took to the streets after the sham presidential elections -- dozens of people were beaten.

Today, police and the Aliyev government appear to have been caught completely off guard by the demonstration. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Students are vowing to continue their protest until they get some answers.

In March, in a staged referendum by the presidential apparatus, the current president was given the right to serve as long as he likes.

Many Azerbaijanis, perhaps most, were angry over this rigged referendum. Perhaps, Thursday's senseless shooting by a gunman in the oil academy is the spark that will force the government to be accountable to the people -- for once.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Remembering Uzbekistan

When I was in Uzbekistan a few years ago, I stopped in Bukhara for a few days and happened upon this rather strange event. It was a fashion show featuring Bukharan and Russian models inside the Nadir Divanbegi Medressa. They wore a mix of traditional and modern clothing and were dancing to traditional Tajik music. The models' runway attitude and walk were straight from the Fashion Channel.

The 154 foot high Kalon Minaret was built in 1127 and stands in the heart of old Bukhara. Chinggis Khan was apparently so impressed with it when his Mongol forces arrived in 1219 that he ordered that it be spared. The Kalon Minaret used to be the tallest structure in Central Asia. It is also where a number of unfortunate souls lost their lives. When they angered the ruler, they were sometimes tossed from one of the minaret windows in a sack.