November 26, 2008

Weekly News Roundup

This weekly news roundup is heavy on conflicts in the Caucasus. Back to more varied news next week!

Monday, Armenia's foreign minister spoke, asking Turkey to re-open the Armenia/Turkey border, which has been closed since 1993 as a result of Armenia and Azerbaijan's war over the Karabagh region. Armenia and Turkey have not had diplomatic relations since Armenia became an independent country after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Georgia's and Poland's Presidents were taking a nice drive up by South Ossetia where their motorcade was shot at on Monday. Of course, Russia denied having any part in it. This comes a few days after the BBC reported Russia-Georgia peace talks were making "substantial progress."

Meanwhile, in the Russian republic of North Ossetia, the mayor of Vladikavkaz was killed on Wednesday. This is after a suicide bomber killed at least 8 people earlier this month, also in Vladikavkaz.

In another separatist region (they seem to abound in the South Caucasus!), Nagorno-Karabagh, apparently some shots were fired which led to the death of one Azeri soldier. This is in light of recent peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan (some commentary can be found here). Apparently, after the skirmish, Armenia's president also met with party leaders in Armenia to discuss the conflict, as well.

Weekly BBC Roundup: The BBC Magazine wrote a piece about children who are scared to leave their homes because of blood feuds in Albania. Check out this article about the Amnesty International report about domestic violence in Armenia. Also, Sochi's feelings about the Olympics.

Have a good Thanksgiving!

November 19, 2008

Polish Film Festival

More films from the CEERES region in Chicago!

The Polish Film Festival is taking place here in Chicago until November 23. Since it started the 8th, you've missed a few films, but there are still plenty to catch this weekend, including one on Saturday and Sunday which will feature the director in attendance. The festival not only includes Polish films, but films from other places as well, including Hungary and Russia.

(An article on the Festival from the Chicago Sun Times can be found here.)

November 12, 2008

Weekly CEERES news roundup

The European Union just released it's annual report on applicant countries, in which Croatia was given a timeline to put them on track to become a member state in 2011. The report also discussed Turkey and Macedonia, encouraging them to boost reform efforts. You can read the actual reports on the European Commission website.

And, it's been all over the news, so you've probably heard, but could it be possible that Putin will soon be president again? After current President's Medvedev's state of the union speech, in which he introduced reforms to change the presidential term from 4 to 6 years, rumors have run rampant.

Following up from last week, here's an article on the reaction of Armenian and Azerbaijanis on the recently signed agreement on Nagorno-Karabagh. Armenia is also in the news, due to the recent concession of President Sarkisyan to form a committee to conduct an impartial investigation on the events which took place during the Feburary election.

November 7, 2008

Summer in Armenia

Since Meredith shared all of her experiences from her trip to Russia, I thought I'd write about my summer in Armenia.

This summer I was an intern in the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia. I lived in a nice apartment right down the street from the Parliment building (and even saw the president driving to work a few times!). I worked your standard 9-5 day, but there was nothing ordinary about what I did at work.

I worked in the Consular Section of the Embassy. The Consular Section is in charge of Visas and American Citizen Services. Some things I did daily were: take fingerprints of non-immigrant visa applicants, answer emails about applying for visas, and just generally help out around the office. For example, I wrote the "Ask the Consul" sections for the website for the months of July-October. I also was able to get out of Yerevan every so often. Once, I got to go to Dilijan, to give a presentation at an "American Corner" about being a college student in the US.
Me answering questions after my talk at the American Corner

One of the unexpected things that happened this summer was the war in Georgia. It definitely livened things up at the Embassy, to say the least. The Consular section was a bustle of activity as we were in charge of helping the evacuation of Americans from Georgia. We helped on our end by meeting the buses at the Armenia/Georgia border and working with passport control officials in Armenia to make sure everything went smoothly. We also ended up helping a lot of anxious Americans in the US locate their relatives who came to Armenia on the convoy. It was a thrilling time and I was lucky to get to be part of it.
Me and my coworkers at the Armenia/Georgia border

Another fun event was the Armenia vs Turkey football (or soccer as we call it here) match. This was really exciting because Armenia and Turkey aren't on the best of terms, and this was the first time they had ever played soccer against each other. Nobody really knew what to expect. Everything ended up being fine, and there were no problems, although Turkey won 2-0, which the Armenians were not happy about. It was also a historic occasion because Turkey's president came to see it, and it was the first time a Turkish head of state had ever come to Armenia.
The two teams and the crowd before the game.

All in all, my experience at the Embassy and interning for the State Department was a good one. My coworkers were wonderful, as was everybody in the Embassy, and I really gained a lot from my time in Armenia. Anybody who is even a little bit interesting in possibly going into the Foreign Service would benefit from a State Department internship and I highly recommend it.

Click on any image to see the full size, or to see all my pictures from this summer, go to:

November 6, 2008

Food culture, here and there

I listened to the 11/1/08 podcast of NPR's The Splendid Table, and was happy to hear some direct reporting on food culture from the CEERES region. The link to this particular episode is here.

Two segments of the show caught my ear, and made my stomach growl just a little. The show opens with a report from a couple, Jane and Michael Stern (their site is, that travels around the U.S., reviewing the local food stops along the way. In this episode of the Splendid Table, they visit West, Texas (an actual town, not the region) where there happens to be a significant Czech-emigre population. Czech bakeries touting their traditional kolache abound. The couple gives a great discussion of the how the food tastes and why it's there. It's not solid reporting on the lives of immigrants by any means, but hearing about the food will make your mouth water.

Even more fascinating, and much more rigorous in its scholarship is a segment later in the episode. Unfortunately, you have to download the podcast and fast forward to get to this segment. At 25.45 minutes into the show is an audio documentary recorded in the field by Carla Seidl in Azerbaijan on Azeri food culture, including discussion of the food, social roles in preparing and serving, and interviews. I was pleasantly surprised to find this, and I think some of you might fing it interesting for your teaching, research, or just plain entertainment.

November 5, 2008

Weekly CEERES news roundup

Big in the news this week was the meeting in Moscow between Armenia's President Sarkisyan and Azerbaijan's President Aliyev during which they signed a joint declaration regarding the sepratist region of Nagorno-Karabagh (BBC, Wikipedia). Reactions are mixed, as reported on EurasiaNet and the Euraisa Daily Moniter (which also includes a run-down of the declaration). From a completely different angle, on October 16th, apparently over 700 couples got married in Karabagh, in an attempt to help boost the region's small birth rate (IWPR).

Apparently Saakashvili is having a grand old time firing people. (BBC)

While not directly related to the region, the US presidential election was big news everywhere. Some pre-election feelings from the region can be found on EurasiaNet and TOL, and articles on reactions from Macedonia and Kosovo are highlighted on the homepage of BalkenInsight. 

In brief, we also have the EU's effort to increase it's presence in Tajikistan, teaching diversity in Romania via some new textbooks, and Ukraine's recent dropping of Russian channels from cable.

And because I love the BBC, I'd like to point out this interesting article discussing the Ossetians' love of the movie "Braveheart."