The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Friday, June 12:
1Host of the European Games offers a showcase for regional cooperation. “European Olympic Committee President Patrick Hickey stated that Azerbaijan was the only country that stepped up to host the first European Games. As Azerbaijan’s 25 years of independent history prove, this is not the first time the nation has led the region through real deeds, not just by words and declarations. In 1998, Baku hosted the first summit of a major international initiative — Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA). In 1994, a major international energy deal “the Contract of the Century” was signed in Baku, and by 2006, the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world and by far the largest in the region, was completed. Today, Azerbaijan is the engine and the source behind the ambitious Southern Gas Corridor, the only feasible source for new natural gas for European markets. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway link will dramatically shorten the transit time along the historic Silk Road by connecting the Asian and European railway systems. Moreover, Baku hosts the regular World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, a platform for the exchange of ideas among global religious and cultural leaders” writes Elin Suleymanov for the Washington Times.
2Several U.S. officials tell CNN the Obama administration does not doubt reports accusing Israel of using a new virus to spy on the Iran talks, but also do not believe there has been any data breach. “We don’t use unsecure hotel computer systems, so if that is what they infiltrated, they would not be able to get anything from us,” one official said. “We always set up our own secure systems when we hold meetings at hotels, and that is true no matter where we are.” However, the U.S. does believe that Israel has been spying on the U.S. and all of the other participants involved in the talks.”They do it all the time,” another official said. “They did it last year, and they did it again this year. This doesn’t come as any great surprise to anyone.” Elise Labott and Evan Perez for CNN.
3A Machiavellian Plan Against Russia? “To the Kremlin, recent events in its backyard have proved once and for all that the amorphous body known as ‘the West’ – its politicians, institutions, media, diplomats, armies, financial architecture and governance bodies – are not to be trusted. The charge sheet is long and contested: it starts with NATO’s ‘out of theater’ bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1999, includes broken promises over eastern European integration into the EU and NATO in the early 1990s, color revolutions in neighboring states, botched interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, destabilization in Libya and Syria, repeated attempts to find common security architecture rebuffed, and leads to the revolution/coup that took place in Kiev in March 2014, breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, subsequent political and economic sanctions against Russia and, most recently, threats to remove Russia’s FIFA World Cup hosting rights in 2018” writes Timothy Stanley for the Forbes.
4Kazakhstan and Africa – Right Time to Build Ties, Seek Mutual Benefit. “Strengthening our links with Africa should be about more than pure economics. The world is going through an unpredictable and challenges phase. The African continent has not been immune from the evil of extremism. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram have caused fear and immense suffering. The Ebola crisis last year was the source of great worldwide panic. Food and water shortages in Africa cause devastating ripples throughout the world. Kazakhstan is determined to do what is necessary to help. Last year we sent officers to a UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara and Cote d’Ivoire, and consider doing the same in Liberia. We have also donated $300,000 to the “African Union Support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa” (ASEOWA) aid program to fight the epidemic that hit the large part of the continent so badly. Last year, Kazakhstan acted jointly with the UN Development Programme to launch a project to support and deliver development assistance to countries in Africa, Oceania and the Caribbean through capacity-building training for young professionals” writes Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov for the AllAfrica.
5Forecast for oil production in Azerbaijan. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has not changed its outlook on oil production in Azerbaijan in 2015. As it was planned, in 2015 oil production in Azerbaijan will decrease by 30,000 barrels per day and reach 0.82 million barrels per day, OPEC’s monthly report on the oil market said June 10. In April, oil production in Azerbaijan amounted to 0.86 million barrels per day, having decreased by 20,000 barrels per day compared to 2014, according to the report.
6Turkmenistan plans to build export gas pipeline. Turkmenistan plans to complete construction of the East-West main gas pipeline by late 2015, the message of the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources of Turkmenistan said. This pipeline must unite all the major gas fields of Turkmenistan into a single system, as well as create conditions for the export of Turkmen gas to world markets in either direction.“The commissioning of the pipeline, which will pass through the territory of the whole country, will serve as an additional guarantee for the smooth resource provision not only of domestic demand for “blue fuel”, but also the existing and planned international pipelines,” the message said. The new regional gas pipeline is being laid from Shatlyk to Belek. It is designed to transport natural fuel from the largest fields in the eastern regions to the country’s other gas pipelines, to increase the volumes, to improve the reliability of the gas supplies for export, as well as for the domestic gas supply.
7Moscow Moves to Strengthen Iran in Its Standoff With West. “Iran seems to have powerful friends in Moscow and the Russians’ main argument seems to be: We may lose Iran if we hesitate—a fear Sanai and other Iranian officials are constantly promoting. During the Cold War, Iran was a close US ally until Shah Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Many policymakers in Moscow fear that the Obama administration is anxious to clinch a P5+1 deal with Tehran because it is trying to upgrade the US’s tacit alliance with Iran. Russians worry that the US-Iranian relationship in the region could evolve from jointly opposing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq into something much bigger—perhaps once again turning Iran into a military and intelligence-gathering base for the United States” writes Pavel Felgenhauer for the Jamestown.
8Baku, Azerbaijan: 10 of the city’s weirdest tourist attractions. With Baku hosting the inaugural European Games, Sophie Ibbotson uncovers 10 of the most unusual things to see in the city [telegraph]
9Iran plans to establish a joint rail transport company with Kazakhstan, said Abbas Nazari, the director for international affairs at the Iranian Railways Company. The proposed company will be established through a joint venture and will carry out rail transport operations for the two sides, Iran’s Fars news agency quoted Nazari as saying on June 10. He referred to a recent visit of the director of Kazakhstan’s railways company to Iran’s Shahid Rajaee Port, saying that Kazakhstan has announced readiness to establish silos in the Iranian port in order to store wheat. 10 million metric tons of Kazakh wheat is transited via Iran, he noted.
1030 under 30: Moscow’s young power list. The ‘fresh-faced’ politicians, hipster editors and radical post-Soviet artists shaping the fabric and the future of Russia’s capital city [the guardian]
First EU TalentOn brings science to life in competition to solve global challenges
By HORIZON STAFF
Criss-crossed by a network of canals, the city of Leiden (pop. 120 000) is just 16km north of Dutch capital The Hague. It has been welcoming scholars since the first university in the Netherlands was established here in the late 16th century.
Recognised as a centre of scientific study from the 17th century onwards, it is fitting then that this year, Leiden is the European City of Science 2022 and the city threw open its doors to the first ever EU TalentOn competition, an event where young academics from all over Europe compete to find the best solutions to major challenges.
The three-day intensive event sees teams of four collaborating to develop new solutions to some of society’s most important challenges in a short timeframe.
The pressure-cooker format means that time is limited so the normally deliberative approach of scientists is thrown out in favour of a fast turnaround time from idea to solution.
The challenges were drawn from the five EU Missions which are Adaptation to Climate Change, Cancer, Restore our Oceans and Waters, 100 Neutral and Smart Cities and a Soil Deal for Europe. The EU Missions pool resources to devise concrete solutions to some of our greatest challenges by 2030. Follow the link for more information about the Horizon EU Missions.
Teams of four competed for cash prizes in each Mission category while the overall winner of the inaugural EU TalentOn as decided by a jury of 18 was a project called ROOTED, by the team SoilFix.
‘We developed a platform that will allow people to restore urban soils in their neighbourhoods or in the vicinity of their buildings’ said Roberta Gatta, the SoilFix spokesperson who explained the project to Horizon Magazine.
She describes the purpose of the SoilFix platform. ‘This is a community-based project so people can spot an area in their neighbourhood where they think there is a need for some kind of restoration of the soil. They report it, start crowdfunding and make the transformation happen.’
The platform brings citizens living in urban communities into contact with soil experts who give scientific advice and partners who plan and coordinate the project. Community engagement and expert advice are key to improve soil health because even in urban areas, soil forms a complex ecosystem that needs to be kept in balance.
For example, even soil bacteria have communities and it’s far better if these microorganisms are from the local environment. ‘Our idea was to somehow restore the biodiversity of these soils and to supply local (microbial) strains to the soil,’ said Roberta.
There have also been unfortunate cases where trees planted in an urban area to green it have been welcomed initially but within a few years, the growing roots undermine nearby houses.
Within a couple of days, these four scientific strangers combined their knowledge, worked out the science and business models of the platform, and built a demonstration app they dubbed ROOTED to show how it works. They included educational elements to attract students because they are likely to be involved in such community projects.
‘Our major point is to reduce the concrete in our cities and make our cities greener,’ said Roberta, ‘And more like Leiden, let’s say,’ she said, half-joking.
The four members of SoilFix had never met before applying for EU TalentOn. They are from different countries and scientific disciplines but during the early brainstorming sessions, they found they had one thing in common. They each come from cities that have a distinct lack of greenery.
‘This was the first thing we noticed when we arrived in Leiden. The whole idea is based on the difference between Leiden and our cities.’
Beyond the scientific elements, the real challenge for the SoilFix team was to create a product. The EU TalentOn is unique in the way it introduces highly specialised academics to the world of business and challenges them to come up with consumer-facing solutions.
‘We decided to go behind the science and try to create something that everyone could understand, not only scientists. And for us this was the challenge,’ said Roberta. ‘Try something that was not entirely science, but that can share science with people.’
‘Many of the scientists are challenged to get outside of their comfort zones because usually they might have several months or even years to evolve their research projects,’ said Henrik Scheel, the “Mission Navigator” and head coach for the teams at the EU TalentOn. ‘And now they’re asked in two days to define a problem and come up with a world-changing idea.’
Scheel is based in Silicon Valley, the high-tech innovation hub in California which is home to technology companies like Apple, Google and Intel. ‘Silicon Valley’ is a byword for transformative, rapid innovation. He works as an investor and business founder but also as an educator, coaching students in entrepreneurial skills.
‘I spend most my time working with young innovators around the world on helping them bring their ideas to life,’ says Scheel, ‘And solve big problems in their communities and in their countries and regions.’
With the effects of the pandemic and climate change being keenly felt, amongst other things, have there been any noticeable changes in the world of innovation in recent years in his view?
One thing that’s clear to him is, ‘People are a lot more ambitious’ now. Investors and entrepreneurs have a new attitude, they want to build businesses that make money while doing good, ‘not just create another app to order pizza or hail a cab,’ said Scheel.
Another feature he’s seeing is that European start-ups will operate in the US and elsewhere but stay rooted in Europe. ‘There’s a lot of collaboration and the world has just become a lot more globalised,’ said Scheel. ‘Teams are born global and stay that way, with distributed teams that are able to grow much faster and be more agile.’
EU TalentOn’s ambition is to promote an entrepreneurial mindset in scientists. The SoilFix team are actively developing their idea to take their idea to the next level. Used to resolving challenges in a lab, they are learning how to navigate the maze of business rules and legal requirements.
But it’s as Scheel tells his students, ‘The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity.’ He is a big fan of the EU TalentOn format in which academics must think more like entrepreneurs.
‘I do think one of the big opportunities here is to merge these two worlds, the start-up world and the more academic scientific world,’ he said. ‘And by bringing those things together, you can have real scientific projects that are being tested and brought to life much faster than what is currently being done.’
his article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia
Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.
The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.
“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.
“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.”
Women and children in crosshairs
Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.
“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.
They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.
“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.
They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.
The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.
35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue
A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.
The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.
Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg).
Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:
- Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
- Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
- Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.
The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.
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