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Eastern Europe

Azerbaijan and Turkey’s genocidal assault against Armenians

Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

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From September 27 to November 10, the Armenian Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in the South Caucasus was exposed to a genocidal assault at the hands of Azerbaijan and Turkey. The entire world watched while the aggressors committed many crimes and indiscriminately shelled the indigenous lands of Armenians.

Turkey also sent Azerbaijan mercenaries from Syria with known affiliations to Islamic radical groups. This was confirmed by a recent United Nations report, as well as by the testimonies of many Syrian mercenaries and reports by international media outlets.

Together with Azerbaijani military forces, they perpetrated war crimes against Armenians. They murdered civilians, injured journalists and targeted homes, forests, hospitals, churches and cultural centers, among other non-military targets. They used white phosphorus and cluster munitions in violation of international law. At least 90,000 Armenians were forced to abandon their ancestral lands in Artsakh as a result.

The war finally halted after 45 days as a result of the Russia-brokered agreement imposed on Armenia.

According to the agreement, there would be “an exchange of prisoners of war and other detained persons and bodies of the dead.” However, even after the signing of the agreement, multiple videos emerged showing Azeri military members and their partners beheading, mutilating and dismembering captured Armenian civilians and prisoners of war. These gruesome crimes were filmed and proudly posted on social media by Azerbaijani soldiers themselves.

On December 7, for example, Azerbaijanis uploaded yet another video of a beheading on one of their many Telegram channels. In the video, a soldier of the Azerbaijani special forces is seen beheading an elderly Armenian civilian while his fellow soldiers videotaped the war crime. The elderly Armenian man was begging for his life.

As these ISIS-like crimes were being committed against Armenians, Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers participated in a military victory parade in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku on December 10. The parade, organized to celebrate the countries’ joint “military victory” over Artsakh, was attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

During the “victory parade,” Erdogan delivered a speech in which he praised Enver Pasha, one of the planners of Ottoman Turkey’s 1914-1923 Christian genocide, which cost the lives of around 1.5 million Armenians and at least one million Greeks and Assyrians. The Ottoman military march was also played during the event.

Erdogan referred to the 1918 Islamic Army of the Caucasus created by Enver Pasha and led by the Ottoman commander, Nuri Pasha. The Islamic Army of the Caucasus was responsible for the massacres to eliminate the non-Muslim population of Baku, mainly Armenians. Erdogan said:

“Today is the day when the souls of Nuri Pasha, Enver Pasha and the brave soldiers of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus are blessed.”

Erdogan also confirmed Turkey’s support for the recent Azeri assault against Armenians. According to the official website of Turkey’s Presidency, “Turkey, with all its institutions and organizations, supported Azerbaijan’s fight from the very beginning, underlined President Erdoğan, further stressing that it will continue to stand by the brotherly Azerbaijan with all its capabilities.”

During his speech Aliyev claimed that the Armenian capital of Yerevan, Armenia’s Lake Sevan and the Syunik (Zangezur) region in southern Armenia are “historic lands of Azerbaijan.”

This was not the first time Aliyev referred not only to Artsakh but also to the Republic of Armenia as “Azerbaijani lands.” In 2018, for instance, Aliyev referred to the same Armenian regions as “historic lands of Azerbaijan.” “Azerbaijanis’ return to those territories,” he added, “is our political and strategic goal, and we need to work step-by-step to get closer to it.”

Meanwhile, the Russia-brokered agreement appears not to provide security for Artsakh. On December 11, Azerbaijan violated the agreement by launching an attack against Artsakh’s Hadrut district. Aliyev, however, blamed Armenia for the attacks, threatening to “break its head with an iron fist” and added, “This time, we will destroy them completely.”

Dr. Anahit Khosroeva, a genocide scholar and historian based in Yerevan, said:

“The recent Azeri attack against the villages in Hadrut breaks my trust in the agreement. Russian troops did not immediately stop the attack. People in Artsakh’s capital, Stepanakert, think that the safety of their city is at risk, as well. There is massive diplomatic uncertainty concerning the agreement. How effective it will be and how committed Russian troops will be to protecting the security of Artsakh remains to be seen.”

Khosroeva also criticized the dominant media narrative concerning the war against Artsakh:

“The international media adopted this incredibly misleading narrative which tries to put equal blame on ‘both sides’. Can they not see the difference between the perpetrator and the victim? Who started the war and who committed an ethnic cleansing campaign is obvious: Azerbaijan and Turkey. Yet, much of the international media stuck to this unethical and false narrative and whitewashed Azerbaijani crimes, which misinformed the world community and has cost so many innocent lives.

“For 45 days during the war, our cities were bombed incessantly. But the international community did not care. They just watched as Azerbaijan, Turkey and jihadists massacred our people. At the very least they should now try the perpetrators in international courts for their crimes.”

Khosroeva noted that the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is clear about the definition and punishment of war crimes:

“The UN says that lists of war crimes can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as in international customary law.

“According to the 8th article of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, several acts constitute war crimes such as ‘willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments; willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power; willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial; unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement; and taking of hostages.’ Azerbaijan and Turkey committed all these and more against Armenians during and after the war.

“Given Erdogan’s statements about Enver Pasha, it seems that Erdogan pursues an annihilationist policy that aims at completing the Armenian Genocide which his Ottoman ancestors started.”

Journalist Lika Zakaryan was in Stepanakert during the war and reported on it daily. “During the 45-day war,” she said, “people in Artsakh expected the world to do something to stop Azerbaijan and Turkey – to take concrete actions but not to stay silent, and stop calling on ‘both sides to de-escalate.’ They waited for the world to make the perpetrator and aggressor, Azerbaijan, stop its attacks. But it never happened.”

Zakaryan is also concerned about the agreement:

“I do not think it can provide full security for Artsakh,” she said. “No peacekeepers can provide it when in some places there are only 30 meters between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. I think the biggest risk concerning the agreement is the giving of Karvachar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan, which turns Artsakh into an enclave.

“Azerbaijan remains a major threat to us. People here are scared of a second Armenian genocide, an even more suffocating blockade, and a new war. And until Azerbaijan is brought to account for its war crimes, these possibilities will remain.”

Turkey and Azerbaijan’s genocidal assault against Armenians are mainly propelled by two reasons:

1) The traditional Turkish/Azeri genocidal hatred against Armenians and Christianity, and

2) Turkey’s goal of pan-Turkist expansionism, which Turkey also calls the “Red Apple” doctrine.

One month before Azerbaijan and Turkey attacked Artsakh, the Director of Communications of the Turkish presidency, FahrettinAltun, shared a video of what he called the “Red Apple” anthem on his Twitter account on August 24. He wrote:

“For us, the Red Apple means great and strong Turkey. It is the sacred march of our nation that made history from Manzikert to July 15. The Red Apple is a great plane tree that provides shade for the downtrodden to refresh. The Red Apple is what the entire humanity has longed for from Gibraltar to Hedjaz and from the Balkans to Asia.”

The video presents the Turkish military and Erdogan as heirs to the medieval Turkic Seljuk dynasty, as well as to the Ottoman Empire.

According to the pro-government newspaper Hürriyet:

“The Red Apple image, one of the most important symbols of Turkish nationalism, symbolizes a goal and purpose for Turkish states. It refers to a place to be reached, or a town to be conquered. It sometimes expresses the ideal of establishing a state, sometimes the ideal of world domination, and sometimes the ideal of Turkish unity…. Red apple is a symbol of jihad carried out especially towards Western countries during the Ottoman period.”

The “Red Apple” image is believed to have first emerged among the Central Asian Turks. According to the anti-government newspaper Sözcü

“As a trait of the Turkish state tradition, Red Apple represents the idea that the Turkish state should rule over other states and nations across the world. After oral literature, it [i.e., the Red Apple doctrine] was first passed to written sources through the Oğuzname [the name of several documents about the myths of the Turks]. According to a Turkish tradition, which is also mentioned in the Oghuz and Göktürk [Turkic tribes in the Central Asia] inscriptions, it is believed that the Turkish khan [ruler] is the khan of not only the Turks but of the whole world and that conquests were made in accordance with this principle.

“They [Turks] believed that God entrusted the world sovereignty to the Turks. It is seen as a very effective motif in the state tradition of the Huns, Göktürks and Seljuks [Turkic tribes from Central Asia]. According to Oğuzhan [the king of the Turkic people in Central Asia], the sky is the tent of the state and the sun is the flag. This idea included not only Turks’ thoughts of state administration, but also the very old principles of the Turkish religion.”

Turkic peoples are not natives of Asia Minor or the South Caucasus. They are originally from Central Asia and invaded the region starting in the eleventh century. Armenians, however, are an indigenous people of the land and have resided there for millennia. Throughout the centuries, however, Armenians have been assaulted by Turkic peoples several times. Among the greatest of these assaults were the 1071 Seljuk Turkic invasion of the Armenian town of Manzikert in the Greek Byzantine Empire and the 1914-23 Christian genocide by Ottoman Turkey.

According to “Red Apple” ideology, the presence of Armenians in Artsakh and Armenia is viewed as a barrier preventing a Turkic Islamic corridor among Azerbaijan, Turkey and other Turkic Muslim countries.  Hence, Turkey and Azerbaijan appear to aim at erasing Armenia from the map. To this end, they commemorate the perpetrators of the Christian Genocide by Ottoman Turkey and claim the historically Armenian lands, including Yerevan. The Turkish government remains proud of its history, filled with many crimes against Armenians and other Christians, and thus continues committing further crimes against the descendants of the genocide survivors.  

However, Erdogan’s regime will not stop at Artsakh, as Turkey’s imperialist agenda does not only target Armenians. Erdogan has publicly announced his regime’s neo-Ottomanist goals for years. If Turkey and Azerbaijan achieve their expansionist goals in the South Caucasus, they will continue targeting and trying to expand their influence and even territories through parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, which the Ottoman Empire occupied for centuries. Turkey already occupies northern Cyprus and northeast Syria, which the international community ignores. And reports have recently surfaced that Turkey is allegedly preparing to send jihadist fighters from eastern Syria to Jammu and Kashmir to help Pakistan.

The unprovoked aggression by the Turkish-Azeri armies against Armenians once again demonstrates that the Turkish state sees the Armenian Genocide as “unfinished business.” Enver Pasha, whom Erdogan praised in Baku, was one of the leaders of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress, also known as the “Unionists,” who planned and perpetrated the Armenian Genocide.

Prominent sociologist OhannesKılıçdağı noted in an article he recently penned that for both the pan-Turkist ideology represented by the Unionists and the Kemalist ideology that established Turkey, wiping out Armenia remains a goal. Kılıçdağıwrote:

“For both the Unionists before Kemalism and the Unionists continuing their existence under the name of Kemalism, Armenia is a ‘road accident’ or a ‘historical accident’ that should have never happened. It was the result of an unexpected ‘last minute’ resistance of the exhausted Armenians after the genocide. I think that eliminating this road accident is still alive as a target for Turkey’s military and civilian government mechanisms.”

Given Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s hostile statements and murderous aggression against Armenians, it is not an overstatement to say that the security of the rest of Artsakh and Armenia is at risk. A full century after the Armenian Genocide, Armenians are still exposed to a genocidal assault by Turkey and its ally, Azerbaijan. And sadly, the world is still standing idly by.

About the author: Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in The Washington Times, The American Conservative, The Christian Post, The Jerusalem Post, and Al-Ahram Weekly. Her work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics and history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and antisemitism.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in The Washington Times, The American Conservative, The Christian Post, The Jerusalem Post, and Al-Ahram Weekly. Her work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics and history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and antisemitism.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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