February 22, 2010


Recently there was a referendum to make a number of changes to the AZ constitution. Changes included removing term-limits on the president(who typically gets 80-90% of the vote), to allow the government to cancel all elections if the country is at war(open hostilities with Armenia and Nagorno-Karabag ended in 1993 but no peace treaties have been signed) and a "privacy" provision which requires one to receive permission before photographing, video-taping or in anyway recording another person.

Ive asked a few local people about these new laws and they all say that, of course, they support the new laws and the democratic right to re-elect the president as many times as he would like, to prevent foreigners & enemies to interfere in their elections and to the democratic right to privacy that these changes provides them......of course.

A report from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

New Azeri Law Enrages Journalists

Independent media say ban on unauthorised recordings will hamper reporting.

By Seymur Kazimov in Baku (CRS No.532, 19-Feb-10)

Some journalists in Azerbaijan say changes to media legislation could limit freedom of expression.

The amendments - passed by parliament on February 12 after they were approved last March in a referendum on a number of different subjects - forbid reporters from recording anyone’s voice or image without their permission.

The media law changes were little noticed at the time, as most attention around the referendum focused on a constitutional reform allowing the president to run for re-election as often as he wants.

Arif Aliyev, chairman of the New Generation journalists’ union, said the amendments – the tenth alterations to the media law since it was adopted in 1999 - could restrict freedom of speech in the country.

“This is the most negative change that has been made to the law in the last ten years. When this question was raised in the referendum, the government promised it would allow exceptions in some cases - but this law shows that no exceptions were made, and the ban for journalists is absolute,” he said.

“This means that a journalist, even at normal events, cannot film as he wishes.”

He suspected the amended law, which awaits presidential approval, would lead to more criminal cases against journalists.

“Now anyone who wants to can take a journalist to court just for being photographed, for example at the launch of a book. It is laughable,” he said.

Rauf Arigoflu, the editor-in-chief of Yeni Musavat newspaper, agreed, “These amendments were made specifically to create more and more obstacles to the work of the independent and opposition media.”

He said the amendments would also serve to wipe out investigative journalism in the country. He said he would be forced to adapt to the new law and not create problems for his newspaper’s journalists.

Not all media professionals agreed with their protests, however. Vusala Mahirgizi, general director of Azeri Press, a pro-governmental private news organisation, said the changes were fine.

She said that journalists had lost their chance to object when they did not protest at the time of the referendum.

“Then most journalists focused on different issues, such as on the point removing restrictions on the re-election of the president. And I don’t understand why we should now protest against parliament’s decision,” she said.

“The question was raised at a referendum, and the will of the people was expressed ... In the legal sense there are no problems. We are all obliged to respect the law, and not to go outside it.”

Mubariz Qurbanli, a member of the parliament’s committee on legal policy, said the changes were intended to protect citizens’ right to privacy.

“Here we are intending to prevent interference in private life. These bans do not relate to individuals’ social-political activities,” he said.

Bakhtiyar Sadigov, the editor-in-chief of Azerbaijan, the parliament’s own newspaper, agreed with him.

“The changes to the constitution were made by the will of the people. The population voted for these changes,” he said.

“I am personally opposed to having my picture taken without my permission, or with someone interfering with my private life. This is a violation of an individual’s rights.

“Journalists often interfere with our personal lives. We are Azeris, we have our own mentality, and we do not agree with our personal lives being on general display.”

Opposition members of parliament, however, said they did not believe the law would be used purely to deal with privacy.

Igbal Agazade, chairman of the opposition Hope party in parliament, said the law would make cracking down on free speech much easier.

“A few people claim these bans just apply to people’s personal lives, and do not relate to social-political life. But all these assurances are not reflected in the law. It will be a lot easier to keep society under control and restrict information, and that is the point of these changes,” he said.

Seymur Kazimov is a freelance journalist.

I wonder, do you suppose this law could be taken advantage of by the corrupt who demand bribes or who offer them to prevent there malfeasance from being exposed? I wonder......

January 15, 2010

Mama, where do babys come from?

New store in Quba.

And yet more doner. Mexican doner.

Found a doner shop in Baku that, if you can't read it this sign says:

Turk Doner (standard on bread)
Arab Doner (standard on lavash)
Mexican Doner (two tacos)
Spanish Doner (looks like a meatball sub to me)

For those of ya'll who dont know; the first two, perfectly normal. Spanish doner....gosh knows what that is. But a !MEXICAN DONER!, tacos!, thats a find. And an interesting way of crossing the cultural divide. Explaining to a peoples who often think Americans are part of an ethnic group called Ingilis(unless they're not white or not Christian inwhich case they're not American but whatever their ancestors happened to be), that rice was invented here, and that Japan is in China; crossing that cultural divide to explain the concept of "taco" as a form of doner is amazing.

Sadly the gas wasn't working in that part of Baku so I had to settle for a bloody bland & boring Turk doner. X steps forwrd, N steps back, the answer to X-N (usually) = Disapointment to the inverse square of Bemusement.

The doner is not a lie!

As mentioned before the notoriously inaccurate Lonely Planet:Caucuses is complete and utter crap. Don't buy it.

It's only saving grace & correct statement comes when it claims that possibly "the best doner in Azerbaijan" can be bought in Quba. In this they are most certainly correct. Mahir Lahmacun, on the main road just 300m uphill from the autovagzal, across from the college you will find the one bastion of culinary perfection.

I typically only go there once a week, sitemate Amy averages atleast twice. The week before Chrismas when we were hosting so many guests we went 4 of 5 weekdays. The owner is very friendly and helpful, the doner chef, an insanely skinny guy named Tofiq, remembers our individual orders and gives us our doners exactly as we want them every time. Amy - no tomato, me - extra sauce and lots of red pepper.

It is one of the few resteraunts in the rayons that you can always know will be foreigner, & more importantly, woman friendly. Though we very seldom see any local women there Amy and the other PCV women folk know they can go there alone and not have to worry about being harrassed by jack-ass local men. This is not true of most other cheap resteraunts in Azerbaijan.
Wich isnt to say you can escape the staring, female or male one can never escape the infernal staring, but you know you won't be bothered.

If you go order the lavash doner. Truely one of the greatest meals you will have in Azerbaijan. A thin flour tortilla tightly wrapped around perfectly grilled & spiced lamb with cilantro, tomatos, a wee bit of mayo and spiced tomato sauce and in the last month theyve begun improving on perfection by adding a couple crispy-crunchy french fries to the mix. This with a side of perashkies, golden crispy brown on the outside, fluffy steamy warm pastry & mashed potato on the inside. Its a meal you won't soon forget at 1.50AZN for the doner and 20qepik for the perashki.

Sadly its difficult to take really good pics of food.....

The burger is a lie!

In the last 3 months 3 new doner restaurants have opened up in Quba. Indeed there seems to be a trend across the first finger for opening new doner joints across the First Finger. Atleast 5 new ones in Xachmaz and even one in muddy little Devechi to the south.

Sadly they all promise more than they can deliver. Plastered with pictures of a huge variety of incredible foods: salads, roast turkeys, pizza, cheeseburgers, fish, exotic curries. In reality the doner joints very seldom deliver anything more than a doner, usually on a bun but if youre lucky in lavash(a flour tortilla wrap), some cold perashkies(savory deep fried pastries stuffed with mashed potato, meat, or ground liver) and ayran(a yogurt drink).

The new Imperial doner resteraunt in Quba.

The lie. There are no burgers. Never any burgers. Certainly nothing this beautifully delicious looking. The burger is a lie. Always a lie.

The only time a place like this might have a "burger" is when they have a "qamburger". Qamburger is a weird Soviet-AZy bastardization of one of the worlds most sacred and delicious foods. Instead of the burger patty being a delectable mixture of ground meat & spices(or beans & tofu if youre violating God's plan for canine teeth) the qamburger contains a cheap hot-dog weiner, sliced lengthwise, half fried in leftover grease, left to sit around for half the day because nobody wants to eat the crap and then slopped into a bun thats 3times too big. The qamburger is an abomination.

Jake - Im a Little Teapot

In an evening of boredom sitemate Amy & I took her "Jumbling Towers" game, a cheap "Jenga" knockoff, and turned it into a drinking game by writing challenges, dares, punishments, rewards & requirements to drink on the underside of all the pieces. Some require you to drink, some require others to drink, some require you to show off your Azeri wedding dance skills, and argueably the worst requires you to go to the nearest store to buy 20qepik(cents) worth of any bulk dry good. When the "Jumbling Tower" falls all players grab a random peice an the loser is required to do what they say.

On an evening just a couple weeks ago Jake in Xachmaz was unfortunate enough to pull the "Sing "I'm a Little Teapot" peice. Enjoy.

January 14, 2010

Pive = Beer = ビール

Mr. Bean wants you to drink beer.
ミスター ビン知ってるでしょう? ミスター ビンはビールちょう好きそう。

January 11, 2010


Zombie Chris eats Jack-o-Lantern braiiiiiiiinnnnssss

Jake the DJ Sheep & his evil shadow imp

John, making people feel uncomfortable ;)

Azerbaijani Gothic, Sheepherd Josh and Emma/Tim

Mathias/Marina & Emma/Tim

Traveled out to Zaqatala for the first time for a Halloween party at our fellow PCVs home. If you look at a map of Azerbaijan you'll see Quba is near the top of the First Finger, the first peninsula of land reaching up into Russia. Zagatala is near the top of the Second Finger reaching up toward Russia and Georgia.
After carving Jack-o-lanterns with some local kids good old-fashioned drunken revelry was had by all(except the local kids; they were sent packing). Despite the drizzle we had a bonfire in costume. Sheep & shepherds, boxes, zombies, xanims(Azeri-style babushkas/grannies) & construction workers all attended. But by far the best was Marina & Tim who came dressed as fellow married PCVs Mathias & Emma respectively.

January 10, 2010

Hernia Surgery in Short 3

Chapter 3: Aftermath

After 1.5-2hours it was all over. Apparently the hernia, instead of being the normal 2-3cm lesion was 4-5cm, a biggie. Doctor said surgery should have been done a lot sooner and I should have been in pain the last few months. But, for better or worse, I never was in any particular pain because of the hernia belt. The only time it might start to hurt is if I weren't wearing the belt for an extended period of time and my insides started trying to pop to the outside. This would first start to happen after 3-5mn of walking around but it was always easy to shove everything back inside when it first started to protrude. Indeed it felt oddly good to press on it and push it all back in. Kindof like the way scratching a mosquito bite or popping a zit gives one an odd sort of relief.

Slept for the next few hours. Wasn't very hungry when they served dinner but found myself ravenous around 7pm. Asked the nurse for some food but the cafeteria was closed. Sad I never got her name to send her a thank-you card but 10mn later she came and gave me half of the dinner she had brought from home. Bread, cheese, boiled veggies with some meat. Best meal I'd had in a long time.

The docs kept asking if I had used the toilet yet and seemed a bit concerned when I said I hadn't felt the need. So eventually that evening I just forced myself to get up and walk to the toilet. Painful, very painful to walk, but not so terribly bad. Once up, sitting back down on the toilet was yet another challenge but compared to doing the same with a crushed leg back in the day it was a piece of cake. By the next morning I could get up much easier and walk about. By the time Irena came to check me out at 1 the afternoon the day after the surgery I could walk slowly, mostly upright, without any great difficulty.

Spent the next 5 nights at a hotel. I owe a lot of gratitude to my friend Vicky for coming over everyday to take care of me and for bringing a lot of food the first day. Thanks kiddo. I hope I can do something to return the favor someday. Its good to have friends to take care of you.

4-5 days after the surgery I was on my feet well enough to participate in the Hash Walk. The Hash if you hadn't heard of them is an international organization, usually in cities with a British expat community, whose members meet weekly to walk or run a marked trail of arrows with checkpoints and the occasional false trail and then meet at the end for a few drinks and camaraderie. Good times and Ive met a number of new friends & business associates there.

It took about 10-12 days for the wound to heal over so I didn't need to wear a bandage anymore. A few twinges of pain for the next 2weeks but since then absolutely no problems. Left with just a 4cm red line of a scar on my lower abdomen to remember it all by. Good to have it all over and again, thanks to everyone who helped and sent their love. I owe ya'll.

Hernia Surgery in Short 2

Chapter 2: Surgery

About a week later I had guests. Two new Peace Corps Trainees from the AZ7 group come for a few days site visit to learn more about what PCVs actually do and what the rayons are actually like. Midway through their visit I received a call from PC Medical. The surgeons return to Canada was sooner then expected so if we were to do this I must go to Baku the very next day. I sadly had to abandon the newbies and go to Baku. Though the doctor had said this could be an outpatient procedure Irena(my PC doctor) wanted me to stay at the hospital the nite before because surgery prep would need to begin at 6am and again the next nite to be careful for complications. I very much disliked this idea and was a bit argumentative but some battles must be abandoned that others can be won; as the PCV motto goes “Be flexible”. In hindsight it was the better plan of action. Getting up at 5am to get to the hospital would have been difficult and it was rather painful to walk the next evening.
Spent the night in the hospital, no food or drink allowed, was woken up all to early the next morn by a couple of cute nurses who couldn't believe I spoke Azerbaijani but not Russian and really wanted to practice the 12words of English they knew. They shaved my belly & half my pubes with 10cent disposable razors. 'Twas one of the more awkward, ticklish and scratchy experiences of my life. I was wheeled into intensive care where the other patients were quite surprised to see a foreigner. A fellow who was quite out of it and restrained to his bed became a bit agitated and mumbled incoherently until they placed a screen between us. The anesthesiologist came in and gave my the epidural and I settled in for the next 8hours of paralysis. I waited there, dozing for an hour, before being wheeled into the operating room. Here I was disappointed because there was a screen between my head and the surgery so I couldn't watch. Nor was there a mirror nor camera. Very bummed. I had to entertain myself by listening to the doctors talking in Russian and learning to control the heartbeat/blood pressure monitor. Heartbeat is easy but blood pressure is a hard one. Be it old age or boredom I found it much more difficult to stay awake during the surgery than it was back in Japan. Surprised the hell out of me when I first saw smoke rising from the surgery area. Apparently the were using lasers or cauterizing something. If you want to see what this surgery is like you can watch videos on YouTube or GoogleVideos. Interesting, grisly stuff.