Friday, March 28, 2008

It's been a week since Ilyas Shurpaev's death. There are 720 messages on his page now. And 241 on his last blog post. Rest in peace, Ilyas. That's what most of them say, more or less.

Channel 1, for which he worked, is a shithole. After watching part of their Sunday newscast, a dear friend made a comment that totally broke my heart: their coverage is so outrageous, so full of crap, and because of that, Shurpaev deserves no pity. Something along those lines.

There's a number of nasty comments on Shurpaev's blog, too, but it's easy to ignore them. Most seem to deal with the fact that he was Muslim and non-Russian.

But when someone you know well and love a lot switches into that ruthless LJ mode when talking to you in person - knowing full well how you feel - it does hurt.

And Shurpaev, someone I've never met and read only occasionally, felt like a friend.

Internet is such a strange place.


I really regret having never commented on any of Shurpaev's posts.

And I still can't forgive myself for not smiling to papa when I saw him for the last time in my life.

It's so easy, to leave a comment and to smile, isn't it.


On the day Shurpaev was killed, I explained to Marta that I was feeling very sad - and, can you believe it, she looked at me as if she understood and told me that she loved me. And later, when I cried watching a news report about him, she told me she adored me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

(Another test post - it's not working too smoothly, but I'll get used eventually, I hope.)

Russian answer to the "Americans are NOT stupid" video :)

tags: kinda funny, rus, video

dmitrivrubel: Ramzan Kadyrov's motorcade

tags: Chechnya, Kadyrov, kinda funny, rus, video

(A test post - I'm trying to switch from Facebook's Posted Items to something more public and am testing Diigo now.)

Марк Григорян - Стамбульский аэропорт

tags: Armenia, Istanbul, Russia, rus

A comment (RUS) by an Armenian on Russians at Istanbul airport... :)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'm very upset about Ilyas Shurpaev's death. I've been reading his blog on and off for about half a year - some of the stuff he wrote was funny, some insightful, and he seemed like a truly wonderful person. In a way, it's like losing a friend.

I've finally finished a translation on his murder - it was tough. I spent some time re-reading his blog, and some posts were still making me smile - even though my heart kept sinking.

Here's the Global Voices text:

Russia: Two Dagestani Journalists Killed

Ilyas Shurpaev, a 32-year-old TV journalist and blogger (LJ user shurpaev), was found strangled in the apartment he was renting in Moscow Friday. (More detailed English-language media accounts of the murder are here.)

A native of Dagestan, Shurpaev had been based in Makhachkala until very recently, covering the Caucasus region for the state-owned Channel One. (A Sept. 2007 Global Voices translation featuring his observations on the situation in Ingushetia is here.) He transferred to Channel One's Moscow office a month ago.

Timur Aliev - LJ user timur_aliev, a journalist and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov's aide - wrote this (RUS) about Shurpaev:

[...] He was an excellent guy - witty, communicative. Lots of fun stuff on his blog - yesterday, by the way, he wrote a lot there. We knew each other mainly through LJ. Though we did run into each other once in real life - at a seminar in [Nalchik]. And for the New Year's, he sent us some gifts, through friends from Makhachkala. It's been hardly a month since he moved to Moscow, and we were congratulating him in LJ on the new job location. He had been covering all kinds of things in his native Dagestan (explosions, terrorist acts, warfare) and nothing had happened to him. And in Moscow, he got killed...

Oleg Panfilov - LJ user oleg_panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations - wrote this (RUS):

Ilyas had a book in him. And, perhaps, even more than one. He was very talented, his blog was, I think, one of the best ones in my [feed]. I recommended it to many people, although sometimes I had a problem with his loose style and "salty" words...

Most likely, they attempted to rob him, but they didn't take his laptop. I don't think it was a work-related murder, because Ilyas was a rare journalist who did the most serious stories solidly and neutrally. Sometimes, when we got together in Makhachkala, we talked about propaganda, and Ilyas, who understood perfectly well what kind of place he was working at [state TV], was making it clear that he was trying hard to avoid propaganda cliches. And he was successful in doing that...

The following exchange on Shurpaev's professionalism (RUS) took place in the comments section to Panfilov's post:


[...] he... was... a good journalist. [...]


Then what was he doing at Channel One if he was a good journalist? In Russia, it is now practically impossible to be an honest journalist if you don't have your work published in the oppositional mass media.


This opinion, of course, is legitimate, too, but, first, the oppositional media also frequently have problems with objectivity, and second, the number of honest journalists and "honest" media is not the same.


I'm sorry, but this doesn't mean anything. To be a good journalist, it's enough not to be a frenzied journalist. Basically, a good journalist can work practically anywhere, as long as [he/she] is considerate and diligent.

Here is a comment (RUS) Shurpaev made on March 3 about his work and the Russian presidential election, which took place the previous day:

Watched our programming yesterday. I'm so happy I'm here in Abkhazia now, on a work trip, and am not taking part in this bacchanalia. Thanks for your attention.

Shurpaev's last blog entry (RUS) has received much attention both in the Russian blogosphere and in the media. In it, he wrote that he'd been "blacklisted" by a Dagestani newspaper critical of the republic's president:

Here we go! I'm a [dissident] now! Not sure if I should laugh or cry. I already wrote here that there's a battle going on at one Dagestani paper between its journalists and founders. The latter, according to the journalists, wanted to use them as informational killers. The potential killers [the journalists] rebelled. But all this business is way too serious and I don't understand it. But here's what blew me away. The founders came up with a list of people who it's forbidden to publish in this paper, mention them or [...] even interact with them in the newspaper's building. And there I am, in the front row! Heading the list! The funniest thing is that I've never written anything subversive for this paper - only notes on my travels, in which I did not touch upon the political situation in Zimbabwe, but just describe where I'd been, what I'd eaten and who I'd seen. I haven't taken part in the political life of the republic [Dagestan] or even of my region, because I'm lazy and, in general, I had to go to the gym and take my daughter to the movies and to the playground. And then boom! Such a turn of events... Perpaps the [newspaper's] founders know something about me that I do not know myself? Maybe I should do the "suitcase-train station-Israel" thing, so as not to become a second [Khodorkovsky]? Anyways. Matilda [a frequent anonymous addressee of Shurpaev's blog postings]! Knit me some woolen socks. Just in case. The size is 43 1/2. [...]

Among other individuals on the newspaper's "black list" was Gadzhi Abashilov, head of Dagestan's state TV. Around 8 PM on Friday, Abashilov was shot dead in the republic's capital, Makhachkala.

Timur Aliev posted some thoughts (RUS) on this murder as well:

The second murder of a Dagestani journalist in two days - now, following Ilyas Shurpaev (in Moscow), Gadzhi Abashilov has been killed in Makhachkala.

I don't know whether these two murders are connected. But here's one version (I do not possess any insider information whatsoever). Abashilov was a pro-government journalist, a media bureaucrat - head of the "Dagestan" [State TV and Radio Company]. Ilyas [Shurpaev] could have also been perceived to have ties with the government - because he worked for [state-owned Channel One] - the main federal channel. Both were on some list of journalists who had been banned from being published and mentioned in an independent (and, lately, more of an oppositional) Dagestani newspaper. Thus, they were both identified more like pro-government people.

This leads to two conclusions (of course, only in case these two murders originate from the same source) - either the opposition is retaliating, or someone wants to compromise the opposition - namely, [Suleiman Kerimov] (who has been mentioned as the newspaper's sponsor). [...]

According to media reports on the ongoing investigation, the killings of Shurpaev and Abashilov are not connected.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Over at Global Voices, there are 36 comments on a tiny item about that weird conflict between Greece and Macedonia (aka FYROM) - and 33 comments on a lovely roundup of the bloggers' views on the issue, written by Elia Varela Serra.

It's scary: nearly 70 comments, and some of them are pretty lengthy.

At the end of Elia's piece, there's one blogger's wonderful proposal "to add meaningful descriptive adjectives" to other countries' names - and some examples:

“Smallish Republic of Montenegro” (SROCG)
“Kinda Democratic Republic of Serbia” (KDROS)
“Democratic Federal and Sometimes Confederal Republic of Three Equal Constituent People and Nobody Else of Bosnia and Herzegovina” (DFSCRTECPNEBH)

People with a sense of humor are just so precious.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two more Istanbul pics...

For some reason, I keep thinking of what a Georgian cab driver told me about Abkhazia a week or so ago: he'd do anything to keep it as part of Georgia, even if it meant he'd have to elect Vladimir Zhirinovsky as Georgia's president for a whole year!


And now I also can't stop thinking of the Ukrainian police guy who got killed in Kosovo:

The policeman from Ukraine was identified as 25-year old Ihor Kynal, deployed to Kosovo last years as part of a special police unit. He died of injuries suffered from a hand grenade thrown by a protester during Monday's clashes -- the worst violence in Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia a month ago.

"He basically bled to death," said Larry Wilson, the top U.N. police official in Kosovo. "Because of the gunfire it took us almost two and a half hours to evacuate him."

So very sad.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A few more pics from Istanbul:

Monday, March 17, 2008

We are back to Moscow. Nothing has changed here. This strange new season that can't decide whether it's winter or spring is still here. Judging by the weather forecast and the thick shield of clouds that we've seen from the plane, it's not going anywhere. It's raining, and it's snowing. In Istanbul, on the other hand, everything is in bloom, and the city seems like the happiest place in the world.

When I was a kid, Yalta was my Istanbul every year in March: three weeks of bliss (mixed with some tennis-related tortures). I was conceived in Yalta, too, and there're also a few drops of Mediterranean blood passed to me from both my papa and my mama - so that may explain my nearly total aversion to the northern climate.

And weather, of course, isn't the only thing I love about Istanbul - but right now it's the weather that makes the hugest difference.


Here's Marta, hanging out at a suzani shop at Grand Bazaar:

And some more stuff from the same day:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Polar bears, the Whirling Dervishes, Virgin Mary, Jesus, St. Nicholas, Ganesh, football players... all made of silver, I suppose... sold at a store nearby... :)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I've changed so much: in Istanbul, it's much more important for me now to locate nice playgrounds for Marta than it is to spend the day running around the city like crazy, taking pictures of pretty much everything I see.

So far, the best place to take Marta for a walk is Ortaköy, even though it's very far from Sultanahmet and requires a switch from tramway to a cab in Kabataş. But there's a nice gözleme place there, in addition to a neat and lively playground, and gözleme has so far been the only meat dish that Marta agrees to eat: she's convinced herself that the minced meat inside the pastry is actually some kind of berries, and she demands to be taken there to eat what she calls "seba-katenya" in her funny (but ever-improving) language.

("Seba" is bread, "katenya" is berries. She finds it difficult to pronounce the "kh" sound - and this is why khleb sounds like "seba" - and my last name sounds like Syasyova. "Katenya" is from the dacha period - this is how she used to call kalina at first, but then extended the name to all berries.)

Internet connection in our room is very frustrating this time - I'm writing from the lobby now - but here's one picture of something that I can really relate to:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Marta at Sheremetyevo:

We're in Istanbul.

Friday, March 07, 2008

I feel like I'm trapped inside a huge snowball, rolling downhill at a breakneck speed. I feel the way I felt last summer, when every little disaster later turned out to be a prelude to something bigger.

But we're going to Istanbul next week, all three of us. I guess I should thank the Finns and the Italians for that - but no, I won't. Well, okay, it's not such a big deal: thank you.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Well, at least Marta is happy: she's got her new puppy somewhat sooner than she was supposed to.


I'm well aware that we are not the first ones to get a kick in the ass, nor are we the last ones, unfortunately.

Most of the visa trouble stories I remember have to do with the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, and they are pretty old.

There was one guy from Cherkassy, for example, who almost got a rejection stamped into his passport - because there was a person with the same first and last names on the embassy's "black list" - and they initially hadn't bothered to check his patronymic and date of birth as well, despite the fact that his name was a pretty ubiquitous Ukrainian name.

There was also a friend who had received very good education in the States and was about to start on a very good internship, but something got into her and she decided to come back to Ukraine for about a month, to see her family and get a new passport, but then she was grounded, because the embassy wouldn't re-issue her a visa. She's one of the brightest people I know, so she's doing very well in Ukraine now and is free to travel anywhere she likes, including the United States. But some of the heartbreak she and her family had been through because of some silly fart at the consulate deserves being described in a short story or something.

To be fair, I've never had any problems with my visas so far, mashaallah, but my case isn't too typical because I've only been traveling to Turkey since around 2001. But I do know plenty of people in both Russia and Ukraine who travel a lot and for whom everything has been going very smoothly.

And there are, of course, all those reverse visa stories: our labor migrants, zarobitchany.

I've just done a quick search, and here's one of the relevant stories in English, a 1-year-old BusinessWeek reprint from the Transitions Online - How Labor Migration Is Changing Ukraine, by Kerstin Zimmer:

[...] In contrast, labor migration to the countries of the European Union receives much more attention, thanks not only to its considerable extent but also to its distinct features and relative novelty. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry estimated several years ago that about 300,000 Ukrainians worked in Poland, 200,000 in Italy, up to 200,000 in the Czech Republic, 200,000 in Spain, and 150,000 in Portugal.

In all these countries, they have only limited opportunities to work legally, despite some recent legal changes, legalization campaigns, and intergovernmental agreements. [...]

Labor migration isn't just about visa violations, of course - it's an extremely complex issue, and the BW/TOL piece does deal with that.

But if you look at it from a very narrow - and slanted - perspective, it suddenly begins to appear as if zarobitchany are a more privileged class of travelers than mere tourists like Mishah. Which is an awful generalization, of course. And it would be wrong to generalize it even further by arguing that the law-abiding citizens who end up having their vacation plans screwed should blame their enterprising and not always honest expat compatriots for it.

Anyway, what's truly upsetting about it is that the silly visa regime prevents some of us from thinking of foreign travel as something natural (buy a ticket, book a hotel, pack and go ahead) - and it also fails to justify its existence by more or less failing to prevent illegal labor migration.

Though, the latter, perhaps, is only natural - no one would bother trying to squeeze through the borders to work as nannies and cleaning ladies if there were no demand.

It's horrible to think about it this way, but Kuchma's prostitution-in-Italy analogy, cited in the BW/TOL piece, seems to work at some level - even though he probably meant it literally:

[...] Several years ago Ukraine's then-president, Leonid Kuchma, referred to Ukrainian women working in Italy as prostitutes. [...]
Mishah is very angry.

His blog entry on what's happened is here (RUS). The language he's using isn't too gentle, but he's been through so much crap today, plus he's a Scorpio, so I wouldn't judge him too harshly.

Here's my translation of the essence of his post:


[...] [The Finns] didn't allow me to enter the EU because I had been planning to spend most of the time in Italy, not [in Finland]. Judging by the papers that I've signed - they are banning me more or less forever. At some point, I felt like asking for a lawyer and for a Ukrainian-language interpreter - something that was totally my right - but I wasn't too excited about the prospect of spending a couple nights at an airport quarter the size of Sheremetyevo, especially considering the exhaustion of the past few weeks. [...]

Also, here's an informative comment by LJ user remetalk, an award-winning St. Pete photographer Sergei Maximishin - whose wonderful work you can see here:

Oooooo, how relevant! For the past week, I've been going to the Italian consulate as if it's my job, bringing them [all kinds of] papers. The gallery that's inviting me for an exhibition in Milan is already [sick] of sending faxes. Today they've told me everything is almost okay, and all I have to do now is come to the consulate tomorrow and show [them] 270 euros. According to some calculations of their, this is exactly how much I need in order not to starve in Italy [during my 5-day stay]. [...]

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mishah is back home. He has spent two hours in a cab (to and from Sheremetyevo) - and three hours on a plane (to and from Helsinki) - bought me a book about Anton Chekhov's niece (The Mystery of Olga Chekhova, by Antony Beevor), a toy puppy for Marta, a sixpack of Finnish beer (or two, or even three, I don't know) - and got fingerprinted, among other humiliating things. The way it appears now, he is barred from entering the Schengen Zone for the next three years.

Fucking assholes.
Around 9 AM today, Mishah left for a three-day corporate get-together in Rome. He was flying via Helsinki, because he had a Finnish Schengen visa. He did not have an Italian visa, because the Italian embassy in Moscow wouldn't give it to him because he's a Ukrainian citizen, and he had no time to go back to Kyiv and apply for a visa there.

Around 3 PM, he called me and said that the Finns weren't letting him proceed on his way to Rome, so he'd be flying back to Moscow later tonight.

Needless to say, both he and I are pretty upset. Actually, I'm pretty furious.

Mishah has never been to Rome and was looking forward to it. I had asked him to bring me a Riccardo Fogli CD, and perhaps something from the Vatican. Not that I really need any of it, but it would've been nice. Marta had requested a dog, but it's okay, we'll buy her yet another one here.

His flight back to Moscow is at 8 PM. He's at the Helsinki airport now, drinking beer and buying books in English for me.

I asked him why he decided not to spend the night in Helsinki - and he said that the Finns weren't allowing him to enter their country, either.

There are too many points to bitch about here, and I could go on bitching for the next few hours, until Mishah's back home. But it's all too obvious, so I'm not gonna bother.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Putin and Medvedev: "Together we shall win!"

I took this picture on Sunday, March 2, at Okhotnyi Ryad; the ad is posted on what used to be Hotel Moskva.

Now, could someone please explain something to me. I've always thought that it was illegal to keep this kind of election campaign ads up until the election day - but Article 45 of the Russian election law seems to allow it:

3. Printed campaign ad materials (leaflets, posters, etc.) previously displayed outside buildings and premises of election commissions in accordance with a procedure set forth in the federal law shall remain in place on the voting day.

Why did I assume it was illegal?

P.S. I really love the term "DIMAkratiya" - thank you, Anonymous, for bringing it up in the comments section to the previous post!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A few notes on the coverage of the situation in Yerevan...

In an earlier copy of this New York Times piece, there was this line:

In some neighborhoods, drunken gangs began looting, breaking through glass storefronts.

Reminded me of Belgrade, so I wrote to one of my dear Armenian friends, and here's part of what she wrote back:

They are attacking all the [places] owned by the Sargsyan's and Kocharyan's crew, setting things on fire etc.

And some more from her:

I have been screaming about it all over the place hahaha

You're right its exactly what i was talking about with my friends today - the fact that they don't mention that the attacks are targeted.

It won't be that easy to understand the pattern of attacks for a simple observer because all these places are owned by oligarchs such as " Lfik Samo" who are directly connected to Kocharyan/Serj. My close friend who is participating in all of this told me today that they even looted the President's son's store and destroyed it. So the NYT def. portrays it very incorrectly.

The NYT piece seems to have been edited somewhat now:

Rioters carrying pipes and stones set fire to dozens of cars, smashed windows, and, in one area, looted alcohol and food.


The officers withdrew from the crowded areas toward midnight, leaving strange scenes in the moonlight. An elaborately decorated cake was atop an upside-down car; loaves of bread spilled out of an open trunk of a car on its side. Drunken men gobbled up expensive chocolates.

"The owner of this store is a very bad person," said Arsen Sarkisyan, 20, who was walking out with a bag of sour cream containers."

They seem to be getting closer, but not quite.

Here's some more from my friend:

I was on the phone with my best friend who is a micro-surgeon in one of the hospitals she says that they have been working non-stop with people with gun shot wounds and that the press is def. underestimating the number of victims.


CNN reports that nine people have been killed in clashes last night - eight civilians and one police officer.

So very sad...