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Article Archive for Year 2005

Andy Kershaw in Turkmenistan
Written by , Saturday, 31 Dec, 2005 – 13:32 | One Comment

If anyone missed Andy Kershaw’s BBC Radio three Christmas day programme the link can be found to play on the BBC radio player here. Andy Kershaw is a world-renowned specialist on world music. His Christmas day programme featured an on location documentary from Turkmenistan. The programme features an extra large seasonal helping of traditional folk music from Turkmenistan. Music, I should imagine, that is unheard by many Western ears.

Kershaw’s radio documentary offers a realistic example of the difficulties facing a westerner travelling in Turkmenistan, let alone a BBC documentary maker, as his programme was organised by the government, he is minded at all times, and is advised not to leave the hotel in the evening. Instead he wiles away the evenings in his hotel reading the Rukhnama in the company of Americans from an oil company. The programme is less judgemental than the previous BBC on location World Service documentary (see previous post). Kershaw travels to the places on his itinerary meeting musicians while all the while constantly noting the omnipresence of Turkmenbashi. There is lots of discussion on the Rukhnama, Niyazov, public holidays and carpets. However there is a deeper and more insightful discussion on how music has been co-opted by the government to service the Turkmen national identity. Kershaw and his producer struggle to find more modern Turkmen music and musicians not in the service of fostering national identity. It is of course difficult for them as modern music tends to be illegal and considered ‘un Turkmen’ by the president. Nevertheless, it is a good programme and worth the listen if not to here some of the remarkable field recordings and the traditional Central Asian instrument, the dutar. The dutar is a two string pear-shaped long-necked lute which is considered to originally be from Western China, but is now widely played throughout Central Asia.

Reviewing 2005 in Central Asia: China wins on all scores
Written by , Wednesday, 28 Dec, 2005 – 0:06 | 4 Comments

by Zamir Chargynov

Introduction: Central Asia has witnessed two extremely important events in 2005, namely ‘Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan’ and ‘Andijan Upheaval in Uzbekistan’, the consequences of which decisively strengthened the Sino-Russian vector in foreign policies of Central Asian Republics.i On 4th of December 2005 there took place a 3rd major event, the Presidential Elections in Kazakhstan, which will end the year with many implications for the interests of the players of the Great Game over this strategic and oil-rich region of Inner Asia.

However, it has a particular significance for China, since the ‘peaceful re-election of Nazarbaev to the Kazakh Presidency’ consolidates the gains obtained so far as a result of two previous events and ensure the continuation of safe and uninterrupted energy supply as well as the stability in the neighbourhood of China’s restive Xinjiang for the forseeable future.

Moreover, taken together with this years’ enlargement and consolidation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the comfortable re-establishment of Nazarbaev into power marks the final development of a year favouring China’s interests in Central Asia.

Read the full story »

Women Power
Written by , Friday, 23 Dec, 2005 – 4:57 | One Comment

A successful World Bank project provides an uplifting story for a country stricken by poverty. Truly a remarkable account; here are some excerpts:
Read the full story »

Universal Tajikistan Atlas
Written by , Friday, 23 Dec, 2005 – 4:41 | No Comment

The World Bank just put out a very interesting and detailed atlas containing all sorts of demographic, health, education, economic information about Tajikistan by geographic region, in the form of a rather large PDF file.

This report will answer, in detail, questions like:

  • What are the poorest areas in Tajikistan?
  • Where would be the best place to build a farm?
  • Where are the most female-headed households?
  • What areas in Tajikistan are the most educated?

And much, much more.

Interior Minister Resigns, Andijan Trials Continue
Written by , Friday, 23 Dec, 2005 – 2:57 | 2 Comments

Curiouser and curiouser. Zokir Almatov has reportedly resigned as interior minister. Fergana.ru hails the departed minister thus:

He was a soldier and retired as one – a soldier who carried out orders of the first president.

Even when Almatov privately disagreed with some orders, he was soldier enough to carry them out first and discuss them later. And that is how things are supposed be done.

Attempts are made nowadays to pin the blame for what happened in Andizhan on Almatov. That’s a wrong approach because a soldier ordered to open up is first and foremost compelled to do so by the oath of loyalty. Emotions can wait until later, until old age and pension…”

The RFE/RL story states that Almatov’s replacement, Anvar Salihbaev, is one of the Uzbek officials on the EU’s visa blacklist (I assume the list is being amended). Salihbaev was also part of the tranche of Uzbek ambassadors who were recalled in the recent diplomatic reshuffle.

Interestingly, back in November defence minister Kadyr Gulyamov, also on the EU’s list of “we don’t like your sort around here”, was similarly cast out on his ear. Gulyamov’s successor, Ruslan Mirzaev, is also blacklisted by the EU.

Meanwhile, in the past two days nearly 80 people have been given sentences of 10-20 years for their involvement in the Andijon evenements. Incredibly, amongst other defendants are Uzbek officials and police accused of negligence in failing to deal with the initial jailbreak which triggered the tragic chain of events.

Sentiment on the ground seems clear: the SNB is getting away scot-free whilst others are scape-goated.

Germany’s Uzbekistan policy
Written by , Thursday, 22 Dec, 2005 – 18:23 | One Comment

Germany’s contingent of troops will stay in Uzbekistan, as Nathan reported some while ago. I held this post back as the German media tends either to overlook Central Asia and the German involvement in the region or comes up with valuable stories rather late.

Marcus Bensmann called the permission to stay an early Christmas present Tashkent gave to Berlin. Friedbert Pflüger, CDU politician in the Foreign Committee, in return promised the Uzbek government to carefully consider Karimov’s stance on events in Andijon earlier this year. What looks like a shady deal at first sight demands some more elaboration. Luckily, Pflüger was quick to respond to allegations that he traded ignorance towards human rights abuses for a military base. As directnews reports (my translation):

The German government was not blackmailed because of Termez, assured Pflüger. About a week ago, he met with the Uzbek government and reached an agreement, according to which Tashkent will not carry out on an earlier threat to withdraw overflight rights for some EU countries. Germany will also be able to further use Termez as a supply base [for its Afghanistan operations]. Pflüger said that he assured Tashkent that the Uzbek view of events in Andijon will be be considered in a fair manner. One could for example, under the chairmanship of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung or the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, set up a “round table”, on which Tashkent could articulate its point of view on the events [in Andijon in March].

Pflüger said, it is important to revive the dialogue [with Uzbekistan]. Germany and the EU have no interest in isolating Uzbekistan in a similar fashion than Belorussia, so that it would have to focus all foreign policy toward Moscow. He told this President Karimov. The German delegation did not depart from the official EU-line in demanding an independent enquiry. “There is no deal along the lines Termes against Interior Minister [referring to the recent visa for Almatow] or departing from the official EU-policy towards Uzbekistan”

20 Years ago today…
Written by , Thursday, 22 Dec, 2005 – 13:31 | One Comment

Yesterday saw the 20th anniversary of Saparmurat Niyazov coming to power in Turkmenistan. On the 21st of December 1985 Saparmurat Niyazov was appointed First Secretary of the Turkmenistan Republican Communist Party. Mikhail Gorbachev, who was in the process of turning over the elites and leaders of Central Asia who had been in power for decades during the Brezhnev era, appointed him. Gorbachev wanted fresh blood and new faces in the Central Asian Republics to push through his reforms of perestroika. In 1985 Niyazov represented a generational change from his predecessor Mukhamednazar Gapurov who had served as Turkmen Fist Secretary since 1969.

Niyazov had a steady rise throughout the party. In 1980 he was appointed secretary for industry before becoming the first secretary of the Ashgabat city organisation. It was during this period that he built and consolidated his power base in Ashgabat. In 1984 he became an ideological instructor for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee. It was during this time that he gained a reputation of loyalty to Moscow which would serve him well in his next appointment which was chairman of the Turkmen Council of Ministers. It was soon after this that Niyazov got the top job in Turkmenistan, First Secretary.

Niyazov was first elected president of Turkmenistan by popular vote on October 27th 1990. He became president of a Sovereign independent country when the Soviet Union broke up in December 1991. Niyazov went to the polls again in June 1992 and obtained classic Soviet levels of support gaining 99.5% of the vote. It was the first and last time a presidential election had been held in independent Turkmenistan.

Niyazov stands at the epicentre of the political system in Turkmenistan and sometimes it is difficult to remember that he wasn’t always the omnipresent leader staring out from bottles of vodkas or portraits on the wall. He was a communist party bureaucrat, an apparatchik, who came to power through an institution that shaped his ideas, beliefs and career route. He wasn’t the institutional manipulator that we perceive him as today where he is viewed as someone who can decree laws, ignore parliament and alter the constitution. Communist institutions, in fact, shaped Niyazov.

Nevertheless the anniversary marks a significant milestone in the history of Turkmenistan. The state news agency, Turkmendowlethabarlary, issued a special commentary to mark the occasion.

“By historic measurements 20 years are just a moment in the continuous sequence of centuries and millenniums that change each other according to the eternal law of the universe, the commentary says in particular. It happened that, apart from this law, there is also a humane dimension with its own reference points and peculiar parameters. By the will of the same fortune this seemingly short period of time can be compared to the epoch by its importance for the Turkmen people, for it was during these years that our life changed once and forever. Twenty years have been enough for a new generation to grow and get firmly established on the Turkmen soil, and for a new state, independent Turkmenistan, to appear on the world map.”

Crime Wave or No Crime Wave?
Written by , Thursday, 22 Dec, 2005 – 12:32 | No Comment

A crime wave has reportedly hit Turkmenistan. According to IWPR, there has been a significant rise in muggings and burglaries over the last 35 days. Some are arguing that this is due to the thousands of prisoners amnestied by the president which was timed to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan earlier this year. An IWPR source in Ashgabat has claimed from those arrested in recent weeks 80% come from the 8000 prisoners who were released in October. Here is the full IWPR report:

Crime is on the rise in Turkmenistan, with some blaming the thousands of prisoners amnestied by the president, while others say the dire state of the economy is the cause.

A police source said that the incidence of muggings and burglaries has leapt in recent weeks, with 80 per cent of those arrested coming from the group of 8,000 prisoners released in October under the annual amnesty granted by President Saparmurat Niazov, better known as Turkmenbashi.

“In the last 35 days alone, the number of offences was equivalent to the number committed over six months of last year. That’s quite a high figure,” said the source, who did not want to be identified.

The prisoner amnesty, which began in 1999, is timed to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan each year. The majority of the 12,000 people held in prison are let out, with only political prisoners and those sentenced for economic crimes and major theft of state property ineligible for release.

That means drug traffickers, burglars and muggers are released back into a largely unsympathetic society that has little interest in helping them readjust.

Though Turkmenbashi has ordered that jobs should be found for those “who have repented for their deeds to help them to adapt to normal life, so they do not feel themselves to be outcasts and do not wish to return to their former ways”, that has not happened.

“We waited for our son to get out with such joy,” said Maiya Ashirovna. “He returned with the genuine desire to start a new life, to go and work and start a family. But a month has gone by, and we still can’t find a job for him. Everywhere when people find out that he has a previous conviction, they find any excuse to refuse him. He doesn’t even get hired for the lowest paid work, although he has higher education.”

This case is not an exception but rather the norm, say former prisoners. When applying for a state job, forms need to be filled out containing questions about any prior convictions. They say if the answer is “yes”, then the chances of getting the job is minimal.

“If even ‘normal’ people can’t find work, who’s going to get involved with former thieves and drug dealers,” said 30-year-old Merdan who was amnestied in 2004 and has been unable to find work since.

“We are practically forced to return to our former environment, and what else can we do? We have to feed ourselves and our families. So we continue to do what we used to be good at doing: stealing and selling drugs.”

The majority of amnestied prisoners in Turkmenistan were jailed for drug-related crimes. They received no treatment while inside, and there is nothing is available to help them adapt to their new lives outside.

“There are no centres for rehabilitating released prisoners in the country. No work is conducted at all on adapting amnestied prisoners to the conditions of life outside prison,” one member of a non-government organisation told IWPR.

The high level of unemployment among released prisoners is contributing to the current crime wave.

In one Ashgabat apartment block, drug addicts stole the electricity meter, leaving the building without power for five days. A week later the telephone cable was stolen and for two weeks the phones didn’t work. “They steal everything they can take away and sell,” a resident said.

There has been an increase in muggings of elderly people on the day they receive their pensions. Some thieves pretend to be neighbours who want to use the telephone, then attack the pensioners and steal their money

“One pensioner I know let a man live in her apartment for some extra money,” said a social worker. “He had just been amnestied and had come to look for work. The man lived with her for two weeks, and on the day that she received her pension he killed her, closed the apartment door and left.”

Police have responded to the situation by urging people not to open their doors to strangers and are making regular checks on those who live alone.

An Ashgabat policeman told IWPR that amnestied prisoners living in his district are summoned for questioning as soon as a crime is committed.

“From year to year the criminal situation after the amnesty gets worse, the released prisoners are unable to find work, and there is a drastically increase in the number of drug addicts. In this situation I don’t even know what’s better, amnesty or a full term of punishment,” he said.

There is no mention of rising crime levels on the heavily censored television news or in the newspapers. At the end of October, Turkmenbashi announced confidently that the country’s streets were safe and its amnestied prisoners gainfully employed.

Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, are ordered to reduce crime figures “by dozens of times” in reports to higher authorities.

“We don’t have the right to say that at the moment a crime wave is sweeping Turkmenistan,” said Ashir, who works for the police.

“We were given an order from the top to gently warn citizens to be more cautious and not to open their doors to strangers – but not to say that the situation is close to an emergency, and that all police departments are working overtime.”

How Free are NewEurasia Countries?
Written by , Wednesday, 21 Dec, 2005 – 22:12 | No Comment

Freedom House just released their Freedom in the World 2006 report, along with an article summarizing and evaluating the results for the entire world. While the picture is optimistic for the world as a whole, NewEurasia’s countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) fared rather poorly.

In Uzbekistan, state violence against demonstrators, the repression of civil society, and an overall decline in human rights conditions during the past year was sufficiently pronounced to warrant a decline in the country’s Freedom in the World score to the lowest possible rating. Only eight countries worldwide earned a similar status as the worst of the worst, and two, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are in Central Asia.

Depressingly, a fourth of the world’s most repressed countries (or the world’s worst “hell holes,� in one editorial from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal) are located in Central Asia, joining Cuba, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, and Burma.

Among the countries covered by NewEurasia, there are no countries considered to be free, 42% considered partly free (Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan), and 58% not free. Of those not free, two are among the eight most repressed countries in the world, meaning that about 42% of the total population of Central Asia and the Caucuses live under the harshest, most oppressive, and least free regimes in the world.

For comparison, in the world as a whole, 46% of all countries are deemed free, 30% partly free, and 24% not free. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 23% are free, 48% partly free, and 29% not free. In the Middle East and North Africa, 6% are considered free, 33% partly free, and 61% not free.

The picture is not completely dark, however. Kyrgyzstan showed improvement both in political rights, and civil liberties, pushing it into the “partly free� category. Georgia strengthened its scorecard in regard to civil liberties, and remains a head and shoulders above the rest of the region in overall score. The next best scores are Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, both of whom received a ranking of 5 in political rights, and 4 in civil liberties (with 1 being the best, and 7 the worst). Georgia was rated 3 in both criteria.

Perhaps Kazakhstan’s economic success and Tajikistan’s plan for development will bring improvements in the coming years.

Tajik Economy Grows
Written by , Wednesday, 21 Dec, 2005 – 19:26 | No Comment

The Tajikistan government reports a 6% increase in GDP between January and November 2005. This is a decrease from growth rates hovering around 10% in the last couple years (World Bank data), but still stronger than 4.4% in 2004 for Uzbekistan (CIA World Factbook), and about equal with Krgyzstan.