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Article Archive for Year 2007

Almaty, Dream Destination?
Written by , Wednesday, 12 Dec, 2007 – 8:08 | 6 Comments

Translated post by Adam from the Russian-language blog.

Almaty is going to become a new international tourist hotspot, says Wall Street Journal. It has been listed by the tourist business professionals among such dream destinations as Vietnam, San-Paulo, the Caribbeans and Seychelles, Mauritius and Abu-Dhabi. Kazakhstan, known on the West as one of the “wild Stans”, homeland for Borat and horse sausages, ca hardly be compared to all of the abovementioned places – climate is not great too – summers can be brutally hot, winters extremely cold. But the construction of the first Ritz-Carlton hotel in Central Asia here testifies to the opposite, experts say.

Simon Cooper, one of the top-managers of Ritz-Carlton group believes a trip to Kazakhstan could be captivating, complete with tours of historic cathedrals, shopping for designer clothes and alpine skiing. His company is viewing involvement in Kazakhstan as primarily to targeted on business travelers, but he says he hopes it will one day appeal to the leisure market, too.

Cooper says Ritz-Carlton first drew its attention to Kazakhstan in 2004, noting the country’s fast-growing gross domestic product and booming oil industry. A bit later, the group worked with the Kazakh developers Capital Partners in Moscow. At the presentation of exceptionally expensive Ritz-Carlton hotel – just one minute of walk from the Red Square – the Kazakhs made a pitch to Ritz-Carlton and Marriott that the country’s business capital of Almaty made it ripe territory for something similar.

Then Cooper learned that the architect Robert A.M. Stern was redoing a dilapidated ski resort near Almaty – by the way, again for the Capital Partners. This, he says, was a good sign that the country’s developments were moving in the right direction. A visit to Almaty has finally persuaded him:

“During the flight out, he met financial consultants sitting next to him. Newsstands sold the Economist and the Financial Times. Driving into town from the airport, he passed a Mercedes dealership”, he says.

A Ritz-Carlton hotel will be built in a classic style in the downtown of Almaty, corner of Furmanov and Bogenbai Streets.

The Beginning of the End of Illusions?
Written by , Tuesday, 11 Dec, 2007 – 18:54 | 5 Comments

[inspic=19,left,,0]The Radio Free Europe 5th November service published Gulnoza Saidazimova’s article entitled “Turkmenistan: A New Obstacle for Access to the Airwaves”. Unlike what the title suggests, the text is not just about President Berdymukhammedov’s last speech in which he ordered that satellite dishes be removed from all Ashgabat houses. The article also contains a broader reflection on the internal policy of the Turkmen leader. In order to present the message of the article, let me quote its lead which gives a good summary:

Since taking over this year, new Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been viewed hopefully as a possible reformer who might open up one of the world’s most repressive societies. But a new order to remove all private satellite dishes from homes in Ashgabat — which critics say could block access to independent information — is quickly tarnishing that image.

The article made me ask myself a question to which I cannot find an answer. Is the West really so naive as to believe in liberal views of a man who was indoctrinated by the Soviet propaganda for several dozens of years and later participated in creating of one of the most repressive regimes in the world? Can reinstatement of pensions and 10-year schools or abolition of the daily obligation to pledge allegiance to the president be viewed as liberal moves?

This resembles the Western commentators’ attitude towards Vladimir Putin in the first years of his rule. He was depicted as a liberal reformer who would change Russia and open it up to the West. And what was the result? From a relatively liberal country that Russia used to be during Yeltsin’s rule it was transformed into an authoritarian country ruled by the secret service agents, gradually shutting itself away and dreaming of the return to “Soviet grandeur”. Similar opinions are expressed today about Dmitri Medvedev, whom Putin indicated as his successor. However, when writing about Putin-the-liberal, no one asked a simple question: can a former KGB officer (although “there are no former ones” as Russians like to say) be a liberal?

The same question should be posed in relation to Berdymukhammedov. Can a man who completed a Soviet university, spent half of his life at the court of Turkmenbashi as his faithful servant and never travelled abroad for more than a few days be a liberal? I would risk to say that he does not even know what liberalism really means and what values it promotes. Therefore, it seems strange that some people really believe that Berdymukhammedov could liberalize the system. They later become disillusioned, like the Russian human rights activist Oleg Panfilov, who was quoted by the author of the article as saying:

I am becoming more and more confident that Berdymukhammedov is not a liberal at all.

Did he need to hear the Turkmen President’s speech on satellite dishes in order to understand that?

I think that this way of thinking about Berdymukhammedov may lead to a sudden deterioration of relations between the Western countries and Turkmenistan. The West still grants him a credit of confidence, taking the sham measures of liberalisation at face value. But when the Western countries finally realize that this has nothing to do with democratization, they will start criticizing Turkmenistan, first mildly and later with increasing harshness. What will be the result? Berdymukhammedov – like Islam Karimov or Nursultan Nazarbaev did in the past – will feel offended by the West and choose to cooperate with Russia and China. Why? Because for him liberalization and democratization is what we now see happening in Turkmenistan. He knows no other liberalization and can’t even imagine it.

Santa Saga 2…
Written by , Tuesday, 11 Dec, 2007 – 15:02 | 6 Comments

Following on from Sweco’s tongue-in-cheek conclusion that it’s time for Santa Claus to up sticks from Lapland and move to Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz Tourist Board is capitalising on this arguably apolitical claim to fame: They’ve launched a competition, which runs until December 20, to find Santa Claus in the republic’s mountains.

As Akbar Dzhigitov of the Kyrgyz Tourist Board is quoted as saying,

“The state tourism agency always knew that Father Christmas lived here and finally Swedish scientists have proved it” [...] “We have a lot of work ahead of us since Kyrgyzstan really wants to be recognised as the true home of Father Christmas,” better known in predominantly Sunni Muslim Kyrgyzstan as “Grandfather Frost,” Dzhigitov said.

It has to be said that if it was, say, April 1, rather than mid-December, it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise; somehow the words “Father Christmas / Ded Moroz” and “Sunni Muslim” are not entirely natural bedfellows even before Kyrgyzstan is added to the mix – it’s like a bizarre game of consequences.

That said, I’m enjoying the good-natured humour of the situation and, while there’s no such thing as bad publicity, it makes a change for international news coverage of Kyrgyzstan not to be linked to political crises for once, so let’s enjoy it in all its frivolity.

If anyone is tempted to enter the Santa-tracking competition, then this map might help as a starting point (based on these coordinates), but given that Santa might still be based in Lapland this year, it could be quite a wild goose chase.

Open Letter to Political Parties: A Bright Future – But Not for Women or the Law?
Written by , Monday, 10 Dec, 2007 – 9:21 | 9 Comments

The election campaign is in full swing, and all over Kyrgyzstan posters and billboards are promising a bright future for the country and its population. However, between the 12 parties currently running for Parliament, it is often difficult to get a grasp of what their actual political platform is. Slogans are a fine thing indeed – but one can easily understand the frustration among many Kyrgyzstanis at the fact that few parties offer a cohesive program – apart from being for a bright future, which fairly obviously no political party would ever be against. The question is if this bright future will also include women – and how we will get there.

Kyrgyzstan is facing numerous challenges in the sphere of human rights. I wish to lay one of them on the table for the readers of Vecherniy Bishkek, and challenge the 12 political parties now competing to lead this country to state what their stand on this issue really is. The issue is bride-kidnapping.

A couple of months ago, I learned of an incident involving a young Kyrgyz girl that saddened me greatly. Out of respect for the family, I will not reveal her name, or the name of her village. It started as a seemingly common occurence – on a day in early October, a girl was kidnapped for marriage. In order to escape the situation, this particular girl told her captor she was not a virgin, and was allowed to leave. However, she soon became the victim of gossip in the village, and experienced immense psychological pressure from friends and family to marry. A few days later she was found in her neighbour’s barn. She had hung herself. In her pocket was a note, that read “Please tell my father I am still a virgin. I hope I am going to a peaceful place now.” Read the full story »

Ask the Celebrity: Jantemir Baimukhamedov
Written by , Monday, 10 Dec, 2007 – 8:54 | 2 Comments

Neweurasia-Kazakhstan’s project “Ask the Celebrity” aroused huge interest of the Kazakhstani blogosphere. Lots of questions arrived to neweurasia, addressed to Jantemir Baimukhamedov, a.k.a. Jantik. We thank all bloggers, who took part in the pilot project!

MUSIC

- Jantemir, you started in 1990s with Fridays [Beatles-fan rock-n-roll band]. It has been wonderful young time with improvised concerts on the streets and parks. Now you have a professional high-paid band. Don’t you miss the Fridays time? Why did you quit that band?

- I do miss that time and Fridays. By the way, this year is a ten-year anniversary of our first hits – Credit Card and You Were Asking Me. In the nearest future we plan to shoot a tribute video on our song You Were Asking Me, in which all members of Fridays will be involved.

I quit the band due to divergence of opinions towards creative growth and discipline. Stubborn reluctance to mature and systemic hard-drinking of some of our teammates had been hampering our work. Alcohol is the enemy of progress, while the discipline is the main thing for an artist. Read the full story »

Best Central Asia Blog 2007
Written by , Sunday, 9 Dec, 2007 – 17:12 | 5 Comments

Best Blog

Over the next month, TOL and neweurasia are accepting submissions for the Best Central Asia Blog Awards. There are several prizes to be won, and the overall winner will get to go to the next Global Voices conference in 2008.

The announcement and submission page (in Russian) is now live at www.neweurasia.net/bestblog.

Over the following weeks, we will try to spread the word about this competition in the Central Asian blogosphere, soliciting as many submissions as possible. The winners will be announced by the jury in mid-January.

The translation of the announcement into English can be read after the jump. If you want to submit a blog, please use the form on the award page. Read the full story »

Russia wins
Written by , Sunday, 9 Dec, 2007 – 13:56 | 2 Comments

Recently, I was arguing that Tajik migrants have become a powerful tool in Russia’s hands against Tajikistan. Tajikistan would never get in direct conflict with Russia and labor migration would be one of the main reasons for that. The contradictions over construction of Rogun power station could easily become a strong reason for further constraints in relations between the two countries.

The statement of President Rahmon this week (rus) during a meeting with Russian high official was a signal for Russia that Tajikistan does not want be its adversary. According to the Russian official, who gave interview after the meeting, President Rahmon is “exceedingly [extremely] interested in participation of Russia in this project and he anticipates apt versions of agreement on this issue”.

This means that Tajikistan is ready to let Russia have half of Rogun power station once it built.

What does Siemens have to do with the Ruhnama?
Written by , Sunday, 9 Dec, 2007 – 11:59 | 3 Comments

A very interesting press release issued by the FreedomForSale.org international human rights organization was republished by the Turkmen oppositionist website www.chrono-tm.org. The organization’s website tells us more about its activity:

FreedomForSale website highlights grievances in human rights and free speech issues in different countries. At the same time the website describes, questions and monitors international corporations that seem to support or ignore violations of human rights and free speech. Our intention is to encourage discussion and have an impact on how different countries, companies, and individuals take on their responsibilities as humanity’s custodians.

Turkmenistan was the first country to be targeted by the recently set up organization. Conclusions drawn from the first monitoring action are very critical as regards foreign corporations operating in Turkmenistan. The most criticized company was Siemens.

Siemens has openly supported the Ruhnama book in Turkmenistan, written by the late dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. Ruhnama has destroyed the Turkmen education system, and has been the dictatorship’s central element of manipulation. By supporting the publication of the book, international companies gain access to good business in oil-and-gas rich Turkmenistan. According to many sources, Siemens has provided and installed an eavesdropping system for the Turkmen state by which they have been able to arrest and jail many dissidents and opposition members. The system has enabled the state to spy on foreign embassies and international organisations.

In January 2008, FreedomForSale.org is to investigate the French companyBouygues , which has several construction projects in Turkmenistan. Results of the investigation will probably be similar. It is unlikely that either Siemens or any other company functioning in Turkmenistan support the dictatorship and human rights violations. They just try to adjust to the country’s reality, assuming that “business is business”.

However, there are certain bounds of decency that even the income-driven companies should not overstep.

Turkish interests in Turkmenistan
Written by , Friday, 7 Dec, 2007 – 17:39 | 6 Comments

Turkish President Abdullah Gül ended his three-day official visit to Turkmenistan yesterday. Although no important documents were signed, the Turks proposed to the Turkmen side mutual cooperation in gas industry. As the gundogar.org website informs, quoting the Reuters News Agency:

On his first official visit to Turkmenistan, Turkish President Abdullah Gül proposed to Ashgabat the reinstatement of the project of a gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran [...] with annual capacity of 16 billion cubic metres of gas.
Attractive as it may be, this proposal poses a problem for Ashgabat because of the strong opposition by the U.S. From Turkmenistan’s point of view, it would be much wiser to engage in the Transcaspian gas pipeline project (from Turkmenistan through Azerbaijan to Turkey).

However, the aim of Gül’s visit to Ashgabat was something more than just the gas issue. Turkey is one of Turkmenistan’s most important economic partners, as the turkmenistan.ru web site reminds in a short note:

Turkey holds a stable 4th place in Turkmenistan’s exports and 1st place in Turkmenistan’s imports. Trade turnover between the two states exceeded US $ 1.1 billion in the first ten months of 2007. 428 enterprises with Turkish capital were registered in Turkmenistan. This is 33% of all foreign companies registered in Turkmenistan. Currently around 700 Turkmen students are studying in the higher educational institutions in Turkey.

The problem is that Turkmenbashi’s death and Berdymukhammedov’s seizure of power has put Turkish businessmen operating in Turkmenistan in a difficult position. Making a lucrative offer to a Turkmen partner and signing a contract is not a prerequisite sufficient to gain access to the Turkmen market, the prospective investor must also contact the president. Only after the president accepts him and the proposed amount of money, may a businessman enter the market. With the appearance of a new leader, all contacts had to be renewed. But Berdymukhammedov was not going to continue all “acquaintances” of his predecessor.

The process turned out painful for some Turkish businessmen, e.g. a Niyazov’s “favourite” Akhmed Chalyk, the owner of one of the biggest companies in Turkmenistan, who enjoyed the confidence of the “serdar” himself. As the now exiled ex-ambassador of Turkmenistan to Turkey Nurmukhammed Khanamov said in an interview for Deutsche Welle, Chalyk was involved in money laundering at Niyazov’s orders. Detained for 12 days during his last visit to Ashgabat, he was released only after the intervention of the Turkish government. Supposedly, those who detained him wanted to gain information about foreign bank accounts where Turkmenbashi kept his money. Currently Chalyk as well as many other Turks remain personae non gratae in Turkmenistan.

Thus, Gül came to Ashgabat also in order to set the rules of the game for the Turkish business. Has he managed to do it? The time will tell…

Photo: Touring Kazakhstan
Written by , Friday, 7 Dec, 2007 – 8:31 | One Comment

Railway “Station Aral Sea”

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