Home » Archive by Category

Cross-regional and Blogosphere

This week on Russian-language Kazakhstan blog
Written by , Saturday, 17 Jun, 2006 – 18:55 | No Comment

This week our new Russian-language Neweurasia Kazakhstan blog covered various topics pertinent to life in Kazakhstan, from space ships and OSCE chairmanship to Kazakh art, which made its way to British audience. Read the full story »

Voices from Central Asia and the Caucasus
Written by , Wednesday, 14 Jun, 2006 – 10:44 | No Comment

Originally posted on Global Voices

The Pamirs in sight, Kyrgyzstan

Welcome to the latest roundup of the Central Asian and Caucasian blogosphere, brought to you bi-weekly by neweurasia. This edition reaches you from sunny Berlin, where the World Cup is in full swing (making this roundup inevitably brief).

Unfortunately, the Azeri blogosphere is still underrepresented – so if you’re a blogger writing on/from Azerbaijan, be sure to drop us a line with your link. Read the full story »

Written by , Friday, 9 Jun, 2006 – 16:49 | Comments Off

Like our new design? It signals a new era for neweurasia as we have entered into a partnership with Transitions Online to promote blogging and free speech in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Simply put, this means that we have launched Russian language blogs for Kazkahstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as an Uzbek language blog for (naturally) Uzbekistan. We have also hired bridge-bloggers from the region to promote interaction across cultures, develop our Russian and Uzbek blogs, and help expand the Eurasian blogosphere more generally.

We are still looking for talent for all of our blogs of all languages, so if you are knowledgeable and interested in the region and looking to swap ideas and engage with other interested people, please send an email to info[at]neweurasia[dot]net and we will have you blogging in no time.

More information on our partnership with TOL will be available on this site in the near future.

- The management

Voices from Central Asia and the Caucasus
Written by , Wednesday, 31 May, 2006 – 12:59 | No Comment

Originally posted on Global Voices.

Vakhs valley, March 2006, Erik Petersson, Dushanbe Pictures.

Welcome to the latest roundup from the Central Asian and Caucasian blogosphere, brought to you by neweurasia. First off, apologies for the long delay in presenting you this edition. Now that final year exams are over, our postings should appear bi-weekly again.

As usual we take you through the countries alphabetically.

Onnik Krikorian writes that one of the most independent and popular TV stations has been denied a broadcasting frequency. The same blog also reports on a possible new momentum towards a peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nessuna is shocked to hear that another Armenian fell victim to a racist murder in Moscow. Christian Garbis over at Notes from Hairenik writes on the strange obssesion of each and every vendor in Yerevan about the correct change. Read the full story »

Blog from Osh
Written by , Wednesday, 31 May, 2006 – 11:53 | No Comment

Happily, I’ve just found out that an acquaintence of mine here in Osh, Tolkun Umaraliev, has started up his own blog, mostly in English. So far he has a great introductory post on Osh and his home village, Aravan, as well as a range of photos. Looking forward to reading more in the future.

Politicizing Islam in Kyrgyzstan
Written by , Monday, 22 May, 2006 – 9:21 | No Comment

What follows is one part of a cross-blog initiative, which takes the role of Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus as its central theme:

Last week was marked in Kyrgyzstan by a new invasion of a group of people characterized by officials as guerillas . These six were allegedly representatives of the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan (with the one detainee being a Kyrgyz national) and this incident (leaving dead 6 citizens of Kyrgyzstan) again sparked speculations about the growing danger of Islamic fundamentalism in Kyrgyzstan.

The question of radical Islam is nowadays is a burning issue for political discussions. Everyone in the country remembers the first massive invasion of the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan near the city of Batken in the south of the country. With those memories still being fresh words “Islamic movement of Uzbekistan” with its ambitions of creating the kingdom of Islam (khalifat) in Fergana valley sounds like a curse in the public discourse with radical Islam in this case being perceived as a threat to the well being of the states comprising Central Asia and firmly proclaiming their orientation towards secularism on the level of official practices. Lately politicians in Central Asia have been expressing their concerns about the potential of a fundamentalist Islamic revolution emphasizing that every possible step should be made to prevent this danger.

As political scientists keep emphasizing, this situation is natural for the statehood in Kyrgyzstan since the attitude towards religion among the population here is less rigid. In the case of Kyrhyzstan Islam as a prevailing religious practice came late and fairly superficially. In the discourse of nomadic history of Kyrgyzstan pure Islam was more of an imposition from Jungars and Quqon Khanate.
Nowadays Kyrgyz population in general is neither strong believers nor zealots when it comes to religious practices. The situation in this case differs fundamentally from the stable Islamic states where religion influences political practices and lies in the core of the national idea. Kyrgyz discourse in itself is rather unique considering nomadic history of the people and the cult of the prehistoric legend about the national hero Manas fighting for independence of Kyrgyz tribes and hardly leaning towards practicing any religion.

Thus considering the possibility of an elevation of Islam as a national symbol and a driving political force in Kyrgyzstan (the fear once expressed by SHAHRAM AKBARZADEH in the article “Political Islam in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan”, (Central Asian Survey (2001), 20(4), 451–465)) it would probably be safe to state that keeping in mind current situation in the domestic politics as well as geopolitical issues, the political and public discourse in Kyrgyzstan will for a while stay immune from infiltrations of the radical practices and ideas of Islamic fundamentalism. At least until political leaders in the country will be competing for the attention of such super powers as America, China and Russia (none of these are Islamic states) and until the impoverished population of the country chooses Russian job markets as the most desired destination for making fortunes there.

At the same time it’s worth mentioning that official power in Kyrgyzstan doesn’t rush to get dissociated with Islam. In the year 1993 more traditional elements of society urged that the Muslim heritage of the country be acknowledged in the preamble to the 1993 constitution. The annual Hadge to Mecca for Muslim believers in sponsored by the state. Religious education is allowed in the country as well. In this light it’s interesting to note that those non-Kyrgyz citizens of the country trying to escape Kyrgyzstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union mentioned about the “threat of Islam” among the major driving forces making them leave the country. The situation can be characterized as somewhat ambiguous here: so far Kyrgyzstan remains a secular country where religion and politics are presumably divorced, at the same time on the level of daily practices religion becomes more influential especially in the south of the country. Thus the local community in Jalal Abad has been stirred recently by the official ban for schoolgirls to wear traditional Muslim scarves and head covers at school, according to Fergana.Ru. As this source states, the tensions between believers and officials in Jalal Abad are growing.
This facts can also make us think that the religion while not being officially welcomed in the political life of Kyrgyzstan, will be, in a while, potentially capable of making its way into political practices of Kyrgyzstan through the back entrance.

The Role of Religion in Politics in Central Asia and the Caucasus
Written by , Monday, 22 May, 2006 – 7:12 | One Comment

Neweurasia has launched a new series of topic-specific posts across all of the country blogs in an effort to provide readers a comprehensive overview of current issues in Eurasia. The first focused on HIV/AIDS in the region, and the topic now at hand is the role of religion in politics across the region. You can find a country-specific discussion of this topic at each of the following country blogs:

Also, be sure to check out the broader context provided by Christopher DeVito, who describes the rise of Islam as a political force in the Middle East, and its significance to in Central Asia.


The influence religion has come to have on politics has become an extremely charged topic in recent years, and Eurasia is no exception. With the majority of the population of most countries Muslim (key exceptions being Mongolia, Armenia, and Georgia; we do not have posts for any of those countries), this choice in topic inevitably narrows to political Islam, an even more controversial subtopic.

In other parts of the world, there is no ambiguity about the role of Islam in politics. Saudi Arabia does not even pretend to have a constitution, stating that the Qur’an is all that is necessary to govern a country. Although Saudi Arabia is an absolutist state, in countries with some degree of democratic rule it has come be hugely influential as a grassroots movement; Hamas, an Islamist party won a popular election in Palestine, and it is very likely that the Muslim Brotherhood would win such an election in Egypt.

Where does Eurasia fit into all this? What role does Islam play in politics, what role is it likely to play in the future, and what role should it play? The answer is far from clear, and academics, journalists, and bloggers on sites like neweurasia and Registan disagree vehemently.

This survey will attempt to make some qualified, generalized responses to exactly those questions based on the country posts, but first it is important to place the rise of the current religions in Eurasia in a historical context.

Read the full story »

Political Islam: A Historical Context in the Middle East
Written by , Monday, 22 May, 2006 – 7:09 | 2 Comments

by Christopher DeVito

The following is an overview of political Islam in the Middle East and its relevance to Central Asia as a context for neweurasia’s survey of relgion in politics.

Any comprehensive attempt to address the broad currents of political Islam in the Arab world and the influence that such movements have had on their counterparts in Central Asia would require much lengthier consideration than offered below. For our purposes I have looked briefly at a number of important subjects. They include some of the intellectual origins of modern political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia.

Modern Political Islam: Origins

Many Scholars of Political Islam credit the Iranian born Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1839-1897) with the fathering of contemporary Islamic political activism. Often remembered as an Islamic modernist, the influence of Al-Afghani’s thought is still apparent in the philosophies of most contemporary Islamists. Cosmopolitan and widely traveled, al-Afghani did much of his most influential writing from London and Paris. While he was deeply opposed to British imperialism, he was also enamored with the scientific and technologically advanced societies of Western Europe. He, however, maintained the belief that the scientific advancement of European societies had been built on a foundation of Islamic science and philosophy.

In an attempt to reclaim what he saw as the Islamic world’s rightful position as a leader in these fields he sought to counter what he understood to be the “backwardness” of Islamic culture through the rationalization of religion. Like many modern day Islamic fundamentalist he saw the superstition and practice of the dominant folk religion, principally tasawuf or Sufiism, as a hindrance to the scientific and political ascendancy of the Muslim world. To this end he sought a return to the “true” Islam of the past, a movement knownas salafism. (I do not address al-Qaeda, or its affiliated organizations relationship to this intellectual movement as it is another topic in and of itself)

This attempt at a purification of Islam garnered influential followers such as the Egyptian jurist Muhammad Abduh, and (skipping ahead) would have profound influence on the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Hassan al-Banna, and other luminaries of modern Islamic fundamentalism such as Muhammad Iqbal, Sayyid Qutb and Abu A’la al-Mawdudi.

The development of this new intellectual worldview, sometimes called neo-Salafism, was an urban phenomenon that attempted to reconcile the practice of Islam with modernity and a program of political renewal. To this end the neo-Salfis attacked the traditional social networks of most Sufi orders accusing them of being a source of the backwardness of Islamic societies in general. A notable exception to this trend was the Sharia, rather than mystically, oriented Sufi Brotherhood, or tariqa, of the Naqshabandis, prevalent in Central Asia, which to this day continues to harbor many reform minded fundamentalists.

Read the full story »

Religion in Kazakh politics
Written by , Monday, 22 May, 2006 – 6:16 | 2 Comments

What follows is one part of a cross-blog initiative, which takes the role of Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus as its central theme:

“We are Sunni Muslims and must follow this path”.

President Nazarbayev, 1999

Kazakhstan’s post-independence period is still too short to draw robust conclusions about the interplay between religion, politics and society. Nevertheless, certain trends can be identified and some preliminary conclusions can be drawn on their basis.


One fact that cannot be stressed too often is that Kazakhstan’s titular ethnic group, the Kazakhs, still only make up just a little more than half of the total population (53.4%). Russians, being the second-largest ethnic group, form 30% of Kazakhstan’s 15.2 million inhabitants. It was only due to a large-scale emigration of the latter group (also Ukrainians, Germans, Caucasians) that brought the Kazakhs above the 50% threshold.

Speaking in religious terms, a 1999 census showed that only 47% of the population consider themselves Muslim, whereas Russian Orthodox Christians still account for 44% (although this data conflicts with the ethnic group data). Together with countless other ethnic and religious minorities, it becomes obvious that any sort of religious aspect in politics is potentially controversial, as one can’t speak of Kazakh Muslims as the majority of the Kazakhstani population. Rather evidently, there are ‘two majorities’ in the form of Kazakh Muslims and Russian Orthodox Christians that combined account for 91% of the population (according to the 1999 census, there were also 2% Protestants and 7% being classified as ‘Other’).

Read the full story »

Political Islam in Tajikistan
Written by , Monday, 22 May, 2006 – 6:07 | 3 Comments

What follows is one part of a cross-blog initiative, which takes the role of Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus as its central theme:

Tajikistan’s relationship with political Islam is perhaps the most volatile, diverse, and complicated in Central Asia. Tajikistan is home to various strains of Islam, with the silent majority favoring a more informal, non-institutionalized, traditional strain of Islam, but stricter, foreign-influenced Islam is on the rise. Roughly 5% of the population ascribes to Ismailism, one of the few pockets of Shiism in a Sunni-dominated region. Most of the rest are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school, a tolerant variety of Islam known for the ease with which it assimilates pre-Islamic beliefs and practices.

The Tajik Civil War

Political Islam in Tajikistan cannot be understood outside of the destructive Tajik Civil War, fought from 1992 to 1997. It is remembered simplistically as a war between pro-Moscow, secular forces, and religious extremists. While there is truth to this characterization, it was also largely an ethnic conflict between the north and the south.

Because Karategin (a province in southern Tajikistan, also written as Garm-Kartogin, and referred to as the Gharmis) had put up the stiffest resistance to Soviet rule, they had largely been left out of the government in favor of northern elites (the Kulabis). Nevertheless, a significant portion of Karategin society managed to amass economic clout, which set the stage for their seizing power in 1992, along with a diverse coalition of Islamic groups, Islamists, Pamiris and democrats. Their rule was short-lived as the communist party struck back and retook control of the country later that same year, even though the war raged on sporadically until peace in 1997.

Outside forces played key roles throughout. Russian troops covertly backed the northern forces, as did Uzbekistan. The Taliban backed southern forces, and current Tajik President Rakhmonov’s hometown became a major supply point for Afghan forces opposed to the Taliban.

With the conclusion of the civil war, large numbers of opposition forces fled into Afghanistan.

Politics after the Peace

Despite the fact that Tajiks arguably have more reason than any to oppose radical Islam, Islam enjoys more tolerance than other Central Asian republics. The civil war seems to have a silver lining to it, as Tajikistan is one of the only Central Asian countries to allow Islamic parties in its opposition.

The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) is probably the best organized of these groups. Of all the legalized Islamic parties in Central Asia, only the Islamic Revival Party has taken part in actual elections. The party was represented in the National Reconciliation Commission that marked the end of the civil war. Per the agreement, the IRPT is represented in all levels of Tajik government, despite its relatively weak popularity.

One can certainly go to far in painting a rosy, tolerant picture of political Islam in Tajikistan. Since the civil war, the government has assumed control of religion in the country much like other rulers in the region. The government dissolved the Muftiate to replace it with a government-controlled body and enacted legislation stating that political parties could not act in a religious capacity. The opposition could do little about it, as it is fractured and divided.

Beyond the usual suspects like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Hizb ut Tahrir, recent reports have indicated the presence of a new group known as the Bayat. There is currently little information on this shadowy organization, and some have questioned its existence.

Path Forward

President Rakhmonov will be up for reelection in November, 2006. The outcome is already a foregone conclusion, and he has engaged in a lot of chicanery far in advance that is completely unnecessary to ensure his victory. After his reelection, Rakhmonov would do well to preserve and expand upon Tajikistan’s relatively tolerant political environment. Tajikistan is geographically he first stop for any foreign Islamists, and its porous borders make it easy to infiltrate. It is therefore more important in Tajikistan than anywhere else in Central Asia to keep the political space as open as possible, and convince those that might be otherwise persuaded that there is a viable alternative in a functioning, moderate state.