• KGS/USD = 0.01118 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00222 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09131 0%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%
  • KGS/USD = 0.01118 0%
  • KZT/USD = 0.00222 0%
  • TJS/USD = 0.09131 0%
  • UZS/USD = 0.00008 0%

Our People > Times of Central Asia

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Stephen M. Bland

Senior Editor and Head of Investigations

 Stephen M. Bland is a journalist, author, editor, commentator and researcher specialising in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Prior to joining The Times of Central Asia, he has worked for NGOs, think tanks, as the Central Asia expert on a forthcoming documentary series, for the BBC, The Diplomat, EurasiaNet, and numerous other publications. divider Published in 2016, his book on Central Asia was the winner of the Golden Laureate of Eurasian Literature. He is currently putting the finishing touches to a book about the Caucasus. divider www.stephenmbland.com

Articles

Artificial Intelligence in Central Asia: Applications and Regulation

The debate on the need for worldwide regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining momentum, given that over the past year AI has become a key tool for millions of people. With a growing number of organizations applying AI in various fields, including medicine, politics and judicial decisions, the urgent question is how to integrate AI into legislation. In Central Asia, in 2020 the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan authorized remote identification of individuals at banks using AI, machine learning and other predictive algorithms to process customer biometric data. Bishkek also introduced a facial recognition system based on artificial intelligence which allows data about wanted persons to be entered, and cameras to automatically identify them and transmit information to law enforcement. Artificial intelligence has also found its application in the political process. In 2020, the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan Party used a digital bot farm during the elections which generated approximately 150 profiles a day, automatically wrote comments and then self-liquidated. In Tajikistan, where the use of AI is not widespread, MegaFon stands out for its introduction of the Dono chatbot in 2019. This artificial interlocutor interacts with around 14,000 subscribers per day, freeing humans from routine tasks and allowing them to deal with more complex issues. In Uzbekistan, meanwhile, the government is taking active measures to stimulate the development of AI technologies. A presidential decree has established comprehensive steps towards the digitization of the economy and the social sphere. Digitization of government data in various sectors, such as justice, communications, finance, education and healthcare are becoming an integral part of the development strategy. The application of AI technologies, starting with image recognition and navigation systems, has already become a tangible part of task-solving in large enterprises, and the country is actively working to create an enabling environment to further expand the use of AI. In Kazakhstan, AI is being actively introduced in the judicial system, and over the past two years AI systems have been used to analyze court cases and predict their outcomes. The authorities believe that this approach helps minimize errors and improves the quality of justice. In the field of healthcare, since 2022 Kazakhstan has been successfully operating the PneumoNet program based on artificial intelligence. This program makes it possible to detect 17 of the most pathogenic lung diseases, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and cancer. Currently, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan do not have specific laws regulating the creation and use of AI. Despite this, the Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Tajikistan until 2040 notes that during the implementation of the first and second stages of said strategy, legal, institutional and infrastructural frameworks will be developed, and the necessary specialists will be trained. Unlike its neighbors, Uzbekistan adopted a presidential decree "On measures to create conditions for the accelerated introduction of artificial intelligence technologies" as early as 2021. This document has become the legal foundation for the further development of AI in the country, defining its main directions. The resolution emphasizes the need to develop...

12 hours ago

Children in the Fields, Not at Their Desks: Turkmenistan Continues to Use Child Labor in Cotton Harvest

Turkmenistan continues to use forced labor of adults and children during the cotton harvest, according to experts from the Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO). "The preliminary findings of this observation mission indicate direct or indirect evidence of mobilization of public servants in all regions visited, with the exception of the city of Ashgabat," the report by the committee states. Another report by independent Turkmen human rights groups published last year documented widespread systematic forced labor in Turkmenistan - alongside widespread corruption. Under its ILO commitments, Turkmenistan has pledged for years to eradicate this practice, but the reality is different. The Business and Human Rights Resource Center notes that the Turkmen Government obliges farmers to submit a certain quota of cotton each year. Failure to meet these quotas can result in the land being taken away from the dekhkans (smallholder farmers) and given to others, or the issuance of a fine. At the same time, the government maintains a monopoly on the purchase and sale of cotton, sets an artificially low purchase price, and does not disclose information about either the income from cotton or the use of that income. Employees of government organizations are systematically forced to harvest cotton. They are not provided with proper working or living conditions, and are often forced to find housing and food at their own expense. In addition, they face such problems as unfavorable weather conditions - cotton harvesting starts in the summer heat and continues well into winter's sub-zero temperatures - contact with chemicals used to treat the fields, and travel costs. Despite this, human rights advocates haven't received any complaints about the authorities' misconduct. This is likely due to the fact that workers are afraid of losing their jobs in the public sector, where the majority of Turkmenistan's population is employed. Despite local laws prohibiting the use of child labor - and a ban on the use of child labor in the cotton sector has been in place since 2008 - the practice is widespread during the cotton harvest. The Cotton Campaign, an international coalition of labor groups, human rights organizations, investors and business organizations, has repeatedly spoken out against this practice. Schoolchildren in Turkmenistan often go to the cotton fields themselves to earn money for clothing and food, as well as to help their parents, who are obliged to pick cotton. Turkmenistan is the tenth largest cotton producer in the world and has a vertically integrated cotton industry. Despite the boycott of cotton picked using forced labor, the U.S., Canada and EU countries cannot always control the supply chain of cotton from third countries. Thus, Turkmen cotton harvested by forced and child labor filters into global cotton supply chains at all stages of production. The Cotton Campaign has called on governments, companies and workers' organizations to take action and pressure Turkmenistan to end forced labor and protect the basic rights of its citizens. Uzbekistan is a successful case study in the effort to eliminate...

2 days ago

Problems and Prospects for Development: Raushan Yeschanova on Art in Kazakhstan

It is said that art can open doors to the depths of the human soul, transport one to other worlds and allow one to see and experience things from a new perspective. The history of Almaty is rich in culture and creativity, and today, Almaty-based art historian Raushan Yeschanova shares her thoughts on contemporary art in Kazakhstan, the problems of its development, and the role that will be played by the new Museum of Contemporary Art, which is scheduled to open this year.   TCA: Tell us how you came to study art? Traveling has always made me think about how mankind was able to create such masterpieces and what moved them. And it's not just about the Renaissance, Art Nouveau and or contemporary art; it’s also about ancient Egyptian art and artifacts from lost civilizations. In addition, I worked as an interior designer, and this required a good knowledge of interior styles. After all, art is not only paintings and sculptures, but also architecture, and I always wanted to immerse myself in it.   TCA: How do you assess the influence of the national culture of Kazakhstan on the development of contemporary art in the country? If we talk about the present time, at the moment our country is experiencing, I would say, "a period of revival in art". Since the formation of the fine arts school in Kazakhstan occurred during the accession of Kazakhstan to Russia, our art developed under the influence of Russian painting, which in turn looked to Western European art. After all, before the period of annexation there was only decorative applied art, and to engage in painting was forbidden due to religious traditions. After a century of development, once ideological principles became less strict, artists have returned to their "nomadic" past in which they find more and more sacred knowledge about life   TCA: What themes and motifs from history and culture most often inspire contemporary artists? They are inspired by rock art, symbols, mythological subjects… Kazakhstan is first of all a steppe, it is a yurt - and this universe is a source of inspiration for many. Artists use different styles, for example, combining ancient techniques with painting or, for example, placing the meaning of human existence into the national female headdress, the "saukele".   TCA: What problems do contemporary artists face in Kazakhstan? The main problem facing contemporary artists is the underdeveloped art market within the country. Many established artists live and work outside of Kazakhstan. As for young artists, it is the lack of quality institutions aimed at the realization of their creativity. There is no opportunity to participate in exhibitions, and the basis for promotion is social networks. Despite the presence of galleries in the cities, not all artists have the opportunity to display their works, as the issue of selling work is often controversial. Also, many talented artists have second jobs where their labor is better paid; for example, in the field of interior design, wall painting or creating...

5 days ago

Death of Navalny Met With Mixed Feelings in Central Asia

Alexei Navalny has died in the Russian "Polar Wolf" penal colony, the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District in Siberia, Russia, has reported. An anti-corruption campaigner and anti-government figure in Russia, Navalny returned to his homeland from Germany in 2021, where laboratory tests confirmed he had been poisoned by a nerve agent. However, whilst Navalny's opposition to Putin won him support in the West, he leaves a more complex legacy in Central Asia, having called migration from the region to Russia an “orgy of tolerance”. On the streets of Kazakhstan, however, a mournful mood largely prevailed. "This situation shows the current Russian regime as it is, Polina, a photographer from Astana told TCA. "There are a lot of opinions about Navalny's activities, but I think in any case his death shows how cruel the Russian Government is how much Navalny and his influence were feared." “Another voice of reason that has been silenced. It makes me feel hopeless for the current state of the world,” Isabella, a scientist from Astana told TCA. "I hoped he would be the next [Russian] president. May he rest in peace – he is a part of history," Ilyas, a businessman from Taraz commented. "He made a sacrifice of himself. It's a pity," said Almas, cameraman from Astana. Others voiced indifference, however. "Navalny's a minister, isn't he? Oh no he's in the opposition,” Nurbolat, a taxi driver from Temirtau told TCA. “It's all so murky." A renowned nationalist, during Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia, Navalvy referred to Georgians as "rodents". In 2011, Navalny co-organized the “Russian marches,” often labelled as a xenophobic event and tied to Neo-Nazi groups, a movement he never renounced. During the Moscow mayoral campaign two years later a key policy pledge was to fight against migrants, who he accused of crime, the threat of terrorism, and the alienation of culture. Speaking in November 2015, Navalny claimed that “90% of immigrants to Russia [from Central Asia] are young Muslim men from rural areas, that is, the very environment from which terrorists are recruited.” Of the estimated eleven million migrants in Russia at the time, no terrorist attacks involved the participation of people from Central Asia, citizens of which accounted for less than 1% of all crimes committed by migrants. An easy target for the Russian police, migrants have been subjected to attacks by Neo-fascist groups. Living in dormitory blocks overseen by gang-masters on the plains of Siberia, some have died on the job. “Navalny is a figure who evoked diametrically opposed emotions. Some admired him, others hated him,” said Alexandra Garmazhapova, President of Free Buryatia Foundation. “I won't lie, I've never been a fan of his. A couple of times we even clashed with him precisely because of his participation in the “Russian March”. In the winter of 2021, when Navalny returned to Russia, I was in Moscow and participated in protests. I emphasized that I was against corruption, and not for Navalny, who was expelled from Yabloko in the...

1 week ago

Kozy Korpesh – Bayan Sulu: Kazakhstan’s Valentine’s Day

February 14th may be the international Valentine's Day which is celebrated all over the world, but Kazakhstan has its own unique day dedicated to love and devotion, Kozy Kөrpesh - Bayan Sulu, which is celebrated on April 15th. The holiday is centered on a legend from an epic poem from the 13th-14th century, which conveys a story of love and strength of spirit. Sometimes likened to a Kazakh Romeo and Juliet, the story tells of two heroes - a young man named Kozy Korpesh and a girl called Bayan Sulu - who fight against prejudice and confront an unrighteous ruler to be together. Their story symbolizes the power of courage in the face of obstacles. In honor of the pair, who, according to a folk legend, were buried in a mausoleum near the village of Tansyk in the East Kazakhstan region, a memorial structure was erected which has been included in the list of historical and cultural monuments and under state protection since 1982. Another monument was erected in the city of Ayagoz in 2013. Each Kazakhstani has his or her own approach to this day. Some, like Valeria from Astana celebrate it with friends. For them, it's not only a day of love, but an opportunity to remember their culture and traditions. "I learned about this legend back in high school. Now, even though I study abroad, I try to get together with friends to celebrate it. For me, it’s a reminder of my homeland." Others, like Sarzhanbek from Almaty, came to appreciate the story later. "The first time I learned about it I was still in school, but I didn't pay much attention to it,” he told TCA. “However, one day, I went to the theater for a production based on this legend. It was very interesting; it's amazing how rich the history of Kazakhstan is." Alua, a student of the Faculty of Pedagogy from Taraz, told TCA that she thinks events dedicated to Kazakhstan's Valentine's Day should be introduced in schools. She believes it is important to preserve and pass on this holiday to younger generations so they can know and respect the traditions of their country. "We should celebrate it, because it’s our traditional holiday,” she told TCA. “Traditions should be remembered and honored.”

1 week ago

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