Weekly Digest of Central Asia

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.


A new look at Kazakhstan’s history builds bridges to the future

President Nazarbayev has proposed to identify and celebrate – both within Kazakhstan and across the world – the rich history of Kazakhstan and its people as well as the role played by the region in global civilisation

Dec 4 — “Winston Churchill is among those credited with the observation that it is the victors who write the history books. He was reminding us that the version of history with which we are most familiar has often been biased in favour of those nations or regions that have enjoyed not just military but also political and economic superiority. This explains why, for example, the extraordinary contribution of ancient Chinese or Islamic science and arts to global knowledge has, at least until recently, often been overlooked.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/12/a-new-look-at-kazakhstans-history-builds-bridges-to-the-future/

Kazakhstan’s Ever-Shrinking Political Arena

Kazakhstan’s political arena has little room for new parties or those who oppose the ruling elite

Dec 5 — “In late November, a court in southern Kazakhstan sentenced Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive former banker and President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s most infamous foe, to life in prison after convicting him of a murder change. Of course, as with previous convictions of Ablyazov, the defendant was far from Kazakhstan’s grasp. A second trial in absentia and a second conviction may do little to materially affect Ablyazov, but in conjunction with other political news the news illustrates just how small and constrained Kazakhstan’s political arena is.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/12/kazakhstans-ever-shrinking-political-arena/

Ruhani Zhangyru: Nazarbayev’s Model

The Associate Professor of Lev Gumilyov Eurasian National University in Astana on the modernisation of national identity in Kazakhstan

Dec 6 — “The recent article by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, titled “The Seven Facets of the Great Steppe”, which is in the continuation of his earlier article “Ruhani Zhangyru (Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity): Future Course” published last year, deliberates upon civilisation’s aspects of the great steppe within the framework of history and its origin.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/12/ruhani-zhangyru-nazarbayevs-model/

Kazakhstan: Smells like election spirit

State power succession is becoming an even more relevant issue in Kazakhstan, and analysts say the country may have an early presidential election next spring

Dec 7 — “A little over a year ago, the president of Kazakhstan was instructing the government to hike electricity, heat and water bills. It seemed like a politically awkward proposal, but speaking before lawmakers last September, Nursultan Nazarbayev brushed off concerns, saying the measure would “not be such a big deal.” “We have the cheapest electricity in the whole post-Soviet space,” he said, arguing that allowing utility prices to rise gradually would attract foreign investors. Nazarbayev has since changed his tune.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20583-kazakhstan-smells-like-election-spirit


Kyrgyzstan: Communities stand fast in a valley of death

Many areas in Kyrgyzstan are prone to natural disasters, but local residents are often reluctant to relocate to a safer place

Dec 3 — “The Sulaimanov family say they are staying put. It took a lot of work to make the money needed to build their farmstead in Ayuu, a village set in a narrow valley in southern Kyrgyzstan. Officials are exasperated. In late April 2017, a mudslide swept over a group of houses in Ayuu, destroying everything in its wake and killing 24 people. For years the authorities had pleaded with residents to relocate, but to no avail.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-communities-stand-fast-in-a-valley-of-death

Hopeless but happy: Azimjon Askarov and the discontents of Kyrgyzstan’s post-2010 order

A new memoir by Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent political prisoner takes readers back to the violence and impunity that followed the country’s 2010 revolution

Dec 5 — ““I am truly happy because today the cause of Azimjon Askarov has become a symbol of the great battle for freedom, freedom of thought and justice in Kyrgyzstan.” This is how the memoirs of Askarov, Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent political prisoner, end, offering at least some closure and inspiration for struggle next to fatalism in the face of hopelessness. But this only comes after a nightmarish journey through the suffering, grief and injustice that gripped the lives of the protagonist, his family and friends – and the thousands of other people affected by the 2010 conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valerian-stefanov/hopeless-but-happy-askarov-kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan’s former president, Roza Otunbayeva, discusses China, her successors, and regrets

The first woman to lead a Central Asian country discussed China, her successors’ rivalry, and regrets from her time in office

Dec 5 — “A former foreign minister and parliamentary deputy, Roza Otunbayeva helped push the unpopular Bakiyev family from power on a bloody day in April 2010. For the next 20 months, she was Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader. As she struggled to help Kyrgyzstan stand back on its feet, the country experienced the worst ethnic violence in a generation, the government seemed constantly on the verge of collapse, and heightened nationalist sentiments fueled protests almost daily outside her office.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-former-president-roza-otunbayeva-discusses-china-her-successors-and-regrets


Bride kidnapping is illegal by Kyrgyz law, Islamic law, and international law, but a widespread cultural acceptance of the practice remains in the country

Dec 6 — “With a bottle of vodka in hand, a Kyrgyzstani mother declares in earnest that they’ll be kidnapping a bride-to-be for her son in an hour or two. “We need her in the field,” she tells filmmaker Petr Lom, looking straight on. “The car is at the gate.” And so begins a bizarre scenario in which Lom gets a front-row seat to the big day, a kidnapping and marriage, and a glimpse at the ominous ever after.” READ MORE: https://www.ozy.com/rising-stars/who-fights-bride-kidnapping-meet-kyrgyzstans-unlikely-survivor/90579


Tajikistan: building a new health strategy for the next 10 years

WHO support in developing national health policies in Tajikistan has contributed to a shift in policy-making towards an evidence-based and outcome-oriented National Health Strategy for 2021–2030

Dec 4 — “The National Health Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan for 2010–2020 (NHS 2020), approved by the Tajik government in 2010, became a milestone in the development of the health-care system in the current decade. The NHS 2020 strategy outlined the expected results, health sector system change, health sector financing responses, and the monitoring, evaluation and review frameworks, clearly demonstrating the will to implement, and orient the sector towards real outcomes.” READ MORE: http://www.euro.who.int/en/countries/tajikistan/news/news/2018/12/tajikistan-building-a-new-health-strategy-for-the-next-10-years

Collective Punishment: Payback Hellish For Family Members Of Bicyclist Attackers In Tajikistan

The attack on foreign cyclists this past summer also destroyed the lives of the families of the attackers, with some of them being dismissed from jobs, some having ended up behind bars, and others having become accustomed to frequent visits from the police

Dec 5 — “After more than three decades working as a teacher at her local school in southern Tajikistan, Nabotbegim Yusupova looked forward to a peaceful retirement spent helping out with her grandchildren. Instead, she is out of a job, ostracized by society, and heading to Russia in her mid-50s to start a new career as a migrant laborer.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/collective-punishment-payback-hellish-for-family-members-of-bicyclist-attackers-in-tajikistan/29639597.html

Tajikistan: Secretive terror trial crushes hope for answers

The trial of the man accused of masterminding the deadly attack on foreign travelers looks designed to keep as much information as possible from reaching the public

Dec 5 — “A terrorist attack that left four foreign travelers dead earlier this year stunned Tajikistan. And yet, the subsequent trial of the man accused of masterminding the killing, which ran from October 23 to November 21, was a cursory affair – rushed and wholly hidden from public view. Untroubled by any explicit public calls for transparency from governments representing the victims, the Tajik authorities have in familiar manner fashioned a narrative laden with inconsistencies and self-serving claims.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-secretive-terror-trial-crushes-hope-for-answers


Analysis: TAPI And Other Turkmen Tales

The construction of the TAPI gas pipeline is the latest tale from Turkmenistan that has been cast into doubt, but it is far from the first

Dec 1 — “February 23 was a great day for Turkmenistan and its neighbor to the south, Afghanistan. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov joined Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Indian Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar in the Turkmen border town of Serhetabat, where a segment of a pipeline coming from Turkmenistan was welded to a segment coming from Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tapi-turkmen-tales-pipeline-qishloq-ovozi-pannier/29632356.html

Turkmenistan: The president who revenue too little

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

Dec 4 — “Turkmenistan’s rubber stamp legislature had an unusually busy session on December 1. It passed a budget for 2019 and, on the same day, ratified the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and other Caspian Sea littoral heads of state signed on August 12. The budget forecast sees revenues contracting for a second year running.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-the-president-who-revenue-too-little

President Berdymukhammedov issues a severe reprimand with the final warning to Deputy Prime Minister overseeing industry

As Turkmenistan’s economy experiences a crisis, the President blames ministers for the inability to improve the situation

Dec 5 — “On 4 December, in the course of the Cabinet session to sum up the performance for 11 months of the year, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov issued a severe reprimand with the final warning to Kerim Durdymyradov, Deputy Prime Minister overseeing industry for “poor performance of job responsibilities and shortcomings at work”, the state information agency TDH reports.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/12/president-berdymukhammedov-issues-a-severe-reprimand-with-the-final-warning-to-deputy-prime-minister-overseeing-industry/


World Aids Day: Eradicating the stigma of HIV in Uzbekistan

The tale of the first person in Uzbekistan’s history who publicly came out as HIV-positive

Dec 1 — “Azima stood in front of a wooden board at a charity fair in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, tellingly named the Time of Miracles. The 16-year-old, dark-haired girl with azure blue eyes looked lost and uneasy. She knew that the event would change her life forever.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/world-aids-day-eradicating-stigma-hiv-uzbekistan-181201103611375.html

Uzbekistan Under New Regime — from Isolation to Integration

Even as some social and economic problems persist, Uzbekistan has been undergoing major developments and transformation under the new regime of President Mirziyoev

Dec 2 — “Uzbekistan is the second largest and most populous state among the five Central Asian countries with a population exceeding 34 million. Shavkat Mirziyoev, taking over the presidency of Uzbekistan in 2016 after the demise of Islam Karimov, has undertaken the task of transformation of the country through reforms and changes in domestic and foreign policies discarding the former policy of repression and isolationism, which he could not do earlier as the Prime Minister.” READ MORE: http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article8415.html

Uzbekistan’s €100m new ski resort already in trouble before it’s even open

A lack of electricity and roads in the area has put the brakes on the project of Amirsoy Mountain Resort which is set to cost over €100 million

Dec 6 — “Plans to open a multi-million-Euro ski resort in Uzbekistan are already in jeopardy as the country’s fragile infrastructure poses problems for organisers, despite the ski season being about to start. Amirsoy Mountain Resort, which advertises itself as a world-class all-season mountain resort on its website, was due to open the first gondola, chairlift and drag lift, as well as accommodation, later this month.” READ MORE: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/ski/articles/uzbekistan-ski-resort-set-to-open/

South African mining magnate a key figure in Uzbekistan tungsten play

Once-isolated Uzbekistan is opening up its economy to foreign investors

Dec 6 — “Johannesburg-born mining entrepreneur Brian Menell is backing a drive by Switzerland-based IFG Capital to develop “a cluster” of seven tungsten mines in Uzbekistan, Mining Journal can reveal. The disclosure comes at a time when analysts are looking forward to price stabilisation as dominant player China consolidates its domestic tungsten sector in a move that could more closely align…” READ MORE: https://www.mining-journal.com/base-metals/news/1352587/south-african-mining-magnate-key-figure-in-uzbekistan-tungsten-play


What are private security companies doing in Afghanistan?

There have been consistent calls for a bigger role for private security and military companies in the Afghan war

Dec 2 — “The Taliban has said it carried out an attack in Afghanistan on the base of the British security firm G4S. A British man was among five employees killed when gunmen stormed their compound. G4S, one of the world’s largest security groups, helps guard the area around the British embassy in Kabul. The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 contributed to a boom in the private security business.” READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-46400647

Defying history, Moscow moves to defend Soviet war in Afghanistan

Russian lawmakers have approved a draft resolution that seeks to justify the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989

Dec 4 — “It has been said that Russia is a country with an unpredictable past, as every new government tries to rewrite the historical narrative for its political advantage. In this, President Vladimir Putin’s regime has been particularly active, launching a wholesale rehabilitation of the Soviet period early on.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2018/12/04/defying-history-moscow-moves-defend-soviet-war-afghanistan/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7108825d3409

A U.S. Ambassador Reflects on Afghanistan

Ronald E. Neumann, US Ambassador to Afghanistan in 2005-2007, on the situation in the war-torn country

Dec 5 — “If one year ago I returned from a trip to Afghanistan more hopeful than previously, my return this time highlighted the immensity of the challenges, the dangers to our nation of retreat, and yet a few bright spots difficult to properly assess. Elections, security and peace negotiations are the themes that dominate Kabul discussions. Each is messy, with head snapping contradictions that make most simple bottom line assessments at least partially wrong.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/us-ambassador-reflects-afghanistan-37887

Acceptance Is First Challenge For Afghanistan’s First Female In A Senior Security Post

In a rare case for Afghanistan, a young woman has been appointed for a senior security post

Dec 6 — “Hosna Jalil is well aware of the complexities of improving security and the rule of law in Afghanistan, a country that has been engulfed by nearly four decades of war. But since being appointed on December 5 to a senior post in the Interior Ministry, the 26-year-old Kabul native’s first challenge has simply been to gain acceptance.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/acceptance-is-first-challenge-for-afghanistan-s-first-female-in-a-senior-security-post/29641506.html


Terror threat turns inward on Central Asia

Central Asian countries may face a growing threat of terrorism, largely caused by the Islamic State’s shift in focus toward Afghanistan and the repressive policies of Central Asia’s authoritarian regimes

Dec 4 — “Central Asian countries’ reputation as exporters of radicalized extremists appears to be giving way to one marked by a growing threat of terrorism domestically. A number of incidents in Tajikistan over the last year highlight the problem of increasing militant activity that targets both foreign and national interests. Several factors—the Islamic State’s shift in focus toward Afghanistan following losses in Iraq and Syria; growing Chinese influence in Central Asia; and ongoing repression by authoritarian governments—point toward a more widespread threat, however, that is likely to affect the region as a whole.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20568-terror-threat-turns-inward-on-central-asia

Regional cooperation in Central Asia: Relevance of world models

As countries of Central Asia are now building their new regional cooperation, they need effective and permanent institutional structures that would help to achieve this goal

Dec 6 — “Central Asian states are embarking on a new effort to build regional cooperation. In March 2019, the second yearly summit of Central Asian leaders will be held in Tashkent. Discussions are under way to provide structure to this newfound regionalism. Central Asians can build on a relatively rich experience of regional cooperation two decades ago, which culminated in the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO). As they take this experience to new levels, they do not need to reinvent the wheel: an overview of other global models of regional cooperation shows how other states in similar situations – particularly Southeast Asian and Nordic countries – have managed to build long-term sustainable regionalism in difficult geopolitical circumstances.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20579-regional-cooperation-in-central-asia-relevance-of-world-models