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.

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: A Tale of Blocking and Unblocking

While Kazakhstan may have a more vibrant media space than Uzbekistan, the trends in each country are moving in opposite directions

May 13 — “On May 9, a number of social media apps and news websites became inaccessible in Kazakhstan as an exiled government critic urged his supporters to protest on Victory Day. On May 10, an Uzbek official announced the lifting of restrictions on a number of news websites that have been blocked for years, via Facebook.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/kazakhstan-and-uzbekistan-a-tale-of-blocking-and-unblocking/

Kazakhstan Shows Managed Transition Not The Smoothest Path In Central Asia

The transition from Nursultan Nazarbaev to Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has already been bumpier than Kazakhstan’s elite may have hoped

May 14 — “After Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced his retirement on March 19, it quickly became apparent that Kazakhstan’s elites had a plan for the succession. The next day, Senate Chairman Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, veteran Kazakh politician and longtime Nazarbaev friend and loyalist, took the oath of office as interim president. Toqaev praised Nazarbaev’s leadership and proposed renaming the capital Astana in his honor. On March 23, three days after taking office, Toqaev signed the decree renaming the capital Nur-Sultan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-shows-managed-transition-not-the-smoothest-path-in-central-asia/29940129.html

Russia and Kazakhstan: Identities, the Social Contract and the Challenges of Time

Russia and Kazakhstan have established a framework of functional state institutions, and the “colour revolutions” and social upheavals have bypassed them so far

May 15 — “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Kazakhstan experienced a similar radical transformation of their respective social systems. Both countries had managed to re-establish general stability by the end of the 1990s and subsequently created the conditions for economic growth and improving the quality of life. In the West, both countries have long been criticised for their lack of democracy and the cropping up of authoritarian institutions.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/russia-and-kazakhstan-identities-social-contract/

Russia – Kazakhstan: From Common Past to Common Future

Until very recently, the question of Russia’s or Kazakhstan’s place in the world was viewed as a problem of selecting the project they should integrate into

May 15 — “The social development and socio-cultural problems that Russia and Kazakhstan are facing today are similar in many ways. The first such challenge is building a political nation. During the Soviet period, the construct of “the Soviet people” was used to represent the political nation, while all other ethno-political communities were viewed with great suspicion. Any attempts by the national republics of the former Soviet Union to transform their titular nations (an ethnic phenomenon) into political nations led to accusations of nationalism and separatism.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/russia-kazakhstan-from-common-past-to-future/

KYRGYZSTAN

Women in Kyrgyzstan are fighting sexism by joining the space race

In a country where 1 in 17 women are kidnapped for brides, a group named The Satellite Girls are hoping to build Kyrgyzstan’s first ever spacecraft

May 13 — “In a small back office in a quiet suburb in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, a group of girls and young women nicknamed The Satellite Girls gather after school or work to huddle around computers to learn how to build the country’s first spacecraft. The Kyrgyz Space Programme was started in March 2018 and has around ten full-time members who meet several times a week to study programming and physics, contact space experts and launch providers and practice soldering.” READ MORE: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/kyrgyzstan-female-space-programme

A Mennonite Town In Muslim Central Asia Holds On Against the Odds

The community of Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan is one of Christendom’s most remote and oddest outposts in the Muslim world, as ethnic Germans cling to their faith even as emigration shrinks their numbers

May 13 — “Each Sunday, a rickety white bus wheezes down the main street of one of Christendom’s most remote and odd outposts in the Muslim world. The bus travels only a few hundred yards but continues a long, meandering journey begun nearly 500 years ago by German-speaking Mennonite Christians fleeing persecution in Europe. Having survived the fury of the Roman Catholic Church, the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union, their community today in Central Asia is small and shrinking but, against the odds, is still hanging on.” READ MORE: https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/destination-of-the-week/a-mennonite-town-in-muslim-central-asia-holds-on-against-the-odds-5724924/

Kyrgyzstan: Notorious former customs boss steps out of the shadows

Corruption and personal interest still dominate Kyrgyz politics, while the spat between the former and incumbent presidents has taken a new twist

May 15 — “A former customs official who seems to know as much as anyone about the depths of corruption in Kyrgyz politics says he is ready to put his cards on the table. That could be bad news for presidents past and present. On May 13, former deputy customs head Rayimbek Matraimov released a stunning attack on ex-President Almazbek Atambayev, his former political patron, whom he accused of organizing a smear campaign. Matraimov also warned Atambayev that he “had the strength” for a protracted duel. His words might also be read as subtle warning to the incumbent head of state, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/21166-kyrgyzstan-notorious-former-customs-boss-steps-out-of-the-shadows

TAJIKISTAN

Tajik Students, Educators Claim They’re Pressured To ‘Troll’ Government Critics

The so-called response factories are part of a government effort to counter what it calls an online “smear campaign” that it alleges is orchestrated by the opposition and which it claims employs its own fake social-media accounts

May 12 — “University students, officials, and lecturers in Tajikistan are being pressured by the state to serve as online trolls to counter opposition figures and other government critics, according to documents and personal testimonies obtained by RFE/RL. The campaign involves hundreds of people being recruited to work for “response factories” to set up multiple fake social-media accounts to be used as a platform for pro-government activities, according to five sources who spoke to RFE/RL.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-students-educators-claim-they-re-pressured-to-troll-government-critics/29936072.html

Tajikistan set to supply cheap power to Pakistan

Pakistan and Tajikistan have a historical, cultural and religious background and the roots of their relations are very deep

May 14 — “Pakistan is facing energy shortage and Tajikistan is set to supply inexpensive electricity to Islamabad in order to meet its potential energy needs, said Ambassador of Tajikistan Ismatullo Nasredin. The envoy expressed these views while talking to Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) President Malik Shahid Saleem during his visit to the RCCI on Monday.” READ MORE: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1972227/2-tajikistan-set-supply-cheap-power-pakistan/

Tajikistan discloses coal production volume

The coal production volume in Tajikistan is increasing every year

May 17 — “The coal industry of Tajikistan is characterized by a variety of geographical locations, mining and geological conditions and technical equipment. The country produced 450,000 tons of coal in January-April 2019, Tajik Ministry of Industry and New Technologies said in a message. This figure by 135,000 tons exceeds the coal production indicator for the same period of 2018. At present, as many as 5,000-6,500 tons of coal are produced daily in Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/150779.html

TURKMENISTAN

End A Dissident’s Ordeal in Turkmenistan

A dissident has already spent 15 years in prisons in authoritarian Turkmenistan

May 13 — “Gulgeldy Annaniyazov’s long spell in prison was supposed to end this year, but without concerted international action his ordeal will drag on. Annaniyazov is a dissident from Turkmenistan. He was arrested in 1995 for helping to organize a peaceful demonstration in Ashgabat, the capital, demanding democratic elections and protesting economic hardships. Police crushed the protest because – and this remains true today – Turkmenistan does not tolerate dissent of any kind. Annaniyazov was handed a 15-year sentence.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/13/end-dissidents-ordeal-turkmenistan

Turkmenistan: Puttin’ on the pits

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

May 14 — “Activists welcomed Seyran Mamedov’s release from prison last week. Prior to his release, after he had served his full 15-year term, friends and family didn’t even know if Mamedov was alive. That’s still the case for another 120 political prisoners. According to the Prove They Are Alive campaign, Turkmen officials recently added five years to the sentence of political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniyazov. He has been imprisoned on spurious charges since 2008 and also served time in the 1990s for organizing protests in Ashgabat.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-puttin-on-the-pits

Iran & Turkmenistan Try To Put Gas Dispute Behind Them

Considering the pressure of American sanctions on Iran and rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, Tehran is turning eastward to its Caspian neighbor — Turkmenistan

May 16 — “Turkmenistan’s president is calling for closer relations with Iran, hoping to put an end to a years-long gas dispute. “Steadily implementing the foreign policy based on the principles of positive neutrality, good neighborliness and equal cooperation built on the balance of national and common interests, our country supports the development of constructive partnership in the Caspian Sea, both in the bilateral and multilateral format,” Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said in a meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Ashgabat” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/iran-turkmenistan-try-to-put-gas-dispute-behind-them-2019-5-16-17/

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan’s young women clamor for faith-based education

As official tolerance toward Islamic piety has grown in Uzbekistan, interest in religious education has likewise increased

May 13 — “The sound of the female chanting shatters the morning silence at the old madrasa in Bukhara. To a casual passersby, it might sound like choir practice. Listening more closely, you hear that the recitation is in Arabic and that the young women are reading suras from the Koran. Among a dozen or so Islamic religious education institutions currently operating in Uzbekistan, only two cater specifically to women. This is one of them.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistans-young-women-clamor-for-faith-based-education

What are the Prospects for Reform in Uzbekistan?

Experts say that prospects for genuine reform in Uzbekistan look promising, but are not guaranteed

May 14 — “On May 11, the Uzbek government announced that it had resolved “certain technical issues” and restored access to a dozen news and rights groups websites. The announcement came a week after a roundtable on the prospects for reform in Uzbekistan at the annual convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities. The panel, organized by Eurasianet, brought journalists and scholars with extensive knowledge of Uzbek politics into dialogue about governance and accountability under Mirziyoyev’s rule.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/what-are-the-prospects-for-reform-in-uzbekistan/

Tashkent, Uzbekistan: The City with 2200+ Years of Written History

Tourism has a big role to play in the Uzbek economy, as the country contains various historic sites and is the birthplace of Tamerlane as well as the first Mughal Emperor Babur

May 15 — “Visiting Central Asia had been on my bucket list for quite a while. So when I finally got the chance to head to Kazakhstan, I decided to take a pit-stop on my way there. This is how I got to Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan, and also the most populous city in former-Soviet Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/05/15/tashkent-uzbekistan-the-city-with-2200-years-of-written-history/

Rosatom opens Nuclear Technology Information Center in Tashkent

The Information Center will become a platform offering Uzbekistan population an opportunity to get an idea of atom, NPP operation processes, and non-nuclear sectors using nuclear technologies

May 16 — “Rosatom has announced the official opening of the Nuclear Technology Information Center, a joint project of Uzatom and Rosatom, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Uzatom Director General Zhurabeck Mirzamakhmudov, ROSATOM Director General Alexey Likhachev, President of Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences Bekhzod Yuldashev, Russian Ambassador to Uzbekistan Vladimir Turdenev took part in the event as along with nuclear industry representatives from both Uzbekistan and Russia, and Tashkent schoolchildren.” READ MORE: https://www.compelo.com/energy/news/rosatom-opens-nuclear-technology-information-center-in-tashkent/

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban Target Aid Groups, in an Ominous Turn in Afghanistan

In attacking the headquarters of Counterpart International, an American organization, in Kabul, the Taliban accused it of engaging in anti-Islamic activity

May 13 — “A Taliban attack on two aid organizations last week, the deadliest episode in a recent surge of violence against humanitarian workers in Afghanistan, is a signal to many that as peace talks falter, the insurgents are lashing out against so-called soft targets. Wednesday’s attack killed three workers for CARE, the American aid group, and at least six others, most of them civilians.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/13/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-aid-workers.html

Why Afghanistan’s government is losing the war with the Taliban

The Afghan authorities make their presence felt mainly through corruption and nepotism

May 16 — “Sitting on a dusty rug beside their lorries at the edge of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, a group of middle-aged drivers explain the difference between the Taliban and the government. Both groups take money from drivers on the road, says Muhammad Akram, leaning forward in a black kurta; both are violent. But when the Taliban stop him at a checkpoint, they write him a receipt. Waving a fistful of green papers, he explains how they ensure he won’t be charged twice: after he pays one group of Talibs, his receipt gets him through subsequent stops.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/05/18/why-afghanistans-government-is-losing-the-war-with-the-taliban

U.S. Raises the Stakes in Afghanistan From the Air

Civilian deaths mount in Afghanistan as Washington tries to pressure the Taliban in peace talks

May 16 — “Capt. Safdar Mohammad Andarabi sits with his elbows resting on his knees inside one of the three ramshackle buildings he and his 200 Afghan National Army soldiers tentatively hold in the center of a village in Qala-i-Zal, a rural district only 90 minutes from Kunduz city. Unlike many Afghan commanders, the grim-faced Andarabi doesn’t joke much. What is there to laugh about? He and his men are isolated on a tiny island in a Taliban sea.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/16/without-saying-so-u-s-raises-the-stakes-in-afghanistan-from-the-air/

Pentagon ‘wanted to pay for Taliban travel expenses’

The Taliban now control more territory in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001

May 16 — “The Trump administration wanted to reimburse the Taliban for their expenses attending recent peace talks, according to a congressional aide. But a Capitol Hill committee denied the request to cover the militants’ costs such as food and lodging, a lawmaker’s spokesman told the BBC. It was rejected because it would have amounted to support for terrorists.” READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48300618

WORLD

A Russian-Chinese Partnership Is a Threat to U.S. Interests

While Washington takes a wait-and-see approach, Moscow and Beijing could be coordinating to significantly thwart U.S. interests over the next 15 to 25 years

May 14 — “Russia and China are strengthening ties across virtually every dimension of their relationship. Yet Washington is divided over what these growing ties portend. The conventional wisdom has long held that the Chinese-Russian relationship will remain distant and distrustful—that each country will keep the other at arm’s length.” READ MORE: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2019-05-14/russian-chinese-partnership-threat-us-interests

Russia Needs Immigrants but Lacks a Coherent Immigration Policy

A migration expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow discusses the “dizzying reversals” in Russia’s immigration policy and what officials can do to make the country friendlier to immigrants

May 14 — “Like many other advanced economies, Russia faces serious demographic challenges in the coming decades. According to government projections, the population is expected to shrink by 2.5 million people by 2035, and the active working-age population will likely decrease by 3.1 million people. Russian federal and state authorities recognize the need to hold these trends in check by keeping the country’s doors open, but immigrants, particularly migrant workers, often have trouble accessing social services and must navigate a complex patchwork of rules and regulations in order to stay in Russia.” READ MORE: https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/27852/russia-needs-immigrants-but-lacks-a-coherent-immigration-policy

Sergey Kwan

TCA

Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
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Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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