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.


AIFC, Bitfury to jointly implement blockchain projects

One of the world’s leading full-service blockchain technology companies has entered Kazakhstan

May 21 — “Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) and the Bitfury blockchain company agreed May 17 to create projects using blockchain technology. Bitfury also plans to open data centres in Kazakhstan to diversify the work environment and cooperate with Nur-Sultan Akimat (city administration). “We are pleased to welcome Bitfury in Kazakhstan and the AIFC is ready to support the development and distribution of blockchain technology in the region. I am confident that the development of human capital will receive an additional inducement as well,” said AIFC Governor Kairat Kelimbetov at the May 17 session of the Astana Economic Forum.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/05/aifc-bitfury-to-jointly-implement-blockchain-projects/

Tyson eyes multibillion-dollar bet on Kazakh beef as route to China

The US company may find an easier way for exports to China through Kazakhstan

May 23 — “Tyson Foods is in talks over a multibillion-dollar investment in Kazakhstan beef production as a back door into China, allowing the US meat company to dodge high tariffs on American agricultural goods. The US is the world’s largest beef producer, but sales to China have been disadvantaged since Beijing imposed a 25 per cent retaliatory tariff in July last year, bringing the total levy to 37 per cent. The value of US beef exports to China fell 17 per cent year on year in the first quarter.” READ MORE: https://www.ft.com/content/691aedd0-7c6f-11e9-81d2-f785092ab560

Kazakhstan: Press freedom missing from agenda of media talking shop

The Kazakh authorities openly acknowledge blocking internet traffic to prevent access to postings from Nur-Sultan’s political bête noire, France-based disgraced banker Mukhtar Ablyazov

May 23 — “When international journalists gather for Kazakhstan’s annual Eurasian Media Forum, they can expect lively wide-ranging debates about pressing issues facing the global fourth estate and the world in general. What they cannot expect at the forum organized by Dariga Nazarbayeva, the Senate chair and daughter of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is any debate about egregious violations of press freedoms in Kazakhstan, where a situation already characterized as dire by international watchdogs has recently deteriorated sharply.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-press-freedom-missing-from-agenda-of-media-talking-shop

How Kazakhstan’s New President Will Navigate His Country’s Role in the Global Great Power Competition

Upcoming presidential elections in Kazakhstan are all but guaranteed to cement the succession process from long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

May 24 — “On June 9, Kazakhstan will officially have its first new leader in three decades. This date marks Kazakhstan’s presidential election, which was moved up by more than a year after long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his resignation in March. Prior to resigning in March, Nazarbayev had led Kazakhstan since 1989, the entirety of the country’s post-Soviet independence.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/how-kazakhstans-new-president-will-navigate-his-countrys-role-global-great-power-competition


Kyrgyz women turn to plastic surgery to get ‘European eyes’

Plastic surgery is a fast-growing market in Kyrgyzstan

May 17 — “In the past, Alina Makhmedova taped her eyelids to change the shape of her eyes. About a year ago, the resident of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, signed up for a so-called “Asian blepharoplasty” or double eyelid surgery. After consulting with her friends, she turned to Instagram where many surgeons have personal profiles showcasing their work to find the right specialist for her.” READ MORE: https://www.euronews.com/2019/05/17/kyrgyz-women-turn-to-plastic-surgery-to-get-european-eyes

Using a business mindset to fund advocacy NGOs in Kyrgyzstan

Shifting to a business mindset is hard for non-profit organizations, but with limited opportunities for funding in Central Asia, it is a change worth making

May 20 — “Kyrgyzstan is often described as the “Switzerland of Central Asia”, but not only for our spectacular mountains. Relative to more autocratic minded neighbors, we represent the most open country in this region. However, despite a reputation for hosting the most vibrant civil society in Central Asia, the sector lives in a precarious situation, vulnerable to a political system that grants disproportionate power to the presidential administration.” READ MORE: https://www.openglobalrights.org/using-a-business-mindset-to-fund-advocacy-ngos-in-kyrgyzstan/

Of Mosque And State In Central Asia

No one in Kyrgyzstan is suggesting limiting the role of Islam in the country, but some in government seem intent on ensuring mosque and state remain separate

May 23 — “Rulers and leading Islamic clerics in Central Asia have lived in complicated symbiosis for more than 1,000 years. Both sides have often sought to increase their influence by using the other. Two recent events — one in Kyrgyzstan, the other in Turkmenistan — show how little some things have changed in the region.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-of-mosque-and-state-in-central-asia/29959145.html


Sharing views on media, migration and radicalism with our Tajik sister city

A cohort of nonprofit leaders, university professors and journalists from Tajikistan visited Boulder last week to discuss the role of the media in the U.S., and share ideas about how to grow a free press in Tajikistan. Boulder was chosen as a location on the U.S. State Department-sponsored visit because of our sister-city connection with Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe

May 23 — “Tajikistan is dealing with a migrant crisis, albeit one different from the situation in the U.S. Tajiks travel throughout the Central Asia region, often to Russia, in search of employment, only to face racial-based discrimination, attempts at extremism from terrorist groups, and, often, expulsion back to Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://www.boulderweekly.com/news/sharing-views-on-media-migration-and-radicalism-with-our-tajik-sister-city/

Tajikistan: Internet grinds to a halt after president’s criticism

Tajik authorities have extended the blockages on websites to all Google resources, which meant that internet users could not access Gmail, YouTube or Google Drive. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites are also off-limits

May 23 — “The already-slow internet in Tajikistan ground even slower this week following criticism from President Emomali Rahmon, who expressed fears about the risk of online communication bolstering terrorism. Speaking at a meeting of post-Soviet security officials on May 21, Rahmon said more needed to be done to combat the activity of extremists in the virtual space.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-internet-grinds-to-a-halt-after-presidents-criticism

Why Did Dozens Die in Tajik Prison Riot?

Questions asked over second outbreak of serious violence in six months in Tajikistan

May 23 — “Another deadly riot in one of Tajikistan’s largest prisons has again highlighted what experts say are serious flaws in the country’s entire penal system. Officials said that 32 people, including three prison officers, were killed as a result of the riot that began at 9.30am on May 19 in the Kirpichny facility in Vakhdat, near Dushanbe. It was the second prison riot in the last six months, and the authorities once again blamed Islamic radicals within the 1,500 capacity facility for the violence. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported that a criminal investigation had been opened into the riot.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/why-did-dozens-die-tajik-prison-riot


Turkmengeologiya Makes Another Gas Discovery In Turkmenistan

Hydrocarbon exports, the bulk of which is natural gas going to China, make up 25 percent of Turkmenistan’s gross domestic product, but low energy prices since mid-2014 and subsequent pricing disputes with Russia and Iran have hampered Turkmenistan’s economic growth

May 21 — “The state-owned subsurface exploration company Turkmengeologiya made another gas discovery in the Caspian region, hitting an onshore reservoir in Turkmenistan, which contains the world’s fifth largest proved natural gas reserves. Specialists from Turkmengeologiya report an industrial gas inflow at a depth of about 2,400 m (7,874 ft) in Tajibai, an area located in the eastern corner of Turkmenistan. Further analysis is required to assess the deposit and determine its potential for development.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/turkmengeologiya-makes-another-gas-discovery-in-turkmenistan-2019-5-20-34/

Turkmenistan’s alpha male goes to the dogs

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

May 21 — “Russia continues to be a source of good news for Ashgabat. On May 15, just a month after Turkmenistan resumed selling gas to Russia, regional news agencies reported that the two countries had formally agreed to end arbitration proceedings over their previous gas spat, which had ended sales in 2016. A day later, Russian Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky said that talks were underway for a new five-year contract.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistans-alpha-male-goes-to-the-dogs

Yangykala Canyon

Few people have ever heard of, let alone visited, one of Turkmenistan’s most impressive natural attractions

May 22 — “Turkmenistan is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Asia, and one of the least visited in the world. And out in the far west of this often forgotten country lies a natural attraction that few Turkmen have ever even seen: the Yangykala Canyon, a windblown landscape of colorful canyons and strange formations that stretches some 15 miles across the desert to the Garabogazköl Basin.” READ MORE: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/yangykala-canyon



Uzbekistan is a country in desperate need for a secure water supply as it is “double landlocked”

May 20 — “Watergen, the Israeli company that developed technology capable of turning air into water, is now a source of freshwater for over 120 children in an orphanage in Uzbekistan’s city of Bukhara. GEN-350, the water generator created by Watergen, can produce up to 900 liters of water per day. It weighs a mere 800 kilograms, making the system transportable and easily installable.” READ MORE: https://www.jpost.com/Jpost-Tech/Israeli-water-from-air-company-provides-services-to-Uzbekistan-orphanage-590140

The lost Louvre of Uzbekistan: the museum that hid art banned by Stalin

This museum in a bleak outpost has one of the world’s greatest collections of avant-garde art, rescued from Stalin’s clutches by an electrician. But now it needs a rescue of its own

May 21 — “I am sitting at a huge table at the Ministry of Culture in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as officials explain what sounds like a wonderful opportunity. There’s currently an international call-out to find someone to run a gallery in the country, one housing the world’s second-largest collection of Russian avant garde art. What an amazing job, I think – raising the profile of a museum that could turn out to be the Louvre of central Asia.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/may/21/lost-louvre-uzbekistan-savitsky-museum-banned-art-stalin

Uzbekistan unveils its latest bash at Latin alphabet

Attempts to devise an alternative to Cyrillic have been ongoing since 1993

May 22 — “Alphabet-tinkering continues apace in Central Asia. This time it is the turn of Uzbekistan, where language officials have unveiled the latest — and what they say is the last — revision to the Latin alphabet version of the national language.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-unveils-its-latest-bash-at-latin-alphabet

German President Should Push Uzbekistan for Further Reforms

After the early euphoria around the “Tashkent spring” under Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s reforms need to enter a new phase

May 23 — “German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier likes to travel to countries he believes are on a path to reform. He contends that the extra international attention reinforces the process. For this reason, according to his aides, he is visiting Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous country, on May 27-29. Steinmeier, a former foreign minister, will be among the most senior Western politicians to visit the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in September 2016.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/23/german-president-should-push-uzbekistan-further-reforms


‘We can live or we can die’: How cricket redefined a war-torn nation

Cricket has allowed the world to look at Afghanistan in a different light, one away from the Taliban and the terrorism

May 20 — “He closes his eyes and the memories flood back. No clean water. No clothes. No shoes. With temperatures north of 45 degrees, his was a world about survival. It is said that the darkest hour comes before the light shines. In the case of Afghanistan — a nation tied inextricably to conflict, out of the ashes of the Soviet-Afghan War and Taliban insurgency has risen a glorious phoenix of hope.” READ MORE: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/20/sport/afghanistan-cricket-world-cup-spt-intl/index.html

Pakistani Duplicity Caused the United States to Lose in Afghanistan

Islamabad’s objectives for Afghanistan have always been different than those of the United States

May 21 — “The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C.” H. R. McMaster wrote that statement in his 1997 scathing critique of the Vietnam War, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. He was a major in the Army at that time. Now, he is a retired lieutenant general and former national security advisor to President Donald Trump.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/pakistani-duplicity-caused-united-states-lose-afghanistan-58752

Assessing the Trump team’s Afghanistan peace plan

The Trump administration’s Afghanistan strategy repeats mistakes made by the Clinton and Obama administrations

May 23 — “Zalmay Khalilzad, President Trump’s special envoy for Afghanistan, continues to pursue a diplomatic settlement with the Taliban framed mostly around the idea that the United States will withdraw from Afghanistan and, in exchange, the Taliban will foreswear terrorism. Khalilzad’s strategy will never work.” READ MORE: https://www.aei.org/publication/assessing-the-trump-teams-afghanistan-peace-plan/

U.S. Commander: Al Qaeda Operating ‘Across’ Afghanistan

General’s comments come as Washington seeks assurances that Taliban won’t let terrorists use Afghan soil

May 23 — “Al Qaeda is operating “across” Afghanistan in several regions, according to Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. “We have seen al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Yes, in different parts of Afghanistan,” Miller toldTOLONews. “In different parts of Afghanistan, we can find them, so it’s not one particular region, it’s across the country.” READ MORE: https://freebeacon.com/national-security/u-s-commander-al-qaeda-operating-across-afghanistan/


‘Navruz Spirit’ Quietly Vanishes From Central Asian Leaders’ Agenda

Foreign visits and international exchanges demonstrate that Central Asian states’ relations with other non-regional players are apparently more important to their governments than relations with their closest neighbors

May 21 — “The second Central Asian Leaders’ Consultative Working Meeting was supposed to take place this spring, in Tashkent. However, scheduling conflicts around the Navruz holiday (March 20, 2019) prevented the summit from convening. For a time, there were indications that the summit would simply be rescheduled for April 12 or some unspecified date later that month.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/navruz-spirit-quietly-vanishes-from-central-asian-leaders-agenda/

Steady as it goes in Central Asia

Japan should use its long, underappreciated history of engagement with Central Asia to promote stability in this vital area

May 22 — “Foreign Minister Taro Kono was in Central Asia last weekend, meeting with his regional counterparts to discuss economic cooperation and security. While that region usually gets little attention — except when things go wrong or when foreign media highlight its quirks — it has assumed growing importance in geopolitics. Its abundant natural resources, its large Muslim population and its geographic location at the crossroads of Asia, the Middle East and Europe make it an increasingly important geopolitical consideration.” READ MORE: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/05/22/editorials/steady-goes-central-asia/#.XOempis9vIU

Sergey Kwan