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.


When You Think You Have Seen It All, Try Fantastic Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is still a little-known travel destination for western tourists, but the country has truly unique natural sights

June 12 — “There is the Grand Canyon in Arizona. But there is also a grand one, the Charyn Canyon, in Kazakhstan, the vast Central Asian country with curious and wondrous sights that await intrepid tourists. Sayasat Nurbek, who serves as a National Geographic goodwill ambassador in Kazakhstan, lists the Charyn Canyon, which stretches 56 miles along the Charyn River in the mountainous Southeast, as one of the country’s top sights.” READ MORE: https://www.insidesources.com/when-you-think-you-have-seen-it-all-try-fantastic-kazakhstan/

Why Is Kazakhstan a Growing Destination for Central Asian Migrant Workers?

Russia is losing its attractiveness for Central Asian labor migrants, with many now preferring South Korea, Turkey, and Kazakhstan

June 13 — “If trends hold, Moscow may have to compete with Nur-Sultan in attracting Central Asian migrants in the future.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/why-is-kazakhstan-a-growing-destination-for-central-asian-migrant-workers/

Kazakhstan’s Newly Elected Leader Calls Himself a ‘Reformer’

President Tokayev said he would consider protesters’ grievances as the government transitions from decades of state control

June 13 — “The new president of this Central Asian nation said he would listen to grievances aired during recent protests as his government transitions from decades of tight state control in the former Soviet country. Kazakhstan’s recently elected leader, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said his government would establish a forum to allow protesters unhappy with the country’s political system and socioeconomic issues to be heard.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/kazakhstans-newly-elected-leader-calls-himself-a-reformer-11560452047

Kazakhstan’s choreographed election goes off-script

An autocrat tries something new for Central Asia—organising a transition in his lifetime

June 15 — “’Happy holiday!’ cried a pie-seller in national dress as voters left a polling station in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial capital. A short stroll away in a leafy park, police were ruining the festive mood. Masked officers carried away prostrate protesters and hurled them into police vans. They were breaking up a peaceful demonstration by a few hundred dissenters who had gathered to demand change, even as the man on the verge of being elected president promised continuity.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/06/15/kazakhstans-choreographed-election-goes-off-script


Kyrgyzstan: Atambayev’s snotty remarks put immunity-stripping back on table

The former President Atambayev has a long list of enemies waiting to stick the knife in

June 12 — “The vultures in Kyrgyzstan have again begun hovering over what remains of ex-president Almazbek Atambayev. Reprising an initiative aired earlier this year, a group of more than 40 members of parliament on June 12 supported a motion to consider stripping the former head of state of immunity. Atambayev has for more than a year now been embroiled in a losing death match against his one-time protégé and successor-turned-foe, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov. He has launched the occasional verbal mortar secure in the knowledge that he is notionally immune from prosecution, but that time looks ever closer to ending.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-atambayevs-snotty-remarks-put-immunity-stripping-back-on-table

Bringing Kyrgyz and Uzbek Communities Together

Language and education could be key to improving relations between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in southern Kyrgyzstan

June 13 — “Nearly ten years after more than 400 people were killed in a wave of violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, many tensions remain between the two communities. Uzbeks comprise Kyrgyzstan’s largest minority, making up around 14.6 per cent of the population and are concentrated mainly in the southern and western parts of the country. Nick Megoran, reader in political geography at Newcastle University, has spent years studying these interethnic relations. He tells IWPR that civil society needs to put pressure the politicians of both countries to create the right conditions for co-existence – and that the sphere of education and language are the perfect vehicles to facilitate this.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/bringing-kyrgyz-and-uzbek-communities-together

China, Kyrgyzstan agree BRI key to bilateral ties, regional cooperation

There is great potential for cooperation to dock the China-proposed BRI with Kyrgyzstan’s National Development Strategy 2018-2040

June 13 — “Beijing and Bishkek agreed that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), through implementation of major projects, is of key significance to bilateral ties and regional cooperation, according to a joint statement issued by the two sides on Thursday. The statement on further deepening the China-Kyrgyzstan comprehensive strategic partnership was released as Chinese President Xi Jinping is paying a state visit to the Central Asian country, where he will also attend the 19th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-06/13/c_138140839.htm


Perspectives | In Tajikistan, the EU must mind the GAP

Donors pushing for Tajikistan to shift from subsistence farming to commercial production are not going to relieve rural poverty

June 6 — “Traveling through Tajikistan in summer is a fruit fiend’s dream. Mounds of melons, cherries and apricots line the roadside. Local bazaars are a cornucopia of mulberries, tomatoes and plums. Yet the abundance can be illusory. Outside the bumper crop season, Tajikistan depends on imports for many staples. The international donor community has focused on reforming Tajikistan’s rural economy since the aftermath of the 1990s civil war.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-in-tajikistan-the-eu-must-mind-the-gap

Submission to UN Human Rights Committee’s Review of Tajikistan

Human Rights Watch estimates that since 2014 well over 150 persons have been imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds in Tajikistan

June 11 — “This memorandum provides an overview of Human Rights Watch’s main concerns with respect to the human rights situation in Tajikistan, submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (“the Committee”) in advance of its pre-sessional review of Tajikistan in July 2019. We hope it will inform the Committee’s preparation for its upcoming review of the Tajik government’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/11/submission-un-human-rights-committees-review-tajikistan

Chinese textile company brings new life to Tajikistan’s cotton industry

China is the largest investor in Tajikistan’s economy and infrastructure

June 12 — “”I’m happy to sell cotton to Chinese people,” said Tajik cotton farmer Vahit, who did not give his full name, when telling his stories about China’s Zhongtai (Dangara) New Silk Road Textile Industry Company, a large cotton processing and textile producing enterprise bridging China and Tajikistan.
His special relationship with Zhongtai started three years ago, when Zhongtai made an exception for Vahit and bought a batch of his cotton that had been soiled in a truck accident. Deeply touched by the generous gesture, Vahit has decided to prioritize his business with Chinese companies ever since.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-06/12/c_138137965.htm


Escape From Turkmenistan: Almost 2 Million Have Fled, But The President Looks The Other Way

As Turkmenistan is experiencing an economic crisis, many Turkmen try to go abroad, with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey among the most popular destinations

June 8 — “When confronted with dispiriting population statistics, the president of Turkmenistan apparently took action: He ordered up a new census. But according to multiple sources familiar with the situation who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, the new study did nothing to mask the fact that the Central Asian country is in the midst of a demographic crisis.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/escape-from-turkmenistan-almost-2-million-have-fled-but-the-president-won-t-hear-of-it/29987972.html

Inside Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s absurd city of world records

Ashgabat was clad in marble to impress the Guinness World Records judges. But at what cost?

June 9 — “Ashgabat, the capital of the central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, is notable for three architectural accomplishments. First, it holds the world record for the highest concentration of white marble-clad buildings – in 2013 (the last year for which official records are available), there were 543 in an area of 4.5m square metres. Second, the city has the highest number of fountain pools in a public space – the Ashgabat Fountain, which sits on the road from the airport to the city, includes 27 synchronised and fully-programmable fountains in an area of about 15ha. And third, there is the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel – a 47.6m affair, at the Alem entertainment centre in the south of the city, that cost £57m to build.” READ MORE: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/world-records-city-ashgabat-turkmenistan

Turkmenistan: Food fighters

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

June 11 — “It is hard to believe that Turkmenistan could turn any further on itself, but that is what the latest data show. As the state news agency reported on June 6, exports volumes grew by 14 percent in the first five months of 2019, compared to the same period last year. Imports, meanwhile, sank by 20 percent. Netherlands-based news website Turkmen.news last month spelled out how this kind of result is being achieved.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-food-fighters


A dispatch from Uzbekistan, a country caught between its past and present

Since becoming Uzbekistan’s president, the reform-minded technocrat Shavkat Mirziyoyev has displayed a greater openness toward the outside world

June 7 — “Uzbekistan’s Aral Sea, in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region, exemplifies the struggle between the country’s past and present—a bleak reminder of callous authoritarian central planning and the limits of autocratic reforms. Once the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake, the sea is now mostly an empty shrubland, covered in rolling dunes so fine that hikers practically wade through sand as they climb them. A memorial in Moynaq, a city that used to be on a peninsula reaching into the now-depleted lake, features maps of the receding shoreline. Since the mid-1970s, Moynaq’s population decline paralleled the lake’s transformation into a desert.” READ MORE: https://www.city-journal.org/uzbekistan

Uzbekistan: Release Retired Diplomat

Retired official tortured in detention, his family members harassed, Human Rights Watch says

June 11 — “Uzbek authorities should immediately release a retired Uzbek diplomat charged with treason who has been ill-treated since he was detained in December 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The retired diplomat, Kadyr Yusupov, left the Foreign Ministry 10 years ago, and is currently in a pretrial detention facility attached to Uzbekistan’s State Security Services in Tashkent. Yusupov should be released for his trial, which is set to begin June 17. Authorities should also ensure a prompt, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into his ill-treatment, including torture.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/11/uzbekistan-release-retired-diplomat

Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan: Democratization or Authoritarian Upgrading?

Authoritarian upgrading entails selectively adopting economic and political reforms to placate the population’s demands for democratization, while existing elites capture most of the benefits of the country’s embrace of globalization and marketization

June 12 — “Uzbekistan is undergoing a remarkable transformation. After decades of repression and isolation under President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, the government of Shavkat Mirziyoyev has embarked on a series of reforms to soften repression, create a freer market to stimulate growth and attract foreign investment, replace Karimov-era leaders with young technocrats, and repair ties with neighboring Central Asian states. But what we are seeing in Uzbekistan is not democratization. Rather, it is “authoritarian upgrading.” READ MORE: https://www.fpri.org/article/2019/06/mirziyoyevs-uzbekistan-democratization-or-authoritarian-upgrading/


Getting out of Afghanistan, with Russia’s Help

While U.S. and Russian national security interests in Afghanistan aren’t identical, both countries share the objective of ensuring Afghanistan does not descend into a terrorist playground that presents a long-term threat to their own people

June 9 — “To say that the United States and Russia find themselves on opposite sides of some of the world’s most significant disputes would be a vast understatement. From Syria’s civil war and Ukraine’s internal conflict to arms control and election interference, the modus vivendi between Washington and Moscow can often seem destined for eternal damnation. U.S.-Russia relations may very well be at their lowest point since the U.S. and Soviet missile buildup of the early 1980s.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/getting-out-afghanistan-russia’s-help-61367

Afghan Peace Marchers Meet the Taliban and Find ‘People Just Like Us’

Peace marchers say they found that both the Taliban and the Afghan government have the same sort of leaders — unwilling to make the kinds of compromises that could end the war

June 10 — “Packing umbrellas and spare sandals, Afghanistan’s quixotic band of peace marchers invaded the heart of Taliban territory earlier this month and finally succeeded in their long-delayed quest to sit down with the Afghan government’s enemy. Face to face, over innumerable cups of green tea and hard, round slabs of bread, they found the enemy looked much like themselves and had the same desire for peace that had brought these 30 marchers on their arduous and risky mission.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/10/world/asia/afghanistan-peace-march-taliban.html

Peace Is a Word That the West Has Taken From the Afghans

With no end of war in sight, this past year has been the deadliest year for civilians since the United States first began to bomb Afghanistan in 2001

June 11 — “It’s difficult to explain the nature of the Afghanistan peace talks. There is no single table with the combatants arrayed on either side. Talks are not even taking place in the same city, since there are at least two sets of discussions ongoing. One location for the peace talks is Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban is meeting with the U.S. government. The other location is Moscow, Russia, where the Taliban has been holding meetings with Afghan opposition leaders—including the former president Hamid Karzai.” READ MORE: https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/06/11/peace-word-west-has-taken-afghans

The Afghanistan Conundrum

Given Afghanistan’s complex web of conflicting interests, separate US and Russian efforts to reach an enduring settlement may not succeed

June 13 — “In January 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani publicly admitted that without American support, his government and the Afghan National Army (ANA) could not last very long. That remains the case today: the government is in disarray, and the ANA is barely holding out against the Taliban-led insurgency. Yet US President Donald Trump understandably wants to disentangle America, if possible through a political settlement, from what has become an unwinnable war.” READ MORE: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/afghanistan-america-russia-political-settlement-by-amin-saikal-2019-06


A China-Europe Rail Link Circumventing Russia Could Have Major Geopolitical Consequences

Post-Soviet countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus and eastern Europe compete for the possibility to transit Chinese goods to Europe

June 10 — “To buttress the country’s flagging economy, Moscow has counted on the Russian Federation being the primary transit route for Chinese goods being shipped to Europe. However, Beijing’s commitment to becoming the dominant player on the Northern Sea Route (The Barents Observer, June 7) as well as plans by Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan to develop a railway corridor linking China with Europe via their territories (Casp-geo.ru, June 4) both cast doubt on Russia’s expectations.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/a-china-europe-rail-link-circumventing-russia-could-have-major-geopolitical-consequences/

Beijing and Moscow lay the groundwork for a digital authoritarian future

Russia and China have now formed a close working strategic alliance over the seven years since Xi became leader of the Chinese Communist Party

June 13 — “Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Moscow last week and agreed on many things. They agreed on their positions on the Middle East, on Iran, Venezuela, trade and energy, and even on literature and art. They united in their criticism of US policy and decision-making on trade, Iran, North Korea and the Middle East. But the biggest thing they did was to move the Russia–China relationship a big step closer to a working alliance.” READ MORE: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/beijing-and-moscow-lay-the-groundwork-for-a-digital-authoritarian-future/

Sergey Kwan


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.
Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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