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 rewrites its alphabet to shed its Soviet past

Kazakhstan has given itself seven years to transition from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet, in a push to modernize the Central Asian country

July 1 — “Around 25 first grade school students are excitedly chanting the alphabet. Their gaze hardens as they concentrate on writing basic words in their lined notebooks, slowly tracing the curves of each letter. The pupils at the village school in Kainazar near the city of Almaty have been practicing the Cyrillic alphabet in their Kazakh language classes since the beginning of the year. But soon they will have to relearn everything from scratch.” READ MORE: https://www.dw.com/en/kazakhstan-rewrites-its-alphabet-to-shed-its-soviet-past/a-49434285

Kazakhs fight for news of relatives detained in Xinjiang: ‘We have to speak up’

An estimated one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been sent to the detention centres in China’s Xinjiang region. Ethnic Kazakhs are believed to be the second largest group being held. There are around 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs and 12 million Uighurs living in Xinjiang

July 3 — “As China continues to detain Uighurs and other minorities in internment camps in the western region of Xinjiang, a group of volunteers in Kazakhstan is collecting thousands of accounts from families whose relatives are being held in hopes of shedding additional light on the vast human rights abuses. Members of the Almaty-based group Talpyn Zhastar help Kazakh families document the missing and film videos appealing for information about relatives who have been swept up into the camps along with Uighurs.” READ MORE: https://observers.france24.com/en/20190703-kazakhstan-china-xinjiang-families-detained

The Policy of the Golden Mean: Kazakhstan’s Experience for Greater Eurasia

Geographically, Kazakhstan represents the deep continental regions of Eurasia, located, in fact, in the middle of the continent. This “middle-ground” concept – or the golden mean concept – underlies Kazakhstan’s strategy

July 4 — “One of the important aspects of leadership is the ability to ensure continuity of the political course pursued by the leader. In recent months, Kazakhstan has gone through a difficult election campaign with credit. We are pleased that Kazakhstan will now be represented by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a longtime associate of Nursultan Nazarbayev, and an outstanding diplomat who is well known in Russia as a reliable partner.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/the-policy-of-the-golden-mean-kazakhstan/

Kazakhstan is in the middle of a political transition. So is its social media humour.

In Kazakhstan, fear is subsiding and the jokers are out in force

July 4 — “Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is Kazakhstan’s new president, at least in name. But he isn’t getting the same treatment online as his much-glorified and constitutionally-protected predecessor. Analysts had been tipping leader of three decades Nursultan Nazarbayev to initiate a succession process for years, but when Nazarbayev in March announced his resignation on state television, it still came as a surprise.” READ MORE: https://globalvoices.org/2019/07/04/kazakhstan-is-in-the-middle-of-a-political-transition-so-is-its-social-media-humour/


Kyrgyzstan: Kingmaker lurks behind curtain as politics heat up

Matraimov and his money are said to have lain behind the rise and fall of many a top politician in Kyrgyzstan

July 3 — “In the southern Kyrgyzstan village where reputed kingmaker Rayimbek Matraimov grew up, he is viewed as a hero, not a thief. Matraimov, 48, began his career in the customs service in 1997 as an entry-level inspector. He rose through the ranks to become deputy head of the service in 2015. Two years later, he was abruptly dismissed, a decision that he successfully appealed without seeking reinstatement.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-kingmaker-lurks-behind-curtain-as-politics-heat-up

Kyrgyzstan: State media turns its fire on former first lady

Kyrgyz state television company says former first lady Raisa Atambayeva helped defraud Chinese investors

July 3 — “State television in Kyrgyzstan has — in another escalation of the ongoing standoff between the country’s previous and current presidents — turned its attention to the former first lady. A half-hour news report aired on the KTRK television station on July 3 accused Raisa Atambayeva, the wife of Almazbek Atambayev, who served as head of state until November 2017, of involvement in expropriating companies from a group of Chinese investors.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-state-media-turns-its-fire-on-former-first-lady

Kyrgyzstan makes history as it ends plight of last ‘legal ghosts’

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) launched an ambitious campaign called #Ibelong in 2014 to end statelessness in a decade. Kyrgyzstan is the first country to meet the deadline

July 5 — “Kyrgyzstan handed citizenship to the last stateless people on its territory on Thursday in what U.N. officials hailed as a breakthrough in the global fight to end the plight of millions of “legal ghosts” who lack any nationality. An estimated 10 to 15 million people worldwide are not recognized as nationals by any country, often deprived of education, health, housing and jobs, and at risk of exploitation and detention.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kyrgyzstan-stateless-un/kyrgyzstan-makes-history-as-it-ends-plight-of-last-legal-ghosts-idUSKCN1TZ1ZF


Strengthening Oncological Services in Tajikistan, with a Growing Focus on Women’s Cancers

Beginning in 2014, a series of International Atomic Energy Agency projects have been implemented to strengthen the quality of cancer services in Tajikistan

July 2 — “Each year, medical professionals at Tajikistan’s Republic Oncological Scientific Centre (RCCO) must contend with nearly 6,000 new cases of cancer, of which approximately 70% might be treatable through radiotherapy. To ease the burden placed on the RCCO and to expand access to cancer therapy, an ongoing IAEA technical cooperation (TC) project is working toward the enhancement of radiotherapy services at the RCCO and the inauguration of a new radiotherapy centre in the country’s northern Sughd Province.” READ MORE: https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/strengthening-oncological-services-in-tajikistan-with-a-growing-focus-on-womens-cancers

Tajikistan, Iran see tunnel at the end of the fight

In the recent time, there have been some signs of warming ties between Tajikistan and Iran

July 2 — “It is all smiles again between Tajikistan and Iran after years of bitter sniping. RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, on June 30 reported that the two countries have pledged to jointly spend $8 million toward completion of what waggish travelers have for many years dubbed “the tunnel of death.” Upgrade works on the Istiqlol Tunnel, which was commissioned in 2006 and built to less than satisfying standards on Tehran’s coin, will see the installation of fire extinguishing systems and other facilities.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-iran-see-tunnel-at-the-end-of-the-fight

Tajikistan: Ozodi facing calls for closure of Dushanbe bureau

The Tajik Foreign Ministry says the US broadcaster is supporting opposition groups

July 5 — “The Tajik service of U.S.-funded broadcaster RFE/RL is coming under growing calls for closure of its Dushanbe bureau as Tajikistan’s government inches closer to total obliteration of independent media inside the country. Radio Ozodi’s position has already been intensely compromised by the Foreign Ministry’s refusal to grant accreditation to several of its Dushanbe correspondents.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-ozodi-facing-calls-for-closure-of-dushanbe-bureau


Turkmenistan: Liquid lunch

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

July 2 — “A train carrying a batch of synthetic gasoline produced in Turkmenistan pulled into a station just across the border in Afghanistan earlier this week. The size of the delivery was not stated in Turkmen state media accounts, but the significance of this event may be very considerable. The fuel is the first commercial export product generated by the $1.7 billion gas-to-liquids plant that was opened on June 28 in Ovadan-Depe, just outside the capital, Ashgabat, with great ceremony.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-liquid-lunch

President Berdymukhammedov’s in-laws identified among the motorway contractors

Companies of the husband of President Berdymukhammedov’s elder sister reportedly receive profitable government contracts, including the contract to build Ashgabat-Turkmenabad motorway worth $2.3 billion

July 3 — “Journalists of Turkmen.news have found out that one of the four companies contracted to build the Ashgabat-Turkmenabad highway “Nussay Yollary” is headed by Annanazar Rejepov – husband of President Berdymukhammedov’s elder sister Durdynabat Rejepova.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/07/president-berdymukhammedovs-in-laws-identified-among-the-motorway-contractors/

New EU Office in Turkmenistan Needs Focus on Rights

Human Rights Watch calls on the EU foreign-policy chief Mogherini to tell the Turkmen government the new EU office in Turkmenistan will spare no efforts to press for real human rights changes in the country

July 4 — “Tomorrow the European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, will be in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, to lay the groundwork to open an office of an EU delegation. The EU has 140 delegations around the world, and it’s a mark of prestige for this isolated country to host one. The delegation will have its work cut out for it: Turkmenistan has one of the most repressive governments in the world, with a long track record of locking up activists and human rights defenders.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/04/new-eu-office-turkmenistan-needs-focus-rights


‘Hashar’ Or Hoax? Uzbek Officials Accused Of Forced Labor In Grand Building Project

Uzbeks say they’re forced to build showcase villages

July 1 — “Uzbekistan’s government has an ambitious plan to transform more than 450 villages across the Central Asian country this year, reconstructing roads, homes, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure. But the badly needed upgrades, part of the Prosperous Village project, are overshadowed by claims that many people are being forced to work without pay at the construction sites or to donate money.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/hashar-or-hoax-uzbek-officials-accused-of-forced-labor-in-grand-building-project/30031719.html

Uzbekistan’s invisible Uighurs

Uzbek media almost never talk about Xinjiang. Reports about China generally touch on inoffensive areas, like culture and business, and how Chinese investment is flowing into Uzbekistan

July 1 — “It is coming up on a year since Zarifahona Islamova last heard from her cousin, Gulokcha. Gulokcha, who is in her late 50s, is from Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang UighurAutonomous Region. She traveled to Uzbekistan last August and stayed at Islamova’s home for a month. Before leaving, she promised to post a message on Facebook to let friends and family know she had got home. The note of reassurance never appeared, said Zarifahona.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistans-invisible-uighurs

Chimes from Tashkent

Uzbekistan and Pakistan are interested in partnership on the regional security and stability agenda, including the conflict resolution in Afghanistan and expansion of infrastructure, trade and economic ties between Central Asia and Pakistan

July 3 — “Located at the new center of global attraction for economic activity, Pakistan and Uzbekistan share a long string of relations. After the independence from the soviets, Pakistan was among the first countries to recognize it. In 1992, Pakistan established their first diplomatic sanctuary in Tashkent. Since then delegations from both the countries paid visits to each other.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/07/03/chimes-from-tashkent/


What Do the Taliban Want in Afghanistan? A Lost Constitution Offers Clues

The Taliban have remained officially vague about what kind of government they envision. But some clues to how the insurgents view power and governance can be found in a constitution that the group drafted while it ruled Afghanistan but that was never ratified before the Taliban were ousted by the United States invasion in 2001

June 28 — “There was an air of expectation on both sides as the Taliban and American diplomats gathered to meet for the latest round of peace talks on Saturday. Afghan and Western officials say that if the Taliban express willingness to finally go to the negotiating table with the Afghan government, American diplomats might be willing to play their main negotiating card: offering some sort of provisional schedule for the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/28/world/asia/taliban-peace-talks-constitution.html

The Taliban don’t want peace, but let’s leave Afghanistan anyway

The United States doesn’t need anyone’s permission to leave Afghanistan

July 3 — “The Taliban launched a major attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday, killing dozens and injuring more than 100 people, nearly half of whom were reportedly children. This attack, combined with each side’s frustration at the other’s inflexibility, makes the likelihood of any substantive progress in the ongoing U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations very small. Meanwhile, two Americans soldiers and a special forces medic were killed in Afghanistan just within the last week.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/the-taliban-dont-want-peace-but-lets-leave-afghanistan-anyway

Afghanistan: Herat’s opium fields make way for saffron

Farming saffron has increased rapidly across Afghanistan. While Iran dominates the market, producing about 90 per cent of the world’s supply, Afghanistan has quickly become the third largest saffron provider after India

July 4 — “In the past five years, Ali Bahib has helped dozens of Afghan poppy farmers make the switch to saffron. The agricultural engineer and manager of Gharzai Saffron, a company with its production base in Herat, in western Afghanistan, has worked in the business for the past 15 years, but says it is now booming like never before.” READ MORE: https://www.thenational.ae/world/asia/afghanistan-herat-s-opium-fields-make-way-for-saffron-1.882342

There Will Be No Peace for Afghanistan

Despite optimistic signs from U.S.-led peace talks in Qatar, Afghanistan’s future looks bleak

July 4 — “As talks to end the war in Afghanistan continue in Qatar this week, and amid continued political disarray in Kabul, there seems to be one clear trend on the ground: The Taliban are consolidating control. The longer the war drags on—now in its 18th year—the more the balance of the conflict tips in the insurgent group’s favor.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/04/afghanistan-taliban-peace-talks-2/


Chinese Private Security Moves Into Central Asia

With vast investments at stake, Chinese private security firms are expanding operations in Kyrgyzstan and beyond

July 3 — “As Kyrgyz President Soornbay Jennbekov pushed efforts to make the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway a reality, a private Chinese security company signed deals to protect the contested project for China Railway Group. The 2016 Chinese embassy bombing in Bishkek heightened risk perception among the Chinese business community in Central Asia. Chinese companies operating in Kyrgyzstan since then have begun to swap out local security services for imported private Chinese security personnel.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/chinese-private-security-moves-into-central-asia/

A case to revive Central Asian linkages to Kashmir

Is Kashmir more Central Asian or South Asian?

July 4 — “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East policy and a reach out to Central Asian nations has gained ground to seek alternate markets. Much before the U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war and tariff threats, India had begun reassessing options, triggered by the U.S. decision to walk out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). India and Japan were supposed to play a sheet anchor in the TPP. Experts and politicians in Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir have been pleading the Indian government, to use the region as a point, to seek outreach with Central Asian states. They believe that revival of links with Central Asia will undo the damages caused by borders and heavy militarization.” READ MORE: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/a-case-to-revive-central-asian-linkages-to-kashmir/1523032#

Sergey Kwan