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.


“Not Being a Burden to the State.” How Ethnic Kazakhs From China Who Came Back to Historical Homeland Live?

For six months of 2019, over a thousand families of ethnic Kazakhs have moved back from China to their historical homeland

Sep 23 — “Since birth Oralkhan Aben was living in the county of Durbuljin of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China. According to her, it had been rather quiet there for a very long time, but since 2013 the religious citizens have problems with performing salah in mosques. ‘Once we entered the mosque, they recorded our ID data in front of the gates. Later on, we learned they were preparing something terrible then. They blackmailed workers and retired people saying they would not receive their salaries and pensions if they keep attending the mosque. They prohibited the young people to enter the mosque. That was how the policy of ban started’.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/not-being-a-burden-to-the-state-how-ethnic-kazakhs-from-china-who-came-back-to-historical-homeland-live/

Kazakh Government Takes Down 93k Websites To Site-Block A Single Massage Parlour

The Internet remains tightly controlled in Kazakhstan, where authorities sometimes block opposition or ‘undesirable’ websites. But sometimes such practices lead to awkward results

Sep 26 — “Site blocking. When it comes to law enforcement and IP enforcement efforts, site blockingis the simple man’s solution to a very complicated problem. The claim that floats out there in the ether is something like: hey, if we discover sites are breaking the law in some way, we can just order ISPs to block access to the site and the problem’s solved. Despite that simplistic send up, the practice of blocking sites in this way inevitably leads to massivecollateral damage and flat out abuse. And, yet, those that advocate for site blocking shrug their shoulders at this.” READ MORE: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190925/10133643067/kazakh-government-takes-down-93k-websites-to-site-block-single-massage-parlour.shtml

Kazakhstan promises to allow public protests, just not yet

The Kazakh authorities are squashing demonstrations against China’s domination of Kazakhstan’s economy

Sep 27 — “Kazakhstan’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has tried to sound like a refreshing change after decades of autocracy. Early this month, in his first state-of-the-nation speech, he said his “listening state” would show greater tolerance of dissent. Days earlier, citizens had witnessed the astonishing sight of pro-democracy marches proceeding without arrests. But other protests, including a recent spate targeting the country’s giant neighbour and benefactor, China, have elicited a very different response. In Kazakhstan old political habits die hard.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/09/28/kazakhstan-promises-to-allow-public-protests-just-not-yet

Taraz administration to build Kazakhstan’s largest tourism and history centre

Kazakhstan pays special attention to developing the tourism industry

Sep 27 — “The Taraz akimat (city administration) is building what will be the largest tourist centre in Kazakhstan. The city administration is building the Shakhristan historical and tourist centre, which together with the existing Ancient Taraz archaeological complex, will be the country’s largest tourist centre. In 2011, Taraz central market was moved to another location and archaeological excavations of the ancient settlement were started on the market grounds. Archaeologists have discovered about 50,000 artefacts of the sixth-seventh centuries, a medieval citadel, a mosque of the eighth and ninth centuries, an altar of Zoroastrians, a prison called zindan, the embankment of the ancient riverbed of the Talas river and the foundations of residential buildings.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/09/taraz-administration-to-build-kazakhstans-largest-tourism-and-history-centre/


The Summer Of 1999 And The IMU In Kyrgyzstan

A look back at what happened when international terrorists invaded Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region 20 years ago

Sep 24 — “Twenty years ago, militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) appeared in southern Kyrgyzstan and took several hostages while battling local forces. They were the biggest security challenge to appear on Central Asian soil in more than 60 years, the greatest threat in post-Soviet Central Asia’s history, and their presence exposed the weak ties between the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan when confronted with a common threat.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/the-summer-of-1999-and-the-imu-in-kyrgyzstan/30180837.html

Internet provides new space for Kyrgyzstan’s north-south divide

Online disinformation is manipulating regional divisions in Kyrgyzstan

Sep 25 — “When Kyrgyzstan endures times of political turbulence, anxious talk of destructive regional rivalries invariably follows. The recent confrontation between former President Almazbek Atambayev and his successor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, was no exception. Once the bloody unrest subsided, these divisions emerged afresh.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/internet-provides-new-space-for-kyrgyzstans-north-south-divide

“Skipped Lessons and Squeezed Money.” How Parents in Kyrgyzstan Cope with Gaming Addiction Among Children?

Kyrgyzstan has no official statistics regarding children who attend game clubs instead of school. However, psychologists and activists say parents seek their help to deal with the gaming addiction among schoolchildren

Sep 25 — “This year, 13-year-old Azamat (not his real name) is the sixth-grade student. He spent his summer holidays without gadgets or computer. Anara (not her real name), Azamat’s mother, sent the teenager to the village of Baitik to help relatives with the household. In her opinion, this is the best option after an unpleasant story, whose consequences sometimes arise.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/skipped-lessons-and-squeezed-money-how-parents-in-kyrgyzstan-cope-with-gaming-addiction-among-children/


Tajikistan: Domestic violence goes ignored

Ninety-seven percent of Tajik men and 72 percent of women believe domestic violence is something that must be quietly endured for the sake of family happiness

Sep 20 — “Authorities in Tajikistan seem by and large to believe that women should tolerate domestic violence. That was the finding of a detailed Human Rights Watch report that lays out years of work researching the violence meted out toward woman in Tajikistan’s homes. The names of the 81 victims interviewed were changed to protect their confidentiality.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-domestic-violence-goes-ignored

Tajikistan: strengthening rehabilitation to leave no one behind

The National Programme on Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities is one of the cornerstones of the transformation of the Tajik health system and is the result of a consultative process involving the government, disabled people’s organizations, national and international nongovernmental organizations, and donors

Sep 23 — “Robia was only 6 months old when she fell ill in 2009 and was unable to move her legs. After a month, doctors diagnosed her with polio and she was sent to a rehabilitation centre, but for several years she made no progress. In 2013, however, things changed. Robia started to have physiotherapy and received training in everyday life-skills that could make her independent. She received a support brace from the National Orthopaedic Centre, which is adjusted as she grows.” READ MORE: http://www.euro.who.int/en/countries/tajikistan/news/news/2019/9/tajikistan-strengthening-rehabilitation-to-leave-no-one-behind

Finally, A Defense Of Tajikistan’s Lawyers

Rights groups have repeatedly called for an end to the crackdown on lawyers in Tajikistan and the release of those who have been imprisoned

Sep 26 — “Embattled lawyers in Tajikistan received some welcome international attention in September. The International Commission of Jurists released a statement calling on Tajik authorities to “end intimidation of lawyers, including the Bar Association chairperson.” And Tajik lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who is currently serving a 28-year-sentence in a Tajik prison, was named for an award on the sidelines of the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/finally-a-defense-of-tajikistan-s-lawyers/30185435.html


‘Dubious’ Turkmen Video Claims Missing Activist Joined Army, Dead Father Still Alive

Authorities in Turkmenistan are taking every step possible to suppress any dissent in the tightly-controlled country

Sep 21 — “Turkmen student activist Omurzak Omarkuliev has not been heard from since he was arrested by authorities in Ashgabat in March 2018 and disappeared within the country’s prison system. During the past year, Omarkuliev has become an international cause celebre whose case exemplifies the plight of hundreds of people who’ve vanished in Turkmen jails after being arrested on what rights activists say are often trumped-up charges aimed at silencing political dissent.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-omarkuliev-dubious-turkmen-video-missing-activist-joined-army-dead-father-still-alive/30176383.html

Turkmenistan: Soldiering on

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

Sep 25 — “In view of the state of things in Turkmenistan, earning citizenship from Ashgabat should probably be considered at best a questionable blessing. And yet, for the 863 permanent residents of Turkmenistan who have for years lived in limbo, bestowal of citizenship this week represents an important step toward full personhood.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-soldiering-on

New restrictions for the installation of air conditioners imposed in Ashgabat

Public utilities services are now cutting off freon gas tubes connecting external and internal blocks of air conditioners on the facades of Ashgabat apartment buildings

Sep 26 — “In the run-up to Independence Day public utilities services have launched another campaign to introduce new restrictions for the use of air conditioners. The inhabitants of high-rise apartment blocks had been previously barred from installing external blocks of split systems on the external part of the building, which can be seen from the so-called “protocol” streets – large Ashgabat avenues, where the presidential cortege drives along.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/09/new-restrictions-for-the-installation-of-air-conditioners-imposed-in-ashgabat/


Cutting the cloth in Uzbekistan

To drive growth, the Uzbek government is hoping to promote export oriented industries

Sep 20 — “When Uzbekistan’s reform-minded Mirziyoyev administration took office three years ago it quickly moved for a fast transition to an open market-type economy. Fortunately, unlike many of the countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU), the Central Asian nation already has a relatively diversified economy with strong suits in agriculture, textiles, automotive, mining, food processing and manufacturing. With a young and quickly growing population, however, officials need to create jobs at a rapid rate. So turning to one of the country’s most famous products, textiles, was one obvious solution.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/cutting-the-cloth-in-uzbekistan-167976/

Uzbekistan Turns To Foreign Social-Media Stars To Boost Tourism

The historic centers of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva are on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage lists, making them potential magnets for foreign tourists

Sep 23 — “It is a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood fairy-tale ending. Popular Internet travel bloggers Raquel da Silva and Miguel Mimoso stood together atop the 45-meter-tall Kalyan Minaret in Bukhara at sunrise gazing into each other’s eyes before a probable kiss. Behind them, the well-preserved medieval Central Asian city, including the turquoise onion domes of the Kalyan Mosque, stretching into the distance.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-tourism-foreign-social-media-stars-to-boost-tourism/30176880.html

Uzbekistan: Scholar imprisoned for espionage absolved and released

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers says that although Uzbekistan has taken some steps toward dismantling the “authoritarian and centralist structure that has previously severely undermined the independence of justice,” more progress is needed

Sep 27 — “A scholar in Uzbekistan imprisoned on charges of treason has been freed by court order, sparking hopes that reforms to the justice system are leading to more humane outcomes. Rights activists caution, however, that much remains to be done. Andrei Kubatin’s release follows a ruling by the Tashkent regional criminal court on September 26. He had been sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2017. That term was later reduced to five years on appeal.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-scholar-imprisoned-for-espionage-absolved-and-released


Ghani, Abdullah Facing Off In Two-Horse Afghan Presidential Race

The absence of a credible challenger has propelled incumbent President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah as front-runners

Sep 25 — “A bitter, fraud-marred presidential election in 2014 pushed Afghanistan to the brink of civil war before a power-sharing deal was reached between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who became president and chief executive officer. Five years on, even as 13 other candidates vie for the presidency, the race is shaping up again as a two-horse race between Ghani, a Western-educated technocrat, and Abdullah, a trained ophthalmologist who was a senior member of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/ghani-abdullah-afghan-president-election/30183380.html

Without Free and Fair Elections, Afghanistan’s Economy Will Not Recover

Consecutive Afghan governments appear to disregard the importance of free and fair elections and political stability for bringing investment into the country and stimulating economic growth

Sep 25 — “Afghanistan’s presidential election, scheduled for September 28, will hopefully bring the 9.6 million registered voters to the polling stations, 35% of them women. The election is essentially a rematch between the current president, Ashraf Ghani, and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, plus 15 more contenders. The election process faces many challenges. In terms of security, the Taliban has increased its presence across the country, especially in rural areas. Over 70,000 security forces are assigned to protect 5,000 voting stations.” READ MORE: https://www.fairobserver.com/region/central_south_asia/afghanistan-elections-2019-economy-security-south-asia-news-00876/

In Afghanistan, It’s Brother Against Brother

One Afghan family’s story illustrates the meaninglessness of Saturday’s election in the face of an endless civil war

Sep 26 — “When Lemar ur-Rahman talks about the war in his country, he exudes pride and excitement. “With the help of God, we are going to win,” the 23-year-old Taliban fighter said over lunch last spring in a house near Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, in the north of Afghanistan. “Our movement has become very successful.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/26/in-afghanistan-its-brother-against-brother-baghlan-taliban/


Women in the Parliaments of Central Asia

An analysis of the representation of women in the parliaments of Central Asian countries

Sep 25 — “The constitutions of the Central Asia’s countries guarantee to all citizens, regardless of nationality, religion and gender, aspire for different posts in all branches of power. 189 countries in world have ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It seems that women have already achieved equality at the political level. Nevertheless, the representation of women in politics and decision-making processes in the countries of the region is still below the basic international level.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/women-in-the-parliaments-of-central-asia/

The Belt and Road Initiative Adds More Partners, But Beijing Has Fewer Dollars to Spend

China’s investment and construction spending around the world is slowing down—and so is spending on the BRI, despite 62 new countries joining the initiative in the last year

Sep 26 — “In October 2013, President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) unveiled the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious plan to build infrastructure and improve transport connectivity in more than 60 countries across Asia and beyond. Since that time, the BRI has become so key to China’s national grand strategy that it has been codified in the country’s constitution (Xinhua, October 24, 2017). To date, the PRC has signed BRI agreements with 137 countries.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/the-belt-and-road-initiative-adds-more-partners-but-beijing-has-fewer-dollars-to-spend/

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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