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.


Skiing, shady avenues and Stalin’s legacy: Almaty in Kazakhstan, where nature is never far away and food runs the gamut from Georgian to Uygur

With its breathtaking mountain views, wealth of leafy parks, and food from across Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, is an entree to the ‘stans’

Nov 17 — “Towering over Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, is the snow-capped Trans-Ili Alatau mountain range that separates the country from its southern neighbour Kyrgyzstan. From turquoise lakes and reservoirs high up in the mountains, ice-cold water bubbles and flows through two rivers and innumerable gullies, watering the many parks and tree-lined boulevards that make the city green and shade the ubiquitous Soviet-era concrete blocks of flats.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/travel-leisure/article/3037559/skiing-shady-avenues-and-stalins-legacy-almaty-kazakhstan

Kazakhstan to launch investor visa programme

The program is currently being discussed in the Kazakh Parliament and should be available for investors in the second half of 2020

Nov 20 — “Kazakhstan is set to launch an investment residence programme that will offer multi-entry visas to foreign investors and their families when they invest in the country as well as additional tax privileges. It is envisaged that potential investors will have several options to invest their funds, including securities traded on Astana International Exchange, the newly created stock exchange operating in the AIFC.” READ MORE: https://www.internationalinvestment.net/news/4007165/kazakhstan-launch-investor-visa-programme

Kazakhstan: Exiled regime nemesis splits sputtering opposition

The squabbling is good news for a regime that relentlessly tries to divide and conquer the opposition

Nov 20 — “Mukhtar Ablyazov, the most avowed foe of Kazakhstan’s government, is no team player. For the France-based fugitive banker, the regime in Nur-Sultan is an authoritarian kleptocracy. That is to be expected. Perhaps more surprisingly, he has little good to say about many of the activists inside Kazakhstan campaigning for reform. He has even coined a crude term of abuse to describe them – Nandon.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-exiled-regime-nemesis-splits-sputtering-opposition

Kazakhstan: The mothers that became the faces of dissent

It is possible that the Kazakh authorities recognize that the heavy-handed approach to dissent is proving counterproductive

Nov 21 — “Oksana Shevchuk was still breastfeeding when she was arrested. Her subsequent conviction earlier this week – on charges of adherence to a proscribed political movement – was triggered by her attendance at a demonstration against Kazakhstan’s government in May. The authorities clearly hope that the sentencing of Shevchuk and three other likeminded activists will, for now, dampen enthusiasm for dissent.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-the-mothers-that-became-the-faces-of-dissent


Assassination of Aierken Saimaiti in Istanbul Raises New Questions

An investigation conducted jointly with Umut 2020, a new Kyrgyz popular movement focused on investigating corruption

Nov 17 — “On November 10th, the businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who had an arrest warrant international arrest warrant issued after fraud allegations, was shot dead in Istanbul. In his pockets, the Chinese citizen and ethnic Uyghur had the keys to a Range Rover that was parked nearby. This Range Rover had diplomatic plates and was owned by the Kyrgyz Consulate General in Istanbul. Earlier this year, Saimaiti was involved in an Azattyk investigation regarding him being an alleged partner of Raim Matraimov, arguably the most influential figure in the region.” READ MORE: https://www.bellingcat.com/news/rest-of-world/2019/11/17/assassination-of-aierken-saimaiti-in-istanbul-raises-new-questions/

Kyrgyzstan: Kids-in-parliament photo-op goes horribly wrong

As a little girl talked about poor healthcare provision, the Kyrgyz MPs laughed

Nov 21 — “What could be more edifying than taking a group of children to visit parliament to see how lawmakers work? That’s what MPs in Kyrgyzstan must have thought until the stunt blew up in their faces. On November 20, a group of children from around the country visited the legislature as part of an outing to mark the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a quarter of a century since Kyrgyzstan ratified the convention.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-kids-in-parliament-photo-op-goes-horribly-wrong

Kyrgyzstan: The $200,000 bribe that vanished

The mystery behind the disappearing money casts more doubt on anti-bribery initiatives in Kyrgyzstan

Nov 22 — “In Kyrgyzstan, a bribe can take on a life of its own. One backhander worth $200,000 is rumored to have lived a particularly colorful existence, escaping from a state safe, skipping trial and possibly vanishing into the depths of a casino. For nearly a week now, the story of a bribe that reportedly went missing from the State National Security Committee, or GKNB, after officers confiscated it in an anti-corruption case has been feeding online ire and calls for heads to roll.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-the-200000-bribe-that-vanished


Pros and Cons of the Tajik Strategy Against Extremism and Terrorism

Tajikistan’s strategy to counter extremism and terrorism recognizes the importance of attracting civil society institutions and every citizen, Tajik political analyst Sherali Rizoyon says in his article written for CABAR.asia

Nov 15 — “The country’s experience in the prevention of extremism can be divided into several stages, which reflect the current internal socio-political processes, as well as international trends in the light of the activation of terrorist groups and the actualization of extremism as a negative phenomenon.[1] Today, Tajikistan and other countries of the region have entered the post-radicalization stage, and therefore the problems of extremism and terrorism absorb a new content. In this vein, a media report on the liquidation of the leader of the Islamic State (IS) organization Al-Baghdadi can lead to diametrically opposite consequences. It can be assumed that the same structure will appear on the basis of the IS, but it will already be more stable and organized.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/pros-and-cons-of-the-tajik-strategy-against-extremism-and-terrorism/

Tajikistan keeps budget afloat on $1.1Bln bed of debt

Heavily-indebted Tajikistan seeks to raise new credits on preferential terms

Nov 20 — “Tajikistan intends to borrow $1.1 billion over the coming four years to avoid running budget deficits, a newly approved government plan has revealed. The roadmap on foreign credit, which was released to the media this week, covers the period through 2022 and was adopted by the government at the start of November. According to the plan, the credit will be needed, in the event of government revenue proving insufficient, to cover the cost of developing priority sectors of the economy, such as transportation, energy and agriculture.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-keeps-budget-afloat-on-11bln-bed-of-debt

COMMENT: Delivering for Dushanbe, now is the time to open the country

Now is the time to open Tajikistan up to business and investors

Nov 22 — “Walking down Rudaki Avenue, in the heart of the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, on a warm October evening one can view a reflection of the current Tajik economy. At first your attention is drawn to the nice sidewalks, smooth pavement, and bright lights running up and down the avenue. Then you notice what is not there: people, small businesses, and a general sense of economic vitality. That feeling of economic vitality is very different on the other main thoroughfares of the capitals in region, from Stary Arbat in Moscow, through Khreshchatyk in Kyiv, and Chuy in Bishkek.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/comment-delivering-for-dushanbe-now-is-the-time-to-open-the-country-172119/?source=tajikistan


Desperate Times: Turkmen Turn To Uzbekistan To Stem Major Cash Shortage

A severe cash shortage in Turkmenistan has forced thousands of people to go to neighboring Uzbekistan to withdraw money from automated teller machines (ATMs) there

Nov 18 — “Hundreds of people line up behind the gate of the Uzbek Embassy in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, at the crack of dawn each morning in the hope of getting a visa to Uzbekistan — though only a few of them are tourists or want to visit friends or relatives. Their main reason for wanting to travel to their northern neighbor is to get hard currency.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmen-turn-to-uzbekistan-to-stem-major-cash-shortage/30278900.html

Turkmenistan: Cart before horse

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

Nov 19 — “When International Monetary Fund staff missions wrap up visits to Turkmenistan, it invariably plays out the same way. The mission issues a dull statement, partly on the basis of a face-value interpretation of bogus government data, but it also adds a muted note of caution. State outlets and friendly regional media then cherry pick the findings to convey only the upbeat news. The visit that concluded on November 12 was no exception.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-cart-before-horse

Turkmenistan stages first opera after 19-year ban

Turkmenistan’s erratic first leader Saparmurat Niyazov banned opera as well as foreign ballet in 2001 in what he posited was a move to protect Turkmen culture

Nov 19 — “Reclusive Turkmenistan staged its first foreign opera on Tuesday, nearly 19 years after the Central Asian country’s founding president banned the art form as “incompatible with Turkmen mentality”. The capital Ashgabat’s state theatre was packed out by residents of the city of a million to see 19th-century Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo’s famous opera, “Pagliacci” (Clowns) as part of an “international culture festival”. READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/turkmenistan-stages-opera-19-year-ban-191119163802581.html


What Is the Reason for the Continued Practice of Forced Cotton Picking in Uzbekistan?

Despite numerous commitments to curtail forced labor in the cotton sector, the Uzbek leadership has not yet shown significant progress in reforming the cotton industry, which is a crucial step in dismantling the forced labor system

Nov 19 — “The approved roadmap for the development of Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector raises doubts about the government’s intentions to curtail forced labor in cotton harvest. You can come to this conclusion by reading the President’s decree of October 23, 2019 “On Approving the Strategy for the Development of Agriculture in the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2020 – 2030”. A content of the document suggests that a super-centralized management system based on command-and-control methods, forcing farmers to grow and harvest cotton, as well as compulsory quotas for raw cotton delivery to the state, will continue.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/what-is-the-reason-for-the-continued-practice-of-forced-labor-masked-as-volunteering-in-cotton-picking-in-uzbekistan/

“Go Against National Mentality.” Why Uzbek Artists Are Leaving Abroad?

Uzbekistan’s conservative regulating organisation, Uzbekkoncert, is being accused of the outflow of young talented people abroad in search of an independent scene

Nov 19 — “For two years of work, the state institution Uzbekkoncert established in 2017 on the basis of the previous state censor in the field of culture and arts, Uzbeknavo, by order of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has developed the reputation of the “inquisitor of art”. During this period, dozens of artists had their performance licenses revoked under vague pretexts. In fact, Uzbekkoncert maintained the punitive policy against modern creation and self-expression that was launched in the times of the first head of state, Islam Karimov.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/go-against-national-mentality-why-uzbek-artists-are-leaving-abroad/

‘No Winners In This Fight!’: Journalists Resign After Tashkent Mayor’s ‘Death,’ ‘Gay’ Threats

The media environment in Uzbekistan has seen some improvement since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016, but outright censorship and self-censorship remain prevalent and authorities continue to exercise unfair control over the media

Nov 20 — “Two Uzbek journalists have resigned from their posts at an online news site after the influential Tashkent mayor was accused of threatening and insulting three reporters. “Don’t take [our quitting] as a victory, because you ruined the image of the entire government [with your actions],” wrote Bahodir Ahmedov, one of the two Kun.uz journalists, addressing Jahongir Ortiqkhojaev, mayor of the capital city.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-journalists-resign-after-tashkent-mayors-death-gay-threats-/30282235.html


A fresh approach to peace in Afghanistan

A step-by-step trust-building process has been more successful in past conflicts than have secret, elite deals. This approach could enable President Trump to responsibly end the seemingly “endless” war in Afghanistan

Nov 20 — “An effective peace process is possible and desirable in Afghanistan. Success, however, will require a careful, step-by-step course to test bona fides, build confidence, reduce violence and encourage the difficult negotiations in which Afghans themselves determine the political future of Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/471101-a-fresh-approach-to-peace-in-afghanistan

The new look of Afghanistan’s Industrial Parks

There are 34 Industrial Parks in Afghanistan covering thousands of acres of area: 11 of these parks are fully operative and 12 are under construction

Nov 20 — “No one can ignore the vital role of industries in the economic development of underdeveloped countries; historical documents show that industries have developed almost all countries, and they are areas which require lots of attention. Since the start of industrial revolution, countries tried to have stronger and better economies through industries, and promoted the sector by allocating and zoning estate or property for them; so that, industrialists can easily start their businesses and industries. The Property generally has various names such as the Industrial Pak, industrial zone and economic zone. These parks are located at the outskirts of the cities with proper infrastructural access and close to transportation infrastructures.” READ MORE: https://www.khaama.com/the-new-look-of-afghanistans-industrial-parks-98743/

Islamic State Staggers in Afghanistan, but Survives

Both the Taliban and Afghan government officials said almost 600 IS fighters had surrendered, along with women and children

Nov 21 — “One of the Islamic State’s most feared affiliates has suffered a significant setback, though U.S. officials caution reports that the terror group was “obliterated” are overblown. U.S. officials confirmed Thursday that Islamic State-Khorasan, as the terror group’s Afghan affiliate is called, collapsed in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province following months of fighting.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/islamic-state-staggers-afghanistan-survives


China’s Surveillance State Has Eyes on Central Asia

Central Asian countries are handing their citizens’ data to Beijing under so-called smart city programs

Nov 15 — “China’s advanced surveillance regime is taking root along the length of the Belt and Road—especially the Belt, the overland Eurasian routes that were the origin of the government’s ambitious investment project. Recently, Kyrgyzstan opened a new police command center in its capital, Bishkek, putting its new facial recognition cameras to work. The equipment was supplied—reportedly free of charge—by the China National Electronics Import and Export Corporation, a defense company currently sanctioned by the United States.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/15/huawei-xinjiang-kazakhstan-uzbekistan-china-surveillance-state-eyes-central-asia/

Ankara to Central Asia: ‘We’re all Turks’

In ‘Stans’ dominated by Moscow’s influence and Beijing’s cash, a newly assertive Turkey has big ambitions

Nov 21 — “In the dusty suburbs of the Kyrghyz capital, Bishkek, hordes of shoppers are swarming over the wholesale market of Dordoy. To the outsider, this – the largest such market in Central Asia – may look like a chaotic maze of containers and shanties. Narrow alleys are hectic and bustling; access roads are clogged with traffic till late at night. It’s business as usual at this entrepot of Eurasian trade.” READ MORE: https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/11/article/central-asia-ankara-seeks-turkic-primacy/

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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