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.


End of the line for Kazakhstan’s independent journalism?

A new criminal code seems to be undermining investigative and independent journalism in Kazakhstan

Apr 6 — “Sometimes, Zeinulla Kakimzhanov enjoys appearing in Forbes magazine. An English-language profile in 2016, for example, casts him as a man of discerning taste aspiring to rebuild Kazakhstan’s winemaking tradition. Kakimzhanov is not such a fan of the magazine’s Kazakhstan franchise, however. This week, police acting on a criminal complaint filed by the businessman raided Forbes’s Almaty offices and carted away the deputy chief editor, Alexander Vorotilov.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/final-turn-of-the-screw-for-kazakhstans-independent-journalism

Here’s Why Kazakhstan Won’t Ban Mining and Cryptocurrencies

Analyst says that the statement of the Kazakh National Bank’s Governor on the planned ban of cryptocurrencies in Kazakhstan goes against the state policy and the country’s development strategy

Apr 8 — “Over the past few days, crypto media have been stirred up by the news that the government of Kazakhstan is considering a ban on cryptocurrency mining. This was alleged by Daniyar Akishev, Governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan. Is the country really going to become the first to ban mining, or was that merely a statement by an official who doesn’t understand the technology? Let’s take a closer look at what’s actually going on in Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://news.bitcoin.com/heres-why-kazakhstan-wont-ban-mining-and-cryptocurrencies/

After A Generation, Kazakh Peacekeeping Contingent Prepares To Go Abroad

Kazakhstan has been reluctant to send its troops to Syria to support Russia there, so the sending of Kazakh peacekeepers to Lebanon would mean that Kazakhstan has done its share of peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East

Apr 10 — “Deputy Kazakh Defense Minister Talgat Mukhtarov has announced that Kazakhstan will be sending peacekeepers to Lebanon to serve among UN forces there. It was a surprise announcement despite the fact that units of Kazakhstan’s armed forces have trained for peacekeeping duties for most of the country’s independent history, most recently with U.S. and British troops as part of the Steppe Eagle-2017 exercises in Kazakhstan last summer.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-kazakhstan-peacekeeping-contingent-lebanon/29156875.html

Legislating Letters: Kazakhstan’s Alphabetical Experiment

Kazakhstan is moving away from its Cyrillic script towards the Latin alphabet, in an attempt to distance itself from the Soviet past and the current domination of Russian as the lingua franca in Kazakhstan

Apr 11 — “Only one army can march into a city with a measly squadron of around 26 soldiers and orchestrate a coup without firing a single bullet. Over the past 100 years, alphabets have ushered in remarkable change around the world. Swahili and Turkish bade goodbye to the Arabic script in favor of Romanization. Vietnamese and Korean abandoned traditional Chinese characters and adopted Latin script and the original Hangul alphabet, respectively.” READ MORE: http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2018/04/legislating-letters-kazakhstans-alphabetical-experiment/

Hong Kong in the running to host three Kazakh state IPOs

Kazakhstan’s privatization drive is very much allied with China’s ambitious goal of reviving the Silk Road under its Belt and Road Initiative

Apr 12 — “Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, is planning initial public offerings (IPOs) for three of its major assets this year, and Hong Kong is being viewed as a strong choice as the potential venue.” READ MORE: http://www.scmp.com/business/companies/article/2141362/hong-kong-running-host-three-kazakh-state-ipos


Kyrgyzstan Has Blockchain-Friendly Legal System, Report Says

Kyrgyzstan has a legal system that is already friendly to blockchain-related projects and cryptocurrency trading

Apr 10 — “The legal ecosystem in the Kyrgyz Republic offers favorable conditions for blockchain development, according to a recent report titled “The Legal Status of Blockchain Technology in Kyrgyzstan.” The report was commissioned by the Kyrgyz Stock Exchange and the International Finance Centre Development Agency and prepared by Geneva-based law firm John Tiner & Partners.” READ MORE: https://cryptovest.com/news/kyrgyzstan-has-blockchain-friendly-legal-system-report-says/

Turkish President Erdogan Urges Kyrgyzstan to Join Fight Against Gulen

Kyrgyz President Jeenbekov did not respond directly to Erdogan’s urging to deal with Gulen-linked institutions in Kyrgyzstan, but did emphasize his desire to strengthen relations with Turkey

Apr 11 — “Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov arrived in Turkey on Monday for a two-day state visit, his first outside the the former Soviet Union since assuming office in November 2017. Turkish-Kyrgyz bilateral relations suffered over the last two years under Jeenbekov’s predecessor Almazbek Atambayev, in large part because of Turkey’s pressure on Kyrgyzstan to stamp out all remnants of the Gulen movement in the country.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/turkish-president-erdogan-urges-kyrgyzstan-to-join-fight-against-gulen/

Kyrgyzstan: high-profile dismissals, arrests in the energy sector

The energy sector has always been among the most corrupt spheres in Kyrgyzstan

Apr 11 — “The investigation into this past winter’s accident at the Bishkek thermal power plant (TPP) has been completed in Kyrgyzstan, revealing corruption schemes in the country’s energy sector. Several high-profile dismissals, criminal cases and arrests give hope that authorities in Kyrgyzstan are serious about the elimination of corruption in the energy sector.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19601-kyrgyzstan-high-profile-dismissals-arrests-in-the-energy-sector

Kyrgyzstan: China demands to protect investor after locals burnt gold-processing plant

Opposition and protests of local population has long been the main obstacle to foreign investment in Kyrgyzstan’s gold mining industry

Apr 13 — “The Embassy of China in Kyrgyzstan has asked the Kyrgyz Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs Ministries to conduct a fair investigation and protect Chinese investors, after hundreds of residents of the country’s Toguz-Torou district set several buildings of the Kyrgyz-Chinese joint venture Makmal GL Developing ablaze on April 11” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19611-kyrgyzstan-china-demands-to-protect-investor-after-locals-burnt-gold-processing-plant


Tajikistan’s ruling family extends control over telecoms

The family of Tajik President Rahmon is taking control of the most lucrative businesses in the increasingly authoritarian country

Apr 6 — “The utter control wielded by Tajikistan’s ruling family over business in the country has become yet more complete with the acquisition by the president’s brother-in-law of a mobile phone company.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-ruling-family-extends-control-over-telecoms

Pakistan, Tajikistan: Stress laid on developing energy corridor

At a conference organised by the Embassy of Tajikistan in Islamabad and the Centre for Global Strategic Studies, Pakistan and Tajikistan explored new dimensions of bilateral cooperation

Apr 10 — “Practical steps are needed for the implementation of an energy corridor between Pakistan and Tajikistan, which would connect Central and South Asia to alleviate poverty and regional connectivity, said participants at a conference on bilateral relations.” READ MORE: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1681570/2-pakistan-tajikistan-stress-laid-developing-energy-corridor/

Tajikistan: Chinese company gets gold mine in return for power plant

China remains the largest investor in Tajikistan’s economy and holder of the largest part of the country’s foreign debt

Apr 11 — “A company from China has reportedly been granted a license to operate a gold mine in Tajikistan in exchange for building a power plant free of charge in the country’s capital. Asia-Plus newspaper reported on April 11, citing an unnamed official with the State Geology Department, that Xinjiang-based TBEA has received the concession to develop the Upper Kumarg mine in the Sughd region in northern Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-chinese-company-gets-gold-mine-in-return-for-power-plant

Students Pass Out, Tajik Officials Blame ‘Faintheartedness’

A strange mass-fainting incident occurred in a Tajik school, the true reason of which remaining unknown

Apr 12 — “Dozens of children in the southern Tajik village of Chargi are recovering after they lost consciousness at school for no apparent reason. School authorities and parents say a total of 27 children aged between 12 and 16 fainted one after another in the early afternoon of April 6, sparking rumors in the village that they had been poisoned.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-students-pass-out-officials-blame-faintheartedness-/29162949.html


The tragic echoes of Turkey’s anti-Gülen campaign in Turkmenistan

In isolated Turkmenistan, Gulen-linked Turkish schools guaranteed good education and a relationship with the outside world. But now, they are the target of repression from the authorities

Apr 9 — “An old Turkmen proverb says that if two horses fight, it is the donkey in the middle that will die. This aptly describes the fate of Turkish-Turkmen schools in Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country which has been ruled by an autocratic regime since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. A few years back, the Turkish schools fell victim to the bitter enmity between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, two former allies turned bitter enemies.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naz-nazar/anti-gulen-campaign-in-turkmenistan

Universal Periodic Review of Turkmenistan: Key Issues and Recommendations

International rights watchdogs say Turkmenistan’s human rights and freedoms situation remains poor and needs urgent improvement

Apr 11 — “Turkmenistan’s government has not implemented key recommendations it received during the 2013 UPR, and the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly; freedom from torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances; freedom of movement; and adequate compensation for forced evictions continue to be seriously and systematically violated in the country.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/04/universal-periodic-review-of-turkmenistan-key-issues-and-recommendations/

Turkmenistan moves ahead with first GTL project

Gas-rich Turkmenistan is struggling to diversify its oil and gas sector, to start producing and exporting oil and gas products with higher added value

Apr 12 — “Turkmenistan is moving closer to the launch of its first gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant, a project that will provide the Central Asian state with another means of monetising its substantial gas resources. The state-run Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper reported on April 7 that specialists had begun commissioning auxiliary equipment at the plant, which is being erected in the town of Ovadan Depe, near the country’s capital of Ashgabat.” READ MORE: http://www.youroilandgasnews.com/turkmenistan+moves+ahead+with+first+gtl+project_148575.html


In Bukhara, 10,000 Jewish Graves but Just 150 Jews

The central government in Tashkent would like Bukhara’s Jews to stay and those who left the country to start returning

Apr 7 — “The ancient Silk Road city of Bukhara has two synagogues, a primary school that teaches Hebrew, a Jewish cultural association and a sprawling Jewish cemetery with more than 10,000 graves. What it lacks are Jews.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/07/world/asia/uzbekistan-bukhara-jews.html

Squeaky Wheels Sent Away Ahead Of Uzbek Inspectors’ Visit

The Uzbek president has ordered that government officials serve the people, not vice versa, which is still difficult to implement, especially in the regions

Apr 8 — “Villagers in the rural district of Boz in Uzbekistan’s east have noticed a lot of strange things going on recently — roads being repaired, people getting natural gas on discount, the establishment of a new hotline to connect them to the district administration office.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-inspectors-visit-complainers-sent-away-mirziyoev/29152936.html

Russia’s Discounted Mi-35 Sales to Uzbekistan: A Sign of Closer Russian-Uzbek Military Ties?

Unlike his predecessor Islam Karimov, Uzbek President Mirziyoyev has turned to Russia as a partner in equipping the Uzbek armed forces

Apr 9 — “On March 29, during the ArmHiTec-2018 international exhibition of arms and defense technologies in Yerevan, Armenia, the government of Uzbekistan signed an agreement with Russia to purchase more than ten Mi-35M military helicopters” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/russias-discounted-mi-35-sales-to-uzbekistan-a-sign-of-closer-russian-uzbek-military-ties/

Connecting Asia: Uzbekistan Looks to Capitalize on Central Asia’s Transport Potential

With new railway projects, Uzbekistan is becoming a key transit hub in Central and South Asia

Apr 12 — “One of the priorities of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy is the implementation of strategically important projects in the development of transport and communication infrastructure of Uzbekistan and Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/connecting-asia-uzbekistan-looks-to-capitalize-on-central-asias-transport-potential/


In Afghanistan, a new magazine wants to see if there’s a market for business news in English

Business DNA, a new English-language financial magazine launched by a Kabul-based consulting firm, aims to cater potential readers with a business interest in stories about growing industries in Afghanistan

Apr 2 — “There still aren’t many newsstands in Kabul. And there still aren’t many print newspapers or magazines in circulation to fill those stands — the once-vibrant media industry of Afghanistan was among the many sectors that had suffered through years of conflict. But in the past decade and a half, mass media, especially broadcast sources, has grown from just a fewTaliban-controlled regime outlets to thousands of radio, television, and magazine, and newspaper sources.” READ MORE: http://www.niemanlab.org/2018/04/in-afghanistan-a-new-magazine-wants-to-see-if-theres-a-market-for-business-news-in-english/

Afghanistan: Islamic State a deadly force in Kabul

The Islamic State terrorist group is gaining ground in the war-torn Afghanistan and, if not effectively countered, may pose a serious threat to the Kabul government

Apr 9 — “Afghanistan is no stranger to brutal terrorist attacks, but this year began with a series of particularly vicious deadly attacks in Kabul, the only secured and highly fortified city in the country. Even more worryingly, most of these attacks were claimed by the local franchise of Islamic State (IS), known as IS-Khorasan.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19591-afghanistan-islamic-state-a-deadly-force-in-kabul

The Regional Fallout From Trump’s Afghanistan Approach

Expert says that in Afghanistan, the uncertainty generated by the Trump policy has translated into a situation where there is no time line for an exit but there is urgency

Apr 11 — “Donald Trump, in an interview with the New York Times during the campaign in 2016, articulated a desire to play his foreign policy cards close to his chest. “We need unpredictability,” he said and argued that an effective negotiator should be an enigma: no one is to know the bottom line and the ability to make a credible bluff is to be prized.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/the-regional-fallout-from-trumps-afghanistan-approach/

Commentary: What U.S. generals get wrong about Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Afghanistan says the U.S. commander in Afghanistan would have a lot more credibility with ordinary Afghans if he ended U.S. alliances with abusive police chiefs and warlords; reduced civilian casualties; and ensured proper compensation and accountability when such casualties occur

Apr 12 — “U.S. Army General John Nicholson is repeating the dangerous mistakes of the past. In a recent interview he echoed the mantra of his predecessors, that the new U.S. military strategy — which includes increasing both air power and the number of American troops training Afghan forces — has fundamentally changed the situation in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gossman-afghanistan-commentary/commentary-what-u-s-generals-get-wrong-about-afghanistan-idUSKBN1HJ26Q


Russia’s Real Endgame

The editor of Strategic Intelligence believes that Russia has enormous problems including adverse demographics, limited access to oceans, harsh weather, and limited fertile soil. Yet, none of these problems negate Russia’s native strengths

Apr 11 — “Russia’s Putin has never taken his eye off the ball. His ambition is not global hegemony or European conquest. Putin seeks what Russia has always sought: regional hegemony and a set of buffer states in eastern Europe and central Asia that can add to Russia’s strategic depth.” READ MORE: https://dailyreckoning.com/russias-real-endgame-2/

Attracting foreign funding to build the BRI would be a capital idea

Analyst says the Belt and Road Initiative has ambitious goals for China’s geopolitical influence in Central Asia and for the security of land and sea routes between China, Central Asia and Europe

Apr 13 — “China faces many challenges on the domestic front, including an ageing population, income inequality, a shrinking workforce, environmental and health concerns, and conducting trade under growing global protectionism. China’s policy approach to these and related problems includes three broad initiatives: increasing productivity, deepening foreign engagement and enhancing regional integration.” READ MORE: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/04/13/attracting-foreign-funding-to-build-the-bri-would-be-a-capital-idea/

Central Asia’s economic evolution from Russia to China

Although Russia has traditionally been the main political and economic partner of Central Asian countries, in recent years China has outpaced Russia in the Central Asia region on trade, investment and infrastructure development

Apr 14 — “Central Asia has undergone a significant economic transformation in recent years as trade and investment in the region have shifted away from Russia and toward China. Russia remains a major economic force in Central Asia, and China’s rise in the region complements its interests in many ways — or at least doesn’t directly contradict them.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19614-central-asia-s-economic-evolution-from-russia-to-china

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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