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.


Black blood: a history of Kazakhstan’s oil sector

The new book, “The Black Blood of Kazakhstan: The Oil History of Independence,” provides a comprehensive overview of Kazakhstan’s oil business, but skips over the uncomfortable truth of privatisation deals

Apr 24 — “When speaking about Kazakhstan, you have to mention oil. This is the sector that has shaped the country’s political economy since independence. And oil is precisely where this book, the first and only overview of the evolution of Kazakhstan’s oil industry to date, begins. As the author explains: the book’s title symbolises oil as the blood that flows through Kazakhstan’s financial veins.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mia-tarp-hansen/black-blood

Kazakhstan: President’s remarks precipitate crisis at bank

Kazakhstan’s banking sector remains among the weakest in Central Asia, with many banks suffering from large non-performing loans

Apr 24 — “With words he hoped would serve as a sharp kick in the rear for banks, Kazakhstan’s president has sparked a crisis for at least one troubled domestic lender. After listening to a report presented by the National Bank on April 18, President Nursultan Nazarbayev grumbled that some lenders were misusing bailout funds provided by the government.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-presidents-remarks-precipitate-crisis-at-bank

The cost of changing an entire country’s alphabet

A story of the economics of Kazakhstan’s change from its Cyrillic script to a Latin-based alphabet — the move is more about politics rather than economics

Apr 25 — “The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant – and it elicited a big response. “This one is more beautiful!” Asset Kaipiyev exclaims in surprise. The co-founder of a small restaurant in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, Kaipiyev had just been shown the latest version of the new alphabet, approved by President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier in the day.” READ MORE: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20180424-the-cost-of-changing-an-entire-countrys-alphabet

Kazakh Man Recounts ‘Reeducation’ In Western Chinese Camp

Beijing’s reeducation campaign initially targeted Uyghurs, the largest Muslim group living in Xinjiang, but later Chinese authorities included other Muslim peoples: Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and even Dungans

Apr 26 — “‘They taught [us]…not to be Muslims.’ Thirty-year-old Kayrat Samarkan is an ethnic Kazakh from China. He has just received citizenship in Kazakhstan, after living there since May 2009. But he almost didn’t make it. On February 15, Samarkan was released from a “reeducation” facility in China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-recounts-reeducation-in-western-chinese-camp/29194106.html

Kazakhstan’s government squelches the least hint of dissent

Authorities in Kazakhstan are tough in suppressing any dissent, but a protest movement may be brewing in the country

Apr 26 — “TO THE untrained eye, the activity looked innocent enough. Patriotic Kazakhs marked a public holiday in March by displaying balloons of the same turquoise colour as the national flag. The hitch was that Mukhtar Ablyazov, an exiled oligarch, had urged citizens to display turquoise balloons to demonstrate their support for his political movement, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21741197-also-insists-77-year-old-president-universally-adored-kazakhstans-government


Temirlan Ormukov, Kyrgyzstan’s blind satirist poet, is facing politically motivated prosecution

In Kyrgyzstan, authorities have often used law enforcement and courts to silence political opponents

Apr 23 — “Poet Temirlan Ormukov, who pens satirical poetry critical of the Kyrgyz authorities, cut his stomach open on 29 March with a razor in protest against being imprisoned at an Interior Ministry building. Ormukov was treated by emergency services, and on 5 April was placed in investigative detention in Bishkek. Ormukov, who is blind and is recognised as having a disability, was kept in a tiny, three-metre-square ward.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/temirlan-ormukov-kyrgyzstan-s-blind-satirist-poet-is-facing-prosecution

Kyrgyzstan and its government: New names, old faces, uncertain future

The new, 30th cabinet has been sworn in in Kyrgyzstan, which includes old faces and pursues the old goals left over from the previous governments

Apr 26 — “There is at least one new thing about Kyrgyzstan’s latest prime minister. In a faintly populist move, Mukhammedkaliy Abylgaziyev, 50, has announced he’s relinquishing his motorcade and says he no longer wants traffic blocked whenever he is passing through town. True to his word, on April 23, he turned up for work without a security detail at 7:30 a.m., in time to avoid the rush hour jam.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19666-kyrgyzstan-and-its-government-new-names-old-faces-uncertain-future

Head of Kyrgyzstan’s corruption agency fired after 10 days in job

Another high-ranking appointee of the former President Atambayev has lost his job in Kyrgyzstan — for the second time during a month

Apr 26 — “Every shashlik cook worth his salt knows the secret is to give the meat a good marinade before sticking it on the skewer. A similar softening-up approach was adopted before the head of Kyrgyzstan’s state economic crimes service was ejected from his post.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-head-of-corruption-agency-fired-after-10-days-in-job

Kyrgyzstan: Power, Prime Ministers, and Power Plants

The corruption case regarding the modernization of the Bishkek heating plant through a Chinese loan may cost many Kyrgyz officials their chairs

Apr 27 — “A week after being fired, former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov says he has been questioned by investigators about the modernization of a power plant that failed in late January in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. On Thursday, Isakov posted a photo of the summons on his Facebook.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/kyrgyzstan-power-prime-ministers-and-power-plants/


Tajikistan Still Considering Engagement With the Eurasian Economic Union

Moscow is taking steps to lure Tajikistan into Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, which would strengthen Russia’s influence on the Central Asian country

Apr 23 — “Once again, it seems Russia has suggested that Tajikistan take a hard look at the Eurasian Economic Union. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters in Moscow on April 20 that the Russian sidehad suggested observer status to their Tajik counterparts during a meeting of the Tajik-Russian commission for trade and economic cooperation.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/tajikistan-still-considering-engagement-with-the-eurasian-economic-union/

Tajikistan takes another go at bond market

The new sale of bonds, if successful, would only increase Tajikistan’s fast-mounting foreign debt, which stood at $2.9 billion at the start of this year

Apr 24 — “Heavily indebted Tajikistan has reportedly decided to take another run at the bond market by touting $500 million worth of notes. RFE/RL’s Tajikistan service, Radio Ozodi, reported on April 23, citing an unnamed official in the Finance Ministry, that Merrill Lynch, the wealth management division of Bank of America, intends to buy a large chunk of the bonds.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-takes-another-go-at-bond-market

An Islamic State Orphan Returns To Tajikistan

Tajik authorities say there are some 200 children among more than 1,000 Tajik nationals who are believed to have left for Iraq and Syria to join IS since 2014

Apr 25 — “Muhammadrahim Shoev has finally gotten his wish — the Tajik man has been reunited with his 10-year-old granddaughter, the only member of his son’s family of six to have survived their move to Iraq.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-child-orphaned-islamic-state-returns/29192078.html

Tajikistan calls on EBRD to participate in completion of Roghun HPP

Tajikistan is striving to raise funds for completion of its major hydro plant which, if completed, will turn the country suffering from chronic power shortages into an electricity exporter

Apr 26 — “Tajikistan has called on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Bank (EBRD) to participate in construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant (HPP), Tajik news agency “Asia-Plus” reported on April 26.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/business/energy/2893754.html


Good News For Uzbekistan Is Not Good News For Turkmenistan

For decades, authoritarian Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had much in common, but things are changing now as the Uzbek president has embarked on political and economic reforms, while the situation in Turkmenistan is not likely to change

Apr 25 — “As if Turkmenistan didn’t already have an image problem, it must now contend with neighboring Uzbekistan changing its policies and earning cautious but consistent praise from the global community and renewed interest from international companies and investors.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-turkmenistan-uzbnkistan-comparison-berdymukhammedov-mirziyoev-economic-woes-rights-abuses/29191479.html

NIGC managing director hopes to resolve the gas dispute with Turkmenistan without taking the case to the court

Iran and Turkmenistan seem to be looking for a compromise in their long-lasting dispute over the alleged Iran’s debt for Turkmen natural-gas supplies

Apr 25 — “The Iranian news agency IRNA reports that on 24 April Hamid Reza Araqi, managing director of the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC), said that by next month, Iranian and Turkmen experts will review Iran-Turkmenistan differences on their dispute and hoped to reach agreement on the issue so that the case is not referred to the court.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/04/nigc-managing-director-hopes-to-resolve-the-gas-dispute-with-turkmenistan-without-taking-the-case-to-the-court/

Turkmenistan is a closed country, but will have to open: an expert

Director of a Tashkent think tank on the results of the Turkmen president’s visit to Uzbekistan

Apr 26 — “President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on April 24 completed his two-day visit to Uzbekistan. It was a reciprocal trip of the Turkmen leader – he was invited to visit Tashkent during his counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to Ashgabat, the first, by the way, foreign visit of the newly elected president of Uzbekistan. Perhaps the main result of the visit was that modern technologies were used in its coverage: the ceremony at the airport and the joint press conference of the presidents were broadcasted through the Uzbek leader personal page in Facebook.” READ MORE: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/04/26/turkmenistan-is-a-closed-country-but-will-have-to-open-an-expert


Uzbekistan looks up from Central Asia’s cockpit of the world

A new look at the past and the present of Uzbekistan

Apr 20 — “”The sun does not shine on Bukhara. It is Bukhara that shines on the sun,” is a common refrain in this mythical, ancient city on the old Silk Road. It sprang to mind as I was having coffee with a local business figure in Bukhara’s old quarter, an area dating back to the 15th century with its spellbinding array of Central Asia’s three M’s – mosques, madrassas and mausoleums.” READ MORE: http://www.afr.com/news/world/asia/uzbekistan-looks-up-from-central-asias-cockpit-of-the-world-20180418-h0yxu5

Rustam & Rustam’s Fish And Chicken Emporium

President Mirziyoev has successfully removed his two chief rivals for power — one of them is now overseeing the fishing industry in Uzbekistan and the other the poultry industry

Apr 21 — “Mmmmm. Humiliation never tasted so good. Those dining in restaurants in Uzbekistan should consider that their meal may have come courtesy of two men who just two years ago were among the most powerful people in the country. I speak of Rustam Inoyatov, the former head of the National Security Service (SNB), and Rustam Azimov, the former finance minister.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-rustam-rustam-s-fish-and-chicken-emporium/29183819.html

Uzbekistan Agrees to ‘Take Part’ in TAPI

It is yet to be seen if Tashkent’s commitment will remain just words or will see implementation

Apr 24 — “Uzbekistan has reportedly agreed to participate in the massive Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. The news comes as Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov paid a visit to Tashkent on Monday.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/uzbekistan-agrees-to-take-part-in-tapi/

Reforming Customs, Uzbekistan Nods Toward the Eurasian Economic Union

Uzbekistan is harmonizing its import tariffs with Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union’s norms, which could be considered as a step towards the country’s integration with the post-Soviet trade bloc

Apr 26 — “For all the doom and gloom associated with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a funny thing is happening in Central Asia – Uzbekistan is harmonizing its import tariffs with EAEU norms. The move comes amid a larger reorganization of the country’s customs service in an attempt to improve tax collection, the investment climate, and opportunities for the country’s businesses.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/reforming-customs-uzbekistan-nods-toward-the-eurasian-economic-union/


Watchdog Says Billions In Afghanistan Funding At Risk Of Misuse

As corruption is rampant in Afghanistan, much of the huge amounts of money allocated by international donors for the country’s reconstruction may end up in someone’s pockets

Apr 25 — “Over the course of 15 years, the U.S. has contributed more than $3 billion into a trust fund that is aimed at helping Afghanistan with its reconstruction. In total, donors from around the world have given the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which is administered by the World Bank, more than $10 billion.” READ MORE: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/25/605304003/watchdog-says-billions-in-afghanistan-funding-at-risk-of-misuse

Project to exploit Afghanistan’s giant copper deposit languishes

China’s plans to tap into Afghanistan’s copper wealth have stalled, largely due to concerns over security

Apr 25 — “All was quiet at Mes Aynak during a visit in early February. The bright sun had partly melted a thin layer of snow on the gentle hills and craggy mountains that surround and intersperse the area. Guard houses dotted the hilltops and a fence with watchtowers protected a group of barracks in an otherwise pristine landscape.” READ MORE: https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/10577-Project-to-exploit-Afghanistan-s-giant-copper-deposit-languishes

Is America Ready for a Peace Deal in Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, military stalemate could be an essential precondition for negotiated conflict resolution

Apr 26 — “The Afghan Taliban announced the launch of their annual spring offensive on April 25, on the same schedule they’ve stuck to for many years. At the same time, the United States is reported to have dropped more bombs in Afghanistan in the first quarter of 2018 than in the same period of any of the last fifteen years.” READ MORE: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/america-ready-peace-deal-afghanistan-25583

Exclusive: Inside an Afghan prison holding detained ISIL fighters

Hundreds militants entered Afghanistan over the past two years, as the Islamic State group lost territory in Syria and Iraq

Apr 26 — “Al Jazeera has gained exclusive access to a prison where fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group detained by the Afghan government are being held.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/exclusive-afghan-prison-holding-detained-foreign-isil-fighters-180426080445862.html


India and China jostle for influence in Iran and Central Asia

India’s International North-South Transport Corridor emerges as a competitor to China’s Belt and Road in the wider Central Asia region

Apr 24 — “China and India’s new Great Game has reached the playing field of the original imperial power rivalry in the 19th century: Iran and Central Asia. Each of the rising giants wants to be the one to shape a new regional order.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Asia-Insight/India-and-China-jostle-for-influence-in-Iran-and-Central-Asia

China and Georgia Deepen Transit Cooperation

The Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor would give China opportunities to access European markets via a previously underutilized transport route

Apr 25 — “On April 12, Georgia’s Economy Minister Dimitry Kumsishvili, along with three other high-level Georgian officials, participated in a joint People’s Bank of China–International Monetary Fund conference on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in Beijing.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/china-and-georgia-deepen-transit-cooperation/

US-Kazakh accord to use Caspian ports as Afghan support hubs irks Moscow

The latest developments concerning the Caspian Sea and involving the US, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan may turn this landlocked sea into an area of new regional tensions

Apr 27 — “Since 1991, two key questions have dominated discussions of the fate of the Caspian Sea: First, how will it be divided now that there are five littoral states rather than two, as was the case in Soviet times? And second, will this landlocked body of water be an east-west transit bridge between China and Central Asia in the east and Europe in the West, or a north-south route for the projection of Russian power toward Iran and the Middle East?” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19671-us-kazakh-accord-to-use-caspian-ports-as-afghan-support-hubs-irks-moscow

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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