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 is Central Asia’s migration outlier

Hundreds of thousands of citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have left their countries in search of work and better life abroad, mainly in Russia. In recent years, however, Kazakhstan has become a new magnet for labor immigrants

May 7 — “Central Asian states are collectively known as a wellspring of migrants, most of whom leave in search of work in Russia. But Kazakhstan is an outlier: The country in recent years has gone from a sending to a receiving state, and, in the process, appears to be altering the economic balance in the region.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19711-kazakhstan-is-central-asia-s-migration-outlier

Fire and oil in western Kazakhstan’s “spiritual renovation”

Post-independence Kazakhstan has seen a revival in Kazakh genealogies, sub-ethnic lineages and identities

May 8 — “As the sun sets on Mangystau, in Western Kazakhstan, hundreds of people ascend to the top of Otpan Tau, the region’s highest spot. Above them, the golden-domed mausoleum of Adai Ata, the semi-mythical ancestor of the local clan, the Adai. The electric lights of a museum and temporary yurt encampment stand against the darkness below.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maurizio-totaro/fire-and-oil-in-western-kazakhstan

Astana’s new International Financial Centre announces early achievements, targets and goals

Kazakhstan has historically attracted foreign investors due to its political stability, strong economy and balanced foreign policy

May 8 — “This summer, Kazakhstan will deliver an official presentation of Astana’s International Financial Centre (AIFC). The platform was launched at the beginning of this year. The project is set to become the core element of Central Asian country’s financial infrastructure.” READ MORE: http://www.brusselstimes.com/eu-affairs/11245/astana-s-new-international-financial-centre-announces-early-achievements-targets-and-goals

Visiting Kazakhstan Was a Pleasant Surprise

A travel essay provides an eye-opener for westerners about Kazakhstan, its people, culture, and tourist attractions

May 9 — “IT’S THE NO. 1 COUNTRY in the world for potassium, number two for prostitutes, and the residents drink fermented horse urine? No, but you can thank Borat for everything we know about Kazakhstan, which is nothing. The only things that Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 film parody got right about the world’s ninth largest country are its flag and its place on the map.” READ MORE: https://www.houstoniamag.com/articles/2018/5/9/kazakhstan-travel

Kazakhstan Belt and Road Initiative: The road to somewhere

Khorgos, located on the Kazakh side of the border with China, is a gateway for Chinese goods heading for Russian and European markets through Central Asia

May 9 — “Khorgos, a new state-of-the-art port in the middle of the Kazakh desert, sums up the grand ambitions of the Belt and Road Initiative. But it is as much driven and funded by Kazakhstan as it is by China. Rather than being a white elephant, it has real implications for trade.” READ MORE: https://www.euromoney.com/article/b181cffs1klk2d/kazakhstan-belt-and-road-initiative-the-road-to-somewhere


Kyrgyzstan searching for ways to get out of debts

Over the past five years, China’s share in Kyrgyzstan’s foreign debt has grown from 2% to 44%, which makes Bishkek rather dependent on Beijing

May 6 — “Kyrgyzstan’s public debt has amounted to $4.4 billion (58% of GDP) of which $3.885 billion is the state’s external debt. $320 million Kyrgyzstan will have to pay off by 2023. The Ministry of Finance of Kyrgyzstan plans to increase the threshold of the ratio of public debt to GDP up to 70%. The Economy Ministry does not see any problem in this initiative because Kyrgyzstan will not violate agreements with creditors.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19706-kyrgyzstan-searching-for-ways-to-get-out-of-debts

Kyrgyzstan: Probe into ex-deputy PM reveals unexplained riches

Another high-ranking Kyrgyz government official has been involved in a high-profile corruption case

May 8 — “An investigation in Kyrgyzstan into the holdings of a former deputy prime minister under investigation for embezzlement has shocked a public largely inured to tales of wrongdoing among officialdom. Askarbek Shadiyev, 49, resigned his post on April 6 after it emerged that he was being investigated by the prosecutor’s office for allegedly appropriating the cash prize for a state award.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-probe-into-ex-deputy-pm-reveals-unexplained-riches

Minorities in Kyrgyzstan: changed by revolution

Kyrgyzstan’s two revolutions have been followed by violence and discrimination against the country’s minorities, with some citizens having to leave the country

May 10 — “The upheavals that shook Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and again in 2010 played out along a similar scenario. The country’s presidents, Askar Akayev in 2005, Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010, were ousted following massive street protests against the corruption and nepotism that marred their tenure.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zukhra-iakupbaeva/minorities-in-kyrgyzstan

Armchair Architect Faces Seven Years In Prison For Dissing Soviet Building

Kyrgyz architect has been accused of inciting ethnic animosity over Facebook comments he posted on a photo depicting a Bishkek street in the 1980s

May 10 — “A Kyrgyz university professor could face up to seven years in prison over comments he made on social media criticizing Soviet-era architecture in his hometown, Bishkek.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/armchair-architect-faces-seven-years-in-prison-for-dissing-soviet-architecture/29219107.html


Tajikistan tightens rules on sending money abroad

The move apparently means that the government simply wants to keep the amount of liquid funds leaving the country to an absolute minimum

May 8 — “Tajikistan has tightened rules on sending money out of the country, complicating conditions for private companies and people wishing to provide cash to relatives overseas. The rules were adopted in March but have only come into effect in the last few days.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-tightens-rule-of-sending-money-abroad

Hijabs and mini-skirts: What not to wear in Tajikistan

Authorities in Tajikistan dictate what Tajik women should wear at home, at public events, concerts, or simply on the street

May 9 — “There are companies that require staff to wear a certain style of dress. There are schools where a certain form of dress is mandatory. There are events which include a note on the invitation suggesting the style of clothing guests should wear. And there is a country which is trying to implement a dress code for its women” READ MORE: https://globalvoices.org/2018/05/09/hijabs-and-mini-skirts-what-not-to-wear-in-tajikistan/

Tajikistan: turning pigs into sheep, and other plagiarism adventures

A new scandal reveals the poor state of scholarship in Tajikistan, marked with widespread plagiarism and academic fraud

May 11 — “It was like something out of a fairytale. Nazrulo Amirov turned pigs into sheep. Sort of. When Amirov, the now-former rector at the agricultural economics institute of Tajikistan’s Academy of Science, came to assembling a scholarly thesis in 2014 on “The Development of Meat Livestock Breeding in Tajikistan,” he took a shortcut. In some parts, he simply copied sections out of an earlier work by a Russian scholar and substituted “pig” for “sheep.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19730-tajikistan-turning-pigs-into-sheep-and-other-plagiarism-adventures


A Formerly Buried Trove of 4,000-Year-Old Artifacts Is Leaving Turkmenistan for the First Time

The display of antiquities from the ancient Turkmen city of Gonur Tepe in Berlin is a testament to warming political relations between Turkmenistan’s government and the West

May 7 — “In 1972, a more than 4,000-year-old city was discovered buried in a valley in Turkmenistan—which, at the time, was the poorest of the Soviet Union’s republics. Now, more than 200 of these unearthed Bronze age artifacts have left the country for the first time to go on view at the Neues Museum in Berlin.” READ MORE: https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/turkmenistan-margiana-1275443

Turkmenistan says one thing, does another

As Turkmenistan’s economy is experiencing a downturn, the Turkmen authoritarian leader fires one government official after another, making them responsible for the country’s economic failures

May 8 — “In Turkmenistan, statistics are not so much a science as an art. And an abstract art at that. So when deputy prime minister Gochmurad Muradov announced on May 4 that the economy had grown by 6.2 percent in the first quarter, this had to be reconciled with the fact that at the very same government meeting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov had sacked the head of the State Committee on Statistics.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-says-one-thing-does-another

Turkmenistan’s new Turkmenbashi international seaport another link in expanding Eurasian trade

Turkmenistan’s new Caspian Sea port will give its landlocked neighbors — Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan — a vital maritime transport link to Western markets

May 10 — “Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow visited the Caspian shore, on May 2, to inaugurate the Turkmenbashi International Seaport. The new $1.5 billion facility, Berdimuhamedow told attendees, is important not only for Turkmenistan but the wider region as well.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19725-turkmenistan-s-new-turkmenbashi-international-seaport-another-link-in-expanding-eurasian-trade

Dueling Caspian Ports

The newly opened Turkmenbashi port will probably never operate at planned capacity because of the tough competition from the Aktau and Kuryk ports in Kazakhstan

May 10 — “After around five years of construction, Turkmenistan opened its $1.5 billion port at Turkmenbashi City on the Caspian Sea coast on May 2. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, rarely one to downplay the importance of a project, said the new port would become an important maritime link for trade to the Black Sea and Europe, to the Middle East, and to Asia.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/dueling-caspian-ports-turkmenistan/29219251.html


Uzbekistan reaps benefits of Belt and Road initiative with construction of first railway tunnel

Chinese expert says the ongoing projects with Central Asian countries under China’s Belt and Road initiative provide those countries with greater connectivity and contribute to regional stability and prosperity

May 7 — “Uzbekistan’s first railway tunnel, built by a Chinese company in 900 days, is contributing to the country’s economic development which in turn is improving people’s living standards, increasing ethnic unity and helping fight terrorism in Central Asia, observers said. The 19.2-kilometer Kamchiq tunnel, a key and difficult section in the construction of the 169- kilometer Angren-Pap railway, passes through the Qurama Mountains, Central Asia’s longest mountain range, in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1101109.shtml

Uzbekistan resists Russia-style Victory Day memorial march

Tashkent considers the Immortal Regiment march on May 9 as a reminiscent of Uzbekistan’s colonial past

May 8 — “The mayor’s office in the capital of Uzbekistan has risked drawing the ire of some veterans by denying permission for an Immortal Regiment march during this year’s May 9 World War II victory celebrations. In Uzbekistan, the holiday is celebrated as the Day of Memory and Honor. Instead of processions, the day is mainly marked with visits to surviving World War II veterans.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-resists-russia-style-victory-day-memorial-march

In Uzbekistan, Abdullaev Case Concludes With Freedom

The case shows that when it comes to human rights and basic freedoms, Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan is not Karimov’s Uzbekistan

May 8 — “Bobomurod Abdullaev thanked Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and the court which set him free Monday after sitting in detention for seven months on charges of an anti-government conspiracy and extremism. “I am extremely glad that I have come out of there alive,” Abdullaev told reporters, “I thank Shavkat Mirziyoyev and the court.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/in-uzbekistan-abdullaev-case-concludes-with-freedom/

Uzbekistan Ready to Privatize Airline, Will Keep Hold of Gold

Uzbekistan is opening up to foreign investors and going on with its privatization campaign

May 9 — “Uzbekistan is prepared to privatize its state airline but will keep full control of its lucrative gold mines and oil firm, one of the country’s top officials said on Wednesday.” READ MORE: https://money.usnews.com/investing/news/articles/2018-05-09/uzbekistan-ready-to-privatize-airline-will-keep-hold-of-gold


Why Are The Taliban Seeking Territory In Northern Afghanistan?

The fall of several rural districts in northern Afghanistan this month heralds a new push by the Taliban to tighten their grip on contested regions and threaten parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall

May 9 — “Afghanistan’s once stable northern provinces bordering Central Asia have long been plagued by insecurity, but the Taliban and other insurgent groups are now seeking to control more territories.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/Afghanistan-why-are-the-Taliban-seeking-territory-in-northern/29217618.html

The Taliban’s counter-strategy in Afghanistan

Analyst says the Taliban’s counter-strategy is to ride out the current US military surge, wait, and prepare for political meltdown in Kabul

May 9 — “The outcome of the current fighting season in Afghanistan, which started early in the spring and will end before the first snows cover the mountain passes, is decisive for the Trump administration because the premise of the new US strategy in Afghanistan centers on pressuring the Taliban and compelling them to the negotiation table.” READ MORE: http://www.atimes.com/the-talibans-counter-strategy-in-afghanistan/

Rand Paul: ‘Past time’ to leave Afghanistan, spend instead on US infrastructure

US Senator criticizes both Washington’s lack of strategic mission in Afghanistan and the colossal waste of US taxpayer money in the country

May 9 — “Stunned anew by reports that waste and corruption in Afghanistan has consumed up to 50 percent of U.S. taxpayer spending there, Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday called for a full U.S. withdrawal and a funding shift to America’s infrastructure.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/rand-paul-past-time-to-leave-afghanistan-spend-instead-on-us-infrastructure

No, the war in Afghanistan isn’t a hopeless stalemate

Analyst says that Afghanistan represents an excellent base for combating Islamist terrorists in that region of the world

May 10 — “The war in Afghanistan has become so protracted that it warrants the epithet the “Groundhog Day War.” Fighting has gone on for nearly 17 years, with U.S. troops in Afghanistan seven years longer than the Soviets were.” READ MORE: http://theconversation.com/no-the-war-in-afghanistan-isnt-a-hopeless-stalemate-91130


China’s Belt and Road Initiative: relieving landlocked Central Asia

For Central Asia, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is an opportunity to transform from a landlocked to a transit region, and thus receive a new impulse for its economic development

May 8 — “One of the most significant factors impacting Central Asia is its landlocked geography. This situation affects almost every sphere of life—foreign policy, national security and economy. However, China’s BRI project may alter the impact of China on the region. China’s BRI can transform Central Asia from its landlocked state to a transit region between Asia and Europe.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19716-china-s-belt-and-road-initiative-relieving-landlocked-central-asia

Opinion: How regional cooperation could benefit Central Asian countries

Harnessing the potential of regional economic cooperation is critical for Central Asia to promote growth, generate trade, and create jobs, the director of the Central and West Asia Department at the Asian Development Bank says

May 8 — “Economic cooperation among countries is not a new phenomenon. The Silk Road, a network of trade and commerce routes that, among other things, connected China to the West through Central Asia, dates to ancient times. Economic partnership intensified in the aftermath of World War II with the formation of multilateral organizations and global and regional trade blocs.” READ MORE: https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-how-regional-cooperation-could-benefit-central-asian-countries-92667

Can Central Asia Revive its Workforce?

After studying at prestigious foreign universities, many graduates from Central Asia countries do not rush to return to their home countries

May 11 — “Central Asian states are failing in their efforts to re-energise their workforces, according to experts at an IWPR event in Bishkek. Although several states have introduced study-abroad scholarships in the hope that returnees will introduce more innovative practices, particular in the public sphere, this has had little success.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/can-central-asia-revive-its-workforce

Sergey Kwan