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.


Kazakh port in decline bids for slice of China trade

Kazakhstan’s Caspian seaport Aktau is poised to become a key transit hub as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative

Aug 26 — “With the outlines of its six idle cranes obscured by thick fog and pouring rain, Kazakhstan’s Caspian seaport Aktau seems an unlikely stop on China’s much-hyped new silk road. But the sleepy port, which has been badly hit in recent years by new oil routes, is vying for a slice of the pie as competition for Chinese trade warms up on the shores of the world’s largest inland sea.” READ MORE: http://www.worldbulletin.net/news/205319/kazakh-port-in-decline-bids-for-slice-of-china-trade

Italian artist motorbikes through 11 countries, finds ‘surprising hospitality’ in Kazakhstan

A sculpture professor at the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples is travelling from Italy to Japan to collect interviews with women from different continents, including Kazakhstan

Aug 28 — “Rosaria Iazzetta started a motorbike journey to battle her own fears, but, in fact, her courage and enthusiasm has inspired thousands of people she has met during the trip. Likewise, she got inspired by the great hospitality of people of all walks of life along the route, including, most recently, in Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/08/italian-artist-motorbikes-through-11-countries-finds-surprising-hospitality-in-kazakhstan/

Messaging app goes on trial in Kazakhstan

In attempts to suppress any dissent and opposition, authorities in Kazakhstan have cracked down on social-media and messenger application users that share protest moods

Aug 30 — “When Aigul Akberdi downloaded the Telegram messenger application, she thought it would be a little bit of fun. Akberdi, a 38-year-old mother of four in the western Kazakhstan town of Aktau, said she was inspired to get the app after watching funny videos promoted on Facebook and Instagram. Her husband, Ablovas Jumayev, had got hooked on Telegram a few months before. Then the couple discovered a taste for politics.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20191-messaging-app-goes-on-trial-in-kazakhstan

Kazakhstan Persistently Pursuing Peace and Security Agenda

2018 began with Kazakhstan being the first Central Asian country ever assuming presidency of the UN Security Council during the month of January

Aug 31 — “Four months before Kazakhstan’s eventful two-year non-permanent membership of the Security Council comes to an end, the Central Asian Republic continues to make its presence felt in an organ of the United Nations, which has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” READ MORE: https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/global-governance/un-insider/2103-kazakhstan-persistently-pursuing-peace-and-security


Surrogate Motherhood Thriving In Kyrgyzstan, Despite Society’s Misgivings

Friendly legislation and the financial need of many women has led to an increase in surrogate motherhood in Kyrgyzstan

Aug 26 — “In dire need of work to support her family in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, 30-year-old single mother Kanykey has opted to earn thousands of dollars by carrying a baby for a couple unable to conceive a child on their own. Surrogate motherhood is on the rise in predominantly Muslim Kyrgyzstan, despite society’s aversion to unwed pregnant women.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/baby-boom-surrogate-motherhood-thriving-in-kyrgyzstan-despite-society-s-misgivings/29453779.html

Bishkek has roads rebuilt with Chinese aid

China has provided millions of dollars in aid for the ongoing large-scale rehabilitation of city roads in Kyrgyzstan’s capital

Aug 26 — “The municipal government of Bishkek and its local residents have expressed deep appreciation of a China-aided road reconstruction project in the Kyrgyz capital city. At Saturday’s re-opening ceremony of the Manas Street, part of the Bishkek road network rehabilitation project being constructed by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), Bishkek Vice Mayor Bakytbek Dyushembiev thanked Chinese road builders for their hard work.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-08/26/c_137418901.htm

Japanese manufacturers interested in establishing JVs in Kyrgyzstan

In Kyrgyzstan, Japan has implemented government-funded humanitarian and social aid projects. Now, Japanese companies consider establishing a manufacturing facility in the country

Aug 29 — “The President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) of Kyrgyzstan Marat Sharshekeev has paid a visit to Japan, Kabar agency reported. The trip was made possible thanks to the invitation of the government of Japan and the Chambers of Commerce of Tokyo and Osaka cities.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/casia/kyrgyzstan/2945060.html

Kyrgyzstan: Economy in decline but government optimistic on growth

Kyrgyzstan’s economy remains overdependent on the Kumtor gold mine’s operation and revenues received from the gold project

Aug 31 — “Many Kyrgyzstanis are not happy with the current economic situation in their country, and the latest statistical data prove that. According to the National Statistical Committee, the country’s GDP lowered 0.2% over the first seven months of 2018. The state budget deficit is growing, as the state spends more than it earns.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20195-kyrgyzstan-economy-in-decline-but-government-optimistic-on-growth


For Tajikistan, the Belt and Road Is Paved with Good Intentions

China is increasing its economic influence in Tajikistan, but for Dushanbe, Chinese investments come at a cost

Aug 23 — “Chinese investments are laying the groundwork for global economic development, but perilous obstacles remain. Of the fifteen independent states formed after the fall of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan ranks lowest in human development . The country’s location at the epicenter of the Pamir Knot, a mountainous intersection where the Pamir, Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Tian Shan ranges converge, means that it faces towering obstacles to both political unification and economic growth.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/tajikistan-belt-and-road-paved-good-intentions-29607

Grave Concern: Tajikistan Tamps Down On Tombstone Sizes

Tajikistan has imposed restrictions on the size of tombstones in the country’s cemeteries — the measure aimed at reining in displays of the wealth of the deceased and his or her relatives

Aug 28 — “From the length of their beards and dresses to the amount of food they’re allowed to prepare, Tajiks have seen their government take numerous steps to regulate their private lives. Now, Tajikistan is trying to control how its citizens are memorialized after they die.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/of-grave-concern-tajikistan-tamps-down-on-tombstone-sizes/29458022.html

Who’s Behind The Mysterious Airstrike On The Afghan-Tajikistan Border?

Russia is a prime suspect in the reported air strike on an Afghan area bordering Tajikistan, given that Tajikistan has no capacity for such strike and the fact that the country hosts a Russian military base with an air force wing

Aug 29 — “Armed clashes erupted at the Afghan-Tajikistan border on Monday, though questions remain about who exactly was involved in the skirmish and in what capacity. Ten people, including two Tajik forestry officials, were reportedly killed in the fighting, which occurred in Afghanistan’s northeastern Takhar province. According to The Diplomat, the other casualties were “either smugglers or Taliban” killed by an airstrike unleashed by an unidentified aircraft that Afghan officials believe was of “either Russian or Tajik origin.” READ MORE: https://taskandpurpose.com/bombing-afghanistan-tajikistan-russia/


Ilham Aliev says Turkmenistan should make a decision on the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline

If the project of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline materializes, Turkmenistan will be able to transport its gas to the EU via the Southern Gas Corridor stretching through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey

Aug 27 — “On 25 August German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid an official visit to Azerbaijan. Gas supplies from the Azerbaijan to Europe were the key topic on the negotiations’ agenda. At the press conference to summarize the results of the summit President Ilham Aliev was asked about the prospects for the construction of the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan along the bottom of the Caspian Sea with its further transportation to Europe.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/08/ilham-aliev-says-turkmenistan-should-make-a-decision-on-the-construction-of-the-trans-caspian-gas-pipeline/

In Turkmenistan, a reproductive health campaign changes attitudes

A UNFPA-supported campaign in Turkmenistan aims to raise awareness among women about the importance of maintaining their reproductive health

Aug 27 — “Newlyweds Jahan and Dayanch sat in the waiting room of a small health clinic, about to do something extraordinary – they were about to receive a check-up of their reproductive health. Such a concept is largely unheard of in rural Turkmenistan, where women tend to wait until they experience a problem before seeking care.” READ MORE: https://www.unfpa.org/news/turkmenistan-reproductive-health-campaign-changes-attitudes

Turkmenistan: A banana republic for our times

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

Aug 28 — “The media environment in Turkmenistan has gotten so bad that even accessing state press is becoming more difficult. Parahat.info, a website that posts copies of the daily Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper in its original form, has now gone behind a paywall. An annual subscription to the newspaper now costs $250 – a rate that compares unfavorably to most prestigious international titles.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-a-banana-republic-for-our-times


Bidding A Final Adieu? Images Of Late Uzbek Leader Karimov Removed As Name Vanishes From TV

Uzbek state TV journalists say they have been given strict — though unofficial — instructions not to mention the late president’s name on air

Aug 24 — “His image was ubiquitous and his name everywhere as he ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist for 27 years before his death was announced on September 2, 2016. But just ahead of the second anniversary of Islam Karimov’s death, Uzbek officials are reportedly talking much less about Karimov as they focus on his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoev, instead.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-karimov-images-name-removed-mirziyoev/29451810.html

Uzbekistan, Russia intend to create wholesale distribution networks and hubs on border

Uzbekistan seeks to increase exports to Russia — especially of Uzbek agricultural produce

Aug 28 — “Uzbekistan and Russia intend to create wholesale distribution networks and hubs in the border areas. Uzbekistan and Russia plan to implement a project for establishment of wholesale distribution networks and transport and logistics hubs in the border areas of the two states, Podrobno.uz reported.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/136797.html

Signs of life: does a music festival in a desert offer hope for cultural reform in Uzbekistan?

A new electronic music festival in the desert of the former Aral Sea is offering fresh signs of green shoots in Uzbekistan’s tentative artistic revival

Aug 30 — “Strewn with the skeletons of abandoned ships, the shores of what was once Uzbekistan’s Aral Sea have now become a desert. Back in the 1960s, when the Soviet authorities began to divert water from the rivers that filled the lake into the country’s fields, they hoped to boost Uzbek cotton production. For years, it seemed they had succeeded. Only later did the truth come out: with the rivers diverted into irrigation systems, the sea itself had began to disappear.” READ MORE: http://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/10619/signs-of-life-stihia-festival-aral-sea-uzbekistan-censorship


Hurdles still exist on the way of western travellers to Uzbekistan, despite the government’s efforts to attract more tourists to the country

Aug 30 — “Following the ancient Silk Road to Samarkand has become easier this summer. For British travellers, Uzbekistan has introduced an e-visa scheme which takes only a few minutes and costs US$20 (£15). But a couple from Gloucestershire who used the visa agent recommended by their travel firm paid nearly £300 each.” READ MORE: https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/uzbekistan-visas-couple-overcharged-great-rail-journey-samarkand-tashkent-bukhara-khiva-a8515271.html


China is helping Afghanistan set up mountain brigade to fight terrorism

Afghanistan has become increasingly important for China’s own security, as well as President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, a huge trade and infrastructure plan for Eurasia

Aug 29 — “China is helping Afghanistan to set up a mountain brigade in the country’s north to boost counterterrorism efforts, the Afghan embassy in Beijing said on Wednesday. But “there will be no Chinese military personnel of any kind on Afghan soil at any time”, the embassy said in a fax to the South China Morning Post.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2161745/china-building-training-camp-afghanistan-fight

Afghanistan Is Trying to Save Its Child Bombers

A Kabul clinic struggles to help teenagers drafted by the Taliban or the Islamic State to plant improvised explosive devices in the country’s endless war

Aug 29 — “In a room full of loud teenagers, 17-year-old Mohammad Ehsan is the quietest. (The names of the boys in this piece have been changed to protect their identities.) The other boys in this juvenile rehabilitation center in the Afghan capital of Kabul are rough and boisterous; he takes the corner-most seat and avoids making eye contact. He speaks only when spoken to, sometimes answering with just a single word. As we talk, he stares at the floor or fidgets with the corner of his white shalwar kameez, as though he would rather be anywhere else than here.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/08/29/afghanistan-is-trying-to-save-its-child-bombers/

The Afghan War Is No Place to Turn a Profit

Erik Prince thinks that 6,000 mercenaries can do what 110,000 troops could not in Afghanistan

Aug 30 — “The idea of “privatizing” the war in Afghanistan is back. Erik Prince, the founder of the now-defunct security firm Blackwater Worldwide, is making the rounds in a self-described “aggressive media air campaign” to make the case that 6,000 private military contractors can do what 110,000 uniformed soldiers couldn’t. Anonymous White House sources have said President Donald Trump has shown interest.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-08-30/afghanistan-war-is-no-place-to-turn-a-profit

India risks losing big in Afghanistan

India’s economic and military rise as the regional hegemon in South Asia has created a unique opportunity for the Indian government to reassert its influence in Afghanistan, and beyond in Central Asia

Aug 31 — “Despite New Delhi’s official foreign policy on Afghanistan, which consists of an exclusive relationship with the Afghan central government regardless of who controls Kabul, it has hustled to diversify its political investment in the context of four decades of conflicts in the country.” READ MORE: http://www.atimes.com/india-risks-losing-big-in-afghanistan/


In Russia’s remote Kamchatka, Central Asians slow population decline

In many Russian regions that suffer from population decline, labor immigrants from Central Asia are welcome guests and often indispensible workforce

Aug 26 — “For some visitors, the Kamchatka Peninsula – an eight-hour flight from Moscow – doesn’t quite feel like Russia anymore. “The police greet us every morning and shake our hands. In Moscow, they grab us and take us away,” said Mansur, a brawny Tashkent native who works in the timber and fishing industries and sells fruit whenever he returns from Uzbekistan. “I can make good money out here and not deal with the stresses of Moscow.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20173-in-russia-s-remote-kamchatka-central-asians-slow-population-decline

Belt and Road debt trap spreads to Central Asia

China is gradually expanding its economic influence in Central Asia and other post-Soviet countries

Aug 29 — “As Beijing bankrolls projects in Central Asia to promote its Belt and Road Initiative, countries in the region are at risk of granting China valuable concessions to ease their heavy debt burdens. Turkmenistan faces an economic crisis, with reports leaking from the country of long queues snaking outside of grocery stores, one-month waits for flour and road closures by housewives demanding food.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Belt-and-Road/Belt-and-Road-debt-trap-spreads-to-Central-Asia

Sergey Kwan