Tajikistan has joined the list of Central Asian countries rumored to be planning to relocate its capital.
The construction of a new international airport in tiny Dangara, 100 kilometers southeast of Dushanbe, has invited speculation that President Emomali Rakhmon plans to relocate the seat of government there, RFE/RL reports.
That speculation began in earnest back in July, when Rakhmon’s advisor, semi-official policy weathervane, and then-director of the state-run Strategic Research Center, Sukhrob Sharipov said, “it is necessary to say goodbye to the Soviet past in all things, including the capital, Dushanbe.” Sharipov posited that Dushanbe is a “small town, not designed to handle the overloading it now experiences,” proposing three still smaller towns as possible replacements -- Dangara, Kulyab, and Penjikent. Journalists and analysts uniformly dismissed the latter two, particularly Penjikent, which is often cut off from the rest of the country in winter. But Dangara, interestingly, is Rakhmon’s hometown.
In recent years, the Tajik government has invested millions in Dangara’s infrastructure, improving the main west-east highway that runs through and linking it to the nearby railway that once bypassed it. Other cosmetic improvements have been conspicuous, particularly in comparison to neglected regions of the country further afield.
In an information-starved and arbitrarily governed part of the world, such speculation spreads easily.
Move over Eurovision: A 22-year-old from Kyrgyzstan has won Turkish state television’s first-ever “Eurasia Star” pop music competition, held in Istanbul, returning home with $30,000.
After two weeks and six rounds of performances, a unanimous panel of judges, and fans voting by text message, chose Guljigit Kalykov the winner on January 14. Thanks to his victory, the next Eurasia Star contest will be held in Kyrgyzstan.
Singer Gulnur Satylganova, who holds the state-conferred distinction of Popular Performer of the Kyrgyz Republic, said "the victory by our compatriot, particularly in the first year of such a project's creation, raises the level of Kyrgyzstan's live musical performance and art in the eyes of the international musical community as a country that can give birth to and nurture stars on an international scale."
Uzbekistan abstained from the contest, which included most other Turkic-speaking lands, specifically: Azerbaijan (whose capital, Baku, will host Eurovision later this year), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Northern Cyprus, Turkey and Turkmenistan.
Competing aid packages offered by the U.S. and Russia to either maintain or close the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2009 were aimed at "buying" the re-election of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, U.S. diplomatic cables show. The embassy acknowledged that helping build up a "war chest" for a "corrupt and authoritarian government" could result in "political blow-back," but didn't appear to think that should necessarily outweigh the advantages of such a plan.
The Pentagon's role in fostering corruption in the Bakiyev government, via murky contracts to supply the air base with fuel, have been investigated. But the cables show that the State Department also was willing to funnel money to Bakiyev in ways that embassy officials themselves recognized would affect the election -- and then criticized the election afterwards for its "misuse of government resources" to aid Bakiyev's reelection campaign.
In February 2009, Russia offered Kyrgyzstan a $2.15 billion aid package, and Bakiyev immediately reciprocated by announcing the closure of the U.S. base. A few days after that announcement, on February 5, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek wrote a cable arguing that Bakiyev needed the money for upcoming presidential elections. While a large portion of the Russian aid would go towards building a dam and so would be "irrelevant to Bakiyev's short-term need for campaign cash," the rest would make up a "slush fund" for him:
A load of cash might be one reason Bishkek would keep the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan. But seeing as the facility is within striking distance of Iranian missiles, it will just have to close in 2014, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said on December 29, in full anticipation of a US-Iranian war.
Describing the US-led airbase near Bishkek as a “potential threat to the country,” Atambayev mused on the disaster that would unfold if Iranian missiles missed the airbase and landed in a civilian area instead.
“Keeping a military base, even for $150 million, is not just a little dangerous but very dangerous,” the president stressed.
Apparently the Americans, who are not actually at war with Iran, feel for his predicament.
“I am glad that many on the American side understand my position – I’m not playing a political game under the influence of Russia, I’m taking care of my people,” he told parliament.
But the question remains if the US will go for Atambayev’s idea of operating the air base and the Manas International Airport as a “major civilian international transport junction.” What’s more, Atambayev thinks Washington should cooperate with Russia to make that happen.
Almost nine percent of Tupolev-134s ever manufactured have crashed.
Frequent flyers in Kyrgyzstan know the feeling: An aging Soviet-built plane starts to careen over the high Tien Shan mountains; perhaps familiar with the horrifying statistics, men and women scream, a few vomit, and the drunk in the next seat grabs your knee as if it’s an emergency eject button.
After the longest 15 seconds ever, the pilot pulls back onto course and, when he lands, you remember to breathe. But every once in a while these poorly maintained aircraft just don’t make it, and parliament again declares itself outraged.
On December 28, 31 people were injured when a Tupolev-134 operated by Kyrgyzstan Airlines flipped and caught fire while landing in bad weather in Osh. The plane was carrying 82.
Of course, such an accident was only a matter of time. Even to a casual observer, Kyrgyzstan’s red-and-blue striped, Soviet-built Tu-134 seemed long past any safe operational life. There was the goo dripping from the ceiling, the permanently fogged windows, and the burn marks on the underside of the wing. But the airplane graveyard at the end of Bishkek’s runway has long ago been cannibalized of any useful spare parts.
And then there is the Tu-134’s safety record – after one crashed near Petrozavodsk, Russia, last summer, Russian state media reported that (as of June) 8.5 percent of all Tu-134s ever manufactured had crashed.
Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court has “utterly failed” and given into unfettered ethnic hatred in a case that was “blatantly fabricated,” say international observers, after it upheld a life sentence on bogus charges against an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender.
Azimjan Askarov was found guilty in September 2010 of inciting ethnic violence and complicity in murdering a police officer in his native town of Bazar-Kurgan during the ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that June. Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Western governments called the charges against Askarov—a prominent human rights defender and journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan—politically motivated and decried the trial as staged, biased and unfair. During the December 20 appeal hearing, the Supreme Court also upheld sentences against seven other Uzbeks (including five life sentences). Uzbeks, Kyrgyzstan’s largest ethnic minority, have faced widely documented intimidation and abuse by authorities since the ethnic bloodletting.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in a December 16 statement urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Askarov conviction, said that maintaining the verdict would be a “major miscarriage of justice.”
Two weeks after he took the oath of office, President Almazbek Atambayev’s party has formed a new parliamentary coalition, casting a bloc of lawmakers perceived as representing Kyrgyzstan’s south into the opposition.
Atambayev’s Social Democrats (SDPK) united with parties Respublika, Ata-Meken, and Ar-Namys on December 16. The group has suggested SDPK’s Asylbek Zheenbekov as speaker and Omurbek Babanov of Respublika as prime minister. The latter will surely be controversial, as Babanov – who was first deputy prime minister when Atambayev was premier – figures prominently in widespread rumors of high-level corruption.
In the new coalition, SDPK has attempted to address the fractiousness that undermined its previous coalition with Ata-Jurt and Respublika by insisting on a formal agreement that forbids members of the coalition who hold official posts from criticizing its policies.
The agreement also specifies that the speaker of the parliament will be subject to re-vote each year, a measure that a number of deputies have argued is intended to weaken the post and diminish parliament’s independence from the executive – a capstone achievement of the 2010 constitution.
While the coalition – which includes 92 of 120 deputies – may bring some stability to an often-fractious parliament, it threatens to highlight Kyrgyzstan’s salient regional divide.
With the resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Akmatbek Keldibekov on December 12, Kyrgyzstan has entered another potentially confrontational phase in its post-revolutionary political development.
The apparent driving of Keldibekov, the country’s highest-ranking southern politician, into opposition highlights the rapid consolidation of power under new President Almazbek Atambayev, and the marginalization of southern populists who had been considered essential to maintaining the fragile post-revolutionary peace.
After winning over 60 percent of the vote in an election that observers considered mostly free and fair, Atambayev entered office on December 1 with a solid executive mandate. He moved quickly to install his team in office.
Within a week Atambayev named as head of the National State Security Committee (the successor to the KGB) Shamil Atakhanov, a longtime ally with relatively little security background. With loyalist Zarylbek Rysaliev already heading the Interior Ministry, the new president now commands the “power structures” in a way that his predecessor Roza Otunbayeva never did.
Meanwhile, in parliament, Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK) withdrew from the ruling coalition the day after his inauguration to form a new coalition more beneficial to the party.
When Speaker Keldibekov from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party refused to step down, opposition party Ata-Meken, clearly acting with SDPK approval, launched an all-out assault on the speaker, centering on sensational allegations that he dined with a known drug trafficker on New Year’s Day 2011.
President Almazbek Atambayev formally called on his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) to form a new parliamentary coalition on December 8. But the process has already taken a nasty turn.
Parliament is locked in examination of an alleged New Year’s meeting between Speaker Akmatbek Keldibekov and Kamchy Kolbayev, a notorious underworld boss allegedly involved in trafficking Afghan heroin.
Keldibekov and Kolbayev, the story goes, wined and dined at the elite Kapriz ski-lodge hotel near Karakol on New Year’s Day 2011. The Ministry of Interior, led by Atambayev loyalist Zarylbek Rysaliev, has confirmed the meeting, but the National Security Service, GKNB (the head of which Atambayev only replaced this week), has not.
The original charges were leveled against Keldibekov, who is a member of the largest party in parliament, Ata-Jurt, by opposition party Ata-Meken last week. As is common in Kyrgyzstan, Keldibekov’s offended supporters responded by staging protests and blocking roads in his home district of Alai, in the south. Parliament has proceeded unfazed: A specially formed parliamentary commission is now researching the accusations, and a vote of no confidence is scheduled for December 12.
Congratulations Tajikistan! After erecting the world’s tallest flagpole and sewing the longest flag, you have earned another number-one spot this year by becoming the most remittance-dependent economy in the world.
Last year, officially, $2.3 billion came pouring into the country from Tajik laborers abroad. That was 31 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, the World Bank said on December 1. Approximately a million Tajiks work abroad. Most are young men working in Russia, often on dangerous construction sites. Looking at villages empty of able-bodied men, some believe the absentees comprise roughly half the country’s potential work force.
Lesotho, Samoa, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan (number five at 21 percent) followed Tajikistan as the countries most dependent on remittances as a share of GDP, according to the ranking. View all data here.
The study only measures “officially recorded remittance flows,” which include bank wires and transfers through agencies like Western Union and Unistream. Real numbers are likely higher as some migrants carry wads of cash and goods home with them.