Caption: Kamchybek Tashiev stumping during his failed run for the presidency, October 28, 2011.
A court in Bishkek found three members of Kyrgyzstan’s nationalist opposition party guilty of trying to overthrow the government and handed them short prison sentences on March 29. The verdict, though less severe than their supporters had feared, did little to temper passions outside the courtroom, where riot police held back several hundred protestors, local news agencies reported.
Under the terms of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, the three must be stripped of their parliamentary seats, which should be passed to other members of their party.
Kamchybek Tashiev and two other Ata-Jurt ("Fatherland") lawmakers were arrested after a protest outside parliament on October 3 grew violent. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov organized the rally, which drew approximately 1,000 demonstrators, to demand nationalization of the country’s most-lucrative asset, the Kumtor gold mine. After vowing to “replace this government,” and “occupy” the White House, Tashiev led dozens of protestors over a fence surrounding the building and chased away armed guards. Tashiev later said he was just trying to get to work.
The three pled not guilty. Their lawyers vowed to appeal.
A rumor that Uzbek President Islam Karimov has suffered a debilitating heart attack is spreading as quickly as a pandemic in a thriller. As more media outlets reprint the rumor, it may be increasingly perceived as the truth, but in fact the sourcing remains as thin as it was when this started last weekend.
The allegations all go back to the same person, an exiled opposition figure thousands of miles away in Norway – Muhammad Solih, head of the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU). On March 22, Solih’s website cited an unnamed source in Tashkent as saying Karimov, 75, had suffered a heart attack after attending festivities marking the Navruz spring holiday. On March 24, Solih reiterated the rumor by citing a second source, a journalist “working for one of the state media outlets, performing his activities directly under the oversight of the National Security Committee and the press service of the president of Uzbekistan.”
A state commission in Kyrgyzstan has used claims of environmental damage at the country’s largest, most lucrative gold mine, Kumtor, to argue for a new agreement with the company operating the mine, Toronto-based Centerra Gold, and to fine Centerra almost half a billion dollars.
Economics Minister Temir Sariev, who headed the commission, says he has evidence, including two reports by European scientists, that the mine is inflicting “colossal damage” on the environment.
But, until now, hardly anyone in Kyrgyzstan has seen those scientists’ supposedly damning reports.
In December and February the commission, acting, respectively, through two state agencies – the State Inspectorate for Environmental and Technical Safety (SIETS) and the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry (SAEPF) – fined Centerra approximately $467 million for alleged environmental damages, waste disposal and water treatment violations dating back to 1996. Centerra calls the claims “exaggerated or without merit.”
In its report for the state commission, SIETS said discharge from Kumtor is a "serious contamination threat" leading to "irreversible environmental impact on water resources."
Yet the two independent environmental audits Sariev commissioned, carried out by Slovene and German researchers last fall, found nothing unusual in Kumtor’s discharge. The Slovenes said water samples do not “indicate an environmental pollution or contamination situation.” The Germans said cyanide (used in the gold milling process) and heavy metals in Kumtor effluent “are significantly below the limit values of the German Ordinance on Waste Water.”
Basically, the reports – which EurasiaNet.org has seen – do not support the state commission’s environmental claims.
An industry survey has called Kyrgyzstan one of the world's “least attractive” places for mining companies to invest. In one category, Kyrgyzstan, which is embroiled in a contract dispute with its largest foreign investor, ranked last for "uncertainty concerning the administration, interpretation and enforcement of existing regulations.”
The survey, released February 28 by the Fraser Institute, a non-profit Canadian research outfit, is based on interviews with representatives of 742 mining companies working in 96 jurisdictions (countries, states, provinces) who spent a total of $6.2 billion in exploration worldwide last year.
Fraser uses something called the Policy Potential Index (PPI), “a comprehensive assessment of the attractiveness of mining policies in a jurisdiction, [which] can serve as a report card to governments on how attractive their policies are from the point of view of an exploration manager.”
Overall, Kyrgyzstan ranked 92nd of 96.
Miners answered questions about topics like environmental and tax regulations, land disputes, “socioeconomic agreements, political stability, labor issues” and security. Corruption (where Kyrgyzstan also plumbed the bottom of the rankings) was surveyed but not factored into the PPI.
Kyrgyzstan fared slightly better in “potential” and quite high in “room for improvement.”
Alcoholism – a scourge across the former Soviet Union – is no joke. But Uzbekistan’s state-run television has turned it into one with a sexist, pseudoscientific report this week.
The message is, basically: It is unbecoming for women to drink.
"It is worth saying a lot of pleasant words about females, the owners of grace and charm. However, you now can face an unpleasant situation that does not suit an Uzbek woman. For instance, we can see women and girls drinking alcohol during weddings and parties in cafes and restaurants. We will focus on this topic today," said the announcer, in a BBC Monitoring translation of a program that appeared March 11 on O’zbekiston Channel Number One.
One narcologist told the program that women become addicted to alcohol twice as quickly as men do, and that women are ten times more difficult to treat for alcoholism than men are. The program warns that women who drink while pregnant are more likely to give birth to children with birth defects.
That last point is widely accepted. But while many studies have found women more vulnerable than men to the effects of alcohol, a Harvard-sponsored report, among others, says women are just as treatable as men for alcoholism.
Overall, the program seems more concerned about Uzbek women's image than their health.
A Kyrgyz groom inspects a bride, 1871-1872 (top). Hotel Kyrgyzstan (now the Hyatt), 1974 (bottom).
Much of Kyrgyzstan’s rich history is buried in poorly organized government vaults, not necessarily off-limits, but difficult to locate. A new online photo project seeks to change that.
Kyrgyzstan's Union of Photojournalists has begun a crowd-sourced website to collect historical photos in one place accessible to all. And the archive is set to expand as the project officially launches tomorrow, says Vlad Ushakov, one of the founders of Foto.kg, The Kyrgyz Photo Archive.
“We offer all Internet users an opportunity to create the history of our country themselves. The motto of the website is ‘The country's history in photos, the history of photography in the country.’ Users will be able to display old photographs taken before 2000, which depict events, people, and historical facts. All this will be freely available and free of charge,” Ushakov told Vechernii Bishkek.
Each photo appears with historical information, whenever possible, including the year, location, and name of the photographer. Some are borrowed from other online sources, such as the Library of Congress, but this appears to be the first attempt to amass such a collection in one place.
Photo aficionados can register and post their images (though moderators will ensure users stick to appropriate themes), or they can have site administrators scan and restore their old photos, which are then returned. Images from earliest days of photography to the year 2000 are welcome.
A lawmaker in Kyrgyzstan is pushing a resolution that would ban young women from leaving the country without their parents’ written consent.
Irgal Kadyralieva from the Social Democratic Party says the resolution, which would apply to girls under 23 years of age, is intended to "protect their honor and dignity” from trafficking or sex work. “Such measures are needed to increase morality and preserve the gene pool," Vechernii Bishkek quoted her as saying on March 4.
The ban would not prevent girls from studying abroad, Kadyralieva says, but is specifically designed to stop them from traveling abroad for work. Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz women work abroad, mostly in Russia, often in unskilled jobs for low wages and sometimes in dangerous conditions.
Kadyralieva says she was specifically motivated by a series of reports last year about Kyrgyz women in Russia being beaten and raped by Kyrgyz men calling themselves “patriots.” The men were angry at the sight of Kyrgyz women socializing with non-Kyrgyz men.
"This proposal of mine protects national security, social security, moral security and [is an] economic issue," Kadyralieva said in an interview with Kloop.kg.
A much-anticipated World Bank study is expected to rule later this year on the feasibility of building the world’s tallest hydroelectric dam, Rogun, in Tajikistan. This week, the Bank has given a sneak peak at its findings, and the moderately encouraging remarks are likely to divide archrivals Tajikistan and downstream Uzbekistan further along traditional lines.
Dushanbe says Tajikistan needs the Soviet-designed project to ensure its energy independence. For President Emomali Rakhmon, Rogun is more than an investment in his country’s future: It’s central to Tajikistan’s identity and his legacy.
Downstream on the Amu Darya, Tashkent is aggressively opposed to the project, saying it will hurt Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector and poses an unnecessary risk in a seismically active region. Over the last few years, Tashkent has done just about everything it can to make life hell for Tajikistan and stop the project – closing borders randomly, preventing transit of goods and people to the region’s most isolated country, and cutting off gas supplies during the coldest months. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has even warned of war.
So supportive comments from the World Bank’s regional director, Saroj Kumar Jha, are no doubt welcome in Dushanbe.
“[O]n the key issues of dam and public safety, including analysis of possible earthquakes,” Jha says, “[t]he interim findings from the presentations, reports and feedback from the Panels of Experts are that the dam type under consideration and stability of the slopes appear to be acceptable.”
Uzbekistan state television has claimed to find a correlation between Valentine’s Day and pretty much all the evils facing society at large, including religious extremism and terrorism.
Aired on Uzbekistan’s Yoshlar TV on February 13, the day before the holiday popular throughout Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, a documentary, entitled “Immoral Holiday,” warned viewers that St. Valentine’s Day is “aimed at cutting the roots of our spirituality, replacing our sacred cultural values with loose and immoral traditions and also turning pure feelings into a sort of sexual promiscuity.”
“One may ask a question as to whether it is bad when loving couples celebrate this day. But there is something bad in this; it leads to extremely bad and dire consequences. That is why, not only our country but all other countries and nations are also fighting against this holiday marked on February 14," the narrator said, in a translation published by BBC Monitoring.
Olloyor Bobonov, head of something called the Uzbek Republican Spirituality and Enlightenment Center, took concerns a step further: Because the holiday’s true purpose is to make young people “slaves of their sexual pleasures,” it is making their minds easy to control, he said: “In just one day they can easily be taken to central squares to topple governments. [Their] acts of terrorism or extremism are terrifying. Their emergence is associated with explosions and blood. Society and humankind are struggling against them."
Uzbekistan’s cultural minders have long condemned something vague they call “Western culture,” while trying to invent new “Uzbek” cultural values. (At the same time, there is an official fear of Islam that many Uzbeks say is exaggerated, and that simply pushes legitimate expressions of faith underground.)
Women in Bishkek mark Valentine's Day with a family photograph. Photographers in Kyrgyzstan often erect colorful displays to mark holidays, sometimes with rabbits, doves, or peacocks. For 50 soms (about $1) a photographer will take anyone's photo, then run across the street to a digital studio to make a quick print.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.