As Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital recovers from the turmoil of ethnic violence and its aftermath, its ancient market has been a touchstone of Osh’s general wellbeing. Gutted by fire and fear in June 2010, it is now thriving again – though without the vigor and seeming prosperity of the days before “the war.” Both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek venders work at the market, but under the surface tensions remain, as deep-rooted problems like poverty, injustice, and poor governance simmer unaddressed.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Members of the U.S. Congress visit Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in February 2013 (photo: president.uz)
The bombing of the Boston marathon has appeared to whet the appetites of some members of Congress to increase cooperation with post-Soviet governments in taking a strong hand against the threat of Islamist radicals.The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on Friday, "Islamist Extremism in Chechnya: A Threat to the U.S. Homeland?" And it provided the opportunity for several members of Congress to tout not just greater security cooperation with Russia vis-a-vis Chechnya, but across the post-Soviet space.
In his opening statement, Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican and chair of the subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, promoted the idea of closer security ties to Russia and Central Asia:
What outside forces have sought to transform the North Caucasus and Central Asia into a region of Muslin extremism which did not exist before?
Greater cooperation with Russia and the governments Central Asia should be explored in order to properly respond to this emerging threat. This part of the world is critical to the future of the human race. If it becomes dominated by a radical version of Islam, it will change the course of history in an extremely negative way.
Later in the hearing, Rohrabacher returned to a theme he is fond of, the notion that the Uzbekistan government's violations of human rights are necessary to maintain security there:
There's no better way to start and end a holiday in Turkey than with a drink, but it appears that some Russian tourists are taking things a bit too far. So much so that Turkish Airlines (THY) is considering making its Russia flight booze-free, according to the Russian Izvestia.
As the publication reported the other day (the photo used to illustrate the article says it all), a THY official told an Izvestiya reporter in Istanbul that the "drunken antics" of some Russian passengers has led the airline to consider taking this action. According to the article, in 2012 some 28 Russians were unruly enough to require police intervention. In the latest episode, a drunken Russian coming back from vacation in Antalya in late March got into a heated on-board argument first with his wife and the, less wisely, with members of a Russian soccer team who where heading back home from a trip to Turkey.
In recent months, THY's alcohol policy was in the news after several Turkish papers reported that the airline is considering ending alcohol service in domestic business class (there is no alcohol served in domestic economy class). This led to accusations that the state-run airline is bowing to the wishes of conservatives in the government of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP). THY already does not serve alcohol on a few international routes, most of them to conservative Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia.
For now, it seems like the Izvestia article was meant to serve as a warning for any hard-partying Russians coming to Turkey to keep their drinking firmly grounded.
Russia’s drug tsar has come up with a pro-active and novel plan for combatting drug trafficking to his country via Central Asia that sees Russia buying up businesses and creating jobs in the region.
Moscow will initially spend about $64 million on the plan, which involves creating a Russian Corporation for Cooperation with Central Asian Countries, Viktor Ivanov told the Kommersant daily on April 26. Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), had finally gotten some government approval for his 2-billion-ruble proposal, which he believes will help reduce the staggering number of drug-related deaths in Russia.
“Every year at least 100,000 young people die [due to drug use] in Russia. Thanks to the program, this figure could in five years be reduced by 25-30 percent. How can this be measured in money?" Kommersant quoted Ivanov as saying. (Other officials have said heroin kills 30,000 Russians each year.)
Central Asia lies on a major narcotics-trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Approximately 30 percent of Afghan opiates transit the region – especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – according to the UN, most of them en route to Russia, fueling crime, corruption, and HIV along the old Silk Road. Ivanov estimated the plan would save Russia an amount equivalent to about 1.3 percent of GDP, which he said is “annually lost due to drug-trafficking,” and provoke a “sharp decline” in crime – 32-33 percent. He gave no details on either prognosis.
The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has launched a criminal investigation into alleged corruption at a London-listed natural resources giant with strong links to Kazakhstan, British media report.
The SFO probe targets the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a company with interests in the energy and mining sectors mainly in Kazakhstan but also in China, Brazil and some African states. It is partially owned by three oligarchs believed to have powerful connections in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government also holds a stake.
“The focus of the investigation will be fraud, bribery and corruption relating to the activities of the company or its subsidiaries in Kazakhstan and Africa,” The Guardian newspaper quoted the SFO – an arm of the British government – as saying in an April 25 statement.
ENRC, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, said in a statement the same day that it “is assisting and cooperating fully with the SFO” and “is committed to a full and transparent investigation of its procedures and conduct.”
The news follows a troubled period for ENRC, whose chairman Mehmet Dalman resigned on April 23, less than two weeks after a law firm appointed by ENRC to pursue an internal inquiry into the corruption allegations – first made by a whistleblower – was abruptly replaced.
As many as 145 Syrians have collectively moved to breakaway Abkhazia this week as part of the region’s latest social engineering experiment.
Entire peoples have for centuries been moved in, out and around in the Caucasus at imperial whims. The Abkhaz were among the nations banished from the Caucasus in the 19th century as Russia tried to consolidate its conquest of the region.
After the war with Tbilisi two decades ago resulted in the ousting of most of Abkhazia’s ethnic Georgian population -- again, not without Russia playing a role – the territory's separatist authorities tried to reconnect with Abkhaz Diasporas scattered around the Middle East in hopes they could help repopulate the area. No significant number of these groups took up the invite until war broke out in Syria.
The latest arrivals bring the total number of Syrian-Abkhaz migrants up to over 300 and Abkhazia’s de-facto government hopes to bring in thousands more. The breakaway authorities are paying for transportation, residences and the assimilation of the transplants, who are invariably described as “returnees” even if they have never been to Abkhazia and do not speak the Abkhaz language.
But, as elsewhere in the South Caucasus, in Abkhazia it is common to discuss century-old events as if they happened yesterday.
Kazakhstan’s social affairs minister was pelted with eggs Friday while addressing the government’s controversial pension reforms at a lively press conference.
In a show of protest rare for Kazakhstan, Minister of Labor and Social Protection Serik Abdenov was targeted as he attempted to explain why the government is seeking to raise the pension age for women from 58 to 63 over the next decade. The reform, which would bring the female retirement age into line with the male one, has passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament (with several more stages to go before it becomes law), raising a storm of controversy.
Abdenov called the briefing in Almaty on April 26 to douse the flames of the dispute – but one protestor was not in the mood for listening. Activist Andrey Tsukanov got up and hurled two eggs at the minister, Tengri News reports. A video posted by Radio Azattyq showed Abdenov batting away the make-do missiles.
Abdenov has become the target of vilification and ridicule in the past week after another unsuccessful attempt to defend Astana’s pension reforms to a group of workers in Temirtau, an industrial city in eastern Kazakhstan, fell flat.
Asked why women should work for five more years, Abdenov got a little lost for words. “You have to work and work,” he said, to guffaws of laughter from the audience,” because, my dear fellow countrymen, because, because.”
Azerbaijan's air force on display. Re-equipping could be in jeopardy if Russia cuts off sales to Baku. (Photo: Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan)
For some time now, there have been unofficial reports that Russia has cut off arms sales to Azerbaijan, in particular of military aircraft that Baku has been seeking. There has been no comment from Moscow, either formally or via anonymous sources, and it's not clear why Russia would have made this move. Possible motives include Azerbaijan's hard bargaining over the Gabala radar station or a more general desire to punish Baku for refusing to take part in its various post-Soviet integration schemes. But a new report in Azerbaijan's APA news service simultaneously provides some compelling evidence that the reports are true and proposes the most unlikely motive: the machinations of the Armenian lobby in Russia. From APA:
Persons of Armenian descent, who lead the Russian aviation industry, have impeded the negotiations between Azerbaijan and Russia on the purchase of combat aircrafts, military sources told APA.
According to the information obtained by the Azerbaijani side, as a result of the efforts made by the persons of Armenian descent in the leadership of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, as well as MIG and Sukhoi companies, the negotiations with Russia on the purchase of combat aircrafts Su-27, Su-30 and MiG-31 have not produced results. Except for YaK-130 advanced training aircraft, Russia refused to sell warplanes to Azerbaijan.
The Boston Marathon bombings seem to have provided one Kremlin-friendly Russian media outlet with an opportunity to take a jab at a prominent American critic of Russian policies in the South Caucasus and at Georgia, a key regional US partner and longtime Russian foe.
Russia’s major newspaper Izvestia alleged on April 24 that Tamerlan Tsarnayev, the assumed Boston bombing mastermind, had "cooperated" with Tbilisi's Caucasus Foundation, a non-governmental organization, prior to a series of seminars for young people supposedly co-staged in Tbilisi last summer with the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think-tank.
The Caucasus Foundation, which has held events covering the mistreatment of North Caucasus ethnic groups under Tsarist Russian and Soviet rule, describes its mission as promoting peace and cooperation among Caucasus peoples via cultural and sports events.
But to hear Izvestia tell it, its seminars were, in fact, meant to foster instability in Russia’s restive North Caucasus.
Such allegations fit with the Kremlin’s old line of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili making trouble in the North Caucasus for Russia -- a charge not always dismissed in Tbilisi.
The paper reported that its claims are based on supposed Georgian interior ministry documents, which reporter Anastasia Koshevarova told Ekho Kavkaza were obtained via "my longtime acquaintances connected to the intelligence services of Abkhazia, Abashidze [?], South Ossetia, and to the Russian intelligence service."
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is bucking a trend by pooh-poohing scaremongering about the security threat that the Central Asian region will face after NATO troops finish withdrawing from Afghanistan next year.
Observers have voiced apprehension that the region will confront rising challenges from threats such as terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking that could destabilize the entire Central Asia region. But Nazarbayev does not subscribe to that view.
“I will say it directly: I do not accept the catastrophic theories that we read and hear from various sides,” he said on April 25, adding that he did not believe that there was some sort of “countdown timer” running, ticking off the days before coalition forces withdraw and disaster strikes.
Nazarbayev was speaking at the Eurasian Media Forum in Astana, a jamboree of assorted international media professionals and pundits organized by his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva to discuss global and regional problems.
His remarks fly in the face of accepted wisdom about the mounting security threat that Central Asian states will struggle to cope with after 2014.
Nazarbayev’s own security chief, Nurtay Abykayev, is less insouciant than his boss, warning last month of “growing threats of instability.” “We are concerned by the ongoing activeness of terrorist and extremist organizations in the region, particularly in the run-up to the departure of NATO forces from Afghanistan.”