Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman President Islam Karimov, has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. But in the pages of one magazine – her own glossy published in Uzbekistan – she’s a superstar.
A recent copy of Bella Terra, a Karimova project that publishes articles and interviews on style and fashion (and which also has a website), is packed to the gills with material promoting the president’s daughter and her fashion label, Guli.
The December 2012/January 2013 issue of the Russian-language magazine is devoted to the Style.uz event, which Karimova (dubbed “the princess of Uzbekistan” in a promotional interview that recently came to light) organizes in Tashkent every year. Style.uz is a jamboree of fashion shows and cultural events that attracts the Tashkent glitterati and a handful of foreign B-list celebrities.
From the magazine we learn some fascinating facts about Style.uz: This year foreign visitors lauded Uzbekistan’s famed hospitality a full 1,467 times; 76 bottles of hairspray were used in the hairdressing competition; and 10 parachutes could have been made from the 1,050 meters of silk and adras (a silk and cotton mix) used in one fashion event.
But for the most part the magazine gets down to the serious business of promoting Karimova (who is also known as Googoosha, her stage name when she is in her pop star persona).
A Bible bonfire is unlikely to boost Kazakhstan’s religious freedom credentials. After all, the country likes to tout itself as a bastion of religious tolerance. Yet as Astana enters new territory in its zealous attempts to control religion, it looks like officials are about to strike the match.
A court in northern Kazakhstan has ordered Christian literature including Bibles to be destroyed, Oslo-based religious freedom watchdog Forum 18 reports. One official has said the Holy Scriptures are likely to be burned.
The order to destroy religious books may be a first for Kazakhstan, Forum 18 said. A legal order last April to destroy religious works, including a Bible, was annulled.
The latest order concerns 121 Bibles and other religious books and leaflets belonging to Vyacheslav Cherkasov, a Baptist from the town of Shchuchinsk. He was slapped with a fine of around $575 after being arrested for distributing religious literature for free.
In his defense, Cherkasov cited his constitutional rights, but the court ruled that only two bookshops in Shchuchinsk are licensed to distribute religious literature. Last year local authorities throughout Kazakhstan issued decrees authorizing only named, licensed bookshops to sell religious literature, Forum 18 said.
Cherkasov is appealing, but if he fails the Bibles are likely to be “burnt,” Justice Ministry official Kulzhiyan Nurbayeva told Forum 18.
“[T]his is terrible, terrible,” the watchdog quoted prominent human rights campaigner Yevgeniy Zhovtis as saying.
Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, has finally broken her long silence about allegations that she is connected to two corruption cases being investigated in Europe, complaining to Swiss magazine Bilan that her “enemies” are taking advantage of the situation to undermine her reputation and griping that the “attacks” are distracting her from her charitable work.
In the interview published March 7, Karimova launched a fierce attack on Russian telecommunications company MTS (which left Uzbekistan last year amid a furious dispute with Tashkent) and its former director, Bekhzod Akhmedov, once believed to be Karimova’s right-hand man.
Akhmedov is a central figure in two European corruption investigations: a money-laundering probe in Switzerland and a Swedish investigation into allegations that Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera made dubious payments to enter Uzbekistan’s telecoms market in 2007 – a probe which forced the resignation of CEO Lars Nyberg last month.
According to company correspondence filed with a Swedish court, TeliaSonera officials negotiating with Akhmedov (who was head of their rival MTS at the time) to enter the market believed he was “the telecom representative of Gulnara Karimova.”
Karimova has no official role in Uzbekistan’s telecoms sector; officially, she is Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, and she is also a fashion designer and a pop diva under the stage name Googoosha.
International Women’s Day on March 8 is seen in much of the world as an opportunity to raise awareness about gender equality – but, as in most other former Soviet states, in Kazakhstan the holiday is more about giving flowers and chocolates and making saccharine speeches extolling the virtues of the fairer sex.
While women’s rights activists in other parts of the former Soviet Union – including neighboring Kyrgyzstan – have stepped forward to try to reclaim Women’s Day, in Kazakhstan the image of the female as either beauty idol or perfect wife remains central to the festivities.
To celebrate the rising role of women in the military – and there are over 8,500 of them, including 750 officers, according to the Defense Ministry – why not vote for Miss Military Kazakhstan? Vox Populi, a magazine, is running an online contest featuring uniformed women striking sexy poses, with readers voting for their favorite military sex bomb.
Not to be outdone, Kazakhstan’s rail industry has its own beauty queen: This year's proud Miss Railways is HR specialist Minuar Sarkynshakova, who won the beauty pageant after a stiff competition in the pages of trade magazine Kazakhstan Railroader.
Muslim communities practicing outside the strict boundaries permitted in Kazakhstan are coming under increased pressure, an international watchdog says, as zealous officials present bizarre interpretations of a controversial new religion law.
One mosque in northern Kazakhstan said it had been told to conduct sermons only in the Kazakh language, Oslo-based Forum 18 reports, although the law contains no such provision.
The mosque facing the stringent linguistic demands is the Din-Muhammad Tatar-Bashkir Mosque in the city of Petropavl (known as Petropavlovsk in Russian), which has just lost one appeal against a liquidation ruling. The Din-Muhammad Tatar-Bashkir congregation is among many religious communities facing closure under a re-registration process that ended last October.
A 2011 religion law required all religious communities in Kazakhstan to re-register under stringent criteria within a year or face closure. The results were stark: approximately one-third of religious organizations did not receive re-registration, leaving 3,088 operating against the previous total of 4,551.
Petropavl’s 19th-century Din-Muhammad Tatar-Bashkir Mosque, whose congregation includes members of the city’s Tatar minority, is among those appealing. It now faces an unusual demand from officials monitoring its sermons, currently held in three languages: Kazakh, Russian and Tatar. (Prayers are held in Arabic.)
“The authorities insist we have sermons only in Kazakh,” Forum 18 quoted an anonymous community member as saying. “But we hold sermons in the language of the people who attend the mosque so that they can understand what is said.”
Uzbekistan is a land almost synonymous with Oriental bazaars. Yet shoppers in Central Asia’s most populous state are hesitantly embracing the shopping mall – at least in the capital, Tashkent. The change in consumer habits seems partially connected to government efforts to pad state coffers.
Coca-Cola has almost disappeared from sale in Uzbekistan, say reports from Tashkent that – if confirmed – suggest trouble may be brewing at a company linked to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov.
The soft drink is no longer on the shelves of any of the 12 Tashkent branches of the popular local Korzinka supermarket, CA-News reported on February 26, quoting a Korzinka official. The report said one branch of another Tashkent supermarket, Mega PLANET, had also run out; another had a limited supply left.
The development has sparked rumors in Tashkent that the factory bottling the drink for the local franchise, Coca-Cola Ichimligi Uzbekiston, has either closed or slowed production.
A Coca-Cola official stamped on speculation, telling Central Asia Newswire on February 26 that it was very much business as usual.
“It's an incorrect rumor," Dana Bolden, corporate communications chief of Coca-Cola’s Eurasia and Africa Group, said. “Coca-Cola has not closed or suspended anything – [the plant] is still in operation.”
Conflicting reports are still emerging from Tashkent, however: A retail trade source told EurasiaNet.org the factory was still bottling Coca-Cola in glass bottles, but not in plastic bottles.
Bolden acknowledged some supply problems, “but it's not to the extent that is being described.”
As diplomats from major world powers prepare to sit down with Iranian officials on February 26 in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, Tehran is sending conflicting signals about its nuclear intentions.