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.
Vodka named after Allah was always sure to create a storm of controversy in mainly Muslim Kazakhstan – as it did last year, when bottles bearing Allah’s name went on sale in the eastern city of Semey.
Those bottles were produced in Aktobe on the other side of Kazakhstan, where it seems the country’s security services have recently uncovered a plot to blow up the offending factory.
On February 19 three young men – including a minor – were jailed by a court in the western city of Aktobe for plotting to plant explosives at a factory producing vodka with a label mentioning Allah, KTK TV reports.
Media reports did not name the plant at the center of the plot, but back in April last year a factory owned by Kazakhstan’s GEOM company (which makes liquor under the popular Wimpex brand) got into hot water for making vodka with a label showing an Arabic inscription reading “Allah’s strength is enough for everybody.”
The court found the three young men guilty of plotting to blow up the factory and sentenced 17-year-old Salamat Akhet to three years in prison and Nursultan Tenizbayev and Arslan Zhakabayev, both 18, to five years.
Akhet’s mother claimed her son was the victim of a stitch-up by the security services, which have been cracking down heavily on suspected extremists – particularly in western Kazakhstan – since a spate of terrorist attacks began in 2011.
Uzbekistan's customs declaration: All kinds of pitfalls for the unwary traveler.
Uzbekistan’s new currency restrictions have generated some bafflement inside the country, as EurasiaNet.org has already reported – but confusion over the Byzantine regulations regulating the sale and movement of dollars and other currencies, including the Uzbek som, is nothing new.
That bewilderment helps fuel a booming business at Uzbekistan’s main land border with Kazakhstan, where intermediaries are on hand to help the perplexed traveler navigate the obligatory customs forms – for a small consideration, naturally.
The intermediaries, all from Uzbekistan, accost travellers on both sides of the Chernyayevka border post near Tashkent and are also present in the Uzbek customs section, where officials presumably turn a blind eye in exchange for a share in the profits.
The form fillers offer assistance in navigating the Byzantine bureaucracy for a fee of 100 tenge (about 65 cents) or 2,000 sums ($1 at the official rate or around 80 cents at the black market rate).
On a recent Saturday afternoon they were doing a roaring trade. But why would anyone pay someone to fill in a form he could just complete himself, I asked one matronly Uzbek woman who approached me offering her services.
“Different reasons,” she said. “Some don’t have a pen, others have forgotten their glasses, a few can’t write.” She and her giggling colleagues were performing a “public service,” she joked with a flash of gold teeth.
A new school has opened in Almaty to prepare perfect brides for discerning Kazakh husbands-to-be.
Bride School is teaching women all the skills they need to keep their men happy, reports Tengri News. Diligent students can go on to enter a competition for Kazakhstan’s best bride.
The skills deemed necessary to be the perfect kelin – Kazakh for bride – range from cooking to applying makeup to parading like a model.
“At the lessons the students will be able to learn to cook, parade, grasp the basics of makeup; there will be classes in family psychology – in how to understand your husband, for example,” Bella Satmyrza, the woman who runs the school, said. “We want to create our ideal of a real kelin – a modern girl who looks after herself, looks good, is educated and well-read, but at the same times pays attention to national traditions, habits, culture and cooking.”
The culinary classes will naturally involve cooking beshbarmak (“five fingers”), Kazakhstan’s signature dish of flat noodles with mounds of meat heaped on top. The cut of choice is horsemeat, currently the subject of controversy in Europe but beloved in Kazakhstan.
Satmyrza is bringing in experts to advise the girls on how to please their husbands, from a choreographer who worked on the recent Kazakh dance film Forbidden Dances to “experienced mothers” offering training in how to raise children.
The outspoken Respublika newspaper has lost an appeal against a publishing ban.
On February 8, a judge in Almaty upheld a December ruling that Respublika and all print editions and websites associated with it would be closed down, the newspaper reported in an article posted on a Facebook page where it continues placing material.
The closure aimed to “introduce censorship, which in Kazakhstan is banned under the Constitution and the law on the media,” Tatyana Trubacheva, the newspaper’s former editor, argued in court.
She was speaking the day after being fined by an Almaty court for publishing another newspaper, Ripablik, which staff from the newspaper have been putting out with a circulation of just 99 copies to circumvent registration requirements.
The court found Trubacheva guilty of infringing the publishing ban, though she argued that Ripablik was a new outlet that did not exist when the original ban was imposed on December 25. Respublika has long played a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities, changing its name to get around legal bans.
Trubacheva is listed as the Ripablik newspaper’s “reader in chief,” a tactic to prevent her from being accused of being the editor. That led to a surreal exchange with the judge during her trial, shown in a video posted on YouTube by the Koz Ashu (Open the Eye) video project.