He gave no more details about the suspects or how they might have been involved in the murder last December, but the arrests will inspire some hope that Pavlyuk’s killers may eventually be tracked down.
This was a particularly brutal killing: Pavlyuk was hurled to his death from the sixth floor of an apartment block in Almaty with his hands and legs bound, and many of his colleagues suspected he’d been killed for his investigative reporting. Some sources said Pavlyuk – who wrote under the pseudonym Ibragim Rustambek for the independent Kyrgyz outlet Beliy Parus, and for the Kyrgyz editions of some Russian newspapers – had arrived in Almaty chasing a story, and the discovery of an empty laptop bag at the crime scene led many to believe that incriminating material that could have pointed to the murderer's identity may have been stolen.
News that Almaty is to acquire another giant shopping mall will delight the city’s army of shopaholics, whose members throng its designer boutiques splashing out tens if not hundreds of thousands of tenge on the latest fashions. The popular MEGA chain of retail and entertainment centers is to expand its network after gaining the go-ahead from city bigwigs to build a new retail space.
Weighing in at 50,000 square meters chockablock with designer boutiques, the city’s second MEGA will be retail heaven to its image-conscious fashionistas, the ponty (posers) who love to strut their stuff at the city’s swish nightspots decked out in luxury brands.
Almaty already had US-style shopping malls such as Ramstore before MEGA first opened four years ago, as well as a host of designer boutiques strung along the smart Gogol and Furmanov Streets. MEGA, though, was bigger and better and glitzier than all of them, and the ponty took to it with a vengeance – this isn’t just a mall but a place to shop and be seen.
MEGA soon started expanding, first with a mall in Astana and then one in Shymkent in the populous south. Last year it opened another in the western oil city of Aktobe (Aktyubinsk), perhaps hoping to soak up a few petrodollars from bored oilmen’s wives.
Central Asia has been famous for its bazaars for centuries, but in recent years they have undergone radical changes. Cheap Chinese goods have been flooding into Central Asia, as Beijing’s trade surges with its neighbors to the West.
With plans afoot for Kazakhstan’s notoriously modest Leader of the Nation to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Astana watchers are getting a creeping sense of déjà vu. After all, this is the third time that the country’s long-serving president has been at the center of a Nobel nomination bid.
This ambitious attempt comes from the Kazakh-led World Assembly of Turkic Peoples. Its chairman, Yermentay Sultanmurat, has got big plans for his president. He sees Nazarbayev as one of the world’s greatest peacemakers, fit to join the likes of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sultanmurat can list many presidential achievements that make Nazarbayev a suitable bearer of the Nobel legacy. They include peacemaking in Kyrgyzstan, which might come as a surprise to the people of that country in the face of the bitter divisions between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities following June’s deadly ethnic clashes.
He also cited Nazarbayev’s contribution to nuclear disarmament and his “weighty role in the development of the countries of Central Asia and the Turkic world.” Then, casting around for more reasons to promote his president as a Nobel candidate, Sultanmurat made the lofty – and rather bizarre – claim that Nazarbayev’s brainchild capital, Astana, is the “spiritual capital of the world.”
His bid follows two previous attempts to elevate the president into the ranks of Nobel winners. In 2008 two US congressmen made a bid to have Nazarbayev nominated for the prize, citing his decision to give up nuclear weapons. Not to be outdone, the pro-presidential Assembly of People of Kazakhstan has also mooted the idea in the past.
As one of Central Asia's most prestigious universities runs into trouble, conspiracy theorists are wondering if the Almaty-based establishment's problems could be linked to a rivalry with a new university that’s opened in Astana – and just happens to bear the name of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The Almaty prosecutor’s office found several violations at the university, he told the newspaper. “One of the most serious observations is that KIMEP does not issue diplomas of the state standard, although every higher education establishment that has a license is obliged to award students this sort of diploma,” Kalabayev said. “As a result KIMEP graduates going abroad to other countries cannot prove that this higher education establishment exists.”
Some observers are questioning the sudden emergence of this problem for a university that’s been legally operating in Kazakhstan since 1992, but Kalabayev insisted the government had been pointing to it for a decade. He said there were also health and safety issues at KIMEP, and that the student-teacher ratio was too high at 20 to 1 and should be 8 to 1.
“KIMEP categorically does not agree with this decision and this week is going to appeal these decisions in court,” KIMEP said in remarks e-mailed to EurasiaNet.org. The university added that it was “working closely with the Ministry to rectify this situation.”
As leaders from Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus gathered in Istanbul today for a round of fraternal backslapping, the irony of a summit devoted to Turkic brotherhood in the wake of ethnic violence between two Turkic peoples seems to have passed them by.
“We are one people living in six countries,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in florid prose carried by the Kazinform news agency in Russian translation. “We are proud of this. The hearts of your Turkish brothers will beat in unison with your hearts, in both sorrow and joy.”
Leaders of Turkic-speaking former Soviet states even managed to keep straight faces as Gul waxed lyrical about Turkic peace and unity: “The solidarity of the Turkic-speaking peoples is very important for our region. Our goal is to unite our peoples even further and create new opportunities for cooperation, but on the other hand also to impart the peace, stability and prosperity for our region that will emanate from this synergy.”
In recent times that solidarity hasn’t been much in evidence in southern Kyrgyzstan, where violent clashes between the ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbek communities left hundreds dead in June. The atmosphere in and around Osh, the epicenter of the violence, remains poisonous, with each side blaming the other for the carnage and Kyrgyz politicians playing the nationalist card with gusto ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
As Kazakhstan prepares to host an OSCE summit in December, it is facing criticism of its record on press freedom. One watchdog group is contending that Astana’s restrictive policies risk undermining the organization’s credibility.
Some observers have spotted an unlikely rapprochement between two Central Asian rivals for regional supremacy: Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, who have a longstanding tradition of prickly relations.
In the latest step that appears designed to curry favor with the notoriously repressive regime in Uzbekistan to promote a regional security agenda, Astana has disappointed the human rights community by extraditing an ethnic Uzbek Kyrgyz citizen to Uzbekistan to face terrorism and extremism charges.
Khurshid Kamilov was rounded up on June 9 – just as ethnic violence was breaking out in southern Kyrgyzstan, in an apparent coincidence – as part of what police billed as an operation to catch illegal immigrants. That sweep also led to the arrest in Almaty of 29 ethnic Uzbeks who are still in detention, fearing extradition to Uzbekistan on what their relatives say are trumped-up charges. At the time, one of their wives spoke to EurasiaNet of her fears that they could be extradited, tortured and “come out of jail as corpses.”
Relatives of the detained men – some of whom are reportedly on hunger strike – gathered at the Almaty Prosecutor’s Office on September 13 to demand their release, the independent Internet-based Stan TV station reported, adding that “in all human rights documents Uzbekistan takes a confident lead as a state which uses torture.” In 2007 the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about “consistent allegations concerning routine use of torture” in Uzbekistan, which denies systematic abuse.
Kazakhstan's most prominent human rights activist, Yevgeniy Zhovtis, has marked his first year behind bars. Zhovtis, a tireless campaigner who has stood up to the Kazakh authorities for years, was given a four-year prison sentence on September 3, 2009 on charges of vehicular manslaughter he denied, after a trial widely criticized for procedural violations.
To mark the anniversary, the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law -- which Zhovtis heads -- issued a stinging statement pointing to the “bias, political prejudice and political order” that it says is inherent in the case. The authorities have consistently denied any political motivation behind Zhovtis's jailing and insisted they followed the law to the letter.
At the trial and subsequent failed appeals, Zhovtis's defense acknowledged that a pedestrian died while he was at the wheel but contended that the death was unavoidable due to the pedestrian's behavior. The case was pursued despite a clause in Kazakh law that should have allowed Zhovtis to remain free after he reached reconciliation with the victim's family and paid compensation.
Zhovtis’s organization suggested in its statement that Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) this year -- which some observers had hoped would promote democracy, liberalization and a less restrictive climate for human rights activists -- had brought no changes for the better, either for Zhovtis or for Kazakhstan’s political process.