A delegation of senior officials from Uzbekistan has paid a visit to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, reciprocating a trip earlier this month that presaged a possible thaw in relations between the two nations.
The 47-person delegation that traveled to Krygyzstan’s Osh region on October 26 was led by Uzbek deputy Prime Minister Adham Ikramov and also comprised the heads of the Andijan, Namangan and Ferghana regions, representatives of several government agencies, including the National Security Service, and members of the Kyrgyz diaspora.
As happened during the visit to Uzbekistan in early October, the officials passed through the Dustlik (“Friendship”) border crossing, which sits adjacent to Osh and has lain unused for many years.
So far, these encounters have focused primarily on pleasantries. The Kyrgyz hosts laid on a series of cultural events under the gaze of the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Osh.
"During the visit, the delegation visited Osh State University, where they learned about the activities of the medicine faculty. Addressing the students, Adham Ikramov spoke of the inviolability of friendship and good neighborliness between the two countries. He stressed that good neighborly relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan should become a cornerstone for the further development of joint cooperation,” Uzbek news website gazeta.uz reported.
The government in Kyrgyzstan has collapsed after weeks of sniping between coalition members over contentious constitutional reform plans.
The Social Democratic Party (SDPK) declared in a statement on October 24 that it is leaving the four-party coalition.
Objections to amending the 2010 constitution had been voiced most strongly by the left-leaning Ata-Meken party, which all the while resisted pressure for it to initiate the breakup of the ruling coalition.
In an illustration of the seriousness of its disagreement with Ata-Meken, SPDK accused the party of being in cahoots with the deposed leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
“We cannot be in one coalition with those that, as it turns out, share common interests with the Akayevs and Bakiyevs, and who follow their instructions. With those who oppose the interests of the country. It became especially obvious during the constitutional reform,” the party claimed in official statement.
There is no immediate evidence that Ata-Meken have engaged in any dialogue with either of the country’s former leaders.
The outgoing coalition was formed by four political parties soon after the parliamentary elections in October. It constituent parties included the SPDK party of President Almazbek Atambayev, the mostly pro-government Kyrgyzstan Party, the agrarian issues-dominated Onuguu-Progress and Ata Meken. Two other parties, Bir Bol and Respublika-Ata Zhurt, remain in the opposition’s ranks.
The initiative to tinker with the current constitution has been steadily gathering pace since July. Backers of the fix have proposed around 30 amendments, which are due to be put to the population in a referendum in December.
How important can a constitution be when you cannot even find the original document?
That is the question that authorities in Kyrgyzstan appear to be asking as a ruse to downplay concerns over planned changes to the basic law.
The constitution in its current form was approved by referendum in June 2010 and ushered in a form of government intended to dilute the power of the presidency and hand more authority to parliament.
But a query by members of parliament about the location of the original copy of the document on October 19 has thrown up a bizarre mystery.
Justice Minister Jyldyz Mambetalieva responded that her office has a copy of 2010 constitution, but that the original is held by the presidential administration.
That was contradicted by Moldakun Abdyldayev, the presidential administration’s liaison to parliament.
“We assumed that it was with the Justice Ministry. Now the minister is confirming that there is no original. That raises the question: where is the original?” Abdyldayev told parliament.
Abdyldasev said he has seen an archived decree on the constitution — signed by Roza Otunbayeva, who served briefly as an interim president following the April 2010 revolution — and a draft of the document that was later adopted by referendum. But not an actual signed version of the constitution itself.
As confounding as it might seem, this means that none of the arguing parties in the constitutional debate can quite agree on what it is that is being subjected to amendment.
It will take some time before a satisfactory line is drawn under the shock attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan’s capital last August in which a suspected suicide bomber died and three embassy officials were injured.
At least three people named as suspects by Kyrgyz security services are claiming they had nothing to do with the attack.
Mubarak Turganbayev, who the State Committee National Security (GKNB) believes financed the attack, returned to Kyrgyzstan from Turkey voluntarily on October 4 and was subsequently taken into custody.
Turganbayev, who works for an Istanbul-based firm that arranges the delivery of cargo and cash between Turkey and Central Asia, has protested his innocence since September 7, when he gave an explanation on Facebook as to how he may have been caught up in the web of the investigation.
“A man called Burkhan, who has a restaurant business in Turkey asked to transfer $5,000 to a certain Iskender in Bishkek. The mobile phone number 0709-66-87-40 was indicated. Our staff transferred him the money. I want to say I have not participated in a terror act. A warrant was issued for my arrest without anyone making an attempt to contact me for questioning. I did not flee anywhere, and I am in close contact with the consul of Kyrgyzstan in Istanbul. I do not have and never have had links with terrorists,” Turganbayev wrote.
Burkhaniddin Zhantoraev (presumably the Burkhan in Turganbayev’s account) subsequently declared his innocence, again via Facebook, on September 20, as did Ilyas Sabirov, another Kyrgyz citizen reportedly working at the same firm as Turganbayev.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan narrowly passed a draft law on October 5 to criminalize the religious consecration of marriage rites for minors.
If the legislation is approved by President Almazbek Atambayev, clerics officiating such ceremonies could face jail terms of between three and five years, as could parents of the couple.
The vote in parliament marks a volte-face by MPs, who had provoked outrage in May when they rejected proposals to criminalize a ritual known as ‘nikah.’ The changes to the law specifically relate to religious marriage rites, as opposed to nuptials registered with the state. The legal age of marriage in Kyrgyzstan is 18, although that can be lowered by special dispensation.
Supporters of the new law in parliament did not mince their words.
“Let’s call things by their names and not hide behind nice words about national traditions and rites. People under the age of 18 are considered children according to our legislation, so forcing them into marriage or other actions is pedophilia. I ask each man in this room to imagine their daughters while voting. But while you can defend [your daughters] from early marriages, many of our children from poor families don’t have such an opportunity,” Natalia Nikitenko, a member of parliament with the Ata-Meken party, said during a discussion of the bill.
But some MPs resisted the bill on the grounds that it is against what they say is the spirit of Kyrgyz traditions, others questioned whether the law would help bring offending clerics to heel. Social-Democratic Party MP Dastan Bekeshev argued that it would be impossible to find evidence of the illegal rite taking place.
A court in Kyrgyzstan’s Chui region held a hearing on October 4 on whether the case of jailed activist Azimjan Askarov should be reopened for fresh investigations.
Once again defying the demands of a UN Human Rights Committee, the court rejected pleas to release Askarov from custody pending further developments.
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was given a life sentence in September 2010 after being found guilty of inciting a crowd to murder police officers on June 13 that year during deadly inter-communal riots in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Bazar-Korgon. He has always steadfastly maintained his innocence and pleaded in court to be subjected to a lie detector examination.
The case has grown increasingly toxic over the years and has placed authorities in the impossible position of having to either placate the international community — much of which has argued Askarov was unjustly jailed in a marred trail — or risk stirring the ire of ferociously nationalistic sections of the population.
As in all previous court procedures involving the Askarov case, relatives and colleagues of a policeman purportedly killed at the activist’s instigation were present, angrily raising objections at numerous stages. Askarov too was present in the court, looking weary and sporting a white beard.
In his opening argument, a lawyer for Askarov, Nurbek Toktakunov, said the court should abide by a UN Human Rights Committee request for Askarov to be released. The committee argued in April that Kyrgyzstan had grossly flouted the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in its treatment of Askarov and said the activist was denied the right to properly prepare for his trial and criticized the manner of his initial detention.
“The collegium of Chui regional court has a superb opportunity to fulfill the decision of he UN committee and let Askarov,” Toktakunov said.
An official delegation headed by Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prime minister visited Uzbekistan’s Andijan region on October 1 for a visit that observers of the region hope could break a pattern of frosty relations.
News website Gazeta.uz reported that Muhammetkaly Abulgaziev led a delegation of around 130 government officials, “cultural representatives” and youth groups. State officials included representatives from the regions bordering Uzbekistan — Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad — and the mayor of Osh city, Aitmamat Kadyrbayev.
The large group of guests was ceremonially greeted by deputy Uzbek prime minister Adham Ikramov at the Dustlik (“Friendship”) border crossing in Uzbekistan’s Khodjaobad district, which sits adjacent to Osh and has lain unused for many years.
During the one-day tour, the visiting delegation was taken to see a museum devoted to celebrated medieval poet and son of Andijan, Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur, a local university, the premises of a freshly built train station and the General Motors Uzbekistan manufacturing plant.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, reported that the trip concluded with the obligatory sealing of a memorandum of mutual cooperation that was signed by neighboring regions of both countries. A concert then followed.
Uzbek youth movement Kamolot uploaded video footage of an address by the visiting Kyrgyz onto its website entitled “Hello Uzbekistan!” In the video, one woman in her sixties, spoke in Kyrgyz to say that this was the first ever such high-ranking delegation to visit Andijan region.
Kyrgyzstan’s security services detained the wife of a Tajik opposition figure over the weekend, sparking concern that governments in the region are collaborating to silence one another’s political opponents.
The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detained Sobir Valiev’s wife, Janet Khamzaeva, for questioning in Bishkek on October 2 in relation to alleged offenses committed by Valiev.
The GKNB said in a statement on October 3 that Valiev had obtained a Kyrgyz passport illegally. Khamzaeva was released close to midnight on condition she remain in the country, according to Kylym Shamy, a rights group coordinating over her case.
The GKNB stated that there was international arrest warrant pending for Valiev, who currently resides in Poland, in relations to charges of “carrying out criminal acts” in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan has in recent years made ample use of Interpol to pursue its political foes, with the leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Muhiddin Kabiri, the most prominent among recent additions to the international policing body’s Tajikistan list of wanted persons.
Unlike Kabiri, however, Valiev’s name does not appear on Interpol’s website, despite his Group-24 opposition movement being billed a “terrorist group” by Dushanbe after it called on Facebook and Russian social media for Rahmon’s overthrow back in 2014.
According to an RFE/RL report, Khamzaeva was only in Kyrgyzstan briefly to see her sick mother, who resides in Bishkek.
When Uzbekistan’s acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev addressed a joint session of parliament earlier this month, he made a point of saying that his foreign policy priority was to boost relations with regional neighbors.
"We always remain committed to adopting an open, friendly and pragmatic position toward our immediate neighbors — Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan," Mirziyoyev said.
Since even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaders in Central Asia have been paying lip service to the notion of fostering fraternal ties in the region, but Mirziyoyev has tentatively lived up to his word in small if meaningful ways so far.
In an apparent start at trying to mend fences, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov on September 29 visited Tajikistan, where he met with President Emomali Rahmon.
Discussions were confined to what might sound like meaningless generalities anywhere else. For these two countries, however, talk of positive trends in relations, increased trade, revitalized dialogue on trade and economic cooperation and “the importance of maintaining regular political consultations and dialogue at the highest levels” are more than noteworthy.
Rahmon and Karimov’s relationship was fraught by personal enmity, making reaching state-level agreement on a number of thorny sticking points — of which there are many — all the more difficult.
The biggest source of bilateral unease lies in Dushanbe’s determination to build the giant Roghun hydropower plant, which Tashkent has loudly complained will pose a potentially existential risk to its agricultural sector by stemming the flow of a major river.
A state auction of personalized car license plates in Kyrgyzstan caused astonishment this week after one item sold for almost $25,000— a fortune in a country where the official average monthly salaries is $200.
Even the opening bidding prices at September 28 online auction were high. For example, the plate 01 001 ААА began from a price of 70,000 som ($1,000 USD), but eventually sold for 600,000 som ($8,800), newspaper Vecherny Bishkek reported. The most highly sought-after plate though was 01 777 ААА, which started from 60,000 som and was nabbed with the winning bid of more than 1.7 million som ($25,000).
A series on online sales have been taking place since September 21 with items of varying prestige value going to the highest bidder. Simple straightforward symmetrical numbers, like ones with the figure 121 in them, were sold at fixed prices. But the truly exclusive plates — triplicate figures like 555 are the most popular — drew the high rollers.
These auctions tend to draw high bids, but the record set this time around has shocked many, going by the evidence of the indignation being registered online.
Public relations specialist Yelena Voronina wrote on her Facebook page: “1.716 million som just for a car plate. In a country where there is no money for medicine or equipment for those sick with cancer…”
Others took a more mordantly bitter line.
“It’s a shame they couldn’t have sold 01 777 ААА for $4 billion. That way we could have paid off the national debt,” quipped Ernis Temirkan, an employee for the Sputnik Kyrgyzstan news agency.