A girl cools off in Bishkek’s central Ala-Too Square on Saturday. Getting drenched in the city’s fountains is a favorite summer pastime for kids in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, though this one seems to have gotten wetter than she’d bargained for.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
The fact that Kyrgyzstan’s deposed ex-president resides openly in Minsk is accepted as common knowledge. But now his hated little brother appears to be hanging in the Belarusian capital, too.
A photo that presents a striking likeness to Janysh Bakiyev, former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s security chief and brother, freely fraternizing with two men outside a Minsk café, has caused fury in Bishkek since appearing on Facebook earlier this month. Perhaps no man in Kyrgyzstan is more hated than Janysh, who is accused of mass murder and wanted by Interpol for kidnapping and organized crime.
Ousted by violent protests on April 7, 2010, Kurmanbek appeared in Minsk quickly thereafter and is said to have since become a citizen and purchased a $2-million home there. But the whereabouts of Janysh have long been unclear.
The snap was taken by Belarusian activist Mikhail Pashkevich, who uploaded the photo onto his Facebook profile on August 17.
Janysh has few friends in Kyrgyzstan these days. After Minsk failed to respond to verbal requests for his extradition, Kyrgyz officials say they have called their ambassador home.
Kyrgyzstan’s bickering parliamentary coalition collapsed August 22 after months of corruption allegations against Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov.
Babanov had managed to hold off a vote of no confidence in his government since he took office after Almazbek Atambayev was elected to the presidency last December. Babanov backed Atambayev in the election. In recent weeks, many believed the premier would last at least until September because Bishkek is quiet in August, when parliament is on summer recess.
But, on Wednesday, the Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys parties dodged any need for a quorum by simply withdrawing from the four-party coalition, leaving Babanov’s Respublika and Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party without a majority. Atambayev must now choose a party, which will have 15 days to attempt to form a new coalition.
The latest trouble began last week when Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev accused Babanov (an ostensible ally, since both were in the ruling coalition) of accepting a racehorse from a Turkish businessman in a quid pro quo for a Pentagon contract at the unpopular American air base outside of Bishkek. Babanov denied the charge.
Babanov and his cabinet will remain in caretaker positions until the new government is formed. Many assume Atambayev will tap his Social Democratic Party to try to form a new coalition. Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys are obvious candidates for partnership. Babanov and his Respublika may be sidelined for a time as tainted.
Central Asia’s mountainous borderlands have seen their third bizarre mass murder this summer, this time in Kyrgyzstan.
Police say a border guard conscript in Kyrgyzstan’s eastern Issyk-Kul Province killed four contract border guards and a civilian before fleeing in a stolen car on August 20. Early the following morning security forces killed the suspect, identified as 19-year-old Balbai Kulbarak uulu, in a mountain gorge near the Kazakh frontier, Reuters reported.
The state border service, part of the State Committee on National Security (the GKNB, which is often still called the KGB), said Kulbarak uulu was killed after firing at authorities.
Kulbarak uulu had been hostile to his colleagues the day before the killings, said the Military Prosecutor’s office. The five dead at the Echkili-Tash outpost included the post commander and the wife of one serviceman. Three guards managed to escape.
Mass murders are uncommon in Central Asia, at least prior to this summer.
Public perceptions of corrupt deals involving the Manas air base outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital helped bring down President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010. This week, Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov became the latest Kyrgyz leader to be tarnished by accusations of mischief at Manas.
On August 13, a member of Babanov’s parliamentary coalition charged the embattled premier with accepting a bribe from a Turkish company building a new air-traffic control tower at Manas. Joomart Saparbayev, a deputy with the Ata-Meken Party, told a party meeting that Babanov had accepted a racehorse valued at up to $1.3 million in exchange for a multi-million-dollar Pentagon contract.
Saparbayev’s argument: "We thought about how these events could be linked, and we have found a corrupt scheme. This horse was given to Babanov as a gift so that the Turkish company could carry out the construction work," Saparbayev said, adding that the English-bred horse, five-year-old Islander One, arrived on an Istanbul-Bishkek flight.
With the dust now settling on the London Olympics, Kazakhstan has emerged as the undisputed Central Asia champion, finishing a laudable 12th in the overall medal table, up from 29th four years ago in Beijing. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also made it to the winner’s podium.
But besides the considerable costs of training and putting athletes forward for Olympic glory, what have the wins cost Central Asia’s thin pocketbooks? Leaders across the region promised more than fame to athletes who could score a medal in London, including cash prizes, apartments and luxury cars.
In Kazakhstan’s case, the cash prizes to be doled out total over $2 million – $250,000 for each of seven golds, $150,000 for one silver, and $75,000 for each of five bronzes. Uzbekistan will fork out $100,000 to its gold winner, 120-kilogram freestyle wrestler Artur Taymazov, and $50,000 to each of three bronze winners. It’s not clear what Tajikistan was offering its bronze winner, however. President Emomali Rakhmon set the prize for gold at $63,000. But the Dushanbe mayor and the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party each promised female boxer Mavzuna Chorieva – who won a bronze – an apartment.
Newlyweds in post-Soviet Central Asia hold some traditions especially dear. Before gathering with friends and family for the big feast, a wedding party will likely hit their city’s hot spots, stopping at scenic parks and important monuments (often including a WWII memorial) for a toast, a photo session, and maybe a quick dance. Their procession of cars, festooned with ribbons and often led by a hired limo, will race around town, usually getting no more than a wink from the sympathetic traffic police.
Saturdays are popular wedding days in Osh, with several parties descending on the same park, enjoying music piped in from a nearby café. Here, a few Saturdays ago, a bride celebrates in a park named for Alimbek Datka, a local 19th-century feudal lord.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
The US State Department’s annual terrorism report, released this week, provides a brief overview of how Foggy Bottom views terrorist threats abroad. On Central Asia, unfortunately, the cautious survey adds little to our understanding of the problem.
In its introduction to the region, the report notes that Central Asian governments “faced the challenge” of balancing human rights with security concerns. Further down, the report lists myriad examples where authorities heavily favored security, often at the expense of basic human rights.
State hedges on Central Asian governments’ tendency to hype threats. For the most part, the report simply lists what authorities describe as terrorist attacks and as anti-terrorist operations, but uses qualifying terms – “reportedly”; “potentially” – that make it clear State is as in the dark on the nature of the events as the rest of us.
The report does cautiously point out that Central Asian governments’ widespread human rights abuses may end up creating terrorists.
For example, Kazakhstan’s 2010 amendments to the law on “religious activities” had “severely restricted the peaceful practice of religion,” the report says, adding that some commentators linked subsequent violent incidents to the new law.
In the Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan sections, the report states the widely held belief that the three countries misuse counterterrorism statutes to persecute legitimate political and religious actors. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, despite their well-documented use of the same playbook, are not censured directly on this point.
The London Olympics have offered mixed successes for Central Asia in their first week.
Kazakhstan got off to a great start, meeting its target of three gold medals in the first four days of competition. Uzbekistan has picked up a bronze and also the dubious distinction of seeing a gymnast kicked out for failing a drug test. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have yet to trouble the winner's podium.
Kazakhstan's weightlifting sensations Zulfiya Chinshanlo and Maiya Maneza struck gold on July 29 and July 31, after cyclist Alexander Vinokourov sped to victory on July 28.
The victories were not without controversy, however. Chinshanlo and Maneza's roots were called into question, as some years previously they had been part of China's weightlifting set-up. A Kazakh official refuted charges the athletes had no right to represent Kazakhstan.
“We led them to this victory for a whole Olympic cycle, and before that they were already members of our national team,” Aleksey Kryuchkov, acting head of the sporting body in charge of Kazakhstan's national teams, told KTK television.
It's been a busy games for Kryuchkov, who also had a kit malfunction to deal with. Some weightlifters from Kazakhstan were shown in competition wearing uniforms reading “Kzakhstan.” An investigation revealed five or six rogue, misspelled T-shirts.
Just in case foreign investors needed another reason to be wary of Kyrgyzstan, the country’s swashbuckling parliamentarians are again picking on a promising mining venture.
Stans Energy Corporation, a Toronto-based mining startup aiming to resuscitate Kyrgyzstan’s Soviet-era heavy rare earth metals (HRE) industry, is taking legal action after parliament recommended the annulment of the company’s licensing agreement.
Prospectors and investors have fanned out across the globe to develop new rare earths supplies following a Chinese export ban in 2010. HREs are crucial components in many electronics and high-capacity batteries, and China produces over 95 percent of world supply.
All of this was fortuitous for Stans, and Kyrgyzstan, which sold the company a 20-year lease to redevelop its HRE assets in 2009. At the time, Stans owned rights to one of the world’s only previously proven sets of rare earth metals outside China. Its stock soared on Canadian exchanges when it was first floated in 2011.