Imprisoned human rights defender Azimjan Askarov is in grave physical condition and requires urgent treatment, according to one of his lawyers. Askarov is being confined in the basement of Penal Colony No. 47 in Bishkek, his lawyer Evgeniya Krapivina tells the Vechernii Bishkek newspaper, rather than in the cell normally reserved for those serving life sentences.
Askarov, 60, a dedicated monitor of police misconduct working near the southern city of Jalal-Abad, was arrested in June 2010 in connection with the deaths of police officers during ethnic violence that month between local Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. According to multiple reports, Askarov, who is Uzbek, was beaten, tortured, and threatened while in detention. Observers also witnessed physical attacks on him during his trial, including in court buildings.
Rights activists have repeatedly denounced Askarov’s conviction for multiple and blatant violations of due process. Nonetheless, on December 20 the Kyrgyz Supreme Court denied his final appeal.
Central Asia is chock full of beautiful places, pristine prairies and mountain valleys that look as if they’ve never been touched by mankind. But many spots are well-documented environmental wastelands. How does the damage measure up to the rest of the world?
Radio Free Europe has flagged an interesting new ranking of global environmental performance, which shows Central Asian countries crowding the bottom of the list.
Researchers at Yale and Columbia universities have ranked 132 countries for environmental performance based on 10 categories, such as the effects of water and air pollution on human and environmental health, a country’s approach to managing natural resources, and climate change policy. The sixth annual Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked Kazakhstan 129th, Uzbekistan 130th and Turkmenistan 131st. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with the most lackluster economies in the region, fared slightly better at 121 and 101, respectively.
RFE/RL spoke with Angel Hsu, EPI project director at Yale, who said Kazakhstan’s poor performance is explained in part by its emissions record:
"For Kazakhstan, they performed the lowest on climate change and air [quality], and this is due to the fact that they have heavy dependence on coal." According to Hsu, "forty five percent of their carbon dioxide emissions come from the country's coal-fired power plants, and what I found interesting is that they have very little active government policies to expand renewable energy in the electricity sector."
Diversion of rivers and other water management problems – politically-charged issues that plague the region as a whole – also dragged down Kazakhstan's score.
Parked outside Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, the fleet of Lexus SUVs is an impressive sight for such a poor country.
Now, a new online number-crunching project has estimated that each of these luxury cars driven by MPs would cost its owner six to seven years’ pay, barring any other living expenses, like food, rent or utilities. For an average Bishkek resident living under the same ascetic conditions, one of the higher-end models, sold locally for as much as $87,000, would cost 33 years’ earnings. Other makes of car in the lot would require an average Bishkekchanin to work between 12 and 20 years, depending on the model’s year and accessories.
Many Kyrgyzstanis have theories about why their lawmakers are so much wealthier than the rest of their countrymen—and it’s no wonder, considering the country was ranked 164 out of 183 in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. But the local news organization behind the project, Kloop.kg, has set aside the “whys” and “hows” and is simply compiling some numbers, pairing publicly available information about parliament deputies’ state-issued license plates with estimates of their cars’ cost on the local market. The website is crowdsourcing photos of the deputies’ cars, identified by their special plates; as of January 24, its list had grown to 21 deputies (of a total 120).
Kloop’s calculations could have been more stringent—for example, identical models sometimes differ significantly in cost estimates -- but they give observers of politics in Kyrgyzstan some numbers to play with. Keep in mind, lawmakers reportedly have a state salary of about $1000 per month -- well above the national average.
President Almazbek Atambayev meets his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Ankara.
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has made his first foreign trip since becoming president, to Turkey. And while trade and aid seemed to top the agenda, the two sides also agreed to increase military cooperation, reports 24.kg:
Turkey will assist Kyrgyzstan in strengthening of Defense Ministry, Security Council and Frontier Service. It was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Ruslan Kazakbaev during the official visit of President Almazbek Atambayev to Turkey.
According him on bilateral negotiations the issues of security, fighting against international terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, strengthening of Defense Ministry, Frontier Service and law machinery,” said Ruslan Kazakbaev.
As the minister noted the issue of quota increasing for students, officers and young diplomats wishing to study in Turkey was also discussed. “Turkish part is going to support our request,” added the Minister.
And Central Asia Online reports, citing a Kyrgyzstan defense ministry statement, that Turkey will help build a military school in Osh and build up the country's defense industry:
“One of the high-priority issues for Kyrgyzstan is construction of an Armed Forces Military Institute in Osh,” said Kyrgyz Defence Minister Taalaybek Omuraliyev. “Its creation would permit us to train highly skilled officers for the Armed Forces and other Kyrgyz military forces.”
“Another important direction that we’d like to develop is the opening of joint defence industry factories,” he said. “We could foresee the conduct of joint tactical counter-terrorism exercises in Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.”
A pseudonymed analyst writing in Asia Times suggests that the visit was an effort by Atambayev to add more vectors to his country's foreign policy:
Call this wishful thinking, but could a change in the approach to ethnic tensions be underway at Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, the GKNB? This week its new boss suggested that his agency may no longer conflate ethnic tensions with Islamic extremism – a welcome development and a stark change from the rhetoric under his predecessor.
Shamil Atakhanov told parliament’s defense and security committee on January 16 that his GKNB was watching 29 especially sensitive ethnic flashpoints, the 24.kg news agency reported, and creating contingency measures to calm local populations in the event of violence. At the same hearing, Deputy Interior Minister Baktybek Alymbekov listed 147 potential flashpoints. There was no mention of Islamic extremists.
Atakhanov, who was appointed by newly elected President Almazbek Atambayev in December, also censured Batken Governor Arzybek Burkanov and his subordinates for failing to respond to a December 29 fight between local Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the far distant Lyalyak District, where Kyrgyz residents complain that Tajik nationals are illegally settling on Kyrgyz land, a process they call “creeping migration.”
Batken, Kyrgyzstan’s most remote province, shares porous borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In some places the frontier is not defined, leading to frequent disputes over land and water resources that many observers worry could explode into the kind of ethnic violence Osh has seen twice in the last generation, or worse.
Tajikistan has joined the list of Central Asian countries rumored to be planning to relocate its capital.
The construction of a new international airport in tiny Dangara, 100 kilometers southeast of Dushanbe, has invited speculation that President Emomali Rakhmon plans to relocate the seat of government there, RFE/RL reports.
That speculation began in earnest back in July, when Rakhmon’s advisor, semi-official policy weathervane, and then-director of the state-run Strategic Research Center, Sukhrob Sharipov said, “it is necessary to say goodbye to the Soviet past in all things, including the capital, Dushanbe.” Sharipov posited that Dushanbe is a “small town, not designed to handle the overloading it now experiences,” proposing three still smaller towns as possible replacements -- Dangara, Kulyab, and Penjikent. Journalists and analysts uniformly dismissed the latter two, particularly Penjikent, which is often cut off from the rest of the country in winter. But Dangara, interestingly, is Rakhmon’s hometown.
In recent years, the Tajik government has invested millions in Dangara’s infrastructure, improving the main west-east highway that runs through and linking it to the nearby railway that once bypassed it. Other cosmetic improvements have been conspicuous, particularly in comparison to neglected regions of the country further afield.
In an information-starved and arbitrarily governed part of the world, such speculation spreads easily.
Move over Eurovision: A 22-year-old from Kyrgyzstan has won Turkish state television’s first-ever “Eurasia Star” pop music competition, held in Istanbul, returning home with $30,000.
After two weeks and six rounds of performances, a unanimous panel of judges, and fans voting by text message, chose Guljigit Kalykov the winner on January 14. Thanks to his victory, the next Eurasia Star contest will be held in Kyrgyzstan.
Singer Gulnur Satylganova, who holds the state-conferred distinction of Popular Performer of the Kyrgyz Republic, said "the victory by our compatriot, particularly in the first year of such a project's creation, raises the level of Kyrgyzstan's live musical performance and art in the eyes of the international musical community as a country that can give birth to and nurture stars on an international scale."
Uzbekistan abstained from the contest, which included most other Turkic-speaking lands, specifically: Azerbaijan (whose capital, Baku, will host Eurovision later this year), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Northern Cyprus, Turkey and Turkmenistan.
Competing aid packages offered by the U.S. and Russia to either maintain or close the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2009 were aimed at "buying" the re-election of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, U.S. diplomatic cables show. The embassy acknowledged that helping build up a "war chest" for a "corrupt and authoritarian government" could result in "political blow-back," but didn't appear to think that should necessarily outweigh the advantages of such a plan.
The Pentagon's role in fostering corruption in the Bakiyev government, via murky contracts to supply the air base with fuel, have been investigated. But the cables show that the State Department also was willing to funnel money to Bakiyev in ways that embassy officials themselves recognized would affect the election -- and then criticized the election afterwards for its "misuse of government resources" to aid Bakiyev's reelection campaign.
In February 2009, Russia offered Kyrgyzstan a $2.15 billion aid package, and Bakiyev immediately reciprocated by announcing the closure of the U.S. base. A few days after that announcement, on February 5, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek wrote a cable arguing that Bakiyev needed the money for upcoming presidential elections. While a large portion of the Russian aid would go towards building a dam and so would be "irrelevant to Bakiyev's short-term need for campaign cash," the rest would make up a "slush fund" for him:
A load of cash might be one reason Bishkek would keep the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan. But seeing as the facility is within striking distance of Iranian missiles, it will just have to close in 2014, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said on December 29, in full anticipation of a US-Iranian war.
Describing the US-led airbase near Bishkek as a “potential threat to the country,” Atambayev mused on the disaster that would unfold if Iranian missiles missed the airbase and landed in a civilian area instead.
“Keeping a military base, even for $150 million, is not just a little dangerous but very dangerous,” the president stressed.
Apparently the Americans, who are not actually at war with Iran, feel for his predicament.
“I am glad that many on the American side understand my position – I’m not playing a political game under the influence of Russia, I’m taking care of my people,” he told parliament.
But the question remains if the US will go for Atambayev’s idea of operating the air base and the Manas International Airport as a “major civilian international transport junction.” What’s more, Atambayev thinks Washington should cooperate with Russia to make that happen.
Almost nine percent of Tupolev-134s ever manufactured have crashed.
Frequent flyers in Kyrgyzstan know the feeling: An aging Soviet-built plane starts to careen over the high Tien Shan mountains; perhaps familiar with the horrifying statistics, men and women scream, a few vomit, and the drunk in the next seat grabs your knee as if it’s an emergency eject button.
After the longest 15 seconds ever, the pilot pulls back onto course and, when he lands, you remember to breathe. But every once in a while these poorly maintained aircraft just don’t make it, and parliament again declares itself outraged.
On December 28, 31 people were injured when a Tupolev-134 operated by Kyrgyzstan Airlines flipped and caught fire while landing in bad weather in Osh. The plane was carrying 82.
Of course, such an accident was only a matter of time. Even to a casual observer, Kyrgyzstan’s red-and-blue striped, Soviet-built Tu-134 seemed long past any safe operational life. There was the goo dripping from the ceiling, the permanently fogged windows, and the burn marks on the underside of the wing. But the airplane graveyard at the end of Bishkek’s runway has long ago been cannibalized of any useful spare parts.
And then there is the Tu-134’s safety record – after one crashed near Petrozavodsk, Russia, last summer, Russian state media reported that (as of June) 8.5 percent of all Tu-134s ever manufactured had crashed.