A court in Kyrgyzstan has banned a Dutch documentary about gay men who are practicing Muslims.
The 59-minute film, “I Am Gay and Muslim,” was scheduled to screen at the Bir Duino (“One World”) Human Rights Film Festival in Bishkek on September 28.
Kyrgyzstan’s chief cleric, Mufti Rakhmatilla Egemberdiev, said the film slanders Muslims by presenting Islam "in a bad form using as examples people who have nothing to do with religion,” local news agencies quoted him as saying. The State Committee on Religious Affairs concluded the film incites religious hatred. Only hours before the scheduled screening, a Bishkek court banned the film as extremist.
Most Kyrgyzstanis profess Islam, though relatively few are hard-core adherents to the faith.
The State Committee on National Security and the Interior Ministry are charged with enforcing the ban on showing or distributing the film in Kyrgyzstan. Earlier this month, a Bishkek court banned the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims,” which had sparked protests across the Muslim world.
“I Am Gay and Muslim” was shot last year in Morocco, where homosexuality is illegal.
Director Chris Belloni says on his website that the documentary “follows a number of young gay men in Morocco in their exploration of their religious and sexual identity.”
For most Tajiks, Russia plays a huge role in their families’ well being: Tajikistan’s economy is deeply dependent on remittances sent from its labor migrants in Russia; Tajikistan imports 90 percent of its oil products from Russia; and twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains one of Tajikistan’s largest trade partners.
On September 26, politicians from both countries met in Dushanbe to discuss economic integration. Their roundtable came the week before a scheduled visit from the architect of post-Soviet reintegration himself, President Vladimir Putin. At a widely publicized roundtable, the two sides cheerfully discussed the idea of Tajikistan’s accession to the Moscow-led Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. It turns out the topic will be on Putin’s agenda – a touch of brotherly bonhomie among a set of thornier subjects – and apparently has Dushanbe’s full support.
"The admission of Tajikistan to the Customs Union will be a significant step towards economic integration with Russia and other Customs Union members," said a statement by Tajikistan’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, carried by Interfax. The ministry noted that membership would guarantee supplies of petrol and basic foodstuffs. (President Emomali Rakhmon had just urged his citizens to stockpile grain for the winter ahead.)
Over the past few years, military aid has taken up an increasingly large portion of total U.S. aid to Central Asia, from around 5 percent throughout the 1990s to more than 30 percent since 2007. But that aid hasn't been closely examined, a situation I attempt to rectify in a new report (pdf), "U.S. Military Aid to Central Asia: Who Beneﬁts?" The report focuses on aid to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Among the findings:
-- U.S. training and equipping aid focuses on special forces, including OMON and Alfas, and on occasions when those forces may have acted in ways contrary to stated U.S. interests, U.S. officials have tended to not take an active role in investigating those incidents and continue to support those units.
-- The pattern of aid shows a clear pattern in which the aid increases when Afghanistan is a high priority in Washington, right after the September 11, 2001 attacks and in 2007-8, when U.S. focus again began to turn from Iraq to Afghanistan. That (among other evidence) suggests the aid is intended less as assistance for Central Asian security forces, than as a form of payment for those countries' cooperation in the war in Afghanistan.
-- U.S. claims that the aid is intended to foster the promotion of human rights by Central Asian security forces has been undercut by the decision to resume military aid to Uzbekistan. “It makes the people mad that we do anything with them. They say, ‘Really? Here [in Kyrgyzstan] you talk about human rights, they’re [in Uzbekistan] not so good at it,’” said a U.S. military official currently working on security cooperation with Central Asia. “The desire
to work with people outweighs the desire to do the right thing sometimes.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 20 visit to Kyrgyzstan ended with half a dozen bilateral agreements and some anachronistic-sounding rhetoric about Moscow’s benevolent role in Central Asia. On the face of it, Russia won an extension of military basing rights for another generation, while Kyrgyzstan got millions of dollars in debt forgiveness and promises of investment in the construction of two major hydropower projects. But all the deals have yet to be finalized and some won’t kick in for years, with multiple strings attached.
The visit was Putin’s first to Kyrgyzstan since an April 2010 uprising toppled the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had angered the Kremlin by effectively misappropriating a $300 million Russian loan and backtracking on some of his promises. Moscow has been slow to warm to the post-Bakiyev leadership, expressing frustration earlier this year, for example, with Bishkek’s constant attempts to get aid while maintaining a so-called multi-vector foreign policy.
Publicly, Putin’s host, President Almazbek Atambayev, did everything he could to assure the Russian president that Kyrgyzstan is a firm friend. At a cheerful midday press conference, Atambayev suggested the two had stayed up together until 5 a.m. – Putin had arrived in Bishkek late September 19 – and expressed wishes for everlasting friendship. "Russia is our main strategic partner. With Russia, we share a common history and a common destiny. […] Our future will be in partnership with the great Russia,” Atambayev said in comments broadcast by local media.
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has upped his rhetoric against neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, warning that their efforts to build hydroelectric power stations on rivers upstream could spark war.
Speaking during an official visit to Astana on September 7, Karimov launched a broadside against Bishkek and Dushanbe, which, he said, “forget that the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya are trans-border rivers.”
“Why do you think such questions [sharing limited international water resources] are discussed by the United Nations?” he asked in remarks quoted by Kazakhstan’s Bnews website.
It was a rhetorical question: “Because today many experts declare that water resources could tomorrow become a problem around which relations deteriorate, and not only in our region. Everything can be so aggravated that this can spark not simply serious confrontation but even wars.”
Karimov has long been a vociferous opponent of plans by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to complete long-stalled hydropower dam projects -- Rogun on the Vakhsh River (the headwaters of the Amu-Darya) in Tajikistan and Kambarata on the Naryn River (which becomes the Syr-Darya) in Kyrgyzstan.
Tashkent says the dams could disrupt water supplies to downstream states, adversely impacting its economy and damaging the environment. Bishkek and Dushanbe counter that they need to harness hydropower to kick-start their ailing economies.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a new prime minister on September 5, and with him a new government.
The new ruling coalition looks much like the old one. Save for the Respublika Party of ex-Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, whose government collapsed last month, three of the four parties that made up the last coalition will stay: the Social Democrats, Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys. Also, few ministers will change, for now.
Those who have said President Almazbek Atambayev was looking for a servile prime minister to replace the independent-minded Babanov will not be surprised to hear it is Atambayev’s own chief of staff who has slid into the position, after a relatively calm coalition-forming process.
Zhantoro Satybaldiyev is also a member of Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party.
A former minister of transport and communications, 56-year-old Satybaldiyev has previously served as Osh city mayor and Osh Province governor. Before Atambayev became president last year, international donors knew Satybaldiyev as the head of the state agency in charge of reconstructing Osh and Jalal-Abad following the ethnic violence in 2010.
Significantly, he’s a southerner, which could help calm tensions between the north (overwhelmingly represented in the post-Bakiyev government) and the south.
A rider demonstrates his skill at tiin ilmei (catching the corn).
You can’t travel too long through the Kyrgyz heartlands without coming across some horse games. Recently the eastern Tajikistan town of Murgab, a region dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz, hosted a festival to celebrate the games.
The two-day event featured four traditional horseback standards: tiin ilmei (catching the corn), in which riders attempt to snag balls of cloth off the ground while riding at top speeds; kyz kuumai (catching the bride), where men on horseback chase female riders hoping for a kiss (if the male fails, the woman gets to chase and whip him); an all-out long-distance horse race; and er odarysh (flip the saddle), a wrestling match in which two riders each attempt to pull his opponent off his horse.
Although organizers had hoped to have the traditional goat polo game of ulak tartysh, only seven horses were available and thus it was cancelled. Still, the crowd of more than one hundred onlookers -- Kyrgyz fans, foreign travelers, and expat aid workers -- at the internationally sponsored festival last month, remained enthusiastic throughout the event.
Well, mostly. One local Kyrgyz man carefully eyed the horses like a connoisseur, noting that the riders were good but the horses needed more experience. As he spoke, the crowd was cheering on a few competitors galloping to the finish of a long race around a nearby hill. One of the horses came to an exhausted standstill about 50 meters before the finish and refused to continue.
The man continued, “You see? Ha! He can’t even finish. Good for him to stop!”
While light rain and sand blew through an awards ceremony concluding the weekend, the crowd applauded as young victors received prizes such as mobile phones, DVD players, and televisions.
Demonstrators in Bishkek, furious that Minsk is ignoring demands to extradite the brother of the former president to face murder charges, roughed up the Belarusian Embassy on August 28, local news agencies reported.
Many in Kyrgyzstan are livid that Janysh Bakiyev popped up in Belarus earlier this month a free man. A Belarusian activist said he posted photos of ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's hated little brother on August 17 because he was tired of seeing his country become “a scrapheap for escaped dictators.”
The Bakiyevs were ousted in bloody street riots in April 2010, when Kurmanbek fled to Belarus. Bishkek has repeatedly requested his extradition, though the ex-autocrat is said to have scored Belarusian citizenship and a $2-million home in the capital.
Upwards of 50 people, including relatives of those who died on April 7, 2010, attacked the embassy, Radio Azattyk reported, breaking windows and destroying furniture. Janysh, his brother's security boss, is accused of giving orders to fire on the crowd as Bakiyev clung to power, resulting in about 90 dead and hundreds wounded. Bishkek is trying the brothers in absentia.
Charter 97, a Belarusian news site critical of President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, reported that Ambassador Viktor Denisenko met protestors and made some vague promises.
Despite the violence, Minsk says it has no plans to recall its ambassador from Kyrgyzstan.
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.