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.
Last week, Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister set some ambitious goals for the country’s farming sector: On July 20, Omurbek Babanov told hundreds of local officials that Kyrgyzstan must become a “regional leader” in agriculture, not just fully meeting domestic demand, but exporting 90 percent of its produce to cover “the needs of neighboring states.”
For now, however, this vision looks like a mirage in the summer haze.
Due to this year’s high temperatures and low rainfall, “Kyrgyzstan could lose between 50 percent and 70 percent of its crops” and “the country’s livestock industry may have absolutely no feed this winter,” an industry news website, AllAboutFeed.net, said in a July 19 report, citing unnamed experts.
The Agriculture Ministry expects this year’s domestic wheat production to cover slightly more than half of Kyrgyzstan’s needs, predicting a harvest of 650,000 metric tons versus an estimated food-security minimum of nearly 1.1 million tons plus another 177,000 tons in feed. This would be close to a 20 percent drop in production from 2011, when, according to the National Statistics Committee, the wheat harvest totaled nearly 800,000 tons.
More than 30 artists from across Central Asia and from as far away as France and Turkey gathered on the southern shore of Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul earlier this month to share some creative juices. Besides painting and sculpture, they produced installations and performances, and undertook joint photography shoots.
Organized by the Bishkek-based NGO B-Art Center, the weeklong “Nomadic Art Camp” culminated in a July 13 exhibition at the National Art Museum in Bishkek and a jam session at the Hyatt Hotel featuring local and foreign musicians (including yours truly, Kide from the Jeans Community).
Shaarbek Amankul, head of B-Art Center, told EurasiaNet.org that he has organized the Nomadic Art Camp annually since 2009. The main idea, Amankul said, is to recognize Central Asia’s cultural heritage as a source of inspiration for contemporary art.
“Bio-cultural Heritage and Diversity” was the theme this year. Participants explored how to fuse traditional Central Asian materials, such as felt and wood, with modern ideas.
For example, Tajik artist Daler Mikhtodzhov combined his interests in the region’s ecology and spirituality in a performance, Stairway to Heaven. In the YouTube video, he appears reading suras – Koranic verses – inside a wooden cage. But the cage is not just a trap: It’s actually a ladder, the rungs wrapped in yesterday’s newspapers. Later, a male performer covered in black oil contemplates escape.
Organizers plan to take the exhibits on a road trip around Kyrgyzstan and distribute a catalogue internationally.
Konstantin Parshin is a freelance writer based in Tajikistan.
**UPDATE (July 26): The Ministry of Social Development has stopped all international adoption agencies from working in Kyrgyzstan, for now. According to a July 26 Vecherny Bishkek report, which includes a list of the agencies, four have been banned due to "grave violations." Six others have been suspended for two months.
Kids in Kyrgyzstan’s state childcare institutions are again at the center of the country’s lackluster war on corruption. Though a long-standing moratorium on international adoption in Kyrgyzstan was lifted last year, authorities seem bent on bringing it back after the high-profile arrest of a minister involved in the process.
The moratorium was originally instituted in February 2009 because of corruption in the adoption system and reasonable fears children were not being protected. (The campaign later drew sensationalist coverage in press reports, which played on fears of "Americans harvesting our children's organs”). Despite repeated promises to prospective parents to lift the ban, it dragged on because of chaos in government. For at least 65 American families who had already started the adoption process, the freeze left dozens of children in limbo for years. A fair number had congenital illnesses and needed treatment in the West. Some died waiting.
In case anyone still doubts that a 1,400-year-old religion is compatible with a 21st-century social-networking tool, a new Twitter-based project in Kyrgyzstan should put those doubts to rest.
On July 20, the country’s Muslims joined with millions of their co-religionists across the world in marking the start of Ramadan, Islam’s annual holy month of fasting, self-sacrifice and contemplation.
Sticking to the rules of the fast – which forbid eating or drinking during daylight hours – can tax even the fittest of the faithful in Central Asia, where summer temperatures regularly rise above 30 Celsius and the sun stays out from before 6 a.m. until after 8 p.m.
But this year those new to Ramazan, as it is called in Kyrgyzstan, or simply worried about missing their pre-dawn breakfast, can sign up for a free text-messaging service that will send morning and evening reminders about prayer and meal times, as well as 140-character-max hadiths (sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed) and ayahs (Koranic verses) about the importance of love, attentiveness, loyalty, caring, knowledge and Ramadan itself.
The new Russian-language resource, called @RamazanTime, was the brainchild of a 22-year-old Bishkek resident whose two female friends, aged 21 and 22, then joined her as co-writers.
“We created this service to morally support our compatriots who are planning to keep the fast,” the idea's author wrote in an email to EurasiaNet.org. (She asked that neither her name nor her friends’ be printed as they were doing this “not to promote ourselves, but to gain Allah’s pleasure and motivate others.”)
A clash on the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan frontier that left one dead on each side has sparked a spat between Tashkent and Bishkek about who was responsible. In response, Tashkent has reportedly closed the border to citizens of Kyrgyzstan.
Bishkek says the July 17 shootout occurred when Uzbek border guards opened fire as a dispute with local villagers got out of hand. But Tashkent, after reportedly firing the head of the Border Service, has upped the ante by describing it as an “armed bandit attack” by Kyrgyz guards, regional media report.
The shootout happened in an undemarcated (hence potentially disputed) sector of the border between eastern Uzbekistan’s Namangan Region and southern Kyrgyzstan’s Jalal-Abad Province.
According to the Kyrgyz Border Service, villagers from the settlement of Bulak-Bashi and staff from the nearby Bozymchak gold mine started repairing a road in the undemarcated sector, refusing to heed Kyrgyz guards’ entreaties to stop.
When border guards from Uzbekistan demanded a halt to the repairs, villagers “reacted aggressively,” Kyrgyzstan’s Border Service said, in comments carried by Kyrgyzstan’s state news agency. “As a result the border detachment of Uzbekistan used weapons; Kyrgyz border guards opened return fire,” it continued, leaving one Kyrgyz border guard dead and two Kyrgyz citizens wounded.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has ended a two-day visit to Kazakhstan by calling for an independent international investigation into December’s violence in and around the western town of Zhanaozen, which officials say left 15 dead after police fired on protestors.
Pillay told a press conference in Astana on July 12 that “a precise account of exactly what happened in Zhanaozen […] remains elusive.”
“Allegations of torture and forced confessions do not seem to have been properly investigated, and there are many serious question marks over the fairness of judicial processes, and the conduct of trials,” Pillay continued.
Forty-five civilians have been convicted over the violence, of whom 17 are serving prison terms. Six police officers have also been jailed.
Pillay said the question of whether the use of live fire was “necessary and proportional” remains open, and that an independent investigation could be “a watershed for Kazakhstan” since the Zhanaozen affair encapsulates “in microcosm, many of the human rights concerns and critical gaps in the country’s laws and rule-of-law institutions.”
Astana has conducted its own investigation into the unrest, which – while acknowledging police wrongdoing – concluded that it was stirred up by “third forces” and perpetrated by local ringleaders.
Worshippers wait outside the Russian Orthodox Church in Bishkek for the acclaimed Tikhvin Icon of Our Lady to arrive from Russia. Believed to work miracles, the icon is visiting Kyrgyzstan for the first time, traveling across the country from July 9 to 13.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
During a pivotal moment for Kyrgyzstan’s parliament – as lawmakers prepare a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, and as they discuss whether to nationalize the country’s largest mine – the people’s deputies took a moment to focus on sartorial issues.
A new set of rules and recommendations approved late June 26 bans visitors and staff from wearing miniskirts and clashing ties inside the Jogorku Kenesh, local media outlets report. The rules do not, however, apply to the deputies themselves.
The Jogorku Kenesh’s committee on parliamentary procedure and ethics has forbidden women from wearing shiny embroidery or exposing too much cleavage. Women must also go easy with the perfume. Men must ensure their shirt and tie match the color of their suit. No baggy sweaters are allowed and jeans are strictly verboten.
The committee encourages both men and women to wear discreet colors, such as blue, beige, gray and brown. Everyone is now prohibited from wearing lace, and no one is allowed to enter the White House in a tank top or flashing his or her stomach.
Are these rules necessary? Forbidding slippers and flip-flops does make good safety sense. (So would banning bare-knuckle brawls and guns.)
The arrest of the popular former mayor of Kyrgyzstan’s capital on corruption charges, despite his immunity as a sitting parliamentary deputy, looks like risky business for the weak government in Bishkek.
Nariman Tyuleyev, who served as Bishkek mayor under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is charged with corruption, costing the state some $1.4 million when he purchased unneeded and overpriced Chinese-made city buses back in 2008, local news agencies report.
The case against him is not particularly surprising in a city known for flashy and unmitigated graft. And this is far from the first time Tyuleyev has been linked to sleaze: In a conversation where his name was mentioned in 2008, shortly after being appointed acting-mayor by Bakiyev, the US Embassy tosses this telling aside into a cable later made available by Wikileaks: “Note: Many connect Tuliyev with organized crime. End note.”
But Tyuleyev (often spelled Tuleyev and Tuleev) isn’t just another official from the hated Bakiyev regime. He’s currently a member of the opposition Ata-Jurt party in parliament. Thus, it would seem Tyuleyev has parliamentary immunity, though the prosecutor’s office says the crime is so grave that it can revoke his immunity. Tyuleyev was arrested this weekend and put in temporary detention for two months.