Caption: Kamchybek Tashiev stumping during his failed run for the presidency, October 28, 2011.
A court in Bishkek found three members of Kyrgyzstan’s nationalist opposition party guilty of trying to overthrow the government and handed them short prison sentences on March 29. The verdict, though less severe than their supporters had feared, did little to temper passions outside the courtroom, where riot police held back several hundred protestors, local news agencies reported.
Under the terms of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, the three must be stripped of their parliamentary seats, which should be passed to other members of their party.
Kamchybek Tashiev and two other Ata-Jurt ("Fatherland") lawmakers were arrested after a protest outside parliament on October 3 grew violent. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov organized the rally, which drew approximately 1,000 demonstrators, to demand nationalization of the country’s most-lucrative asset, the Kumtor gold mine. After vowing to “replace this government,” and “occupy” the White House, Tashiev led dozens of protestors over a fence surrounding the building and chased away armed guards. Tashiev later said he was just trying to get to work.
The three pled not guilty. Their lawyers vowed to appeal.
A state commission in Kyrgyzstan has used claims of environmental damage at the country’s largest, most lucrative gold mine, Kumtor, to argue for a new agreement with the company operating the mine, Toronto-based Centerra Gold, and to fine Centerra almost half a billion dollars.
Economics Minister Temir Sariev, who headed the commission, says he has evidence, including two reports by European scientists, that the mine is inflicting “colossal damage” on the environment.
But, until now, hardly anyone in Kyrgyzstan has seen those scientists’ supposedly damning reports.
In December and February the commission, acting, respectively, through two state agencies – the State Inspectorate for Environmental and Technical Safety (SIETS) and the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry (SAEPF) – fined Centerra approximately $467 million for alleged environmental damages, waste disposal and water treatment violations dating back to 1996. Centerra calls the claims “exaggerated or without merit.”
In its report for the state commission, SIETS said discharge from Kumtor is a "serious contamination threat" leading to "irreversible environmental impact on water resources."
Yet the two independent environmental audits Sariev commissioned, carried out by Slovene and German researchers last fall, found nothing unusual in Kumtor’s discharge. The Slovenes said water samples do not “indicate an environmental pollution or contamination situation.” The Germans said cyanide (used in the gold milling process) and heavy metals in Kumtor effluent “are significantly below the limit values of the German Ordinance on Waste Water.”
Basically, the reports – which EurasiaNet.org has seen – do not support the state commission’s environmental claims.
An industry survey has called Kyrgyzstan one of the world's “least attractive” places for mining companies to invest. In one category, Kyrgyzstan, which is embroiled in a contract dispute with its largest foreign investor, ranked last for "uncertainty concerning the administration, interpretation and enforcement of existing regulations.”
The survey, released February 28 by the Fraser Institute, a non-profit Canadian research outfit, is based on interviews with representatives of 742 mining companies working in 96 jurisdictions (countries, states, provinces) who spent a total of $6.2 billion in exploration worldwide last year.
Fraser uses something called the Policy Potential Index (PPI), “a comprehensive assessment of the attractiveness of mining policies in a jurisdiction, [which] can serve as a report card to governments on how attractive their policies are from the point of view of an exploration manager.”
Overall, Kyrgyzstan ranked 92nd of 96.
Miners answered questions about topics like environmental and tax regulations, land disputes, “socioeconomic agreements, political stability, labor issues” and security. Corruption (where Kyrgyzstan also plumbed the bottom of the rankings) was surveyed but not factored into the PPI.
Kyrgyzstan fared slightly better in “potential” and quite high in “room for improvement.”
Tajikistan has seen the massive amount of military aid that Russia has promised Kyrgyzstan, and has decided that it wants in on the windfall. And it's willing to delay the ratification of the Russia-Tajikistan military base agreement signed back in October in order to get it, according to a report in Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Recall that last year, Russia promised a big military aid package to both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with the former country getting $1.3 billion and the latter $200 million. Tajikistan's aid was part of the deal for a 30-year extension of Russia's lease on the 201st military base. It's not clear why it took so long, but Tajikistan's president, Emomali Rahmon, has now apparently decided that he got a raw deal. From Kommersant:
In the words of Kommersant's source close to the bilateral government commission [working out the base agreement] Dushanbe has raised two additional conditions [to the base deal]. The Tajik side has demanded a formal bilateral agreement based on the verbal agreements reached in October -- on Russia's provision of the means of modernizing Tajikistan's armed forces, and money for the development of its hydroenergy. Moreover, in Dushanbe they have expressed the wish for Moscow to allocate more than the promised $200 million for the rearming of the Tajik army, noting that Russia promised Kyrgyzstan around $1 billion for the analogous purpose.
This comes on top of another delay, imposed by the Tajik side in January. And the Kommersant piece ends with a dark warning:
A Kyrgyz groom inspects a bride, 1871-1872 (top). Hotel Kyrgyzstan (now the Hyatt), 1974 (bottom).
Much of Kyrgyzstan’s rich history is buried in poorly organized government vaults, not necessarily off-limits, but difficult to locate. A new online photo project seeks to change that.
Kyrgyzstan's Union of Photojournalists has begun a crowd-sourced website to collect historical photos in one place accessible to all. And the archive is set to expand as the project officially launches tomorrow, says Vlad Ushakov, one of the founders of Foto.kg, The Kyrgyz Photo Archive.
“We offer all Internet users an opportunity to create the history of our country themselves. The motto of the website is ‘The country's history in photos, the history of photography in the country.’ Users will be able to display old photographs taken before 2000, which depict events, people, and historical facts. All this will be freely available and free of charge,” Ushakov told Vechernii Bishkek.
Each photo appears with historical information, whenever possible, including the year, location, and name of the photographer. Some are borrowed from other online sources, such as the Library of Congress, but this appears to be the first attempt to amass such a collection in one place.
Photo aficionados can register and post their images (though moderators will ensure users stick to appropriate themes), or they can have site administrators scan and restore their old photos, which are then returned. Images from earliest days of photography to the year 2000 are welcome.
A lawmaker in Kyrgyzstan is pushing a resolution that would ban young women from leaving the country without their parents’ written consent.
Irgal Kadyralieva from the Social Democratic Party says the resolution, which would apply to girls under 23 years of age, is intended to "protect their honor and dignity” from trafficking or sex work. “Such measures are needed to increase morality and preserve the gene pool," Vechernii Bishkek quoted her as saying on March 4.
The ban would not prevent girls from studying abroad, Kadyralieva says, but is specifically designed to stop them from traveling abroad for work. Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz women work abroad, mostly in Russia, often in unskilled jobs for low wages and sometimes in dangerous conditions.
Kadyralieva says she was specifically motivated by a series of reports last year about Kyrgyz women in Russia being beaten and raped by Kyrgyz men calling themselves “patriots.” The men were angry at the sight of Kyrgyz women socializing with non-Kyrgyz men.
"This proposal of mine protects national security, social security, moral security and [is an] economic issue," Kadyralieva said in an interview with Kloop.kg.
The proposal of either the U.S. or Russia building some sort of military training facility/base in southern Kyrgyzstan has been kicking around for a long time, and while there appear to have been real proposals from both Washington and Moscow, neither of them, for reasons still unclear, have ever borne fruit. Now, with Russian government approval of a deal signed late last year to place all the Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan under a single agreement, Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta is reporting that a Russian base in Osh is part of the deal:
The U.S. is proposing to cut State Department aid to the Caucasus by about 24 percent, while decreasing the portion of that aid devoted to security-related programs by about two percent, according to recently released budget documents (pdf). In Central Asia, while total aid would drop 13 percent, security assistance would remain roughly the same. The aid packages, if approved by Congress, would continue a pattern by the U.S. of increasingly placing a greater emphasis on security than on political, economic or health programs in the region.
Overall, State Department aid to Central Asia would drop from $133.6 million in fiscal year 2012 to $118.3 million in the current fiscal year, while aid programs under the rubric of "Peace and Security" would stay roughly steady at $30.3 million. (Programs in the "Peace and Security" category include not only military aid programs but also those targeting police, border control agencies and so on.) In the Caucasus, the aid would drop from $150.2 million to $121.6 million, with the security portion of that declining slightly from $35.6 million to $34.9 million.
Georgia would remain the largest U.S. aid recipient in the region, though its assistance package would drop from $85 million last year to $68.7 million this year. Most of the decrease would affect programs under the rubric of "Economic Growth." Aid programs in the "Peace and Security" category, meanwhile, would remain steady, at $21.7 million, with particular focuses on preparing Georgia's armed forces for NATO interoperability and retraining weapons scientists to work in counterproliferation.
In addition to being Valentine's Day, February 14 this year was also V-Day, which thousands of people worldwide marked by participating in One Billion Rising, a global day of action – and dancing – to protest violence against women and girls. Bishkek was no exception.
Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ organized a ‘dance strike’ in front of the statue of Urkiya Salieva, a heroine of female emancipation who was killed by conservative basmachi in 1934. The event, which was organized via social media, drew about one hundred people, who danced to a Russian cover of the One Billion Rising anthem, Break the Chain, performed by local singer Saltanat Ashirova.
According to organizers, the aim of the protest was to increase local awareness about violence and injustice against women, as well as to show support for local organizations that work with women and girls who have survived violence. Co-organizer Galina Sokolova explained: “Crisis centers are constantly underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded. In 2009 and 2011 our V-Day benefit productions of the Vagina Monologues raised a total of around $4000 to support crisis centers in Bishkek and Osh. This year our team is fundraising for Crisis Center “Shans” in Bishkek, which has been working without funding for two years and still provides vital support to survivors of sexual violence. We want to make safe spaces and crisis centers visible.”
Women in Bishkek mark Valentine's Day with a family photograph. Photographers in Kyrgyzstan often erect colorful displays to mark holidays, sometimes with rabbits, doves, or peacocks. For 50 soms (about $1) a photographer will take anyone's photo, then run across the street to a digital studio to make a quick print.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.