Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on a 2009 state visit to India.
The chief of India's army is visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the latest stops in what seems like a growing push by New Delhi to build military relations in Central Asia. IndianDefence.com reports:
Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh, “This proposed visit to Khazakhastan would be recorded as the first for the past 16 years by an Indian Army Chief after General Shankur Roy Chaudhury visited Kazakhstan. As for Uzebekistan, this would be the first time an Army General will be visiting,” he informed.
“The objective of these visits is to develop India’s relationship with the CAR countries,” they went further saying.
The visit will last three days in each country (Singh arrived in Uzbekistan yesterday), which seems substantial. Recall that, after getting pushed aside by Russia in its attempt to set up an air base in Tajikistan, India has regrouped and set up new military arrangements with Tajikiistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. But obviously Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the heavyweights in the region, and I'll be curious to see where this is all heading.
As the Old Spice man might say, some people who look at the Arab Spring demonstrations, then look at Central Asia, then look at the Arab spring demonstrations, then back at Central Asia, say sadly, Central Asia is not like the Middle East, but it could be if only...people were less timid...or the West stopped supporting the regime ...or if more people joined Facebook groups.
Of course, even with similarities, like a dictator in power for a long time (President Islam Karimov has ruled for 22 years in Uzbekistan), even with the US seemingly interested in downplaying human rights problems over the greater need for a supply route to the Afghanistan war, there are major differences between Uzbekistan and say, Egypt or Tunisia.
The virtual absence of independent local or foreign media in Uzbekistan is one of those differences. There are almost no independent media outlets outside of a few brave web sites or newsletters emailed by dissidents -- and very few civic groups able to function independently. So when people *do* protest, we don't always hear about it -- or at least not right away. The problem is exacerbated when Uzbekistan becomes a foreign policy story and drives the other local stories off the top of the Google news results.
A human rights leader in Uzbekistan says she is suffering backlash for her work.
Police have come to the home of Elena Urlaeva of the Human Rights Alliance in Tashkent and attempted to remove her 7-year-old foster child, Muhammad, the independent website uznews.net reported.
The aim of the visit was quite simple: he [the policeman] said he had been asked to take Muhammad Mashurov away to a children’s home. But he didn’t show me any proof that he had the right to take a child away from their family. It never occurred to me that a small child could be made a victim of such an unlawful and arbitrary procedure.
The boy is the nephew of Urlayeva's partner, Mansur Mashurov.
In recent months, Urlayeva has been monitoring the use of forced child labor in the cotton fields and has taken on other injustices in this Central Asian dictatorship, such as the persecution of journalists.
Uzbek authorities are finding new ways to curb the birth rate, Radio Ozodlik reports. According to health providers who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, the medical community is being forced to take action to curb fertility, in accordance with President Islam Karimov's Decree No. PP-1096, "On additional measures to protect the health of the mother and child, the formation of a healthy generation."
An official of the Ministry of Health said the presidential decrees were prompted by a mounting birth rate: in 2007, 480,000 infants were born in Uzbekistan; this number increased to 500,000 in 2008, then 650,000 in 2009, and then 650-700,000 in 2010.
Reports have continued to be received that doctors are urging women to be "voluntarily" sterilized after a certain number of births. Now pregnant women who already have multiple children are told that there is no room for them at the clinic, because "the plan for births has already been fulfilled," the human rights group Ezgulik reports.
A 24-year-old woman born in Tashkent named Ziyoda told Radio Ozodlik that two years ago, she married a man from Samarkand. When she went to the clinic where she had originally lived before she was married, she was told that she wasn't registered in the district to access the local clinic. She then managed to get a propiska, or residence permit at her parents' home, and went back to the clinic for prenatal care. But the second time she was told that the district had already fulfilled its norm for births, and that the authorities had ordered the reduction of the birth rate. The clinic declined to answer questions from a reporter.
Now that the Bush administration has been gone a few years, its principals are coming out with memoirs of their time in the White House, and with them come a little more insight into U.S. government policymaking in the oughts. My colleague Giorgi Lomsadze has already reported on the small furor that Condoleezza Rice's new book has made among Armenian-Americans, but she's probably not going to make Donald Rumsfeld, or the government of Uzbekistan, any happier.
Like Rumsfeld, she recounts into the internal debate in the administration about how to respond to the massacre at Andijan, which was particularly delicate given that the U.S. was then maintaining a key air base at Karshi-Khanabad. Rumsfeld, you'll recall, in his own memoir called the U.S. response to Andijan “one of the most unfortunate, if unnoticed, foreign policy mistakes of our administration" because it privileged human rights concerns over strategic interests. In her book, Rice explains her side of the story, and how she won over President George W. Bush:
We'd crossed swords, for instance, on Uzbekistan where, after bloody riots in May 2005, State had issued a tough human rights report against the regime. The Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, had responded by threatening to expel us from the military base that he'd allowed us into at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan. Let us recall that we'd paid a small fortune for the privilege, but the dictator felt no obligation to honor that deal and said so.
The independent news site fergananews.com has released sensational videos made in 2005 purporting to be the confessions of Aleksandr Rakhmanov, a former agent of Uzbekistan's secret police said to have participated in death squads.
The editors of fergananews.com say they received the videos back in 2006, but were concerned that publishing them would lead to retaliation against Rakhamanov. When the editors received word recently that he had died, they decided to show the videos. The editors are hoping someone might help identify him and confirm the stories.
In the video series, titled "Confessions of a Henchman," Rakhmanov, who also went by the nickname "Uncle Shuryan," describes how, as a prison inmate, he was allegedly recruited to a special team of agents created in the 1980s to break prisoners to get them to confess, or, if necessary, kill them. According to Rakhmanov, the operation was organized by Rifkat Gubaydullin, a police agent, and Zakir Almatov, before he was made Interior Minister of Uzbekistan. Rakhmanov says he made his confession because his own role in taking part in the torture and killing of hundreds of people was beginning to weight on his conscience.
In January 2006, the Almaty newspaper Megapolis published an article about the Rakhmanov's claims in 2006, and
Just a few months ago, Uzbek authorities seemed to be easing up on Muslims in Uzbekistan. At the end of Ramadan; unlike past years, President Islam Karimov issued an unprecedented decree deeming Eid ul-Fitr, the day marking the conclusion of the month-long fast, as a national holiday, EurasiaNet reported. (It fell on August 31st this year).
The Uzbek dictator allowed religious celebrations to be organized and even ordered state media to provide "comprehensive and positive" coverage. Of course, all the festivities were under state control, as all religious activity is in Uzbekistan. The purpose seemed to get some imams to praise Karimov as providing stability and security -- ostensibly by contrast with the countries of the Middle East/North Africa that were experiencing the "Arab Spring." Even so, it seemed as if the parameters for religious belief in Uzbekistan might be expanding.
Yet when it came time for the faithful to depart for Mecca this year, the Uzbek government reverted to its long-standing practice of severely limiting the number of people allowed to travel.
According to Forum 18 News Service, the Oslo-based religious news organization, only 5,080 out of a potential quota of about 28,000 set by Saudi Arabia for Uzbekistan were allowed to travel to Mecca for the hajj:
Abulfazal of neweurasia.net blogs that the popular coffee shop Starbucks may be opening in Tashkent.
He found out about it from Starbucks' Facebook page where a user posted a picture of a store, that seemed to be a Starbucks coming soon, with the familiar green-and-white logo, called the "Siren's Eye" by the company.
The sighting was an occasion to remember a fake Starbucks started some years ago by dictator's daughter Gulnara Karimova -- replete with fake t-shirts and mugs.
I noticed a small booth that seemed to be selling food and drinks. On the side there was a picture of what looked like a latte. I approached the hatch and pointed at what I wanted. The young man nodded and set to work. First he picked up what looked like a discarded white plastic cup, peered inside and shook the contents into the sink. Next he searched for a spoon and found one under a dirty dishcloth. He gave it a quick rub with his greasy fingers and dunked it into some white powder, coffee whitener I presumed. Then he shook in the most miserly amount in instant coffee and filled the cup up with water. After stirring it with the filthy spoon he passed me my latte. Starbucks it was not.
Bakhodyr Yuldashev, the chief editor of the Russian-language "Zerkalo XXI" ("Mirror XXI"), told RFE/RL that the paper has stopped publishing due to financial difficulties.
"We have suspended publishing the newspaper," he said from Tashkent on November 4. "We haven't given up the license... [and] hopefully we will come back early next year [and resume publishing] once we are on our feet again."
The newspaper, which was founded in 1990, was one of a few media outlets in Uzbekistan that covered important social and economic issues in the country.
"Any of our readers can confirm that we have had tons of critical reports [in our newspaper]," Yuldashev said. "And no one likes criticism, you know? As Uzbeks say, 'even your father doesn't like to hear criticism.'"
Yuldashev added that two other newspapers that he runs, "Novosti Uzbekistana" ("News Of Uzbekistan") and "Wedding-Toyona" ("Wedding-Dowry"), continue to operate.
Another employee at "Zerkalo XXI," who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said that the newspaper has had problems with the state licensing committee for publishing several advertisements that the committee said were "illegal." He added that he thinks this may be the reason for the publication's closure.
But Yuldashev told RFE/RL that "Zerkalo XXI" has not been fined or been told by officials that there were any problems with the newspaper's content.
All media outlets in Uzbekistan are either fully owned and controlled by the government or carefully monitored and censored by it.
A train crash in southern Uzbekistan in late September led to speculation that it was related to U.S. military transport to Afghanistan on the Northern Distribution Network, but the U.S. says the cargo on the ill-fated train wasn't theirs.
The crash happened September 25 near Tangimush, in Sukhandarya province. It doesn't seem to have been acknowledged by the Uzbekistan government, but some witnesses reported the news to Radio Ozodlik (in Russian) and took photos. Four people were killed.
This is the same line that was the subject of a Wikileaked cable that this blog mentioned a few months ago. In that cable, a local informant reported to the U.S. embassy in Tashkent that the new line, which was being used for NDN cargo, was built on such steep terrain that it necessitated riding the brakes on such a long descent that they were glowing red by the time it reached the bottom:
XXXXXXXXXXXX's description of current operations on the Karshi-Termez rail line is cause for concern. XXXXXXXXXXXX underlined this by saying he himself refused to travel on the line under current conditions. His description of wheels that are red hot by the end of the mountain crossing implies that a train wreck is possible in the literal sense.
I asked the State Department about the September crash, and this is the statement they provided:
Some media reports indicated that the train was carrying fuel; however, the cargo did not belong to the US government. This route is also used for commercial cargo transportation, and this appears to have been a commercial cargo shipment...