The U.S. State Department released its annual "Country Reports on Terrorism," which purports to summarize and analyze the "terrorist" threats around the world. Here is the report's summary of Central Asia in 2012:
Despite the absence of major terrorist incidents on their territory, governments in the five Central Asian states were concerned about the possibility of a growing threat connected to changes in the international force presence in Afghanistan in 2014. While some sought to reduce their countries’ vulnerability to the perceived terrorist threat, the effectiveness of their efforts was in some cases undercut by failure to distinguish clearly between terrorism on one hand and political opposition, or non-traditional religious practices, on the other.
On the occasion of last year's report, Myles Smith wrote on EurasiaNet that "For the most part, the report simply lists what authorities describe as terrorist attacks and as anti-terrorist operations, but uses qualifying terms – 'reportedly'; 'potentially' – that make it clear State is as in the dark on the nature of the events as the rest of us." A year later, there's really nothing to add to that analysis. But it's worth noting that, if the U.S. is spending increasing amounts of money, and making counter-terror assistance an increasingly large part of U.S. activity in the area, it might behoove Washington to be a little clearer about what exactly it is that this money and diplomatic effort are being directed at.
Looking at the individual country listings is instructive. Here is Tajikistan's summary:
Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court has freed six people jailed for their roles in fatal unrest in December 2011, when police opened fire on protestors in the western oil town of Zhanaozen.
The ruling, which surprised many observers, suggests that the authorities are making further moves to put behind them a bout of turmoil that left 15 civilians dead and damaged the reputation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his administration. The unrest spun out of a protracted energy sector strike that the government acknowledges was mishandled.
The Supreme Court ruled on May 28 to free six of 13 Zhanaozen protestors jailed last June, Tengri News reports. The ruling left their convictions intact but suspended their sentences.
The sentences of seven others jailed after a controversial trial last year amid allegations of torture, including prominent strike leader Roza Tuletayeva, were left unchanged. Tuletayeva was originally handed a seven-year sentence; it was cut to five on appeal.
Of four protestors jailed separately over a bout of related violence in the town of Shetpe near Zhanaozen, one was freed by the Supreme Court on appeal in January.
Kazakhstan’s self-appointed morality police are taking on the gay and lesbian community: In recent weeks, lawmakers’ homophobic rants have echoed through the hallowed halls of parliament as they call for homosexuality to be criminalized.
Homosexuality is “amorality of the highest degree,” blustered deputy Aldan Smayyl in parliament on May 22, Kazakhstan Today reported.
“A law should be adopted which would allow [homosexuals] to be considered criminals against humanity,” Smayyl – who represents the ruling Nur Otan party, headed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev – continued.
He has sent a query to Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov about adopting a law and is awaiting a response.
“In Almaty there are already 20 gay clubs; in Astana four clubs! What sort of disgrace is this?” Smayyl ranted in further remarks broadcast on KTK TV.
His bid to criminalize homosexuality – which flies in the face of Kazakhstan’s constitutional guarantee of equal rights for all – comes as the rights of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community are increasingly the subject of public debate in Kazakhstan, partly sparked by a symbolic lesbian wedding held last month.
There is no legal mechanism for gay marriage in Kazakhstan, nor is any planned. But that didn’t stop parliamentary deputy Kairbek Suleymenov (another Nur Otan stalwart) from demanding action against something that doesn’t exist.
It has long been an open secret that some police officers in Kazakhstan turn a blind eye to criminal activity in exchange for a share of the proceeds. But rarely do male officers end up fleeing the scene of the crime dressed in drag.
This is what happened in the western city of Atyrau last week, according to a report carried in local newspaper Ak Zhayyk on May 26. Its correspondent on the scene described seeing two male police officers decked out in women’s clothes bolting from a brothel.
According to the newspaper, two officers arrived at an apartment block in Atyrau around 5 a.m. after a confrontation between alleged pimps and sex workers working out of an apartment and their infuriated neighbors.
The officers entered the apartment, but when they hadn’t emerged after an hour neighbors called another police squad, whose officers arrived and sat outside in their car.
A woman then emerged from the alleged brothel, got into the squad car and proceeded to hurl insults at the neighbors and throw a bottle at them while the newly arrived police looked on, Ak Zhayyk said.
A bizarre scene then ensued as, amid the disturbance, the first two police officers emerged from inside the brothel, “one in a long beige women’s jacket, under which [police] uniform pants were peeping out,” the other in “tight” women’s pants.
When the officers sitting outside failed to make a move, a pregnant woman and an elderly man resorted to giving chase themselves. But “the forces were unequal” and the two sergeants in drag escaped.
Following the launch of a corruption probe in the UK involving a natural resources giant with strong links to Kazakhstan, the company, ENRC, has become the subject of a hostile takeover bid by powerful interests with connections to the Central Asian state.
The three oligarchs who founded the London-listed Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation – Alexander Machkevitch, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov (who are all believed to have powerful connections in Kazakhstan) – have teamed up with the Kazakh government to mount the takeover. Together the four parties hold a combined 55.33 percent of ENRC, with the three founders owning equal shares of 14.56 percent each and Astana owning 11.65 percent.
ENRC’s committee of independent directors has rejected the bid on the grounds that it “materially undervalues ENRC,” according to a May 17 statement.
The committee said that the City of London’s Panel on Takeovers and Mergers, which regulates takeover bids for London Stock Exchange-listed firms, had granted its request for an extension until June 3 for a decision on the bid, to allow the consortium time to make a better offer – something there is no guarantee it will do.
The takeover panel issued a statement on May 20 saying that another London-listed company linked to Kazakhstan, the Kazakhmys copper miner, is officially to be treated as part of the takeover bid, because Astana plans to use its stake in Kazakhmys to finance the ENRC buyout.
Authorities in Kazakhstan are again undermining religious freedom with the detention of a Protestant pastor and a Baptist leader on unrelated charges, a watchdog says.
Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev of Astana's Grace Church was detained May 19 on vague charges related to how he said his prayers. Forum 18, the Oslo-based religious freedom watchdog, reports that Kashkumbayev was questioned on May 17 and two days later remanded for two months' pre-trial detention on “unclear charges, apparently including praying and singing.”
In an unrelated case, in early May Baptist leader Aleksey Asetov from Ekibastuz in northeastern Kazakhstan spent three days in jail for failing to pay a fine imposed for holding a worship meeting without state permission. In 2011, Astana introduced legislation vastly curbing the activities of unregistered religious groups in the country.
The Astana police told local media on May 18 that Pastor Kashkumbayev was detained on suspicion of committing an offence under Article 103 of Kazakhstan's criminal code, which can carry a sentence of between three and seven years’ imprisonment.
The Grace Church had a run-in with the authorities last October when it was bizarrely accused of spiking its communion wine with unidentified hallucinogens.
The exact nature of the charges against Kashkumbayev are unclear, but members of the church who attended his arraignment told Forum 18 he was detained, not for the wine, “but for praying in tongues and singing.”
The jailed former boss of Kazakhstan’s nuclear industry has marked the fourth anniversary of his arrest by voicing suspicions from his prison cell that Russian machinations were behind the charges against him.
Mukhtar Dzhakishev, the highly respected head of Kazakhstan’s state nuclear company Kazatomprom until he was abruptly fired and arrested on May 21, 2009, said he was “convinced” Moscow had “prepared a bundle of accusations and ‘proof’ tailored to Soviet mentality” to have him arrested to stymie a nuclear deal.
On the day of his arrest, Dzhakishev was scheduled to meet Sergey Kiriyenko, the visiting head of Russia’s state-run Rosatom nuclear giant, to discuss possible trilateral nuclear collaboration with Japan, he said in comments posted on a website set up by his daughter, Aigerim Dzhakisheva.
“[The Russian] delegation had been in Japan and made an offer of a partnership that would exclude Kazakhstan,” Dzhakishev said. “The Japanese refused and demanded to have Kazakhstan included in these deals, as I had previously discussed and agreed with them.”
Video filmed after Dzhakishev’s arrest and leaked to YouTube showed him discussing his ambition to transform Kazakhstan's nuclear industry into a world leader and saying he wanted to stop Russian investors gaining a controlling stake in Uranium One, a Canada-based company with operations in Kazakhstan, which he believed would impede Kazakhstan's atomic ambitions.
A United Nations report has implicated Azerbaijan and a Kazakhstan airline executive in violations of arms embargos against North Korea. The Associated Press acquired the report, to the U.N. Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea.
Among the violators was Azerbaijan, for trying to buy anti-aircraft missiles from North Korea:
The panel... recommended sanctions against the Hesong Trading Corporation, a subsidiary of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., which was involved in trying to sell 70 North Korean portable anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan. British arms dealer Michael Ranger was convicted in July 2012 of attempting to sell the missiles.
The court heard that in email correspondence with his arms supplier in North Korea, Ranger boasted that he had been a guest of the Azerbaijani government and was driven round in a Lexus limousine whilst on business there to discuss the supply of Man-Portable Infrared Homing Surface to Air Missiles. It also heard how he told the US manufacturers of Berettas pistols that he had secured orders from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Emergency Situations following a meeting with ‘two people directly under the President’ in February 2010. The jury agreed that the evidence clearly demonstrated Ranger’s intention to disregard the embargos and duly delivered a conviction.
The U.N. report also named a citizen of Kazakhstan it says was involved in shipping arms to North Korea:
A major terror trial has opened in Astana, hearing allegations that a group of radicals intended to blow the city’s landmark pyramid sky high and plotted to assassinate senior officials, Tengri News reports.
The iconic pyramid, called the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation and designed by British architect Norman Foster, has become a symbol of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s glitzy capital. It is also a symbol of religious tolerance, every few years hosting a Congress of World and Traditional Religions to promote inter-faith dialogue.
Prosecutor Malika Shashdauletova alleged that the group also planned to attack the HQ of the National Security Committee’s domestic intelligence service (KNB) and murder agents; plotted the assassinations of unidentified “senior figures of the Republic of Kazakhstan”; and planned an act of terrorism at the opening of Astana Opera, the city’s new opera house.
Shashdauletova said that alleged ringleader Serik Koshalakov opened a kebab shop near an Astana mosque to recruit followers to pursue the ultimate goal of setting up an Islamic caliphate in Kazakhstan.
Spoilt for choice with shopping malls mushrooming all around them, Almaty's shopaholics now have an option that harks back to earlier times, when shopping was a more refined experience, with the opening of a GUM department store in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital.
GUM (pronounced goom) is short for Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin, or main department store. The original in Moscow is an iconic landmark for Russian shoppers. Almaty's four-story shopping and dining complex is modeled on the ornate original in Moscow, which was built in the nineteenth century and survived through the Soviet era as the State Department Store.
Almaty's GUM has no connections with the Moscow original, but is trading on the famous brand. The Kazakhstani version is calling itself GUM Talipoff, with GUM here standing for Guldala Univermag, a partner company whose name translates as "flower of the steppe." The general director of the Almaty store is prominent Kazakh businessman Yerlan Talipov.
This new development is bucking the trend of ever-bigger mega malls that – like they have in Moscow – have proliferated around Almaty in recent years.
Almaty's GUM does not have such a prime location as the one in Moscow, which faces the Kremlin and stretches along one side of Red Square, but the development is expected to catalyze regeneration in a formerly rundown area of Almaty close to the Green Bazaar and the city's main mosque.
The complex opened its doors to the public in April but is very much a work in progress with construction workers still putting the final touches to its elegant brick façade.