It turns out the rumors are true: Emomali Rakhmon of Tajikistan can boogie. (And maybe he likes a tipple.)
Videos that appeared online this week shows the Tajik strongman moving gracefully around a gilded ballroom, arms outstretched, wrists flicking, as he performs some fast-footed local dance moves.
In one video, the president belts out a duet (some might encourage him to stick to dancing) as the powerful Dushanbe mayor and potential rival Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev drifts in and out of the frame clapping his hands. In the background, Rakhmon’s eldest son stands stone-faced, hand over chest, with a veiled bride.
The videos were shot, says CA-news.org, in June 2009 at the wedding of Rustam Emomali, Rakhmon’s son and presumed heir. Coincidence, or perhaps not, this week YouTube was blocked again in Tajikistan. Users report the video-sharing site is down for the third time in the past year.
The head of Tajikistan’s Association of Internet Providers, Asomiddin Atoev, told RIA Novosti that the order to block the site came from the state communications agency. As is customary, the communications agency is not disclosing its reasoning. Over the past year the agency has regularly blocked YouTube and Facebook, as well as a host of critical news sites, often with enigmatic explanations: for example, claiming the site needs “prophylactic maintenance.” If the YouTube ban is indeed related the wedding videos, it is still unclear whether the move would have been ordered by Rakhmon himself or some over-cautious sycophants.
A festival of films from Central Asia, Turkey, and Central Europe was set to conclude in New York on May 24 with the screening of the highly acclaimed Uzbek film “Parizod.”
The New York Eurasian Film Festival,opened May 20, with a slate of more than 20 shorts and feature-length pictures from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Poland, and Bulgaria. Brooklyn’s St. Francis College hosted the second annual event.
Most of the films in the festival had never previously been shown in the United States, and some had garnered high praise elsewhere. Parizod, for example, won the Grand Prix at Latvia’s Kinoshok festival. Loosely translated as “Heaven – My Abode,” the film, named after the title character, follows the story of a woman with mystical powers who appears out of a cloud of mist only to change the lives of her benefactors, who try to find her a suitable husband.
The Eurasian Film Festival is the brainchild of Hakki Subentekin, a New York-based filmmaker originally from Turkey, and Yuliya Tikhonova, a Moscow-born curator and founder of the Brooklyn House of Kulture -- “an experimental curatorial model created to allow artists to work within communities,” according to Tikhonova’s own online description.
Here's looking at the world's worst economy cabin.
When the countries of Central Asia end up on a list, they’re usually at the bottom (or the top, depending on how you look at it, as in “most-corrupt”). A new ranking is no different: Three of the region’s national air carriers, surprise, have placed among the world's worst.
Business Insider, an online magazine, has ranked economy-class cabins and found the flag carriers of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan offer passengers a “most unpleasant in-flight experience,” measured by "seat comfort, in-flight entertainment, cabin cleanliness and condition, quality of meals served, and service efficiency."
The magazine compiled its list from ratings made available by airline reviewer Skytrax. It then "adjusted each measure to be out of 100, and averaged them to produce a final score that reflects the overall in-flight experience."
The magazine and Skytrax offer little quantitative data to back the rankings, which may lead regular Central Asia travellers to quibble or ask why some of the region’s fly-by-night airlines did not make the list.
Perhaps the judges have never been stranded on the runway in Osh waiting for East OK Avia to fetch them. Maybe the judges who sampled UTair simply met violent deaths. One EurasiaNet correspondent likes to tell a story from Ariana Afghan Airlines: As the plane tilted forward for landing, passengers in the front of the cabin got acquainted with the contents of an overflowing toilet in the rear.
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.
Last week, Inside the Cocoon wrote about an Atlantic Council-sponsored conference on Kyrgyzstan and the potential for a conflict of interest. So now that the conference is over, were those concerns borne out? The answer depends on who you talk to.
The controversy centered on Latvian financier Valeri Belokon, who provided funds to help make the conference, titled Kyrgyzstan since 2010: Progress, Problems and Opportunities, possible. Belokon is under investigation in Kyrgyzstan for money-laundering, thus his sponsorship was seen by some participants as potentially compromising the event’s underlying purpose of nudging Bishkek in a westward direction.
The chief organizer, Ambassador Ross Wilson of the Atlantic Council, called the meeting a success, describing the full day of discussions on May 15 as “honest and straight-forward.”
“The presence of Belokon did not in any way influence the conversation,” Wilson stated. His portrayal of the discussions was generally echoed by other participants at the event.
Even so, the conference may end up aggravating already contentious relations between Kyrgyzstan and Latvia. A Kyrgyz participant at the conference, Baktybek Abdirisaev, offered scathing criticism of Belokon and Latvia in a letter sent to Ambassador Wilson and other event attendees, and made available to EurasiaNet.org.
Abdrisaev called the conference “counterproductive” and assailed Belokon as “the banker who empowered [Kyrgyzstan’s] former dictator Kurmanbek Bakiyev and who helped Bakiyev and his henchmen move hundreds of millions of dollars in assets out of our country as the regime collapsed in April 2010.” Belokon vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant Russian nationalist, is no longer welcome in Kyrgyzstan.
Parliament voted May 15 to ask the Foreign Ministry to declare the Russian State Duma vice speaker persona non grata. Though some deputies warned the measure could damage relations with Moscow, 67 of 120 voted for the ban.
Zhirinovsky, who heads Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, angered many in Bishkek last month by suggesting Kyrgyzstan give up one of its most prized assets – picturesque Lake Issyk-Kul – in exchange for a debt write-off.
He often makes disparaging remarks about Central Asian migrants in Russia and has pushed to tighten visa requirements. But his venom is not just directed at Kyrgyzstan.
A few weeks back, Zhirinovsky suggested that Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon – who is engaged in a protracted dispute over the lease for a Russian division based in Tajikistan – could end up facing a brutal and public death at the hands of the Taliban were it not for Russian aid.
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.