Some of Tajikistan’s myth-building is out of this world, but it has really taken that literally this time.
Khovar state news agency reported on September 1 — to mark the post-Soviet-wide “Day of Knowledge” holiday no less — that a "small planet" in the solar system has been named after Tajikistan.
This rare honor was bestowed upon the country by something called the International Astrophysicists Union for contributions made by Tajikistan’s scientists to astrophysics and the study of the heavens, Khovar reported.
A certificate confirming that the planet is definitely real and that it has certainly been named after Tajikistan was handed to President Emomali Rakhmon by the president of the Academy of Sciences, Farhod Rahimi.
Where is the planet? Khovar gives pretty specific coordinates: 250 million kilometers from earth and 436 million kilometers from the sun.
Tajikistan — the planet not the country — orbits the sun once every five years, which is coincidentally equivalent to the term of the country’s parliament. The two Tajikistans are currently at peak proximity, so Tajik scientists are eagerly peering through their telescopes to work out what’s up there, Khovar reported:
“Tajik scientists are studying its physical and chemical composition, as well as the processes taking place on this planet.”
“We are witnessing a historic event. Kyrgyzstan has secured energy independence,” he said. “We had to ask our neighbors for transit. Now, nobody will turn off our power.”
The transmission route was needed to remedy a legacy of the Soviet Union, under which the Central Asian republics were linked by power grids and readily coordinated their respective needs. As a result, electricity to Kyrgyzstan’s south passed through Uzbekistan, while northern regions were supplied through lines in Kazakhstan.
Atambayev said Datka-Kemin will not only liberate his country from dependence on neighbors, but will also free it of onerous transit fees.
“For the transit of our own electricity from one region to another region of the country through the territory of a neighboring nation, we spent millions of dollars annually,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan had limited finances to undertake the transmission line project itself, so it secured a $390 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China to build the 405-kilometer line and the Kemin electricity substation.
The work was completed by Chinese company Tebian Electric Apparatus (TBEA) over a three-year period.
The agreement had its critics, like nationalist member of parliament with Ata-Jurt party, Ahmatbek Keldibekov.
Authorities in Tajikistan have followed through in their mounting campaign against their strongest political opponent by banning the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
The statement on August 28 from the Justice Ministry was curt and categorical.
"The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan is no longer a republican party,” the statement said, according to a report carried by state news agency Khovar.
IRPT now has 10 days to wind down operations.
Authorities argue that legislation regulating the operations of political parties mandate that there be representative offices of a party in most cities and district. The Justivce Ministry said IRPT has suspected its activities in 58 cities and districts, meaning it falls short of requirements.
“So it is that IRPT cannot present itself as an all-republican party and hold its congress,” the statement said.
The writing has for months been on the wall for IRPT, the only Islamic party in Central Asia.
On the evening of August 24, officials swooped in on the party headquarters in Dushanbe on the evening of August 24 and ordered the premises to be sealed. That has forced the party to relocate their base to the home of its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, who is living in self-imposed exiled in Istanbul.
A branch of the party in the northern Sughd province was closed in July after what the government said were thousands of appeals to the Justice Ministry.
A series of videos posted online featured party members suddenly announcing their intent to resign their membership. IRPT representatives say the members were acting under pressure from regional officials.
IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini said at a press conference on August 27 that the party would not be deterred from continuing operations, however.
IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini speaks at a press conference in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, on August 27, 2015.
Authorities in Tajikistan stand accused of resorting to all means possible to prevent the only vaguely credible opposition force, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, from holding a general conference.
Officials swooped in on IRPT’s headquarters in Dushanbe on the evening of August 24 and ordered the premises to be sealed, leaving the party homeless. That has forced the party to relocate their base to the home of its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, who is living in self-imposed exiled in Istanbul.
The official explanation for the closure of the offices was the the building is embroiled in an alleged long-term ownership disagreement. Authorities maintain that the premises are registered to a company called Tijorat, which it says acquired the real estate illegally.
The offices were closed so hastily that large amounts of personal property belonging to members, including a car, could not be retrieved.
“We hope that the office really is sealed and that nobody dares to go inside. But there is a fear that they will something there that didn’t actually belong to us,” said IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini.
Pressure against IRPT has been mounting and systematic. A branch of the party in the northern Sughd province was closed in July after what the government said were thousands of appeals to the Justice Ministry. A series of videos posted online featured party members suddenly announcing their intent to resign their membership. IRPT representatives say the members were acting under pressure from regional officials.
Efforts by the party to explain its plight at a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Dushanbe on August 27 ran into problems before the event could even begin. Twenty minute before the briefing began, management from the U.S.-owned hotel announced they had to cancel because of a power failure.
On August 25, a court in Khatlon province ruled that Oigul Pardaeva and Safargul Hodjaeva conspired to murder and burn the remains of Norgul Azimova, their shared mother-in-law, in circumstances that remain a mystery.
Pardaeva was sentenced to 22 years in jail for the killing, which was committed in December. Hodjaeva got 21 years.
Azimova’s sons, residents of the village of Takhti Sangin, had phoned the police with a missing person report in January. Her charred remains were later found in a river by investigators.
News of the sentencing and the gory death, relayed by Tajikistan’s Asia Plus news agency and other independent outlets, throws up more questions than answers.
For one, what role if any did the sons play? Asia Plus’ report provides few clues, but mentions that Pardaeva’s husband, Dilovar Azimov, was sentenced to two years of correctional labor for bigamy as part of the same case.
Hodjaeva was presumably not Azimov’s second wife as the report refers to their husbands in the plural. But the report does not explain the connection, if there is one, between his bigamy and their murder.
Most importantly, the motive for this ghastly crime is unclear.
The typical kelin, or live-in daughter-in-law is expected to be the epitome of servitude in most rural Central Asian families. Her mother-in-law on the other hand, is a character of unrelenting wickedness, as evidenced by her portrayal in many Central Asian films.
Tajikistan’s war on the wrong clothes looks set to step up a gear as the authorities resolve to crack down on anything they perceive as dangerous, radical Islam.
Asia-Plus website reported that a meeting in Dushanbe on August 19 brought together the mayor, members of parliament, city deputies, police, traders and religious leaders for discussions touching on areas of concern, including the flourishing of radical Islam.
Dushanbe mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev appealed to meeting participants to help combat “displays of religious extremism and terrorism” and for all city residents to assist in the battle.
To that end, Ubaidulloev issued instructions for government officials to put an end to the import and sale of clothes alien to Tajiks. That is typically code for conservative Islamic clothing worn by women, anything from hijabs to the niqab, which covers almost the entire face.
What those clothes might be was also spelled out by President Emomali Rahmon during a Mother’s Day speech in February.
“Since ancient times our people have had beautiful women’s dresses, our girls have never worn black clothes. Traditionally, black clothes are not welcome,” Rahmon told mothers ahead of Mother’s Day, which has replaced International Women’s Day in Tajikistan and is marked on March 8.
State television tried to spice up that message some days after the speech by airing a report telling of prostitutes who use the veil to enhance their appeal.
Nerves in Kazakhstan over the state of the national currency turned first to alarm, and now to pretty much outright panic.
Yielding to the inevitable, Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced on August in a special video message that the government would switch to a free-float currency exchange. The value of the tenge duly plummeted 26 percent against the dollar and was trading at 255 by the end of the day.
“On July 15 this year, the National Bank took a decision to widen the currency corridor in order to enable a more flexible and floating exchange rate for the tenge,” said Masimov. “But the situation on the global economy continues to worsen. The prices for the main export goods of our country — oil and metals — have continued to fall, which has had a negative effect on the economic growth.”
Masimov said a priority would be placed on shoring up social welfare, but such remarks will do little to stave off immediate reactions to the collapse of the currency.
TengriNews posted pictures online showing closed currency exchange points in Almaty, where traders are understandably concerned at making large losses in such uncertain times. Vedomosti newspaper reported that some are so desperate that they are offloading their tenge to buy Russian rubles, which is itself experiencing major tribulations, although in a more gradual manner than the tenge.
Alarm is spreading as well deepening as Kyrgyzstan’s som felt the shockwaves from its northern neighbor.
Unlike Russia’s ruble, Kazakhstan’s national currency has for several months managed to hold ground against the dollar, only for it to now slump dramatically and spread alarm of more retreats.
Several commercial banks on August 19 began around mid-morning to offer exchange rates as high as 198 tenge to the dollar, against the 188.5 tenge listed on the National Bank website.
The domestic KASE stock exchange was at same time running trades of 195 tenge to the dollar.
Stubbornly low oil prices appear to have combined with the battering of the Chinese yuan to finally force Kazakhstan’s hand. The apparent decision to allow the tenge to float will gravely dent the credibility of National Bank chairman Kayrat Kelimbetov, who promised as recently as July 15 that the currency would not slip below 190 in the coming quarter. And not speak of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who promised after being re-elected in April that there would be no more sharp devaluations.
Economist Olzhas Hudaybergenov, who heads the Macroeconomic Research Center, wrote on his Facebook page that hopes the currency would resist lay in the hopes that oil prices would stick at around $55-60 mark. The global Brent benchmark slid below $50 last week and shows no immediate signs of rebounding.
“This means the need of a certain section of the business world for a sharp devaluation — it is not important whether it would happen suddenly or over a few days — will be met. I think the next few days will bring us some clarity on this,” he wrote.
Hudaybergenov said that he agreed with supporters of a correction to the tenge, who argue the move will boost competitiveness, save jobs and increase productivity.
The former Soviet space is losing yet another Communist party.
This time around, a court in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, has ordered the liquidation of the Communist Party, according to a report in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakh service.
Party leader Toleubek Makhyzhanov told Azattyq that the ruling was made on August 3, but that he was informed only 10 days later.
This is not to say Astana has embarked on any kind of anti-communist hunt. An ersatz Communist People’s Party was created in 2004 with the tacit approval of the authorities.
While the newer party eschewed any genuinely opposition activities, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, which was born out of the ashes of the ruling Soviet-era party once led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has long been a thorn in the side of the ruling order.
That has prompted Makhyzhanov to term the liquidation of his party as being politically motivated.
Azattyq cited Makhyzhanov as saying there were a few fundamental procedural issues with the Almaty court’s verdict.
“The case has been considered in the wrong jurisdiction. The Specialized Inter-district Economic Court of Almaty cannot issue this verdict when the central office of the party is in (the city of) Semey,” he was quoted as saying.
The Almaty court’s decision was based on the finding that the party purportedly only has 38,000 registered members, short of the 40,000 required by law. But the real figure of party members is 58,000, Makhyzhanov said. “Where did they get their figures from?” he told Azattyq.
The Communist Party’s opposition stand has earned it sustained pressure.
Police in Tajikistan are busy naming and shaming renegade members of the pop star class, who have somehow managed to accumulate dozens of unpaid fines for driving violations.
Like many cities across the former Soviet Union, Dushanbe has a driving culture straight out of a Fast and Furious movie. Potholed roads encourage swerving at speed. And it is often the city’s well-heeled and privileged that are the worst offenders.
But running red lights and hanging illegal U-turns is riskier than it used to be thanks to the installation of around 1,000 closed-circuit television cameras.
The ‘Safe City’ project, which has been almost completely financed by deep-pocketed neighbor China, has transformed Dushanbe into a surveillance hotspot. Officials claim it has halved the number of traffic accidents.
If the Interior Ministry is to be believed, it seems famous musicians are particularly egregious lawbreakers, and they often ignore the consequences.
As Asia Plus reported on August 13, citing the Ministry’s website:
Popular Tajik pop star Noziyai Karomatullo, driving a Mercedes Benz ML350 (registration number 1234 AT 01) committed 38 traffic violations from November 1, 2013, to August 9, 2015. The singer paid fines totaling 3,160 somoni [roughly $500] that have already been transferred to the state budget. However, fines for another 21 traffic violations remain unpaid.