Despite all the desperate and draconian measures being adopted by authorities in Tajikistan, the national currency has continued its downward trajectory.
The somoni officially closed 2015 at 6.99 against the dollar, but that slipped to 7.19 on January 6 — a more than 2.5 percent slide in under a week. (It has been a steady drop — although vastly less steep than Kazakhstan — since the start of 2015, when the official rate was 5.3 somoni to the dollar.)
And if at the end of the year, the dollar was selling in the banks at 7.45 somoni, banks’ websites are now showing 7.7 somoni. Meanwhile, banks are buying dollars at 7.4 somoni.
A $400 daily limit has also been placed on how many dollars account-holders can draw on their cards.
In December, the central bank suspected operations at all money exchanges points, citing speculation, leaving only banks the right to perform the transaction. Anybody carrying out unauthorized currency exchanges could face stiff penalties, the central bank said.
All the while, authorities assured people that there were enough foreign currency to go go around. Indeed, the central bank warned authorized credit organizations that failure to provide exchange service on more than two reported occasions could lead to penalties up to and including license revocation.
The warnings have had little effect. EurasiaNet.org visited several banks around the capital, Dushanbe on January 6 and found that banks authorized (obliged even) to sell dollars were unable (or unwilling) to do so. Banks will buy dollars, but refuse to sell it.
“If you want yuan, if you want Russian (rubles), you can have it, but we cannot sell you dollars. We are forbidden from selling it,” said a teller at one bank in Dushanbe.
Authorities in Tajikistan are fuming at Iran about the potential negative fallout for relations caused by the latter’s decision to host wanted opposition leader Muhiddin Kabiri.
Kabiri attended a conference in Tehran entitled “Islamic Revival” on December 27-29, and to compound the perceived offense to Dushanbe, he was seated on the same row as the head of Tajikistan’s semi-official Council of Ulema.
On December 29, Kabiri met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for talks whose focus has not been disclosed. Sources close to Kabiri have told EurasiaNet.org that Khamenei was specifically interested in hearing about the fate of the now-disbanded Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Photographic evidence of Khamenei warmly exchanging words with a man that Tajikistan has dubbed a terrorist for his alleged but unproven involvement in a purported coup d’etat in September has stuck unpleasantly in Dushanbe’s craw.
On December 28, the Foreign Ministry of Tajikistan fired off a testy diplomatic note to Iran noting its irritation that the “head of a terrorist party suspected of mounting an attempted overthrow of the government” had been been invited to the conference.
Dushanbe claimed in its note that Kabiri is subject to an Interpol wanted notice, although nobody of the IRPT leader’s description is in actual fact listed on the Interpol website. Such flights of fantasy have become routine for officials in Dushanbe.
Tajikistan has warned the episode could “have a negative influence on good relations between Tajikistan and Iran,” marking the first time Dushanbe has ever leveled such ominous diplomatic threats.
A representative for the committee for religious affairs, Abdugafor Yusupov, heatedly conveyed officialdom’s indignation.
Emomali Rahmon during his pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, in January, 2015.
In a striking change of tack from his regular aversion to all things Muslim, the president of Tajikistan has flown to Saudi Arabia with a bevy of relatives and senior officials to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Emomali Rahmon performed the Umrah — as the pilgrimage is known when not carried out during the period devoted to the Hajj — as a bonus excursion during his begging visit to Saudi Arabia.
An extraordinary series of photos, published on January 5m, show Rahmon wrapped only in a flimsy robe, which struggles to contain his not unsubstantial girth, and reveal how many members of his family he took along. There is the first lady, Azizamo Asadullayeva, Rahmon’s eldest daughter, Firuza, another daughter, Ozoda Emomali, his youngest son, Somon, and a son-in-law, Djamoliddin Nuraliyev. Other faces visible in the crowd belong to the education minister, the economy minister, the transport minister, the head of the country’s largest bank, the head of the committee for religious affairs and the sports and tourism minister.
The presidential website reveals that the gang prayed collectively for the future of Tajikistan. By the intercession of the Saudi king, Rahmon was admitted to the Kaaba, the building at the center of Mecca’s most sacred mosque. Officials in the presidential administration say this was Rahmon second visit inside the Kabaa — a special privilege — and his fourth pilgrimage to Mecca overall.
This level of professed piety may all be very surprising to Tajikistan-watchers, who have seen the government increasingly clamp down on outward displays of devotion among Muslims.
Kyrgyzstan’s year has begun in incendiary fashion amid talk of horse penises, offended national pride and the fate of the country’s most valuable economic asset.
At the center of the controversy is chuchuk — a long, thick and greasy Central Asian culinary delicacy obscure enough to send thousands heading to Google for more information.
If Michael Mcfeat, a British employee at Kyrgyzstan’s largest private foreign investor, Centerra Gold, had thought to do the same before updating his Facebook page on New Year’s Eve, he might have avoided trouble.
As midnight approached, Mcfeat observed in a message that Kyrgyz people would soon be “queuing out the door” for chuchuk, which he ribaldly likened to “horse penis.”
That swiftly sparked the rage of his local co-workers at the high-altitude Kumtor gold mine, which accounts for around one-tenth of the country’s economy.
The police have also got in on the action, detaining Mcfeat on January 3 on charges of inciting racial hatred — a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.
Ironically, chuchuk is an equine dish not wholly dissimilar to haggis, a traditional and much-mocked, offal-laden specialty from Mcfeat’s home country, Scotland.
In 2005, for instance, the immensely popular Russian sci-fi writer Sergei Lukyanenko had one of his characters in the best-selling book Last Watch uncharitably liken the taste of haggis to that of a soiled nappy, and managed all the same to avoid any legal reprisals from the British authorities.
In a fresh act of brinkmanship, Kyrgyzstan has told Canada’s Centerra Gold that it is pulling out of talks on restructuring the joint project to develop the economically all-important Kumtor gold mine.
The government said in a statement on December 22 that the agreement under review was against “the interests of the Kyrgyz Republic.”
In its statement, the government complained that although a joint development deal had been in place since January 2014, negotiations have been at a standstill since the past April.
Kyrgyzstan owns a 33 percent stake in Toronto-listed Centerra Gold, which in turns controls Kumtor and other mines elsewhere, but Bishkek has instead pursued a 50-50 shared ownership of the mine.
The government has now said it will pursue a restructuring of Kumtor that will ensure it will an “increase in financial flows,” resolution of environmental grievances and an improvement to corporate governance at the company running the mine. Beyond those general points, however, it is not yet clear how the proposed new format will substantively differ from what is on the table at the moment.
The government has expressed particular annoyance about Centerra’s new development plan for Kumtor unveiled in March that envisioned substantially lower estimated gold reserves than earlier — 6.1 million compared with the previous 8.5 million ounces.
As the festive season approaches, authorities in Central Asia are getting into the spirit of the Grinch with their characteristically joy-killing edicts and bans.
In Tajikistan, the Education Ministry has banned putting up New Years trees in schools, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.
"Cutting down Ne Years trees, or putting them up and decorating them, the use of fireworks and pyrotechnics, and giving gifts and fundraising for New Year celebrations by students is strictly prohibited," education minister Nuriddin Said was cited as saying by Radio Ozodi.
Instead of holding celebrations, schools are being encouraged to mount displays, as well literary and sporting events, to celebrate the festive end of year season.
Meanwhile, in the historic city of Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, restaurants and bars have been banned from opening past 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Local news site Samarkandsky Vestnik also reported on December 15 that authorities have insisted that parties to mark the arrival of the new year should include no more than 400 guests.
“Considering that the New Year is a family holiday and that everybody should celebrate it within their family circle, on December 31 all dining establishments will be closed,” the website reported.
The battle against foreign-flavored features of the festive season are cast as a rearguard action against the creeping influence of nontraditional customs and values.
In earlier years, there has been speculation in Tajikistan of a possible ban on the appearances of Father Frost — the post-Soviet world’s answer to Father Christmas — on state television.
With raids against independent journalists and arrests of government critics becoming routine in Kazakhstan, the battle against dissemination of information is taking on a systematic quality.
On December 18, police once more targeted the Almaty offices of Nakanune.kz, one of a handful of embattled outlets that has come under sustained pressure in the past year.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyk, reported that police closed off the entrance to the office as a search carried on inside.
Nakanune.kz is a website that arose from the ashes of a long-suffering newspaper that went by several names but was best known as Respublika. That newspaper, which still exists in electronic form, was edited by Oksana Makushina, who is now at Nakanune.kz.
Radio Azattyk reported that police also searched the homes of Nakanune.kz owner Guzyal Baidalinova and a journalist with the website, Yulia Kozlova.
Yet another outspoken reporter, Rafael Balgin, phoned an acquaintance early in the morning to inform him that his apartment too was being searched.
Almaty police said in a statement that they have initiated pre-trial investigations against Respublika and Nakanune.kz for allegedly disseminating false information about the activities of Kazkommertsbank, Kazakhstan’s largest lender, and other unnamed parties.
The aim of the investigation is to establish who ordered the smear against the offended parties, police said.
“The published material bore a patently made-on-order quality and contained knowingly false information and provocative statements without concrete factual basis,” the police statement said.
Authorities say that what they are describing as smears were paid for in cash sums.
Authorities in Tajikistan are now targeting family members of the crushed opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) in their determination to stamp out all dissent.
Muhammadjon Kabirov, a relative of the party leader Muhiddin Kabiri, told CATV News on December 16 that security service agents descended on their home village and detained people en masse, including the 95-year old family patriarch.
Other family members detained included Kabiri’s brother, 54-year old Safar, and his 60-year old sister Saida.
Ozodagon news website reported on December 17 that all have since been released after giving statements.
“According to a source close to the Kabiri family, they demanded of everybody, including the 95-year old father, that they urge young people not to join in with provocative actions abroad. The interrogations were recorded on videocamera,” Ozodagon reported.
The actions abroad are a reference to the pickets mounted by IRPT supporters in a range of countries, including Turkey, Austria and Germany.
The detentions drew swift condemnation from Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House.
“Using family members as hostages to intimidate and silence government critics violates fundamental human rights and spotlights the government's intolerance of dissent,” Freedom House executive vice president Daniel Calingaert said in a statement. "The government of Tajikistan should end its harassment of opposition and civic activists, human rights defenders, and their family members.”
The IRPT was a vaguely tolerated nominal opposition force until this summer, but authorities seized on the opportunity of what it claimed was an uprising by disaffected former defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda to finally crush the party. Prosecutors claimed the party was involved in the alleged revolt and designated it a terrorist organization.
A member of the public supervisory board at Kyrgyzstan’s state mining agency has sent local media into a spin by claiming work at the giant Kumtor gold mine could grind to a halt January 1.
Eldar Tadjibayev, also chair of one of the local mining industry’s biggest trade unions, bases his claim on the fact that the license to operate the mine has not been renewed because of a hold-up in parliament .
Even temporary stoppages at the mine, which accounts for about one-tenth of the struggling nation’s economy, could portend calamity.
“Kumtor’s fate is in the hands of the newly elected parliament,” Tadjibayev told journalists on December 16.
The companies directly affected appear confident matters will be settled in good time. Kumtor Gold, which is the local affiliate of Toronto-listed Centerra Gold and operates the giant mine, has called the delay an “ordinary process.”
The hitch owes much to the disarray in the former parliament and negligence in the present one. The main problem, as a Centerra press release in June noted, is the local environmental agency’s “interpretation of the water code.”
The plan for Russia’s state media to advance its narrative across friendly former Soviet nations in Central Asia has run into trouble in Tajikistan.
Rossiya Segodnya, the holding company that controls the notoriously anti-Western outlet Sputnik, has let go several of its Dushanbe staff, according to a December 15 report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.
Ozodi speculates that economic troubles in Russia may be to blame, but there is a strong indication there is more at play.
Although the governments of Russia and Tajikistan are close partners, Rossiya Segodnya has failed for unknown reasons to obtain registration in Tajikistan.
Sputnik is typically uncritical of Russia-friendly nations, so it is hard to imagine that Dushanbe feared the presence of another critical voice.
The head of Rossiya Segodnya’s Dushanbe office, Dmitry Pisarenko, was last month recalled to Moscow, reportedly for his failure to obtain authorization during his year in post.
Ozodi reports that 10 out of the 15 people that worked in Sputnik’s Dushanbe bureau are to be let go before the end of the year.
It all started so promisingly.
The Rossiya Segodnya media holding — not to be confused with the unrelated, but also state-run television station RT, formerly Russia Today — was created in December 2013 to replace RIA-Novosti news agency, which was suspected in some quarters of harboring insufficiently patriotic elements. RIA-Novosti still operates in greatly reduced form as part of Rossiya Segodnya.
The goal set for Rossiya Segodnya, whose head is notoriously inflammatory television news anchor Dmitry Kiselyov, was to represent Russia’s political stance and values across the world.