Almaty resident Natalia Galiakbarova speaking to Channel 31 about the compensation being offered for the compulsory purchase of her home. (Photo: Channel 31 screengrab)
Barely a week passes in Kazakhstan without the authorities somehow creating a public uproar around land-related issues.
This time it is residents of an area of the business capital, Almaty, that have come out in protest over what they say is the paltry compensation being offered to them for the compulsory purchase of their homes.
Over the weekend, privately owned Channel 31 reported that some residents are being offered as little as 300,000 tenge ($1,000) for their homes and land, which lie on the route of a planned ring road.
Almaty has for many years been plagued by chronic traffic jams, prompting the authorities to embark on several ambitious road building projects to alleviate the problem. Doing so, however, has required them to pursue the demolition of swaths of often ramshackle homes that sprung up around the city limits in the years following independence.
This latest route has been designed “strategically important” and is intended to link to the northern districts of Almaty to the center. The bulk of traffic coming in that direction currently runs along one single road — Seifullina — and invariably cars get horrendously clogged up at peak hours.
Plans for the new road has been on the drawing table for many years, although work is only now going ahead.
After working out valuations for the houses set for removal, the city government sent out sale agreements that in some instances ranged between 300,000 and 700,000 tenge ($1000-$2,200) — an amount that would pay for only a few months of apartment rental costs in the city.
Kazakhstan is dangling more than $100 million in financial support in front of struggling neighbor Kyrgyzstan, but the transfer is reportedly being hindered by a combination of bureaucratic muddling and a turn of diplomatic ill-will.
The fate of the funds, which have been earmarked to smooth integration within the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), came up in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on March 13 as MPs wondered aloud why the money was taking so long to arrive.
Agreement on the payment of $100 million in aid was reached late last year, and Kazakhstan’s prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev said earlier this month that he had agreed with his Kyrgyz counterpart for the sum to be increased by a further $41 million.
Saidulla Nyshanov, a deputy with the Ata-Meken party, said that the delay had been caused by the failure of Kyrgyz government departments to provide Kazakhstan with certain required paperwork.
The earmarked funds have been described as “technical aid” required to enable Kyrgyzstan to implement regulations in line with its membership in the EEU, which it joined in mid-2015. More specifically, the money is to be spent on building customs infrastructure and developing laboratory facilities for testing goods destined for export with the trading bloc. Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Oleg Pankratov also said in the last week of December that the support would go toward harmonization of railway cargo tariffs.
Kyrgyzstan’s top prosecutor has accused two major media outlets of insulting the president by spreading “false information” about him and has said her office will pursue damages in court.
Indira Djoldubayeva said on March 9 that the General Prosecutor’s Office will seek damages amounting to 26 million som ($375,000) from Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of US-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, and plucky news website Zanoza.kg.
The prosecutor’s office is filing two separate suits in its capacity as the guarantor of President Almazbek Atambayev’s honor and dignity.
The first suit is being filed in response to the two outlets’ reports on public allegations made against Atambayev by jailed opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev. Specifically, the leader of the Ata-Meken party alleged that Atambayev may have been the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside the capital, Bishkek, killing 39 people. Accusations that Atambayev was in some way linked to the contents of the doomed Boeing 747 cargo plane had previously been circulating as rumor.
Lawyers for Tekebayev suggested their client was arrested because he holds documentary evidence supporting his claims. Remarks by the lawyers were widely reported, and not just by Zanoza.kg and Azattyk.
The General Prosecutor’s Office has said the outlets “abused their freedom of speech” and failed to verify their reports, which they said “defamed” the president.
“Some individuals see freedom of expression as a free pass for satisfying their own ambitions and they frequently indulge themselves by spreading unreliable and negative information, often with offensive content, that demeans not just the honor and dignity of their own fellow citizens but also that of the president who stands for those people,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
US Ambassador to Tajikistan Elisabeth Millard meeting with new Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali on March 8. (Photo: US Embassy website)
The net is tightening around the former mayor of Tajikistan’s capital as investigators reportedly question him over suspicious movements in the city budget.
Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev had proven the ultimate loyalist, serving as mayor of Dushanbe for almost two decades before resigning, likely under pressure, on January 12. But with the president’s son on the ascendancy, room at the top is getting tight for anybody who is not family.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited unnamed sources on March 8 as saying that anticorruption officials are questioning Ubaidulloev over the disappearance of state funds during construction of the Dushanbe-Plaza multistory complex and other government projects.
None of this has come as much of a surprise. At the end of January, the deputy head of the state anticorruption agency, Abdukarim Zarifzoda, announced that his office was auditing the City Hall.
The shot across Ubaidulloev’s bow came from the new Dushanbe mayor, Rustam Emomali, who is the son of President Emomali Rahmon.
“Even though the mayor’s office is inspected every two years, and the next inspection was due in 2018, the mayor of Dushanbe submitted a request to the anticorruption agency to check on the mayor’s activities,” Zarifzoda said in January.
In what is presumably only a coincidence, Emomali ran the anticorruption agency from March 2015 until his appointment as Dushanbe mayor in January.
Ubaidulloev is among other things being probed in connection to expenditures made during construction of the Istiqlol Medical Center.
“This clinic was built with funds from Dushanbe City Hall. He was in part questioned in connection to explanations provided by the head of the capital construction department at the mayor’s office in relation to money spent on this building,” Ozodi’s source stated.
A group of activists marching in the center of Bishkek on March 8 to mark International Women's Day (Photo: Courtesy of Bishkek Feminist Initiatives)
Dozens of people in Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities used the occasion of International Woman’s Day on March 8 to gather in solidarity with victims of domestic violence.
The holiday is typically a light-hearted affair in Kyrgyzstan and the rest of the region — an occasion for men to lavish flowers or other gifts on their female colleagues, spouses or other women in their life.
But feminist groups seized on the opportunity to remind the public about the problem of violence and discrimination that they see perpetrated against women in the country.
“For some reason, most of the population sees this as the holiday of spring and flowers. In reality it has lost its true meaning. We wanted to draw the attention of the public and the government to the problems that women face every day,” said feminist activist Reina Arturova.
Arturova and around 100 other people took part in a march in Bishkek that took them past monuments to two well-known female figures in Kyrgyzstan history.
Kurmanjan Datka was an important political figure in Kyrgyzstan who united Kyrgyz tribes in the face of Russian aggression in the 19th century before succumbing to Moscow. Before doing that, however, she is said to have fled a man who had kidnapped her for marriage, making her an appealing role model for many Kyrgyz women. Urkuya Saliyeva, meanwhile, was a reforming activist in the early Soviet period.
Arturova said that although women in Kyrgyzstan are often subjected to violent crimes, many of them often refrain from going to the police or pursuing legal action.
Kazakhstan’s parliament has hastily adopted amendments to the constitution following weeks of largely cursory public consultation.
Following parliament’s adoption of the reforms on March 6, the amendments will have to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, but that procedure is likely to be a formality.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has described the reforms, which ostensibly should lead to his power being shared with the executive and parliament, as a historic development, although critics argue they will change little in reality.
Nurlan Abdirov, a member of parliament and the chair of a joint commission on the reforms, said that legislators approved 26 amendments to 19 articles of the constitution. That suggests that what the government says were the 6,000 proposals offered by the public and the feedback provided during 10,000 public events over the past weeks have largely been disregarded.
The speed with which the reforms have been pushed through parliament is remarkable, even by the normal standards of Kazakhstan’s rubber stamp legislature. The first reading was wrapped up on a single day on March 3.
Among the 10 changes approved on March 6 during the second reading, lawmakers agreed that any acts that could lead to “inter-faith conflict” should be deemed unconstitutional.
Despite the many challenges confronting Kazakhstan down the road, one of the main demands made by the public in the nationwide consultation was, apparently, for language to be inserted into the constitution that would properly reflect Nazarbayev’s historic contributions. The president is already officially designated Yelbasy — Kazakh for “leader of the nation” — a title that affords him lifetime immunity from prosecution and ultimate say over core matters of state, even in the event of his retirement.
The ill-fated fourth strand of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline has again been put on hold amid apparent sagging demand for the fuel from Beijing, Russian media outlets have reported.
A Tashkent-datelined RIA-Novosti news agency report on March 2 cited unidentified sources as saying China National Petroleum Corporation and state-owned oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz have agreed on an indefinite postponement on work to the Uzbek section of the route.
The projected 1,000-kilometer Line D is designed to start in Turkmenistan, cross Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and end in western China, and will, if ever completed, boost the overall annual transportation capacity of the Central Asia-China pipeline network to 85 billion cubic meters. This strand constituted a shorter but diplomatically far more complicated route than the already functioning Lines A, B and C, which also rise in Turkmenistan but cross only Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The three completed strands of the Central Asia-China pipeline currently allow for the export of around 55 billion cubic meters of gas annually — an amount equivalent to one-fifth of China’s consumption. According to a breakdown of existing contracts and capacity outlined by CNPC, Lines A and B are able to carry 13 billion cubic meters of gas from the Chinese-run Amu Darya Project at Turkmenistan’s Bagtyyarlyk field and another 17 billion cubic meters of gas sourced by Turkmengaz itself. Line C is intended to supply a mix of gas from Turkmenistan (10 billion cubic meters), Uzbekistan (10 billion cubic meters) and Kazakhstan (5 billion cubic meters).
Spare a thought for Tajikistan’s state-employed journalists.
For the best part of a couple of years, it is independent reporters that have felt the pain amid an ever-intensifying wave of pressure from the authorities. Now, employees with state broadcasters and print media are feeling the pinch as the government cuts budgets.
The state budget for 2017 envisions a 20 percent cut in expenses for state media.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, earlier this week reported that while journalists can now expect to continue getting their salaries paid by the state, the expense of per-story fees have to be met by the outlet itself. Journalists in much of Central Asia typically are paid by volume of work done rather than being given a set monthly rate. As a rule of thumb, reporters in Tajikistan are believed to earn around half their monthly income on the basis of volume of work produced.
Ozodi said official state media was allocated around 100 million somoni ($12 million) in 2016. Of that total, seven-tenths went to TV and radio, with the remainder going to print outlets. Around 10 TV stations, seven radio stations, 110 print publications and the Khovar national news agency are funded with that money.
Media experts predict the drop in financing is likely to lead to an increase in the practice of forcing government employees to take out subscriptions of state-run newspapers and magazines. Also, EurasiaNet.org has learned that private companies are being pressured into placing adverts in state media, thereby providing another source of revenue.
There were times when things were better for state media workers. Back during the 2013 presidential elections, the authorities made the possibly strategic decision to keep staff onside by hiking salaries across the board.
A photograph posted online purporting to show Turkish security services documentation incriminating Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Officials and the Turkish Embassy have called the document a fake. (Source: Facebook)
The jailed leader of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Ata-Meken party fired back at the man he believes has engineered his predicament — President Almazbek Atambayev — accusing him of seeking to cover up his own corruption.
Omurbek Tekebayev issued a statement through his lawyers on March 1 alleging that Atambayev may have been the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside the capital, Bishkek, killing 39 people.
Tekebayev was detained by agents of the State Committee for National Security in the early hours of February 26 and later charged on suspicion of committing acts of corruption while he was acting deputy prime minister in 2010. The wave of detentions of leading Ata-Meken members has led observers to suggest the party is being targeted with politically motivated prosecutions.
This most recent arrest sparked off days of relatively low-key protests, although Tekebayev supporters have vaguely committed to holding rallies until he is released. A court earlier this week ordered that the Ata-Meken leader should remain in custody for at least another two months pending further investigations into allegations against him.
Accusations that Atambayev was in some way linked to the contents of the doomed Boeing 747 cargo plane have been floating around as gossip, although Tekebayev is the first public figure to make the claims so boldly.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service in February compiled an impressively detailed report highlighting some intriguing and unanswered questions around the plane. One issue that remains unclear is whether when the plane was attempting to make its scheduled landing during intensely stormy weather in Bishkek airport simply to refuel — as officially stated — or to drop off dozens of tons of undeclared imports.
Following the formal end of national discussions in Kazakhstan on constitutional reforms intended, if only on paper, to rebalance authority away from the president toward the executive and the legislative, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled the issue should be considered further in parliament.
Speaking at a working group devoted to the reforms, Nazarbayev noted on March 1 that public feedback indicated that there were numerous shortcomings in the proposed amendments on the table.
Quashing one contentious issue from the get-go, however, the president suggested that an amendment that might notionally have opened the way for foreign nationals to buy property should be struck down. Authorities are still rattled by the wave of anti-land privatization protests that shook the country last year and are not eager to see a repeat.
The government outreach exercise to instruct the public about the details of the reforms, which consisted in a large part of members of the upper house of parliament traveling across the country and delivering talks to large halls, wrapped up on February 26, as previously advertised.
Presidential chief of staff Adilbek Dzhaksybekov said the public had submitted more than 6,000 suggestions on possible reforms to 63 out of the constitution’s 98 articles. As things stand, 23 articles of the constitution are due for revisions.