The trail of the terrorist attack on Istanbul airport that killed 42 people looks now to be leading inexorably to the former Soviet Union, and Central Asia in particular.
The New York Times cited Turkish officials as saying on June 30 that the three suicide bombers that mounted the attack were citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uzbekistan.
Turkey has already linked this to the Islamic State militant group, which is known to have large groups of Central Asian and Russian citizens among its ranks. Estimates on the exact number of Central Asians in the group vary, however, from the low hundreds into the thousands.
Turkey has said that 13 people, including three foreigners, have been detained in connection with the attack on Istanbul’s main airport on June 28. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which also claimed victims among Uzbek citizens, according to Turkish media.
Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry cast some confusion over proceedings by telling media that it could not confirm that one of its citizens had been linked the bombings.
“Employees from the Kyrgyz consulate met with representatives from the anti-terrorism department in Istanbul. They did not confirm the information. According to them, the identity of the suicide bombers is still being established,” the ministry said.
That statement appeared to have been superseded by events, however.
Kazakhstan’s security services have said they have intercepted a group planning a series of terrorist acts using improvised explosive devices.
One suspect blew himself up as law enforcements officers tried to go in for an arrest in the village of Gulshat, in the the central Karaganda region, The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement on June 29. Other members of the group appear to have been based in the town of Balkhash.
According to the statement, the apparent suicide blast occurred on June 26.
Officials claim to have made a number of arrests but provided no firm details.
“Objects seized included the components of an explosive device, firearms and other evidence,” the KNB said.
The statement made no allusions to the recent spurt of violence in the western city of Aktobe earlier in the month, when a large group of men seized weapons from a hunting supplies shop and went on to attack a National Guard base. Seven people, including three servicemen, were killed in that incident on June 5.
Authorities initially identified the perpetrators in Aktobe as belonging to a radical religious group and suggested they had received guidance from militants in Syria, but the flow of official information about the events has since run dry.
On June 6, following the unrest in Aktobe, authorities announced they were raising the terrorism alert to amber for a 40-day period.
While describing the group intercepted in the Karaganda region as terrorist plotters, authorities have avoided giving any specifics about motivations.
Kazakhstan has become the first country from Central Asia ever to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Out 193 countries represented at plenary session on the UN General Assembly on June 28, 138 voted to hand the role to Kazakhstan, which squeezed out contender Thailand.
Seasoned UN veteran and current speaker of Kazakhstan’s Senate, Kassym Jomart-Tokayev, broke the news with a message of congratulations on his Twitter account.
“Kazakhstan is a UNSC Member. It's a historic achievement of my country led by President Nazarbayev on the 25th Anniversary of Independence,” he wrote.
Election to the Security Council requiring garnering 129 votes. Kazakhstan won 113 votes in the first round of voting, coming ahead of Thailand with its 77 votes. It took a second session of voting to secure the seat.
Kazakhstan take up its temporary seat on the council alongside Sweden, Ethiopia and Bolivia starting from January 1 and occupy through to the end of 2018.
This kind of positioning on the global stage is something that Astana, which strives to be see as major diplomatic player, takes very seriously.
The country’s most recent moment in the diplomatic spotlight was in 2010, when it became the first post-Soviet republic to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In June that same year, Kazakhstan declared its candidacy to claim a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In 2011-2012, Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian country to become chair of Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
A British court has begun reviewing a civil case involving the youngest son of Kyrgyzstan’s most recently deposed president, who stands accused of attempting to murder a British businessman during his time at the helm of the country’s economy.
Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s widely loathed progeny, Maxim Bakiyev, is being sued by Sean Daley, who was representing the interests of the London-listed Oxus Gold company that held the license for the country’s second largest gold mine in 2006 when he was shot by gunmen he claims were acting under Maxim's orders.
Unsurprisingly, Bakiyev Jr, who Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid referred to alternately as “Bakiyez,” in a piece on proceedings that began June 23, did not show up at the case’s first hearing.
Daley claims to have suffered permanent damage from the shooting in Kyrgyzstan, where he was an established member of the expatriate community and had a local wife, and notes that one of the bullets fired by unknown hitmen is still lodged in his liver.
But achieving victory in court will likely require Daley’s legal team to convince a British judge that a Kyrgyz court ruling that sentenced Bakiyev to life for the same crime in 2014 is not politicized, as Maxim's legal team has predictably claimed.
Oxus Gold was strong-armed out of its title to Jerooy, which has since been a hotbed of legal battles and political rancour, in the same year as the shooting took place.
Bakiyev — accused in Kyrgyzstan of everything from mass money-laundering to fomenting deadly unrest after his father’s ouster — has reportedly settled into a plush suburban lifestyle in Surrey, one of the counties that fringe London, and a house worth over $5 million.
Parliament in Kazakhstan has slapped a veto on the contentious land law that caused a surge of protests and one of the broadest shows of public discontent since independence.
The vote in parliament essentially formalizes a moratorium on the law imposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on May 2.
Senate’s hasty two-reading approval of the veto on June 23 seemed to take even some lawmakers by surprise.
“The (veto) law enters into force and now what does your ministry suggest should be next on the agenda, what are we to work on next?” Senate deputy Byrganym Aitimova asked plaintively of the deputy agriculture minister. “Since 1990, we have made six changes to the land code. In the land commission created on the orders of the president, of which you are a member, we are hearing absolutely contradictory proposals. What position does your department take and what direction should we be working in as concerns the proposed draft bill (on land reform).”
Deputy agriculture minister Yerlan Nysanbayev had to admit that no consensus had emerged and that he himself had no position on the issue.
The Senator’s haplessness provides a helpful insight into how the parliamentary system works in Kazakhstan, where deputies serve the function not of holding the government to its responsibilities, but of simply applying the legitimating veneer of a rubber stamp.
Amendments to the land law approved by the same Senate in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years. The law also set the terms for a series of land auctions that would have been open only to citizens of Kazakhstan.
Labor migrants from Kyrgyzstan have complained over the years that they were made to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get work papers in Russia. Now, authorities in Kyrgyzstan are bracing to subject foreign laborers to their own onerous red tape.
The National Migration Service said in a statement on June 23 that under a new rule being considered, would-be foreign laborers may have to prove basic knowledge of the Kyrgyz language. The elementary proficiency standard would require learners to prove working knowledge of around 900 Kyrgyz words.
Although this fact is not specifically spelled out, the proposal is clearly aimed at Chinese laborers, whose presence in Kyrgyzstan is object of much popular grumbling.
The language test would not be applicable to ethnic Kyrgyz people and relatives of Kyrgyz citizens. The waiver would also apply to “famous artists, scientists and the other people that want to contribute to the economic, social and spiritual development of Kyrgyzstan, as well as highly qualified specialists required by the Kyrgyz economy.”
This fits within broader attempts to protect the domestic labor market. Earlier this year, authorities aired proposal to limit the number of foreign workers in any local company to 20 percent of the total workforce.
RFE/RL’S Kyrgyz service has reported that the government sets aside 13,000 work permits for foreign citizens and that 85 percent of that number is claimed by Chinese citizens.
Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court says it will hold a hearing into the case of jailed rights activist Azimjan Askarov on July 11, possibly setting the stage for a climbdown in a saga that has drawn broad international condemnation.
The court said in statement on June 22 that the fresh review comes at the request of Askarov’s lawyers, who have cited newly discovered evidence.
The news comes amid growing fears about Askarov’s health. In September 2010, Askarov, who is an ethnic Uzbek, was sentenced to life imprisonment for what Kyrgyz authorities say was his role in inciting the mob killing of a police officer amid ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan in June of that year. Askarov denies all charges.
In April, the UN Human Rights Committee pressed Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, piling more pressure onto a government that has reacted intemperately to criticism from multiple quarters.
Askarov’s flawed trial was followed up by a catalog of physical abuse in prison, according to international activists.
In 2012, the Swiss-based International Commission of Jurists wrote in a report that Askarov has “described multiple occasions of severe and continuous beatings, including with a gun, punches and kicks, threat of death, threat to relatives, insults, and lack of basic necessities such as toilet facilities.”
Kyrgyz and international human rights organizations have repeatedly claimed Askarov was targeted for prosecution because of his history of human rights activism, which highlighted the violations and abuses of police officers.
The UN Human Rights Committee’s complaint created grounds for Askarov to solicit for reconsideration of a final and non-appealable decision of the Supreme Court under Article 41 of Kyrgyz Constitution and request revision of his case.
Governments in Tajikistan will under new rules now have to swear an oath of office to the president before they can begin doing their jobs.
Although the requirement is largely symbolic, it will serve to further elevate the office of the president and the status of its current occupant, Emomali Rahmon, to a quasi-regal level. As such, the change is in keeping with Tajikistan’s devolution into an autocracy underpinned by a cult of personality.
Member of parliament Mavzuna Sharofiddinova told RFE/RL’s Tajik serice, Radio Ozodi, that the oath to the president would make the government more effective and improve its performance.
Parliament, however, will continue to swear fealty to the people rather than the president himself.
In another episode of toadying, parliament on June 22 also approved the creation of a new holiday with a symbolic date. Diplomat’s Day will be observed on September 29, which falls on the anniversary of Rahmon’s first ever address before the UN General Assembly in 1993.
On point of fact though, the first address by a Tajik official to the UN was actually in 1992 by the then foreign minister, Hudoiberdi Holiknazar.
In the hope of earning such lavish adulation, Rahmon has been making some lofty promises this week.
In a speech on June 21, he promised that average life expectancy would in the next 15 years be raised to 80, up from around 69 at the moment. Child mortality rates will be lowered to “international standards” over that same span, he pledged.
Rahmon also vowed the level of formal employment will be increased from 40 percent to 70 percent of the work-able population and that preschool places will be made available to 50 percent of eligible children, up from 12 percent at the moment.
Kazakhstan has deployed sport in multiple ways over recent years to promote its image on the international stage, so a doping scandal affecting some of most famous athletes is hitting hard.
On June 21, evidence reportedly emerged that much-loved weightlifter Ilya Ilin appears to violated anti-doping rules during the 2008 Olympic Games, when he won a gold medal. That was on top of apparent proof that Ilin had failed doping tests from the 2012 Games in London. Last week, doping tests revealed that another three Kazakhstani weightlifters — Svetlana Podobedova, Maia Maneza, Zulfiya Chinshanlo — had also fallen foul of doping rules in 2012.
Top officials and the public in Kazakhstan have concertedly rallied to Ilin’s side.
Senate chairman Kassym Jomart-Tokayev registed his support on Twitter.
“Regardless of the decision taken on the athlete Ilya Ilin, he has earned our support as a leading sportsman and patriot of Kazakhstan,” he wrote.
Former member of parliament, Murat Abenov, said he was doubtful of the reliability of the new tests.
“Ilya grew up before our eyes, I have known him since he was a little boy. He is a very talented man and athlete. He has progressed toward his goals with determination,” told to state newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.
Prime Minister Karim Masimov suggesting avoiding similar scandals in future by investing in a domestic, high-tech laboratory.
One of the most notorious figures in Tajikistan’s post-independence history and a once-indispensable ally of President Emomali Rahmon was released from jail on June 21.
Yakub Salimov, whose storied life includes stints as a racketeer, pogrom organizer, warlord and Interior Minister, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2005 on charges of treason for attempting to mount an attempted coup in the late 1990s. Unusually for Tajikistan, the charges were almost certainly justified. The sentence was subsequently shortened by amnesty.
Salimov’s release has long been trailed but remains no less surprising considering the extent of the bad blood between him and Rahmon.
The coup charges against Salimov were filed in 1998, but he managed to evade arrest for several years before finally being deported from Russia in 2003.
His rise to the post of Interior Minister came in April 1992, when the exiled Supreme Soviet, based in the northern city of Khujand, appointed a Cabinet composed almost entirely of natives of Kulyab — Rahmon’s primary power base — and Khujand, where most of the Soviet-era Tajik elite emerged. Dushanbe was under armed opposition control at the time.
With his experience as a feared gangster, Salimov became one of the tough men of the hour. Still, notwithstanding the unfolding war of the time, that a man with his past should have been picked to become head of the police provoked much disbelief.