The have been some rumblings of irritation in Kazakhstan over reports that an ultra-nationalist member of parliament in Russia called for parts of northern Kazakhstan to be “taken back.”
According to some flimsily sourced reports, a deputy with the ultra-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Pavel Shperov, is said to have made his remarks, describing parts of Kazakhstan as “temporarily seized” lands, at a January 26 roundtable on the plight of ethnic Russian living overseas. Shperov is then reported to have predicted that the return of those lands was imminent.
There are lingering suspicions the remarks might have been a fabrication, or at best a gross distortion of what was said at some point — Shperov’s colleagues have blamed media in Ukraine.
“I can assure you that nobody had any idea of revising the borders of Russia and Kazakhstan. The quote has clearly been taken out of context and has been accompanied by the subjective and obviously contrived assumptions of the journalist,” the head of the State Duma committee for international affairs, Leonid Slutsky, also an LDPR deputy, told reporters on February 1.
Be that as it may, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry reached out to its Russian counterparts to seek reassurances. On February 1, Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi initiated a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Grigory Karasin, to reconfirm that relations between the countries remained founded on mutual acknowledgement of one another’s borders, among other things.
“Russia asserted that entreaties from the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan have been considered in all serious,” ministry spokesman Anuar Zhainakov told Tengri News.
Self-immolation has in recent times become a recurrent gesture of ultimate despair in Kazakhstan.
In the latest such case, a ex-employee of the Atyrau regional prosecutor’s office, 37-year old Leila Smadyarova, set herself alight in front of her former place of work, local newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk reported.
Smadyarova’s responsibilities at the prosecutor’s office consisted of ensuring state detention facilities were properly ensuring the rights of prisoners. In August, a court in the Atyrau, which is situated in western Kazakhstan, issued an order for Smadyarova to be placed under house arrest pending investigations into allegations that she had taken 3 million tenge ($9,200) in bribes. She denied the accusation.
Trial proceedings have since got underway. Prosecutors have argued that Smadyarova, who was an assistant to the regional prosecutor, took the bribe in two parts.
Ak-Zhaiyk cited unnamed sources as saying Smadyarova was driven to the act of self-immolation to draw attention to her plight. She maintains that she never took any bribes and that she is the victim of a smear campaign undertaken by people that she had previously brought to justice. Other than witness statements from those individuals, prosecutors have no evidence, Smadyarova has reportedly said.
Smadyarova was taken to a local hospital with burns to her face and lower leg. Doctors have said she is no immediate danger to her life and that she is fully conscious.
The case has shocked the public not just because the gesture is an extreme one, but because it has occurred so many times.
Activist Baurzhan Aldybergenov said the incident should serve as a clarion call for greater solidarity.
Tajikistan’s Somoni Air has scheduled a flight to Uzbekistan for February 10 — the first such commercial flight between the two nations since 1992.
Regular flights are expected every Monday from February 20 onward.
Somoni Air has said in an official statement that it will fly once weekly in the winter season, but that frequency could increase to twice a week in the summer.
“This new route and its frequency will gives the citizens of Tajikistan and Uzbekisan the opportunity to simplify their travels between the two nations,” the airline said.
Not so fast though. On the evening of the announcement on January 31, one-way tickets from Dushanbe to Tashkent were selling online at around $190 — a small fortune in local terms for a 45-minute flight. A ticket the other way cost $220.
By February 1, prices had dropped somewhat, to around $300 for a round trip. By way of comparison, a return flight between Tashkent and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, which is twice as far away as Dushanbe, costs around $320.
The cheaper way to get between the two cities in by car. A taxi from the Tajik capital to the Uzbek border typically costs around $15. The cost of taking a car to Tashkent is about another $20. The cost obviously goes down for travelers willing to share their ride, so the whole trip can be for as little as $20.
Still, there is a premium on comfort and avoiding the nine hours of driving and the time it takes to negotiate the border crossing.
The high cost of tickets is down to airport taxes. Tashkent international airport levies $76 off each flier — flying out of Dushanbe incurs a $48 charge.
The price of an air ticket sparked a lively discussion on social media. People who had dreamed of making the trip since the imminent resumption of the route was announced last year have had to downgrade their expectation.
Actor and producer Anuar Nurpeisov addressing his critics in a Facebook video.
A famous actor and entertainment producer in Kazakhstan has waded into a recurrent controversy about language after appearing to endorse the view that it is not always necessary to know Kazakh.
The outcry began when Anuar Nurpeisov posted a video on his Facebook account in which he discussed his recent visit to Singapore and how he was struck there by how many people he heard speaking English. Why, he wondered, could people not be as relaxed in Kazakhstan toward those, including ethnic Kazakhs, that prefer to speak in some other language?
The remarks drew heated criticism online, where champions of the Kazakh language condemned Nurpeisov for frequently speaking in Russian — instead of his native Kazakh — in his television appearances and elsewhere.
Society in Kazakhstan was split over decades of imperial Russian and then Soviet rule into two linguistic camps.
Typically, urban Kazakhs were forced to rely on Russian as their main language of communication and many continue to do so to this day. By the estimates of a researcher with the Institute of Ethnography at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, Olga Naumova, around 40 percent of Kazakhs no longer spoke their own language by the late 1980s. Naumova found that nearly three-quarters of Kazakhs living in cities did not use their native languages.
Kazakh critics of such people refer to them disparagingly as “Shala Kazakh,” which means “half Kazakh.” At the more militant end of this contingent are those commonly termed “national-patriots,” sometimes mockingly abbreviated to “Natspaty.” Ardently patriotic outlets regularly argue for the need to preserve native Kazakh culture and uphold the supremacy inside Kazakhstan of the “titular language.”
The editor Qazaq Uni newspaper, Kazybek Isa, said Nurpeisov had missed the point in his Facebook complaints.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have unveiled some heartening news on the economic front with the announcement that 20,000 jobs are be created at the Tengizchevroil energy venture.
But that burst of optimism comes just as dozens of workers have reportedly gone on strike for higher pay at the very same project.
Deputy Labour and Social Protection Minister Birzhan Nurymbetov said on January 30 that the oil field joint venture, which is 50 percent controlled by US energy corporation Chevron, is an example of the government’s long-term investment agenda.
Foreign investments generated by this project have a multiplier effect and enable the development of business and the improvement of social wellbeing, Nurymbetov’s ministry stated in a press release.
“According to Tengizchevroil, [future expansion at the project has created] provides employment for 10,500 people — of those, 9,400 people are local staff, which accounts for 90 percent of all workers on the project in Kazakhstan,” Nurymbetov said.
Narymbetov said the government expect 20,000 more jobs to be created by expansion of the Tengizchevroil project, and that 18,000 of those jobs would go to Kazakhstani citizens.
“Tengizchevroil will assume the responsibility of teaching and training Kazakhstani personnel,” he said.
Workers would come from all over Kazakhstan, Narymbetov said.
But even as government officials are boasting of future job-creation, those already employed by Tengizchevroil are complaining that they are not paid enough.
Only days after being fired as mayor Tajikistan’s capital city, long-serving and ultimate elite loyalist Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev has found himself potentially becoming a target of corruption investigations.
The deputy head of the state anticorruption agency, Abdukarim Zarifzoda, announced on January 27 that investigators have initiated an audit into the City Hall. Ubaidulloev ran the office until January 12.
“Even though the activities of the mayor’s office are checked every two years, and so the next inspection was to have been in 2018, the mayor of Dushanbe has filed a request with the anticorruption agency for a review. A request was addressed to the mayor’s office itself on two occasions by citizens concerning the implementation of the Affordable Housing project,” Zarifzoda said.
Ubaidulloev’s replacement as mayor is none other than the president’s son, Rustam Emomali, although Zarifzoda never mentioned his name during his press conference.
The Affordable Housing project was launched in Dushanbe in 2013 and was intended to begin settling needy people into new homes by September 2015. Construction work was serially delayed, however, creating much discontent among the homebuyers that had already put down deposits. Some, concerned they would end up without homes or their money, demanded to be reimbursed.
Although complaints over the project have been rumbling for more than a year, anticorruption officials waited for unknown reasons until now — after Ubaidulloev’s dismissal — to begin their probe.
Ubaidulloev rose to power alongside President Emomali Rahmon and had reached the position of deputy prime minister by 1992. He was actively involved in negotiations with the armed opposition throughout the civil war, which came to a close in 1997.
A telecommunications gateway built to snoop on people’s phone calls and internet habits is, according to one estimate, making the government at least $2 million monthly.
Around early 2016, President Emomali Rahmon signed off a decree to create an entity called the Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center, abbreviated as EKTs in Russian. The system was — purportedly in the interests of security — to require all digital data to be filtered through a network gateway run by state-owned telecommunications company Tojiktelecom. The state telecommunications is in turn controlled by the state telecommunications agency, headed by Beg Zukhurov, who is related to President Rahmon by marriage.
Protests that this mechanism would lead to Tojiktelecom’s de facto monopoly control over the industry, in complete violation of obligations before the World Trade Organization, which Tajikistan joined in 2013, were ignored.
EKTs operations proper began in November. As news website Asia-Plus has reported, from January 1, all mobile service operators in Tajikistan have had to pay 15 dirhams ($0.02) into the system for every minute of incoming and and outgoing international calls. That was an increase of the 11 dirham fee previously levied — a hike that the anti-monopoly agency explained as being necessitated by the shrinking number of international calls.
“Until now, the duration of incoming and outgoing international calls in Tajikistan was around 158 million minutes monthly. In December, the duration of calls fell to 112 million minutes,” a source in the anti-monopoly agency told Asia-Plus. That drop prompted Tojiktelecom to plead with the anti-monopoly agency to act, according to the website’s source.
Under a newly approved law, authorities in Kazakhstan will from this summer have the power to remotely disable mobile telephones that are not registered in a state database, Tengri News has reported.
Officials say the measure has been adopted as part of the fight against terrorism.
Major mobile phone service operators Kcell and Beeline say that since the start of the year, the Information and Communications Ministry has been actively working on creating a register of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, which are unique to every mobile device.
Under the new law, mobile operators will be required to block all mobile phones that have not been registered. The rule on registration will come into force on July 1, 2017.
Nur.kz news website has reported that the Information Ministry formed a working group together with law enforcement and mobile phone service provider representatives to draw up the specific rules on registration within the coming months. Although the details have not been worked out to date, the law is already on the books.
Service providers have said that similar requirements — albeit intended to reduce phone theft — are in place in several countries, including Turkey, Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
IMEI numbers are distinct from SIM cards and can be used in some cases to trace the whereabouts of stolen phones and, if necessary, block them.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev delivering a televised address to the nation on January 25, 2017. (Photo: TV screenshot)
The president of Kazakhstan has delivered a nationwide televised address to outline a formally dramatic dilution of his own powers and a shift to a more parliamentary form of government.
Nursultan Nazarbayev described the strongly presidential model in force since independence as necessary to “overcome the enormous difficulties of forming the state,” but said that the time had arrived for a new model.
“The basic essence is that the president will give some of his powers to parliament and the government,” he said in an adress televised on all national channels on January 25. “The proposed reform is a serious redistribution of power and a democratization of the political system as a whole.”
The vision, which has been described in still fairly vague terms, is one for a mixed form of government that would still leave the president with an ultimate say over the most sensitive matters of state.
Nazarbayev said around 40 areas of responsibility would be delegated from the president’s office to the executive or parliament. Those would include what Nazarbayev termed the “regulation of social and economic processes.” Priority areas should be changed by adoption of legislative amendments by the end of the current session of parliament, he said.
Parliament will assume a greater role in forming the government — a fact that Nazarbayev said would enhance the accountability of the Cabinet.
“The winning party in parliamentary elections will have a decisive influence over the formation of the government,” Nazarbayev said.
With things as they are, the ascendancy of parliament hints at a variation on the status quo considering the fact that Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party has all but complete control control over the legislature. The only other parties represented in parliament are token opposition forces who are notable only for their support of the government.
The editor a prominent newspaper has received a suspended five-year jail term after confessing to charges of fraud.
The specialized inter-district criminal court in Astana on January 24 ruled to allow Bigeldi Gabdullin, the 61-year old chief editor of the Central Asia Monitor newspaper and the executive director of Radiotochka.kz news website, to be released from custody and for a freeze of his assets to be lifted.
Gabdullin was detained in mid-November on what investigators said was the suspicion that he was using media under his control to intimidate officials into paying him money to avoid negative coverage.
While the journalist has escaped prison time, his criminal record means he will be denied the right to hold office in local government departments for a period of up to 10 years. He will also be denied the right to relocate from his current place of abode without prior permission from the authorities.
Several high-ranking officials gave testimony as injured parties during the trial. The Kazakhstan edition of Forbes magazine reported prosecutor claims that Gabdullin threaten to publish defamatory material about the head of Zhambyl region, Karim Korkebayev, the deputy mayor of Astana, Yermek Amanshayev and Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev among others unless they provided his publications with contracts under a system known at the state order. That system is used by the government to finance state media or place articles about state policies in nominally independent media.
Press freedom advocates had initially cast Gabdullin’s case as another instance of state pressure on the media.