Lest anyone get the wrong idea about who controls northern Kazakhstan, a golden man and his silver maiden consort were out in Pavlodar on June 4 drumming up Kazakhstani patriotism.
These symbols of Kazakhstani identity rode white horses through the streets in the northern city where ethnic Russians slightly outnumber Kazakhs, reports Bnews.kz.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March alarmed Central Asian leaders who fear Moscow could have an eye on their territories. Kazakhstan looks especially vulnerable because it shares a 6,846-kiliometer border with its former imperial overlord, along which live large ethnic Russian populations. Just in case, Astana has moved to criminalize calls for separatism.
The flag-waving parade in honor of the day Kazakhstan's national emblem was adopted in 1992 culminated with a crowd of 5,000 young patriots gathering in Pavlodar's football stadium to sing the national anthem.
Symbolism hung heavy on the football pitch. The original Golden Man (“Altyn Adam” in Kazakh) was a Scythian prince dressed in gold-plated armor whose remains were discovered in a burial mound near Almaty in 1969. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Kazakhstan adopted the Golden Man as a symbol of independence, representing a nomadic, warrior heritage.
Kyrgyzstan’s largest industrial enterprise, the Canadian-operated Kumtor gold mine, says it will stop production next week if the Kyrgyz government does not approve the necessary work permits. The announcement, which sent the company’s stock plummeting to its lowest point this year, comes less than a month after a rancorous board meeting where Kyrgyz representatives complained their Canadian partners ignored their decisive vote on the company’s management structure.
Toronto-listed Centerra Gold, which is one-third owned by Kyrgyzaltyn, the Kyrgyz government’s state-owned gold company, says its has worked since late 2013 to secure the necessary mining and environmental permits and approval of its 2014 action plan.
“Unfortunately, this year, despite repeated submissions and discussions with senior officials, such approvals and permits have not been provided. The continuing absence of such approval and permits creates significant uncertainty and risks for Centerra and its employees,” the company said in a June 2 statement.
Without the permits, Kumtor will begin stopping operations on Friday, June 13. Slowing down or temporarily stopping work at Kumtor negatively impacts revenues for longer than any stoppage, because work can only be gradually resumed at the high-altitude, high-tech mine in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan mountains.
It has become standard for rights advocates to use Uzbekistan’s controversial policies – forced labor in the cotton fields and the hounding of independent religious groups, for example – to demand Uzbekistan’s international partners push for reform. But a separatist group from within Uzbekistan taking its campaign to the World Bank is something new.
On June 1, a little-known freedom movement in Uzbekistan’s resources-rich, but impoverished northwestern region of Karakalpakstan urged the president of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, to postpone loans to the Uzbek government until Tashkent has taken "concrete steps to end the use of forced labor" in the cotton sector. Alga Karakalpakstan ("Forward Karakalpakstan") said the $411 million for water management improvement and horticulture projects in cotton-growing Karakalpakstan will encourage the government to continue abusing the minority’s rights.
"The government owns all the land of Uzbekistan and forces farmers to meet annual quotas for cotton, and sell it to the state at a low purchasing price—under the threat of losing land, criminal charges and physical violence," said the English-language letter to Kim, describing a widely documented practice. "Every autumn, the Uzbek government forcibly mobilized 16-17 year old students of colleges and universities, pensioners, education and health professionals, and other public sector workers to pick cotton."
Federal Prosecutors unsealed an indictment on May 30 charging Khairullozhon Matanov, a 23-year-old citizen of Kyrgyzstan, with four counts of obstructing justice in connection with the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
The indictment asserts Matanov was a close acquaintance of the accused Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and that he had repeated contact with the duo in the days following the April 15, 2013, tragedy. In particular, it outlines that Matanov had dinner with the Tsarnaev brothers just hours after two home-made bombs detonated near the marathon finish line. In addition, “in the hours and days following the bombings, Matanov contacted and attempted to contact Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by cellphone and saw Tamerlan in person at least twice.”
Matanov is specifically charged with destroying potential evidence and making false statements that impeded the criminal investigation into the Tsarnaevs’ alleged actions. Authorities identified the Tsarnaevs as prime suspects on April 18, 2013.
The indictment notes that Matanov spoke with federal investigators several times on April 20, 2013. “Although Matanov soon dropped the pretense that he and Tamerlan Tsarnaev had not seen each other much, he continued to falsify, conceal and cover up evidence of the extent of his friendship, contact and communication with the Tsarnaevs during the week of the bombings, especially during the hours following the bombings,” the indictment states.
“One subject about which Matanov misinformed federal investigators concerned his interactions with the Tsarnaevs on April 15, 2013, the afternoon and evening of the bombings," it adds. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during a shootout with law-enforcement officers in the early hours of April 19, 2013. Dzhokhar was taken into custody late the same day; his trial is scheduled to begin November 3 in US District Court in Boston.
The US government is apparently not happy that Kyrgyzstan is due to release an alleged criminal kingpin next month after he has served only a fraction of his sentence.
In a country where crime bosses and politicians enjoy cozy relations, Kamchi Kolbayev – whom President Obama identified as a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker” in June 2011 – has become synonymous with sleaze in the judiciary.
Kolbayev was jailed last year for extortion. But at some point his 5 1/2-year sentence was cut to three years “without explanation,” RFE/RL points out. Now, because he served part of his time in a pre-trial detention facility, where one day is the equivalent of two against a sentence, he’s almost free.
The US State Department seems to think Kyrgyzstan’s underfunded, mafia-ridden prisons, where criminals often call the shots, has done little to stop Kolbayev’s activities. In a May 29 statement, State offered a $1 million reward for “information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of the criminal network of Kamchybek Kolbayev.”
Fresh fighting over the weekend in eastern Tajikistan has heightened fears that the mountainous region, home to a disaffected ethnic minority and lucrative drug-trafficking routes, faces another cycle of violence this summer.
At least one gunman died early Saturday in an attack on the headquarters of the State Committee for National Security, the GKNB, in Khorog, authorities say. Two other attackers, who reportedly fired Kalashnikovs and hurled a grenade at the building, were injured and are in hospital. The GKNB has called the attack the work of terrorists, suggesting it is planning a forceful response.
The violence follows a shootout on May 21 between alleged drug dealers and police that left at least two dead. That set off a rampage in Khorog, with residents – angered at what they called the authorities’ heavy hand – burning government buildings, including a police station, the prosecutor’s office and a court building.
Late last week, according to local media, thousands of Khorog residents rallied to demand an investigation. A statement distributed by local civil society activists called the May 21 violence a government attempt to “create an atmosphere of fear and blind obedience to power.” Fresh on their minds is an unexplained, weeks-long military operation in 2012 that left at least 22 locals and as many soldiers dead. Activists also demanded an investigation into those events.
Russia’s defeat to a bearded Austrian transvestite at the annual Eurovision song contest earlier this month has prompted some soul searching among Russia’s horrified, homophobic leaders. Some lawmakers have even called for Russia to stop sending participants to the pop extravaganza.
Russians are sure to find a more wholesome competition at the communist-era Intervision song contest, the Eastern-bloc’s riposte to the decadent mores of Eurovision, which Russian organizers have promised to resurrect this fall. But with the Warsaw Pact rotting in the dustbin of history, organizers have invited Russia’s pals in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a club of Asian autocracies including most of the Central Asian states and China.
Intervision was held between 1977 and 1980 in Sopot, Poland. Soviet pop diva Alla Pugacheva won the competition in 1978. This year Russia's entry will be chosen at a competition for young talent in recently annexed Crimea on June 15, said one of the organizers, Russian singer and producer Igor Matvienko, earlier this week.
In comments carried by pop-culture portal dni.ru, Matvienko said Intervision would be held this October in Sochi with Russia competing alongside China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Other countries may include Japan, South Korea, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Matvienko said.
Two prominent activists lobbying against Kazakhstan’s membership in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) – due to be created next week – have been hauled in for interrogation by Kazakhstan’s domestic intelligence service over an alleged plot by Russian nationalists to destabilize the country.
Zhanbolat Mamay and Inga Imanbay were questioned for six hours by National Security Committee agents on May 21 as they were finalizing preparations to hold public hearings into Kazakhstan’s EEU membership.
The spooks questioned Mamay and Imanbay over their links to Russian far-right nationalist Aleksandr Potkin, who – according to unattributed material leaked to Kazakhstani media – went to Kazakhstan in 2012 and trained ethnic Kazakh nationalists to “provoke a confrontation” with “the Slavic community.”
In view of Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine on the pretext of protecting Russian speakers, Astana currently has an eye on its own ethnic Russians, who make up about 22 percent of the population. But it is not clear why Kazakhstan’s intelligence service took two years to launch the Potkin probe.
“This is a total lie and utter nonsense,” Mamay told EurasiaNet.org on the sidelines of the Almaty public hearings, describing the accusations as “a provocation carried out with the aim of discrediting me and those who speak out against joining the EEU.”
At least two people were killed in Tajikistan’s troubled eastern mountain town of Khorog on May 21, local news agencies reported, citing unofficial sources. Murky cases of violence are nothing new in the area: Khorog was the epicenter of a military operation in 2012 that killed dozens, including at least 22 locals, but was never clearly explained by authorities.
In one version of today’s events recounted by the Asia-Plus news agency, a shootout started when police attempted to arrest a brother of local warlord Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, leaving two supporters dead and a police officer in serious condition. In response to that, and possibly some subsequent arrests, angry residents reportedly burned down the police station. Estimates of the crowd varied from several dozen to 700.
Fergana News cited the head of the regional branch of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Alim Sherzamonov, as saying that riot police opened fire “without warning” when they encountered some sort of unofficial local powerbroker. "Spot checks of tinted[-windowed] cars were underway in the city; a car was stopped. The policemen began arguing with the driver, but then the OMON [riot police] came and opened fire without warning,” Sherzamonov said. “One person was killed on the spot and two injured. They opened fire because the guys in the car had informal power in the city. Weapons were used by one side only – the OMON."
As Russia reasserts itself in its former Soviet backyard, the summit of an obscure Asian bloc in China offered a timely reminder that Beijing also has regional leadership aspirations—and, unlike sanctions-hit Moscow, can boast deep pockets too.
The summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) gathered a motley crew of Asian leaders in Shanghai on May 21st, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and presidents from post-Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus as well as leaders from diverse countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia.
Central Asia was well represented, with four of its five leaders attending. Neutral Turkmenistan stayed away: It is not a member of CICA, a talking shop set up in 1999 at the initiative of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev—who used this summit to propose rebranding CICA into the Organization for Security and Development in Asia.
The summit took place against a backdrop of heightened Russo-US tensions over the Ukraine crisis and Sino-US sparring over a military-hacking affair and, more broadly, over China’s geopolitical aspirations in Southeast Asia. All that fueled expectations that mutual antagonism with Washington would cement closer Sino-Russian ties.
“For Russia, China is today a natural geopolitical ally in the formation of a world order in line with China’s interests,” Aydar Amrebayev of the Almaty-based Institute of World Economy and Politics told EurasiaNet.org.