The capital of Tajikistan has been plunged into darkness by an unexpected electricity blackout — an embarrassing crisis only one day before the start of major work on an important hydropower dam.
Residents in Dushanbe said the electricity gave out at after 6:30 pm on October 28 and had still not returned by nightfall. Scheduled blackouts are a common occurrence in Tajikistan, although mostly in the regions and at the height of winter, but this appears to be an unplanned event.
President Emomali Rahmon is due on October 29 to oversee a ceremony marking the start of work on stemming the flow of the Vakhsh River as part of construction work on the Rogun mega-dam. It is unclear if the outage is in any way related to preparations for that event.
Russian state-run news agency Sputnik cited unnamed sources as saying the blackout affects 90 percent of the country and that two possible causes are being considered.
“The first is that the authorities have decided to insure themselves during the stemming of the Vakhsh, while they were carrying out explosions. The issue there is to do with building work on Rogun. The second version is more plausible — that there has been an accident on the LEP-500 power line, which provides electricity to most of the country,” the agency reported.
Officials neither gave any advance warning of the blackout nor offered any explanation afterward.
The lack of information has already begun giving rise to rumors and speculation, largely along the lines proposed by Sputnik. But some commenters on social media have even alluded to reports of a blackout in the Pamirs, which is normally relatively immune to such electricity failure as it is fed by the Agha Khan Fund-run Pamir Energy power producer. Others on social media denied the reports about the Pamirs.
The trial in Kazakhstan of a man accused of embarking on a shooting spree in the business capital, Almaty, is approaching its end amid calls for him to face the death penalty.
Ruslan Kulekbayev freely admits to killing eight policemen and two civilians during his rampage on July 18 and has told the court he has no regrets. The motivation for the attack, Kulekbayev told the court, stemmed from his perception that police were mistreating devout Muslims.
“Your husbands and brothers were persecuting and tormenting my Muslim brothers. They unjustly judged them. They too took people away from their families. That is why I did this,” Kulekbayev said in a final statement to the court.
He was similarly unfazed by the prospect of death, although technically that penalty is prohibited by moratorium in Kazakhstan.
“You can sentence me to life in prison, you can sentence me to death, I am prepared to accept anything. I would just say this: even the life of a fly, if it pleases Allah, is valuable to me. Everything else, well… I do not recognize your judgment, the highest justice can only be dispensed by Allah,” Kulekbayev said.
Another five accomplices also on trial did not face charges connected to the mass shooting, but were accused of planning to rob a businessman together with Kulekbayev. The prosecution has asked those defendants to receive jail terms of between three and 12 years.
A verdict is due on November 2.
As suggested by the remarks above, Kulekbayev’s behavior was contemptuous throughout the trial. He always appeared relaxed and occasionally laughed into the cameras. The trial was open to journalists, although they were only able to following proceedings by video feed from an adjacent room.
It was with immense grief that I heard that my mentor and PhD advisor, Professor Edward Allworth, passed away last week in New York at the grand and befitting age of 95.
As one of his last Master’s and then PhD students at Columbia University in the mid-1990s, I benefitted from six years of his tutorship, wisdom, compassion, intellectual rigor, high aspirations and expectations. He groomed us as cultural historians of a region – Central Asia – which he had discovered and loved since his own youth.
Professor Allworth always defended cultural history during the Cold War when the tendency was to study strategy and weapons, as well as during the post-Soviet period, when the focus was on democracy building and economic transition models. When the Central Asian countries gained independence in the early 1990s, while some students dropped out of the PhD track to follow the appeal of rapid lucrative employment in oil companies, governments and radio stations beaming propaganda to the region, he kept a handful of us at bay and steeped us in the writings of the early 20th century reformist writer Abdalrauf Fitrat, and the study of Chagatay, the 15th century pre-Uzbek language.
The son of Tajikistan’s leader, a 29-year old sometimes touted as a possible successor to the presidency, has announced he has completed a sociological survey on corruption.
As head of the state anticorruption agency, Rustam Emomali was ideally positioned to undertake the task, although the news is likely to have provoked raised eyebrows all the same.
As it happens, many in Tajikistan firmly believe it is the ruling family and their associates that are largely to blame for the rampant bribery, although no comprehensive and independent polling has been done to measure those moods. Tajikistan ranked joint 136th out 165 countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index — the same as Nigeria and 17 position below Russia.
Emomali spoke about the research while providing an update on October 27 to his father, President Emomali Rahmon, on his agency’s effort to combat graft over the past year. The aim of the study was to understand the exact causes of corruption and determine public attitudes toward the problem by putting questions to around 88,000 residents, Emomali said.
Ozodagon website cited Emomali as saying that respondents queried stated they most often confronted corruption in the healthcare and education sectors and while securing services at the birth and marriages registry office.
More than half the people that participated in the survey said some of the most corrupt state organizations in Tajikistan also include the prosecutor’s office, the customs service, national security bodies, the judiciary, and the Interior Ministry.
A 26-year old man in Tajikistan has been sentenced to 13 years in jail on charges of plotting to kill a poet now best-known for his paeans to President Emomali Rahmon.
As media in Tajikistan reported on October 24, a court in Dushanbe determined that Behruz Yagdarov was planning the murder to impress his cohorts in the Islamic State group, whom he subsequently intended to join in Syria.
Meanwhile, reports about the case have been pulled from news websites at the insistence of the security services after the presumed intended victim, Bozor Sobir, revealed that he was not aware of the plot against him — even after the verdict was passed.
According to media reports, Yagdarov was given instructions by unnamed parties to kill former Muslims, as well as Jews and Christians. But Sobir, a sometime-ardent-communist currently in the United States, was an odd would-be target, given that he lives on the other side of the planet from Dushanbe, where Yagdarov was arrested.
When contacted by media about the murder, Sobir expressed ignorance of the entire affair.
“Nobody told me about any of this, and they didn’t invite me to attend the trial. I was in the United States at the time,” Sobir said.
A report on the website of RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, about the trial was taken down following complaints from the State Committee for National Security, according to EurasiaNet.org sources.
In what has been billed as a historic development, Tajikistan will later this month start stemming the flow of the Vakhsh River as part of construction work on the Rogun mega-dam.
Moscow-based ferghana.ru has reported, citing a source in Tajikistan’s energy sector, that a ceremony to begin diverting the river will be attended by President Emomali Rahmon on October 29.
Construction duties on Rogun were earlier this year assigned to Italian company Salini Impregilo. It is estimated that the project will cost $3.9 billion to complete, although it is far from clear where Dushanbe is to source such a vast quantity of funds.
The website cites energy industry insiders as saying that work on the Vakhsh River will not affect existing hydroelectric facilities downstream.
Salini Impregilo explained the purpose of diverting the Vakhsh — as well as how it will be done — in its project page on Rogun.
“The diversion of the Vakhsh River … will be done with confluence of two diversion tunnels in a mountainside in order to keep the foundations of the dam dry. It is a very complex task that, because of the strength of the river, will only be able to be done during the winter months when the mountains are covered in snow and the water level is lower,” the company said on its website.
The project is broken down into four components, with the most expensive one involving the building of a 335-meter-high rockfill dam — the tallest in the world — which will entail costs of around $1.95 billion.
The government in Kyrgyzstan has collapsed after weeks of sniping between coalition members over contentious constitutional reform plans.
The Social Democratic Party (SDPK) declared in a statement on October 24 that it is leaving the four-party coalition.
Objections to amending the 2010 constitution had been voiced most strongly by the left-leaning Ata-Meken party, which all the while resisted pressure for it to initiate the breakup of the ruling coalition.
In an illustration of the seriousness of its disagreement with Ata-Meken, SPDK accused the party of being in cahoots with the deposed leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
“We cannot be in one coalition with those that, as it turns out, share common interests with the Akayevs and Bakiyevs, and who follow their instructions. With those who oppose the interests of the country. It became especially obvious during the constitutional reform,” the party claimed in official statement.
There is no immediate evidence that Ata-Meken have engaged in any dialogue with either of the country’s former leaders.
The outgoing coalition was formed by four political parties soon after the parliamentary elections in October. It constituent parties included the SPDK party of President Almazbek Atambayev, the mostly pro-government Kyrgyzstan Party, the agrarian issues-dominated Onuguu-Progress and Ata Meken. Two other parties, Bir Bol and Respublika-Ata Zhurt, remain in the opposition’s ranks.
The initiative to tinker with the current constitution has been steadily gathering pace since July. Backers of the fix have proposed around 30 amendments, which are due to be put to the population in a referendum in December.
Kazakhstan’s Culture Minister caused a diplomatic row with Kyrgyzstan earlier this year after unwittingly insulting Kyrgyz citizens working in Russia.
Now, Arystanbek Mukhamediyuly is facing accusations of sexual harassment and corruption.
The charge was advanced by a former student of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Arts (KazNAI), Enlik Sydykova, in a YouTube video posted on October 9. The young woman said that in 2011 she had been hoping to sit an entrance exam for the college but did not make it in time. Mukhamediyuly, who was rector of the institute at the time, offered to assist in resolving the problem against a $3,000 bribe, Sydykova claimed. But when she said she did not have that kind of cash at her disposal, Mukhamediyuly proposed an alternative arrangement, Sydykova accused.
“Mukhamediyuly said to me: ‘You can come over to my place, we can drink wine, dance, chat and have fun.’ I was shocked. I did not expect to hear such things from such an upstanding figure,” Sydykova said in her video account.
Despite refusing the then-rector’s alleged advances, Sydykova made it into KazNAI all the same. At a later juncture, according to Sydykova, Mukhamediyuly entered a lecture hall in an inebriated stated and forced female students to sing before him. Sydykova said she was not the only student to face harassment from Mukhamediyuly.
After a week of hearings, the trial in Kazakhstan of two antigovernment activists charged with organizing unsanctioned protests has revealed numerous cracks in the state’s case, although it is unlikely this will make a guilty verdict any less probable.
Hearings in the case of Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan began on October 12 and stem from a wave of unprecedented land reform protests in the spring that saw several thousand people hitting the streets of Atyrau in April.
One of the prosecutors’ most explosive charges is that Bokayev and Ayan were acting on the pay of a power-hungry tycoon from the southern city of Shykment, Tohtar Tuleshov, who authorities claim was looking to sow instability as a prelude to seizing power. Tuleshov is also in jail and facing trial separately in behind-closed doors proceedings in the capital, Astana.
Tuleshov gave testimony by video conference to the Atyrau court as witness for the prosecution on October 18. It is alleged Tuleshov gave Ayan $100,000 to finance the protests.
The state’s version of events is that Tuleshov hoped to sow the conditions for the creation of a vice presidential post, which does not now exist, presumably to set the stage for him to eventually take over the reins from 76-year old Nursultan Nazarbayev. This initiative would have come about by an engineered grass roots movement, prosecutors suggest.
In his testimony, Tuleshov admitted as much, although his account does not bear too much scrutiny.
How important can a constitution be when you cannot even find the original document?
That is the question that authorities in Kyrgyzstan appear to be asking as a ruse to downplay concerns over planned changes to the basic law.
The constitution in its current form was approved by referendum in June 2010 and ushered in a form of government intended to dilute the power of the presidency and hand more authority to parliament.
But a query by members of parliament about the location of the original copy of the document on October 19 has thrown up a bizarre mystery.
Justice Minister Jyldyz Mambetalieva responded that her office has a copy of 2010 constitution, but that the original is held by the presidential administration.
That was contradicted by Moldakun Abdyldayev, the presidential administration’s liaison to parliament.
“We assumed that it was with the Justice Ministry. Now the minister is confirming that there is no original. That raises the question: where is the original?” Abdyldayev told parliament.
Abdyldasev said he has seen an archived decree on the constitution — signed by Roza Otunbayeva, who served briefly as an interim president following the April 2010 revolution — and a draft of the document that was later adopted by referendum. But not an actual signed version of the constitution itself.
As confounding as it might seem, this means that none of the arguing parties in the constitutional debate can quite agree on what it is that is being subjected to amendment.