A partly Russian-owned television station controlled by Kazakhstan’s government has waded into controversy once again with an inept and widely mocked attempt at an exposé on the recent land protests.
In a report aired over the weekend, First Channel Eurasia broadcast brief footage showing what they claimed were organizers of the demonstrations being paid sums of up to $150 by unnamed parties. No faces can be seen or voices heard in the footage, which is filmed in a way that is intended to suggest the images have been captured with a mobile phone.
Reprising a theme that his employers have been supporting since the height of the land protests, one of the First Channel Eurasia expresses indignation at the currency being used.
“And that is how they are selling us off. And please note that they are not even doing this with Kazakhstani tenge, the national currency, but in dollars. You understand who is behind this?” the anchor asks rhetorically in a less-than-subtle suggestion that the United States has for some reason fomented the recent political turbulence.
First Channel Eurasia, which has been on the air since 1997, is jointly owned by Kazakhstan state television channel and Russia’s government-run First Channel, which holds a 20 percent stake. The combination of inflammatory accusations and shoddily produced would-be evidence presented by the broadcaster indeed betrays many similar features with now-regular smear attacks by Russian state on Western governments and opposition figures.
The exposé has drawn a barrage of exasperated ridicule.
In the wake of fresh arrests in Kyrgyzstan of would-be coup plotters, President Almazbek Atambayev indulged in another surreal tirade on May 15 against opposition politicians and nongovernmental groups.
The remarks came three days after the arrest of several prominent government critics — former Agriculture Minister Bekbolot Talgarbekov, ex-Finance Minister Marat Sultanov, one-time presidential candidate Torobay Kolubayev — on charges of plotting to seize power. Evidence provided by the authorities for the supposed coup scheme dreamed up by Talgarbekov, Sultanov and Kolubayev consists so far of a recorded conversation that left many skeptical. In a separate case, inveterate troublemaker and businessman Nurlan Motuyev is in hot water over his repeated and downright bizarre praise for the Islamic State group.
But Atambayev is in no mood to wait for due process and quoted eccentrically at an event at his presidential residence from a well-known poem, Quartet by early 19th century Russian writer Ivan Krylov, to deride the jailed foursome. The brief satirical poem tells the story of a group of animals — a monkey, a donkey, a goat and a bear — who try in vain to form a musical ensemble, much to the mockery of a nightingale.
“You, my friends, no matter what your positions, will never be musicians,” Atambayev noted gleefully, quoting the nightingale.
The caustic irreverence sounds an odd note against what the government has sought to cast as the mounting specter of potentially violent sedition. Another three opposition figures from an unrelated faction were arrested in March on the basis of similar accusations of plotting the “violent overthrow of power.”
It has been an open secret for months that Tajikistan’s No. 2 bank is completely broke, but the lender has finally come out into the open with a plea for international assistance.
bne Intellinews reported on May 11 that Tojiksodirotbank this week discussed a possible cash injection with officials from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in exchange for a 50 percent equity stake.
Tojiksodirotbank chairman Pirzoda Tojidin told the financial news website that he had already met with EBRD top brass and agreed on an assistance program.
"We have another meeting with them [on May 12], but it remains to be seen if we can meet the EBRD's conditions,” Tojidin told bne Intellinews.
This marks the first time Tojiksodirotbank has admitted to its severe liquidity problems, which has been no mystery to anybody unlucky enough to have their savings in the bank.
The lender tried in vain to downplay insistent media reports about its difficulties in March, when it issued a statement attributing interruptions in its services to a switchover in its money-processing system.
“Short-term disruptions in the functioning of bank cards are possible. We apologize for the inconvenience,” the statement said.
Countless deposit-holders at Tojiksodirotbank remain unable to get their cash to this day, however.
Negotiations with EBRD to facilitate some kind of rescue package have been in the works for some months.
After two years of tortuous debates in parliament, civil society in Kyrgyzstan has cause for celebration.
A contentious bill, modeled on a similar piece of legislation in Russia, that would in an earlier form have seen internationally funded nongovernment group designated as “foreign agents” was rejected by Kyrgyz deputies on May 12.
Out of the 111 members of parliament present, 65 voted against the bill, which was undergoing its third and final reading.
The legislation was first presented in 2014 by Tursunbai Bakir Uulu and Nurkamil Madaliev, two deputies that have since left parliament, and has proceeded in fits and starts ever since.
In the days preceding parliament’s final decision on the bill, rights groups mounted a lively campaign of opposition. On May 11, around a dozen activists rallied in front of parliament, urging deputies to reject the bill.
Tolekan Ismailova, head of the Bir Duino human rights organization, which gathers information on cases of torture and corruption, said at the protest that the bill was “discriminatory and inhumane”.
“A group of MPs started promoting this bill and we could see that the hand of the Kremlin was behind this,” Ismailova told Kloop.kg. “The discrimination concerns those NGOs that monitor corruption and the activities of parliament.”
But on May 12, some deputies came out in their strongest opposition yet to the legislation. Janar Akayev, a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK), suggested the bill would dent Kyrgyzstan’s democratic credentials.
A state prosecutor in Tajikistan has demanded life sentences for opposition figures on trial for their supposed involvement in an alleged coup in September.
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan’s official website, Payom.net, reported on May 11 that four of its leading members could be sentenced to life in jail, while members of the party’s political council face terms of between 16 and 30 years.
Only one person on trial, IRPT deputy chairman Zarafo Rahmoni, faces a slightly less draconian sentence of five years in prison.
IRPT stands accused of financing and organizing a purported attempt to overthrow the government that officials say was led by disaffected deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda in September.
The startling severity of the proposed sentences appears to be an attempt to frighten anybody even vaguely contemplating any form of dissent in the future. The most severe term handed down to a political opponent to date was reserved for Zaid Saidov, who was in 2013 sentenced to 26 years in jail, a term later extended to 29 years.
Nazarzoda was reportedly killed in a gunfight with government forces on September 16. Senior IRPT members were arrested later that same month.
The trial was held behind closed doors, journalists were officially denied access to the hearings and informally warned to avoid even referring to the case. Even lawyers for the IRPT members were themselves jailed after taking up the case.
Earlier this month, Nazarzoda’s 28-year old son, Bahtiyor Nazarov, was sentenced to 22 years in jail, also for alleged involvement in attempts to overthrow the government.
Kyrgyzstan has become the first country in Central Asia to get Google Street View, although prospective visitors need not think this comes even close to a substitute for the real thing.
The project to extend Street View to Kyrgyzstan was unveiled at a cultural center in the town of Cholpon-Ata, which lies on Issyk-Kul lake, a regional tourist magnet.
“Now users of Google Maps all over the world can take virtual trips along Kyrgyz roads and discover tourist attractions online. Among other things, Google technicians took images of exceptional cultural and historic sights like the Burana Towers, the Maiden Tears waterfall, the holy mountain of Suleiman-Too (in Osh), Fairy Tale Valley, the petroglyphs at Cholpon-Ata and other places,” Google representative Tilik Mamutov said on his Facebook account.
While touting this as an opportunity to see Kyrgyzstan from afar, Google says this will help boost tourism.
“You’ll be able to discover where to find a gas station, check out what a place looks like. And when a foreign tourist arrives in a certain place they can find a hotel or a restaurant on their phone,” Google representative Oleg Yakymchuk said in remarks cited by TengriNews.
That might be slightly overstating the case, however. Eateries out of the main cities and off the beaten track tend to be pretty lo-fi affairs and the idea of them being listed on Google Maps is, well, a bit of a stretch. Until users start submitting that kind of information themselves, that is.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has fired his most senior military official following a series of violent and deadly incidents that point to growing disorder within the armed forces.
On May 11, Zhanybek Kaparov was dismissed and replaced by Raimberdi Duishenbiyev as head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, one day after a soldier in the southern Jalal-Abad region reportedly stabbed a comrade in a squabble over chewing tobacco.
That incident, which did not result in any fatalities, followed news that a 19-year old recruit in the northern Naryn province appeared to have hanged himself after he abandoning his post on May 5.Earlier in the month, a brawl between two soldiers, again in Jalal-Abad, culminated in the death of another 19-year-old conscript.
According to well-regarded human rights organization Kylym Shamy, there have been over 60 deaths in the armed forces in the last four years — most of them suicides.
Militaries across the Central Asian region — particularly its poorest countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — are notorious for providing conscripts with dismal living conditions and paltry wages.
Hazing, or the bullying of young conscripts by older officers, is also widespread. Tajikistan is famously, if only unofficially, said to resort to “oblava,” or the kidnapping of recruits, as a method of hitting conscript quotas.
A zoo in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, is facing mounting criticism about mistreatment of its animals since the agonizing death of a six-year old tigress called Kuralai.
Almaty zoo deputy director Agibai Azhibayev announced on May 8 that the tiger had died, although pictures of the emaciated and sore-ridden animal had circulated on social media for weeks before, sparking a wave of indignation.
Azhibayev said an autopsy would be carried out to establish the exact causes of Kuralai’s demise.
Zoo director Kanat Karimov said in 2015 that the tiger had been diagnosed with pneumonia and was being treated with anti-viral and anti-fungal drugs. But the cat’s condition deteriorated sharply at the start of this year, when she stopped eating and began to lose weight. Eventually, sores broke out all over Kuralai’s body and she grew so weak that she was unable to even stand up.
This state of affairs only became public knowledge after distressed zoo staff took photos and posted them online.
At the invitation of the zoo’s board of trustees, the chief veterinarian for Moscow zoo, Mikhail Alshinetsky, was eventually summoned to carry out a medical examination. His verdict was that all treatment was proving futile and recommended euthanizing the tiger. That advice was spurned by the Almaty zoo officials, however.
"That is his personal opinion, and we are seeing improvements in Kuralai’s wellbeing and are hoping we can cure her,” Azhibayev told KTK television station.
But the treatments being adopted by the Almaty zoo have appalled many animal lovers, who have accused the zoo’s management of cruelty.
A high-profile racially motivated assault on two migrants in Moscow last week has prompted Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev to urge Russians to show more respect to their foreign guests.
Speaking at a May 9 requiem event in Bishkek to mark the 71st anniversary of victory in World War II, Atambayev reminded his listeners that hundreds of thousands of Russian evacuees were given shelter in Kyrgyzstan as that conflict was unfolding.
“Simple Kyrgyz families shared their last scraps of bread and clothes. Many evacuees remained in the country for good and became citizens of Kyrgyzstan,” Atambayev was cited as saying by K-News website. “So today I would like for this to be remembered by citizens of our brotherly nation, Russia, where modern fascists — skinheads — are raising their heads.”
The remarks were clearly inspired by a vicious group assault earlier this months on citizens of Kyrgyzstan traveling on the Moscow metro.
Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti cited the police as saying the attack was almost certainly racially motivated.
“They were all shaven-headed, wore heavy military-style boots. On their phones we found photographs of them holding up their arms in a Nazi salute and showing off weapons. Moreover, three of the four [attackers] were underage,” a police source told the agency.
A video posted on the Interior Ministry YouTube channel shows a worrying exchange between a police interrogator and one of the presumed attackers.
“What have you been detained for?” one young man, whose face has been hidden to protect his identity, is asked.
Fresh data from Kazakhstan’s National Economy Ministry has shown that the trend for ethnic Russians to leave the country is clearly on the rise.
In 2014, more than 28,000 people in total left the country. Another 30,000 left last year — of out those 25,000 were going to Russia. The number of people emigrating easily outnumbers those seeking Kazakhstani citizenship, according to recent figures cited in a report by Exclusive.kz.
The runner-up destinations for those leaving the country in 2015 were Germany (2,000 people), Belarus (605), Uzbekistan (364) and the United States (265).
Analysts see a raft of reasons for this exodus, ranging from the country’s economic prospects, the uncertain outcome of future political transition and a purported uptick in Russophobic sentiments.
Political analyst Maksim Kramarenko suggested to Exclusive.kz that migration of ethnic Russians reflects a process of communities “choosing their identity” — going to live in a country where they feel they belong.
A recently adopted initiative by the Education Ministry to introduce trilingualism into schools (Kazakh, Russian and English) has caused much upset among parents.
“Teaching in three languages can negatively affect the educational process,” Kramarenko said. “This is initiative is forcing many Russians to think about the future of their children and about how to preserve their ethnic and cultural essence, how to get a quality education in their native Russian language.”
Many of those leaving the country are well-educated and highly skilled and fear for their potential to succeed in Kazakhstan.