Mongolia is using its newly exploited mineral wealth to reform its social services. While the government should be applauded for looking to the future, it is a challenge ensuring the changes don’t come at the expense of the majority of people in this vast and rural country. Mongolia’s unique population structure creates especially difficult conditions for schools, which are frequently over-crowded in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, but must accommodate sparse and highly dispersed populations elsewhere.
Mongolia’s approach to education reform appears to be quite similar to efforts in Kazakhstan, another natural resource-rich Central Asian state. Both countries are working with prestigious Cambridge University to develop a small network of elite schools that will serve the most academically successful students in the capital city and regional centers. The goal seems to be to develop schools to match their elite counterparts in developed countries quickly—a sort of superficial European renovation for the education system. Both countries also envision the good teaching practices that Cambridge consultants help develop and implement to trickle down to the rest of the education system.
Officials in Tajikistan are heaping new confusion onto the ongoing shutdown of Facebook. While users triumphantly explain to each other how to access the site through proxy servers, a group close to President Emomali Rakhmon has suggested that Tajikistan should build its own social network to promote “the ideals and national values of the Tajik people.”
The state agency in charge of IT and telecommunications has claimed the March 2-3 block – condemned by a Tajik Internet lobby and US-based Freedom House – is “temporary” and for “prophylactic maintenance.”
Internet service providers have said they were ordered to block Facebook last weekend, along with three or four news portals, by the state Communications Service, after one of the portals published an article severely criticizing Rakhmon and his government. When queried by news agency Asia-Plus, the head of the service, Beg Zukhurov, denied any order to block Facebook, but said the authors of offensive online content “defaming the honor and dignity of the Tajik authorities” should be made “answerable.” Tajikistan frequently uses libel cases and extremism charges to silence critical journalists.
Zukhurov promised to restore the Facebook connection “soon.” (Meanwhile, what seems to be a copy of his order is circulating on – you guessed it – Facebook.)
Some politicians in Bishkek have again set their eyes on the American University of Central Asia (AUCA). But they’re not looking at how they can support one of Central Asia’s few Western-style centers of higher education. Instead, they see the university, housed in a government-owned building, as a potential source of cash, offering yet another reminder of how unreliable contracts can be in Kyrgyzstan.
AUCA is housed, rent-free, in the historic Communist Central Committee building, surrounded by parks in downtown Bishkek. Under the terms of the 1998 agreement that set up the school, the Kyrgyz government provides the building “for a thirty year period free of any rental charges.”
In the summer of 2009, the government of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev tried to evict AUCA. When his kleptocratic family was ousted, an interim government honored the 1998 agreement. But now university executives complain they are the target of a government-sponsored campaign to shame the school.
An AUCA executive told EurasiaNet.org that the school’s books are completely in order and it pays all of its taxes. “We are sticking to the terms of the agreement, so the government is having a difficult time forcing us out. And so they use tools such as bad coverage in the government-owned media” to discredit the school, the executive said.
The only member of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s family to be imprisoned following the ex-president’s bloody 2010 overthrow has gone missing, according to Kyrgyzstan’s penal service.
On March 6, parliament deputies began inquiring about rumors that Akhmat Bakiyev – who was charged with organizing unrest in Jalal-Abad following his brother’s ouster and sentenced to seven years in a high-security penitentiary – had disappeared from a Bishkek hospital. He had been taken to the hospital in late January, after getting transferred to Bishkek’s lower-security Penal Colony No. 35, where he was not required to reside permanently but to check in at regular intervals. According to local press reports, Akhmat Bakiyev’s sentence, which was reduced by about 1.5 years, was due to end in September 2014. The penal service says Bakiyev disappeared a few days ago, though one lawmaker is publicly saying he’s been gone for a month.
Deputy Shirin Aitmatova went to the penal colony to try to find the former first brother. She reports he was actually discharged from the hospital a month ago and argues that Akhmat Bakiyev received some help escaping. He’s long gone by now, she suspects. Some posts from her Twitter feed, translated from Russian:
As explained by the prison warden, the judge issued a ruling on A. Bakiyev’s free movement and the prosecutor didn’t appeal. And here’s the result))
Akhmat Bakiyev was released from the hospital a MONTH ago!
The trials of those facing charges over December’s fatal violence in Zhanaozen are approaching: Investigators announced on March 2 that they had finished work, paving the way for hearings to start within the coming weeks.
The trials will be open, but – belying official statements that the situation in the town has stabilized – they will be held 120 kilometers away, in Aktau, since Zhanaozen is too “restless” to host them, Aktau-based newspaper Lada quoted a local prosecutor as saying.
The number of protestors standing trial vastly outnumbers the five police officers facing charges, though security forces caused most of the 17 deaths that occurred amid the violence when they opened fire on demonstrators in Zhanaozen and the nearby town of Shetpe.
At least 40 protestors are facing trial, including three on charges of organizing the unrest; 29 people are under arrest, 11 are out on bail and six have been amnestied.
Three police officers face charges of abuse of office over the fatalities, and the former deputy regional police chief will be tried for failing to “prevent the illegal actions of subordinates.” The head of a detention center in which one man, Bazarbay Kenzhebayev, was beaten to death is being charged – but the police officers who inflicted the beating have not been identified.
Authorities in Tajikistan have blocked access to Facebook and several Russian-language news websites, apparently trying to stem mounting online criticism of long-serving President Emomali Rakhmon. Since the uprisings across the Arab world in the past year, which authorities throughout Central Asia blame on social networks such as Facebook, the former Soviet region's autocrats have stepped up Internet restrictions, while citizens increasingly turn to social networks to discuss their frustrations.
The latest crackdown reportedly began after a website called Zvezda.ru published a withering critique of Rakhmon entitled “Tajikistan on the Eve of Revolution,” which argued the president is “incompetent” and presides over a corrupt regime where his family has gained control over every state asset down to the last telephone pole. The article predicts mass unrest. “Rakhmon’s regime has lead the country to complete devastation, ruin and terrible poverty,” wrote Sergey Strokan, a staffer with the heavyweight Russian daily Kommersant.
During a trip to Moscow last weekend, when Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev said his country doesn’t need Russian bases on its soil, some thought his talk was just political theater. After all, Atambayev generally enjoys rosy relations with Russian leaders and had just succeeded in getting them to cough up some overdue base rent. But could he have missed his cues?
Shortly after meetings with Prime Minister/President-to-Be Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, Atambayev launched a volley of complaints that suggests something didn’t go right in Moscow. His accusations, followed by a sharp Russian rebuke, have brought back memories of the Kremlin’s role in Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s swift fall almost two years ago.
Regularly featured in Atambayev’s Moscow meetings are the stalled negotiations over the sale of Kyrgyz energy infrastructure to Russia’s state-run gas monopoly, Gazprom, and – connected, perhaps? – Moscow’s unfulfilled promise to help Kyrgyzstan’s economy back on track with a large infusion of cash. This time, after his meetings, Atambayev told Kommersant that Kyrgyzstan would no longer beg for aid (Bishkek already owes Moscow almost $500 million).
UPDATE: Unfortunately, after reading this blog, many readers from Kyrgyzstan have come to the conclusion that EurasiaNet is somehow supportive of Vladimir Farafonov. In fact, EurasiaNet has never endorsed any of Farafonov’s writing, which is, as our readers rightly point out, often offensive and provocative. In reporting on this case, we have documented the concerns of rights activists and pointed out the inconsistencies in Kyrgyzstan’s application of certain laws. Considering the weakness of the country’s legal system it is unsurprising, though unfortunate, that many Kyrgyzstanis have little patience for arguments in support of due process. On March 14, EurasiaNet published a story covering the Farafonov case in greater detail than in this original blog entry. --DT
Another journalist in Kyrgyzstan is facing what the Committee to Protect Journalists calls “politically motivated extremism charges.”
Vladimir Farafonov, an ethnic Russian from Kyrgyzstan, seems to have angered prosecutors and the state security services (the GKNB or KNB) by highlighting rising pro-Kyrgyz nationalism and lamenting the status of the ethnic Russian minority in the former Soviet republic. As we reported last week, such rules are selectively applied and have not targeted the Kyrgyz-language publications that have called on minority Uzbeks to leave and even tried to blame Kyrgyzstan's miniscule population of Jews for the country's suffering. The trial is scheduled to begin today.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev may be returning from Russia with a promise of $15 million in outstanding rent for the Russian base at Kant – “measly,” he’s called it – but at home there’s more shock than celebration. Somehow the new president managed to upset both nationalists and the more liberal minded during his trip.
First, during the unveiling of a statue for Kyrgyz mythic hero Manas in Moscow on February 24, which Atambayev personally helped finance, the president said that Manas, in whatever distant past he inhabited, was “an ethnic Russian” because he and the ancestors of the Kyrgyz both originated in Siberia.
"Manas never divided people by ethnicity and this was his strong point. The monument to Manas is a symbol of the unity of our nations,” the KyrTAG news agency quoted him as saying. “We have common history and, certainly, a common future.”
That’s nice, but at home Manas is a rallying point for ethnic Kyrgyz identity, and has been boosted in the post-Soviet period to help coalesce the nation. “Manas mania” has gripped the country since ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010, with a costly new statue of Manas erected in Bishkek’s central square and some calling for the capital itself to be renamed Manas. In this climate, suggesting the hero of the eponymous epic was not an ethnic Kyrgyz sounds heretical.
Opposition leaders are back behind bars in Almaty, jailed for organizing a protest less than two weeks after their release from prison for rallying without official permission last month. The growing cycle of protests, arrests, and more protests appears to be encouraging the opposition, which is calling for fair elections and political reform in Kazakhstan.
OSDP Azat party co-leader Bolat Abilov and deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov were jailed for 15 days immediately after the February 25 protest. The sentence is “political revenge by the regime,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org by telephone as he was being taken to prison, announcing that he and Abilov would stage a hunger strike in protest.
The sentences add to mounting tensions in Kazakhstan, which is in the throes of what critics see as a political crackdown launched by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration following December’s deadly violence in Zhanaozen. Astana denies any crackdown.
The imprisonments followed a tense rally in central Almaty that saw scuffles between police and protestors amid cries of “Nazarbayev out!” Several demonstrators were arrested, some carried aloft to police vans as they shouted anti-government slogans.
OSDP Azat leaders Kosanov, Abilov and Zharmakhan Tuyakbay were rounded up before reaching the rally, as were three other organizers – Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, Bakhytgul Makimbay and Yermurat Bapi.