Early this year, President Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan named fighting organized crime a principal ambition of her tenure. But it’s proved a tough battle rooting out gangsters, especially since so many of them seem tangled up in the country’s notoriously corrupt political system. So it is lucky for her that a man whom Barack Obama calls one of the world’s most odious drug kingpins has shelved plans to return to her country.
Kamchy Kolbayev has seen more column inches than he’d probably like this year. After he was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in July on suspicion of robbing a jewelry store, Bishkek requested his extradition to face charges of organizing a transnational criminal group. Obama added him to a list of global drug barons in June, prohibiting US companies and citizens from doing business with him. Interpol says the 37-year-old Kyrgyz citizen is sought for “crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives” and “organized crime/transnational crime.”
But at home, Kyrgyz authorities’ uncertainty about what to do with Kolbayev suggests he enjoys favor in some powerful places. After all, it’s not uncommon for government officials and criminals in Kyrgyzstan to work together when it suits them. At the very least, his case illustrates the dysfunction of Kyrgyzstan’s justice system.
As long prison terms were handed down in Almaty on October 11 to those convicted of the murder of Kyrgyzstani journalist Gennadiy Pavlyuk in 2009, vital questions about the case linger. Was justice done for the reporter who was brutally defenestrated?
Aldayar Ismankulov (a Kyrgyz citizen and former member of Kyrgyzstan’s security services) was sentenced to 17 years in prison. His accomplices Shalkar Orazalin and Almas Igelikov (both Kazakh citizens) received 11 and 10 years respectively.
It’s not often that those guilty of perpetrating violence against journalists in Central Asia are taken to court at all, so the first reaction to the sentencing might be applause.
But wait a minute. Despite loudly voiced misgivings that the death of Pavlyuk – an investigative reporter who wrote under the pseudonym Ibragim Rustambek – was linked to Kyrgyz politics, the court appears to have swallowed the version propounded by Kazakh investigators earlier this year that this was a robbery gone wrong.
According to that theory, the thieves lured Pavlyuk 200 kilometers from Bishkek to Almaty purely to rob him. When they failed to extract satisfactory valuables from the reporter, they became so enraged that they bound his hands and feet and hurled him to his death from the sixth floor of an apartment building.
Pavlyuk’s associates have long pointed to the flaws in that theory – namely that the reporter was not a rich man and that defenestration seems something of an overreaction to the circumstances.
For lack of reliable polling data in Kyrgyzstan, you have to take a hint from Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat and "follow the money."
The presidential election race is being hyped as the first vote in Central Asia in which the result is not known from the outset. But going by the size of the various campaign war chests, Almazbek Atambayev, who temporarily stepped aside as prime minister last month, looks set for an easy ride into office on voting day, October 30.
According to information released on October 11 by the Central Election Commission, Atambayev still has one-third of the 33 million Kyrgyz som ($730,000) he started out with. That easily outstrips second best-funded presidential candidate and avowed nationalist Adakhan Madumarov, who has already spent almost all of his 19.6 million som ($430,000).
Kamchybek Tashiev, co-leader of the fiercely nationalist Ata-Jurt party, has long been considered a worthy contender, but he will have to do it on charm alone if the state of his financing is anything to go by. He too has almost already completely burnt through the 9 million som ($200,000) he had to spend.
Indeed, Tashiev has actually been outspent by disgruntled former general prosecutor and deputy security services chief Kubatbek Baibolov, who had a kitty worth 10.3 million som ($230,000) at his disposal. Baibolov's wife is a well-known figure in her own right and one of the richest people in the country, so perhaps no prizes for guessing where that cash came from.
Kyrgyzstan is gearing up for presidential elections later this month. The latest trouble in the unsteady south will offer authorities a reason to increase security checks and tighten control across the region, scene of ethnic violence last year between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks that killed over 400 and left the two communities deeply distrustful of each other.
Bishkek may have other motivations for a bolder security posture, however. Since the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, the mostly northern politicians who took over have had trouble consolidating authority in the south, leading many observers to fear the upcoming election could exacerbate regional divisions. The two leading contenders represent the north and south, respectively.
Police in Kyrgyzstan say they have killed “a terrorist” who hijacked a minibus in the country’s volatile south. Authorities have been highlighting the threat of terrorism as the country faces presidential elections on October 30, designed to put an end to 18 months of uncertainty since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled during a bloody uprising in early 2010.
The bus was traveling from the market town of Kara-Suu to Osh when the suspect, fleeing a police operation, apparently boarded and took the passengers hostage on October 8. Kara-Suu is a predominantly ethnic Uzbek town, which Kyrgyz police describe as a hotbed of Islamist extremists.
None of the 15 passengers on the bus were harmed, local media said. A police sniper reportedly killed the suspect at a roadblock outside Osh. Interfax quoted security officials saying operations were continuing in Kara-Suu District to find accomplices.
Such a delicate mission could easily heighten ethnic tensions. Since violence between the majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in June 2010, police – who are overwhelmingly ethnic Kyrgyz – have regularly focused operations on Uzbeks. Human rights groups charge that violent police bias against Uzbeks has become business as usual.
Tensions remain high across southern Kyrgyzstan. This week, protestors in Jalal-Abad Province blocked the country’s main highway demanding authorities release four Kyrgyz police charged with torturing an Uzbek man to death.
The Kazakh capital of Astana – with its glittering skyscrapers, chic shopping malls and trendy restaurants – is a showpiece of wealth and consumerism. In this young city, you’ve got to look good to get ahead. But not everyone can afford the prices in its designer boutiques. Perhaps that’s why one young man came up with the spontaneous idea of sporting the latest fashions at no cost to himself.
While mugging two unfortunate men as they passed a downtown shopping mall, the 24-year-old thief took a sudden shine to the fancy pants one was wearing and demanded that he hand them over, Kazakhstan Today reports.
The mugger wasn’t so cruel as to leave the poor victim shivering pant-less in the chilly temperatures of Astana – he offered (or rather demanded) a swap, somehow dragging his victim into the toilet of the shopping mall and ordering him to exchange.
Smart idea – but the mugger wasn’t smooth enough to carry it off. The friends of the victim, whom the thief’s accomplices were supposed to be guarding outside, alerted police and shopping mall security guards, who rushed to the toilet and nabbed the criminal, while his accomplices got away.
Astana’s vigilant servants of law and order have scored a victory, catching the thief not only red-handed but also with his pants down.
Officials in Tajikistan have been promising to build Central Asia’s biggest mosque for years, celebrating each step as if they had already set another Guinness record. Yesterday, they finally broke ground. For the second time, that is.
President Emomali Rakhmon laid a foundation stone back in 2009, the BBC reported at the time, when the project was expected to take five years.
The mosque in the Tajik capital will accommodate 115,000 worshippers, according to press reports, and cost $100 million. Dushanbe will pay $30 million; the rest is financed by Qatar.
Part of a large Qatari development that will include luxury-housing towers, Dushanbe’s chattering classes suspect the grand mosque is a sweetener that has allowed the Qataris to proceed with their other building plans. Dushanbe’s luxury building boom, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, has done little to alleviate rapidly rising housing prices, RFE/RL reported recently.
Of course, many in Tajikistan, where roughly half the working-age male population travels abroad seeking employment, are asking if the government might not kick a little more cash into social services, rather than more architectural bling.
Dushanbe will no longer send its citizens on the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca wearing the humble white robes of pilgrims from all corners of the Islamic world. Instead, according to RFE/RL, starting next month pilgrims from Tajikistan will look more like Olympic athletes representing their homeland.
It seems Tajik pilgrims will stand out from the crowd when the annual hajj pilgrimage begins in Mecca next month.
A new hajj uniform has been designed by Tajikistan's Committee for Religious Affairs and will soon be distributed to the country's 5,500 prospective pilgrims.
Men will don two-piece suits, while women wear long-sleeved dresses complete with head scarves, committee officials told local media.
The Tajik hajj uniform is embroidered with the country's symbols, possibly the nation's flag or coat of arms, religious officials said.
The inscription of the country's name, in Latin letters, will be prominently seen on women's head scarves and men's shirt pockets.
The garments come with matching suitcases.
The uniforms cost $50 per person (teachers in Tajikistan only make about $70 per month). The underlying question, however profane, is: Who is profiting off this scheme?
Kyrgyzstan has joined the 153 countries that have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. During the signing ceremony in New York on September 21, President Roza Otunbayeva emphasized her country’s commitment to building a tolerant society that respects the rights of all citizens. While parliament must still ratify the motion, which would give the Convention the strength of law, Otunbayeva’s move is important for acknowledging the right of disabled people to full participation in society.
Disability in Kyrgyzstan, like the rest of Central Asia, is stigmatizing. Children with disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome are often sent to institutions to be ‘rehabilitated,’ as though a disability were a crime or a contagion. Others are kept at home in isolation. Having a disabled child in the family can negatively affect other siblings’ marriage prospects, as the family is considered tainted by misfortune.
Thanks to the public advocacy efforts of local non-governmental organizations as well as disabled people themselves, these attitudes are beginning to shift. The right of access to public services -- like education, health, and transportation -- for people with disabilities is increasingly included in policy discussions in Kyrgyzstan. However, the danger is ever-present that disability rights will be seen as a niche issue, the subject of charity, or the last luxury to consider when all other problems have been solved.
But retrofitting is always messy. If we do not build rights for all into the policy process from the beginning, there will always be an excuse for exclusion.
A rallying cry for Kazakh. Protestors on October 2 carried a banner reading, in Kazakh and French, "We are only for the Kazakh language as the state and official language in Kazakhstan!"
One of the most emotive issues on Kazakhstan’s political agenda – language rights – brought Kazakh speakers out to rally in Almaty on October 2.
Around 1,500 protestors gathered with official permission in the country’s financial capital demanding legal changes to the status of Russian – which detractors say undermines the position of Kazakh.
Kazakh enjoys the constitutional status of “state language.” But rally organizers told EurasiaNet.org they believe that privilege remains largely on paper.
“Over these 20 years of independence it hasn’t become like the state language in status,” Dos Kushim, head of the Ult Tagdyry (Fate of the Nation) nationalist movement, said, adding that the protest reflected “bewilderment … at why it hasn’t become the state language after all, why it doesn’t work in all spheres of the state’s life.”
Mukhtar Shakhanov, poet and head of the Memlekettik Til (State Language) movement, is spearheading calls to change the constitution, in which Russian is protected by a clause allowing its use “equally with Kazakh in state bodies.”
Critics say this provision disadvantages native Kazakh speakers and serves as a disincentive for others to learn Kazakh. Supporters say non-Kazakh speakers – a third of the population – would be lost without it.
But would changing the constitution really be sufficient motivation for non-Kazakh speakers to put their minds to learning Kazakh?
“It would be more than enough,” Serik Mambetalin, leader of the Rukhaniyat (Spirituality) Party, told EurasiaNet.org. “Because the government itself will devote more efforts – and give more money – to develop the Kazakh language.”