After planting his crosshairs on Borat, a full five years after the release of the film that brought his country worldwide fame, outspoken Kazakhstani MP Bekbolat Tleukhan now has his sights on Charles Darwin.
As privately owned KTK television news explains, Tleukhan believes it is inconsistent to teach both religion and evolution, and has now called on Education Minister Bakhytzhan Zhumagulov to come off the fence on the entire affair. Tleukhan, a former deputy culture minister, insists the indecision is confusing Kazakhstani schoolchildren:
“Let decide once and for all, are we descended from monkeys or made from clay. We either get rid of religious educations or abandon the teachings of Darwin.”
As KTK points out, Tleukhan’s previous contribution to the education debate has been to militate for excluding the teaching of classical mythology on the grounds that this could “yield a negative influence on children’s perception of the world.”
Earlier this year, he also demanded that authorities ban the use of a Russian literature textbook used in Kazakhstan, arguing in fabulously exotic terms that it could be used to justify the practices of Satanists and other reputedly dubious cults, such as the Baptists. Not having read the book, we must rely on Tleukhan’s testimony:
Defense Logistic Agency Energy (DLA-E), the arm of the Pentagon which oversees the Manas air base’s fuel contract, is reviewing the contents of the US Congressional report “Mystery at Manas” before deciding what to do next with Mina Corp, the shadowy and reticent company at the center of an elaborate procurement fraud.
On December 22, EurasiaNet.org asked DLA-E if they considered Mina Corp’s procurement of fuel using false end user certificates to be in line with agency directives and standards?
A DLA spokeswoman said:
No, DLA does not consider false end user certificates to be in line with either applicable US laws and regulations or DLA directives and standards.
However the agency insists the Congressional report, which was released on December 21, had nothing to do with their decision to ask previous bidders to extend their offers until February 16, 2011.
The findings of the Congressional report had no bearing on DLA Energy's decision to ask offerors to extend their offer under the Manas solicitation.
But if it wasn’t the Congressional report, what was it that prompted DLA to ask bidders on December 16 to keep their bids open?
Has WikiLeaks claimed its first casualty in Turkmenistan?
Under the terms of a presidential decree published on the official government website December 21, Turkmenistan is shutting down the London branch of its State Agency for the Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources almost three years after it was first opened.
Among the agency’s main functions are reviewing investment proposals, issuing licenses for the development of hydrocarbon resources, and sealing contracts with foreign companies for the construction and use of pipelines. In crude terms, this is the gate that any energy company looking for action in Turkmenistan must walk through.
The decision to close the London office is explained as an attempt to “strengthen and enhance” the agency, although no actual explanations have been offered. Suggestions that the Turkmen government, which is busily lobbying for foreign investment, has implemented the cull as a cost-cutting measure (as suggested by UPI) seem hard to believe against the backdrop of the astounding profligacy authorities have exercised elsewhere.
Indeed, the explanation may be closer to home. One fascinating tidbit offered up by WikiLeaks concerns President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's son-in-law, Dovlet Atabayev, who has headed the soon-to-be-closed London office of the hydrocarbon agency. Citing sources in the expat business and diplomatic community, the US cable reports on the details of an alleged internal investigation against Atabayev:
Kyrgyzstan’s security officials are not the most convincing bunch. So when they go on a media blitz warning of impending terrorist attacks, we naturally start asking for evidence and bracing for some sort of blast. This time, they are worrying Osh, scene of fierce ethnic fighting that left over 400 dead in June.
Speaking on state television on December 20, Keneshbek Dushebayev -- director of Kyrgyzstan’s KGB-successor, the recently renamed State National Security Committee -- reiterated a familiar refrain: Terrorists wish “to turn the Central Asian region into a blazing torch of destabilization for the entire world.” He did not produce any evidence.
This would not seem unusual coming from a Central Asian security boss seeking international sympathy, but a week earlier Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who prompts panic merely by opening his mouth, suggested the city is swarming with terrorists who are ready to blow up a bridge, a government building, or a kindergarten.
Myrzakmatov has repeatedly tried to link Islamic militants to the summer’s ethnic violence. As ethnic Uzbeks tend to be more religious than their Kyrgyz neighbors, between the lines Myrzakmatov is again pushing the idea -- widely held in nationalist circles -- that Uzbeks are responsible for the violence.
Surprisingly, he also said the Islamic terrorists lurking in the hills are the same radicals responsible for the 2005 Andijan massacre in neighboring Uzbekistan, when security services murdered hundreds of their own citizens, according to human rights groups.
Maxim Bakiyev claimed the idea to re-name the US air base at Manas near Bishkek a “Transit Center” was his, according to a recently WikiLeaked diplomatic cable.
But a US Congressional report released December 21 reveals the bright spark behind the semantic slight of hand as none other than a Kyrgyz citizen with a vested interest in keeping the base open -- Erkin Bekbolotov of Mina Corp.
According to the report, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s February 2009 announcement that the air base would close prompted Bekbolotov to call his “social acquaintance” Maxim. Bekbolotov’s novel solution to his potential loss of business involved re-defining the base and using “pressure from Russia” to gain more rent.
The report “Mystery at Manas” explains:
In light of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia’s agreements to permit NATO’s use of their territory and airspace to transit non-military goods, Mr. Bekbolotov suggested to Mr. [Maxim] Bakiyev that instead of expelling the United States from Manas, the Bakiyev administration could require the United States to downgrade its status from a military installation to a logistical and transport hub while using the pressure from Russia to substantially increase their rental payments.
Man of the hour: Newly elected Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev at a Bishkek rally in March.
Three of Kyrgyzstan’s quarreling parties have finally succeeded – after two months and one failed attempt – to form a government. The partnership may seem an unlikely one, but it unifies the country’s fractious north and south and all hopes are on this group to shepherd the country safely into a new year without political instability and violence.
Parliament convened on December 17 to approve the coalition proposed by Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov. Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva chose Babanov to lead the process on December 4, after the first attempt by her Social Democratic Party’s (SDPK) Almazbek Atambayev, fell through.
Kazakhstan offers far and away the most business-friendly climate in Central Asia, but even so, half of the entrepreneurs running small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are struggling to get by, a new poll shows. They face all kinds of hurdles, from financial difficulties to recalcitrant officials – and yet a majority of these resilient businesspeople remain upbeat about the future.
The study of 2,000 entrepreneurs was conducted by the Almaty-based BISAM Central Asia center, which researches the business climate. “Half of entrepreneurs are balancing on the brink of survival,” BISAM Central Asia’s president, Leonid Gurevich, told a conference on SMEs on December 14.
The news will come as a disappointment to the state's Damu entrepreneurship development fund, which supports small businesses and which commissioned the poll. Damu has stepped up assistance to SMEs in recent years due to the global financial crisis, offering micro-credits and preferential loans, but the poll indicates that many entrepreneurs are still fighting against the odds to survive.
Some 40 percent would like to overhaul and modernize their businesses but lack the funds to do so. Small farmers are worst off, with 65 percent saying that they only have enough funds to keep afloat or that their businesses are in critical condition.
Astana regularly touts Moscow as its chief foreign policy ally, and for ordinary Russians the feeling appears to be mutual. Not only do Russians prize Kazakhstan as their most reliable partner in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); they also can’t get enough of its Leader of the Nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan topped a recent poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, with 37 percent of the 1,600 Russians polled naming the giant Central Asian country as their most reliable CIS partner on the international stage. The figure is up from 31 percent last year.
Nazarbayev topped the poll of CIS leaders as well, with 32 percent describing him as the one they trusted most (Russia and its leaders were not included in the polling questions). The largest number of Russians (34 percent) also named Kazakhstan as the most stable and successful country among Moscow’s CIS partners.
Kazakhstan’s standing in the minds of Russians has been helped by the chill in relations between Moscow and Minsk. Belarus was last year’s favored partner among ordinary Russians, with 43 percent naming “Europe’s last dictatorship” as their country’s most reliable partner. That’s plunged to 23 percent this year, second place behind Kazakhstan, while Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rating as most trusted CIS president has dropped from first in 2009 at 33 percent to third in 2010 at 16 percent.
He hasn’t presented any proof yet, but Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun says his office’s investigation has concluded that local Uzbeks began ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan this summer to carve off a piece of the country and join neighboring Uzbekistan. They then intended to overthrow strongman Islam Karimov, he said in comments carried by AKIpress.
Akun added that the Uzbeks started the fight but Kyrgyz then “finished it very harshly and more roughly.”
“The aim of the provocateurs was to create an autonomous region and make Uzbek its official language. They wanted to make Osh and Jalal-Abad regions an autonomous region of Uzbekistan. They had links with Uzbek citizens, rich Uzbek people who speak out against Karimov. And they wanted to overthrow Karimov and elect their person instead of him and rule all of Uzbekistan with Osh and Jalal-Abad regions."
Uzbek nationalist aspirations were one of the earliest explanations for June’s violence cited by official sources. However, convincing publicly available evidence has been scant.
Moscow is bracing for more violence after recent unrest that included dozens of violent acts targeting people from the Caucasus and Central Asia and thousands shouting nationalistic slogans.
On Decmber 13, the Moscow government dispatched busloads of extra police and several ambulances to the city center, according to the Russian-language Gazeta.ru. The extra forces cordoned off the Alexandrovskiy Garden, which is adjacent to the Kremlin, and closed off the nearby Ohotniy Ryad metro station.
Police are also preparing for possible clashes over the next several weeks, with leaders of Caucasian communities contemplating counter-rallies and the impending 40-day anniversary of the death of football fan Yegor Sviridov, whose shooting by a group of Caucasus natives ignited the recent tension. (The 40-day mark is significant in the Russian Orthodox Church.)
About 5,500 people came out onto the city’s central Manezhnaya Square on Saturday, Dec. 11, demanding an investigation into Sviridov’s death, which happened during a brawl on December 5. The protest soon escalated into riots, however, with Sviridov’s fellow football fans chanting slogans like “F*uck the Caucasus,” gesturing the Hitler sieg-heil salute and attacking people with a Caucasian and Central Asian appearance. Protests had also taken place during the previous week in Moscow, also on Saturday in St. Petersburg, and in Rostov on Sunday, resulting in at least 32 medical visits and 140 people detained in all three locations.