Tajik authorities are usually reluctant to trust Islamic extremists -- except when they’re ratting out others.
Just two months ago, Dushanbe dropped troublesome charges that a BBC reporter was a member of a banned Islamic radical group.
But this week a court in Khujand read a letter by an imprisoned “Hizb-ut-Tahrir leader” claiming that Urinboy Usmonov is indeed a supporter of the group, the Asia-Plus news agency reported on September 20.
Usmonov, who works for the BBC’s Uzbek service, was disappeared in June and later charged with being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. He spent a month in jail, where he was denied legal counsel and claims he was tortured until a chorus of international opprobrium embarrassed Dushanbe into releasing him. He still faces charges of not informing Tajikistan’s security services about his meetings with Islamists, however – meetings he says he held as a reporter. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists say the sham charge “criminalizes journalism.”
So what to make of the new testimony? Is someone in the government trying to resurrect the case against Usmonov? He is supposedly only being tried for not tattling on his sources. Could members of Tajikistan’s intelligence services be trying to save face, embarrassed at being reprimanded for the investigation and arrest?
For a day, Almaty returned to its cultural roots, or rather groves. The name 'Almaty' in Kazakh literally translates as 'full of apples,' and at the core of this year's Almaty Day celebration was the Second Annual Festival of Apples.
Celebrated on the third Sunday in September, the city's holiday this year heralded the beginning of autumn and sought to highlight cultural symbols and national art. The festival featured 26 apple growers and vendors on Astana Square, offering over 15 tons of Kazakh apples in every size, shape and flavor.
Festivities also included a variety of cultural exhibits, including a photography exhibition, titled Almaty Beinesi, which showcased the history and development of Almaty architecture. The city also staged a national song contest, a Kazakhstani Idol of sorts for amateur composers and singers.
Following up on a story that we posted September 15 on Uzbekistan’s propiska crackdown, newly adopted legislation is opening a loophole for property owners to avoid being booted out of Tashkent.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov on September 15 signed legislationthat enables citizens who own real estate in Tashkent to obtain coveted residency permits, or propiskas. The new rule reportedly takes effect immediately. It’s not known exactly how many illegal residents can qualify for a propiska under the new framework. It’s likewise unclear how the rule will be implemented. Past experience shows that the letter of the law isn’t always followed in Uzbekistan.
Tashkent’s rapidly rising population is believed to be the reason why officials are now strictly enforcing the residency permit regime.
Kyrgyz Interior Ministry Zarylbek Rysaliev alleged at a press conference on September 14 that Janysh orchestrated the murder of one of his brother’s top advisors, Medet Sadyrkulov, whose charred body was found in a burnt-out car outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in March of 2009.
Investigators back in 2009 said Sadyrkulov died in an auto accident. But Rysaliev characterized Sadyrkulov’s death as a premeditated murder, carried out on the order of Janysh Bakiyev. Janysh attended the slaying and personally tortured Sadyrkulov, Rysaliev claimed. Sadyrkulov once served as President Bakiyev’s “grey cardinal,” but the family reportedly turned on him after he resigned his post in January 2009 and made overtures to the opposition.
The unfolding scandal surrounding Sadyrkulov’s death has the potential to influence the presidential election, which is slated for October 30. At least 17 Kyrgyz officials have already been detained in connection with the murder – including the former-deputy head of the Border Guards Service, Zamir Moldoshev, and Aibek Abdrazakov, the ex-head of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Organized Crime Department.
More arrests may be in the offing. The Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing a source in the Interior Ministry, reported that the former head of the Security Council, the ex-attorney general and ex-interior minister are likely to be questioned, perhaps even detained.
Promotional billboards and banners celebrating Kyrgyzstan’s 20th anniversary of independence have offended Kyrgyz nationalists, sparking the kind of violent reaction that is becoming common in the Central Asian nation.
In the southern city of Osh, representatives of the Ak Kyzmat youth organization burned signs they called “anti-ideological,” including a poster depicting Kyrgyz yurts covered with the flags of China, Russia, and the United States. While the photographer responsible for the banner maintained that his image was intended to represent the three great powers he says “keep watch over” Kyrgyzstan, his detractors interpreted the image as degrading.
The protestors also took issue with a banner depicting a foreign tourist surrounded by Kyrgyz, which they argued placed their compatriots in a subservient position.
“It looks like the Kyrgyz are following after him, but I want to point out that the Kyrgyz have always lived on their own and have never depended on anyone,” complained Ak Kyzmat leader Turgunbai Aldakulov. “If the appropriate agencies do not remove the banners, the youth of the city are ready to burn every poster in Osh.”
Not content with the highest, Tajikistan will now also have the longest flag in the world. Fear not the expense: Tajiks can surely overlook their brutal poverty to take pride in a two-kilometer-long national flag.
“The flag was made by employees of the Dushanbe-based Tajiktekstil [textile plant] and the Dushanbe mayor’s office has already lodged an application to the Guinness Book of Records,” the spokesman said.
Speaking of greatness, Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev is feeling especially sycophantic with all these new monuments in his city. Though often considered a rival to President Emomali Rakhmon, Ubaydulloyev, speaking on state television September 6, said the president’s deeds (presumably more than just producing poles, flags and the like) should be “written with golden letters” in that great book of Guinness.
A think tank chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has come up with an interesting idea for getting the largely ineffective Collective Security Treaty Organization off the ground: Kick out Uzbekistan.
The Institute of Contemporary Development, known by its Russian acronym, INSOR, is presenting a report on the CSTO at the Global Policy Forum in the Russian city of Yaroslavl this week that will include proposals to reform decision-making within the bloc from the current consensual format to a simple majority vote.
"In light of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014, we need to decide what is more important: [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's opinions or the security of Russia and its allies," he said. "It is evident that nobody needs the CSTO as just a talking shop."
Karimov's strongest objections to the internal organization of the CSTO have been over the implementation of a rapid reaction force. Uzbekistan remains deeply wary of Moscow's ultimate intentions and appears to suspect the Kremlin of attempting to gradually take over Central Asia's security.
The report also proposes overhauling relations between the CSTO and NATO. While the Russian-led bloc was initially intended as a counterweight to NATO, it is increasingly evident that the two groups share joint challenges dealing with security in and around Afghanistan.
Good news for singles in Kazakhstan – a new dating site promises to bring lonely hearts together, and – unlike many such forums which are simply an excuse to peddle sex – nikah.imam.kz has lofty aims: It seeks to help pious Muslims find their other half.
Along with information about attributes such as height, eye color and ethnicity, the site offers users the chance to provide information about their views on questions pertinent to Islam.
Answers to “how do you feel about the hijab?” range from “not obligatory” (Aynur, a 27-year old female from Almaty) to “only in the mosque” (Asiya, a 20-year-old female from Petropavlovsk) and “obligatory for women” (Rakhat, a 22-year-old male from Pavlodar, and Nazyma, a 35-year-old female from Almaty).
The photos accompanying the would-be daters’ profiles show a range of attitudes to the headscarf among the women – some have their heads uncovered, some are wearing headscarves and some are in the full niqab.
Another question asks users how they feel about polygamy, which – as RFE/RL reported earlier this year – is on the rise in Kazakhstan. Answers range from “negative” (Asem, a 20-year-old female from Petropavlovsk), “I don’t know” (Akmalya, a 20-year-old female from Almaty), to “normal” (Rauan, a 26-year-old male from Karaganda, and Roza, a 26-year-old convert to Islam from Almaty).
Some rare positive news about the endangered antelope known as the saiga: Numbers are up in Kazakhstan and have risen over the symbolic 100,000 mark, Tengrinews reports.
According to the latest figures, Kazakhstan’s saiga population has jumped by about a quarter since last year’s estimate. Kazakhstan has the world’s largest number of the endangered antelopes, but today’s figures are a far cry from Kazakhstan’s million-strong population of the 1970s.
The saiga is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Paradoxically, the increase in numbers could have an unexpected adverse effect by making herds of these creatures – which have a distinctive long, humped nose that allows them to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters – more visible to hunters.
Hunting the saiga is illegal in Kazakhstan, punishable by a five-year prison term, but, for risk-takers, there is money to be made.
“The saiga horn is used in traditional medicine in China, so the demand is from there,” Zhannat Tansykbayev, director of Okhotzooprom, the state company in charge of protecting Kazakhstan’s fauna, said.
Tajikistan’s national football team went down 0-1 in a World Cup 2014 qualifier on September 2 to deadly rivals Uzbekistan. But Tajikistan Football Federation vice-president Rustam Emomali, President Emomali Rakhmon’s eldest son, is not taking the defeat lying down and has promised to improve the quality of the game in the country.
“Of course, it is shame that we were unable to defend the draw, but our team acquitted itself well against Uzbekistan,” he was cited as saying by Russian news agency Interfax.
Having played for Tajik premier league champions Istiqlol Dushanbe, Emomali should know a thing or two about football.
He also spared a few words for the national team’s enthusiastic fans, diplomatically ignoring the scenes of unrest outside the packed 13,600-capacity stadium in Tursunzade. A meeting in the Tajik capital between the presidents of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia meant the game was pushed off the national airwaves, so turning up in person was the only way of getting to see the game live.
Again, presumably due to security concerns related to this meeting, the game was not held at the larger national stadium in Dushanbe, so many hopeful fans were turned away, leading to ugly scenes with the large contingent of police present.