A brouhaha between Azerbaijan and Armenia is threatening to hamper the operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in multiple member nations, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
OSCE country mandates are the responsibility of the organization’s permanent council, which deals with all the OSCE day-to-day business and is comprised of representatives of all 57 member states. But as the OSCE told EurasiaNet.org “participating states have not yet reached consensus on extension of mandates of a number of OSCE field operations.”
“The Chairmanship continues to lead negotiations on this with the aim of early agreement,” an OSCE press officer said in an email
A source familiar with the situation has said the holdup is down to a battle of wills between Azerbaijan and Armenia over budgets for certain security-related programs. The standoff between the two foes has precipitated a veto from Armenia on the normally automatic extension of field office mandates.
The OSCE has said that its field operations will, this impasse notwithstanding, remain open and continue administrative and non-mandate-related work pending agreement on this issue.
Meanwhile, Moscow-based news website ferghana.ru has cited its own sources as saying the existing situation has had a negative impact of moods within the staff and fostered much disillusionment about the organization’s inability to fulfill its stated missions.
“There is growing disappointment over the nature and purpose of the OSCE, which is supposed to prevent conflicts and yet is powerless when it comes to pursuing consensus, even in such basic matters as the extension of mandates,” the source told the website.
If the hidden camera investigation of an amateur sleuth is anything to go by, there is a sex palace buried in the bowels of Kyrgyzstan’s national Sports Palace, the venue of many a prestigious tournament.
On January 9, news website Zanoza.kg posted videos and photos it said it received from an anonymous source who took an unsavory tour of the bathing section of the state-owned facility.
Among other things, the photos and footage clearly show a used condom on the ground within flinging distance of a grubby-looking bed. A warm sauna adjacent to this “resting room” is in a terrible-looking state and seems to have long ago ceased to be the main attraction. The video also features a conversation with a female attendant who says that while the Sports Palace does not provide prostitutes for clients, it doesn’t stop them from dropping by.
“Most of our clients are sportsmen, who do not use the services of prostitutes,” she clarified sniffily.
Reactions to the article were understandably couched in outrage.
One reader, posting under the name Ashki Bala, said: “Well just take a look at what our ‘controllers’ have done! We cannot let this slide. Let's keep on this and bring the matter to a close. They ruined our only Olympic swimming pool, sell [things] off and do whatever they want. It is a shame on our sport and this wonderful palace.”
Kazakhstan has adopted a law requiring citizens traveling within the country to register with local authorities if they remain in one locality for more than one month. Anybody found in violation of the law will first receive a written warning and then, if found to be committing the same offense within a year, a fine of around 30,000 tenge ($90).
Landlords renting out property to people without temporary registration will also face prosecution and fines of around 22,500 tenge, Nur.kz reported, citing the Interior Ministry press department.
The law enters into force on January 7 and is intended, according to its backers, to combat terrorism by keeping closer tabs of people’s movements.
Police have fended off criticism, saying the law brings Kazakhstan in line with accepted international practice.
The deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s migration department, Galina Sarsenova, has said the system would, in addition to providing another tool against terrorism, allow for an enhanced ability to monitor internal migration processes. That way, the authorities will be able to better understand where to concentrate efforts on developing labor markets, school, hospitals and other core utilities, Sarsenova said.
Kazakhstan already has a system of permanent registration — the propiska inherited from Soviet rulers and, before that, Tsarist Russia — but this incoming arrangement will be applied for relatively short-term stays.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has set a precedent alarming to freedom of speech advocates by ruling against a political activist in a defamation suit for a post he wrote on Facebook.
Bishkek’s Oktyabrsky district court on January 5 ruled that Mavlyan Askarbekov should publish an apology on his Facebook page to member of parliament Dastan Bekeshev and leave it online for the duration of one month.
The start of this episode dates back to July, when Askarbekov penned an attack against the visually impaired MP for what he said was his undue interference in the activities of the Kyrgyz Association for Blind and Deaf People.
“When I spoke [at an association meeting], Bekeshev started insulting me and had me kicked out. He did not respond to my questions about the legitimacy of his actions and did not let me say a word,” Askarbekov wrote in his original post.
Askarbekov is a well-known figure in youth nationalist circles and first came to prominence in the wake of the April 2010 uprising.
In August, Bekeshev filed a defamation suit against Askarbekov, saying the activist needed to be “reined in” over his false accusations.
Opposition activist Adil Turdukulov called the court’s ruling unlawful.
“This [lawsuit] is a continuation of a systemic policy of suppression of freedom of speech. It is no accident that it was Bekeshev who the filed lawsuit, when it was he that previously proposed bringing in additional controls over online media and social networks,” Turdukulov said.
The exodus of Tajikistan’s best minds has reached record levels, according to figures coming out of Russia.
In 2016, 14,000 Tajik family units filed residency applications withs Russia’s Interior Ministry under a state resettlement program designed for former citizens of the Soviet Union.
The number of applications marks a notable increase from 13,000 in 2015 and 10,000 in 2014.
Of those, in 2015, 1,200 families received residence permits, and that figure rose to 1,850 in 2016.
The Russian Interior Ministry’s representative for migration affairs in Tajikistan, Vladislav Makarevich, noted that preference is given to highly qualified applicants.
“First of all education and work experience are considered. Almost everybody who takes part in the program has higher or at least basic education. We are talking about medics, teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs,” Makarevich told Asia-Plus website.
Among all former Soviet nations, Tajikistan generates the greatest number of applications to relocate to Russia.
Russia’s gain naturally translates into Tajikistan’s loss, which continues in a climate of enduring economic stagnation to struggle in holding onto its qualified workforce.
Once families decided to relocate, the move is typically permanent.
The number of Tajik citizens that has received Russian citizenship in the past two deacdes is by some estimates placed at anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000. Arriving at an exact number is complicated by the fact that some people move to Russia for work and only apply for citizenship for several years after residing there.
Part of an apartment building collapsed in a central Kazakhstan town overnight on January 1, killing at least nine people, including three children.
Authorities have said preliminary investigations suggest the accident may have been caused by the explosion of a heating boiler. These kind of heating units are crucial to survival in towns like Shakhan, in the Karaganda region, where temperatures in winter can drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius.
Officials say that part of the apartment blocked destroyed in the collapse was home to 25 people.
Homes in Shakhan, a town of around 8,000 people, were at some stage provided with heating from a central boiler, but that has broken down and not been replaced by the government. Committees managing apartment buildings are in such situations compelled to install basements with autonomous heating systems, which are fueled with coal, wood or paper and can pose significant risks to residents, as in this case.
The deputy Karaganda regional governor Andrei Lyapunov told media that he had appealed to the National Economy Ministry for funds to resolve the heating problem in Shakhan, but that progress was hindered by money shortages.
“A project blueprint was developed. It was examined by state experts. The budget was about 2.8 billion tenge in 2014 [NB. $15 million at mid-2014 rates and $8.3 million now],” Lyapunov said.
But that money was not enough to finance a project to provide heating to around 100 apartment blocks, he said.
“This cannot be done quickly. Especially as the the town has a very distended heating grid and homes are very distant from one another. This is why building a [central] boiler takes a certain amount of time,” Lyapunov said.
The former head of Kazakhstan’s security services, a long-time associate of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been detained on suspicion of leaking state secrets and abuse of office.
Nartay Dutbayev presided over the National Security Committee, or KNB, from December 2001 to February 2006 — a period that saw the murder of two prominent opposition figures that government critics have routinely lain at the feet of the security services.
Dutbayev is a hardy survivor on Kazakhstan’s political scene, so his arrest is nothing short of startling. He and at least two other individuals, named as a Nurlan Hasen and Yerlan Nurtayev, were detained and placed in a KNB holding cells on December 26. News of the detentions was announced two days later.
Nothing is known about the details of the offenses that Dutbayev is suspected of having committed, so journalists and commentators have indulged in a frenzy of speculation.
Political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev told Sputnik Kazakhstan that the clearance for going after Dutbayev could only have been granted at the highest levels.
“The issue was most likely agreed upon in the higher echelons — at the very least, in the presidential administration,” Ashimbayev said.
Kazakhstan’s security services say they have rounded up 33 members of a religious extremist organization called Takfir Wa Al-Hijra following a sweep started earlier this month.
Operations were reportedly carried out in the Almaty, Aktobe and Atyrau regions and in the city of Almaty.
The National Security Committee, or KNB in its Russian initials, have said all the detainees are citizens of Kazakhstan — from southern and western regions of the country specifically. Religious literature and CDs, as well as large but unspecified sums of money, were found during searches.
The group is suspected of propagating extremist ideology and inciting the creation of a theocratic government in Kazakhstan. The activities of this cell was reputedly coordinated from abroad, although it is not stated from which country in particular.
While there is no evidence any of those detained were intent of traveling to the Middle East to link up with Islamist militants there, security services say they were sympathetic to the cause of groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. The KNB said most of the suspect are cooperating with investigators.
Seven leading figures in the group identified as Takfir Wa Al-Hijra are being held in custody and another has been granted release on their own recognizance. Seventeen people described as rank-and-file members of the group have been qualified as just witnesses.
The chief editor of a leading news website in Kazakhstan has announced that he has left the country out of concern that he may be targeted for prosecution.
Bekzhan Idrisov, who edits Radiotochka.kz, made the announcement on his Facebook page on December 26. The publisher of his website and editor of Central Asia Monitor newspaper, Bigeldy Gabdullin, was detained by the authorities in mid-November on suspicion of committing fraud.
Stories of reporters feeling compelled to flee Kazakhstan are a stark reminder of the problems face by independent media in the country as they negotiate financial constraints and pressure from the government to refrain from critical coverage.
“I have left Kazakhstan. Forever is my hope… I want to explain this to my colleagues at Radiotochka.kz. I know that I have vanished suddenly and at an inconvenient time for you. But you know there is no convenient time for such things. Either I end up in jail next to Gabdullin or I give evidence against him,” Idrisov wrote.
Idrisov suggested that a feature on his website — Who Owns KZ — has caused particular umbrage in Astana. The section draws on open sources to document the tax payments and property ownership of government officials, businessmen and other public figures.
Idrisov has declined to reveal his current location over security concerns and said that his sources have informed him he has been placed on a wanted list.
With the New Year holidays approaching, Russia and Tajikistan have decided to engage in a fresh round of battle of flight bans.
The dispute is sowing deep uncertainty among passengers and affecting those most vulnerable, the Tajik migrant laborers upon whom Tajikistan’s economy strongly depends.
The first to be hit by the new bans were the passengers expecting to fly on December 23 on Somoni Air from the Russian city of Orenburg after aviation authorities in Russia stopped the company from operating in its skies. Somoni Air is now barred from flying at another four Russian cities.
The history of the dispute dates back to early November. Dushanbe fired the first salvo by refusing to give clearance to flights arriving from the Moscow region airport of Zhukovo, to which Russia reacted by threatening a complete halt to all flights to Tajikistan.
A Tajik delegation travel to Moscow on November 7 and managed after some panicked negotiations to reach a workable compromise and avert the embargo.
Trouble resumed on December 21, when Russia again threatened to close its airspace to Tajik airlines if Dushanbe would not agree to admit flights from Yamal Airlines, a company based in the northern Siberian town of Salekhard. More than 100 tickets had been sold for this route.
But Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry said that during the November negotiations, Tajikistan agreed only to flights for Ural Airlines and Tajik Air, and that there was no mention of Yamal Airlines.
The Transportation Ministry noted that Yamal had no right to sell tickets without receiving a permit from the the government.