The word “wasteland” comes to mind when driving around Turkmenbashi, the oil and gas hub on Turkmenistan’s Caspian Sea coast. Rusting pipelines crisscrosses barren, sandy expanses; an acrid smell hangs in the moist, sea air. Though the nearby beaches were once a destination for holidaying Turkmen, today the health-conscious visitor might think twice before taking a dip.
After reading a new report, that visitor might not need to think twice. Using satellite imagery, researchers at the non-profit American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. have shown the waters around Turkmenbashi suffer dozens of oil spills annually.
“Sustained and ongoing release of oil into the waters of the Caspian Sea near the city and port of Turkmenbashi represents a legitimate environmental concern,” says the May 6 report by the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project at the AAAS. “Frequent, low-volume spills often spread to cover a wide area and have been occurring semi-continuously for more than a decade.”
In the past, efforts to detect oil spills remotely relied on expensive radar and high-resolution imagery. For this study, AAAS used publicly available NASA satellite imagery in a new way, allowing “for continuous monitoring of environmental phenomena, including oil spills.” Over 11,000 satellite images taken over 12 years corroborated on-the-ground reports of regular spills. “Between 2003 and 2012 … the AAAS team identified between 43 and 64 possible oil slicks every year in Turkmenbashi Bay.”
The United Kingdom has denied entry to a Kazakh artist who does not have hands because he cannot provide fingerprints, he says.
Anti-nuclear activist Karipbek Kuyukov was due to travel to Great Britain last month to attend a conference and show his paintings, he told Tengrinews.
“I was denied a visa on the grounds that my fingerprints were of unsatisfactory quality. I was asked for additional fingerprints, although I physically could not give them any fingerprints. My sister who was supposed to accompany me received a visa because they took her fingerprints. Why do they need fingerprints anyway?” Kuyukov told Tengrinews. Photos he provided the embassy clearly showed he is disabled, he added, noting that he did not have any problems when he successfully applied for an American visa last year.
The British Consulate in Almaty did not respond to requests for comment on May 6 within the time frame promised. Repeated calls to the British Embassy in Astana went unanswered.
Kuyukov, 44, was born near the Soviet Union’s largest nuclear test site, at Semipalatinsk in what is now northeastern Kazakhstan, and attributes his disability -- he was born without hands -- to the radioactive fallout from the tests.
Once again, a clash is being reported on the imprecise Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Ferghana Valley. Like usual, in the days after these regular troubles, a little bit is clear and a lot is not.
What’s clear is that there has been physical violence, property damaged, and hostages taken by opposing residents of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the un-demarcated borderlands. Once again, the conflict was over infrastructure, this time a road. After that, the details get murky, lost in a flurry of accusation and counter-accusation.
Officials on both sides agree the clash occurred on April 27 in the area around the Tajik exclave of Vorukh, which is surrounded entirely by Kyrgyz territory, when Kyrgyz workers were building or repairing a road. It’s unclear if their activities were government-backed or a local private initiative.
The three countries sharing the Ferghana Valley – Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – inherited unclear borders at independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Efforts to define them have been halting, especially in populated areas.
According to a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry spokesman cited by Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency, on April 27 Kyrgyz workers were building a road connecting Aksai – a Kyrgyz village that abuts Vorukh – and a neighboring village. Around 3 p.m. about 100 residents of Tajikistan, unhappy with the roadwork, which they alleged was happening on their territory, beat up some construction workers and broke the windows of bulldozers and excavators. As local residents from both sides gathered and grew hostile (with Tajiks outnumbering Kyrgyz 10 to one, according to Kyrgyz police), Tajik border guards fired warning shots into the air. After that, about 4,000 Kyrgyz and about 7,000 Tajiks faced off and blocked the road.
As Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital recovers from the turmoil of ethnic violence and its aftermath, its ancient market has been a touchstone of Osh’s general wellbeing. Gutted by fire and fear in June 2010, it is now thriving again – though without the vigor and seeming prosperity of the days before “the war.” Both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek venders work at the market, but under the surface tensions remain, as deep-rooted problems like poverty, injustice, and poor governance simmer unaddressed.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Russia’s drug tsar has come up with a pro-active and novel plan for combatting drug trafficking to his country via Central Asia that sees Russia buying up businesses and creating jobs in the region.
Moscow will initially spend about $64 million on the plan, which involves creating a Russian Corporation for Cooperation with Central Asian Countries, Viktor Ivanov told the Kommersant daily on April 26. Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), had finally gotten some government approval for his 2-billion-ruble proposal, which he believes will help reduce the staggering number of drug-related deaths in Russia.
“Every year at least 100,000 young people die [due to drug use] in Russia. Thanks to the program, this figure could in five years be reduced by 25-30 percent. How can this be measured in money?" Kommersant quoted Ivanov as saying. (Other officials have said heroin kills 30,000 Russians each year.)
Central Asia lies on a major narcotics-trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Approximately 30 percent of Afghan opiates transit the region – especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – according to the UN, most of them en route to Russia, fueling crime, corruption, and HIV along the old Silk Road. Ivanov estimated the plan would save Russia an amount equivalent to about 1.3 percent of GDP, which he said is “annually lost due to drug-trafficking,” and provoke a “sharp decline” in crime – 32-33 percent. He gave no details on either prognosis.
Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to attract investors by auctioning off mining licenses, starting with the country’s second-largest gold deposit, have run into problems - both self-inflicted and beyond authorities’ control.
They might be neighbors on the map, but Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan couldn’t be further apart in how they utilize information and communications technology (ICT). A model for the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is charging ahead, according to a new report measuring how ICT affects competitiveness, leaving much-poorer Kyrgyzstan in its digital dust.
ICT is about more than getting online, says the report, published by the World Economic Forum. Today it’s a critical part of any economy, driving growth and job creation.
Information flows and networks have spread across borders in ways that could not be imagined before the onset of the Internet, the global adoption of mobile telephony and social networks, and the rapid growth of broadband. […] It is clear that ICTs offer higher benefit-to-cost ratios in all sectors of production, while simultaneously offering new ways to create value by better and more efficiently organizing the use of natural, financial, and human resources.
In its 12th year, the Global Information Technology Report uses the Networked Readiness Index – computed with 54 indicators – to compare how 144 economies “leverage ICT for growth and well-being.”
This year Kyrgyzstan ranked last among former-Soviet states, at 118, between Suriname and Bolivia. Kazakhstan on the other hand, at 43, beat out all post-Soviet countries, save for the advanced Baltic states, placing between the Czech Republic and Hungary. Russia placed 54th.
The April 10 report praised Astana for its top-down reforms, though it offered poor quantitative assessments of Kazakhstan’s education system, judiciary, and in political reform:
A familiar pattern has emerged in Russia’s relations with Tajikistan: Moscow doesn’t get what it wants, so it starts threatening Tajik migrants.
Several comments from high-level Russian officials over the past two days suggest the Kremlin has run out of patience with Dushanbe’s attempts to re-re-negotiate the lease for a Russian military division in Tajikistan. The deal – which appeared to be done – was announced last October during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Dushanbe. But it has yet to be ratified by Tajikistan’s rubberstamp parliament.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, whose portfolio includes defense, ostentatiously toured a Moscow-bound Tajik train on April 14 and declared it unfit for transporting humans. Rogozin also suggested that Tajiks could be subject to new passport restrictions.
On April 15, the Russian FSB, which manages the country’s borders, proposed suspending Tajik rail service to Russia altogether.
Authorities at Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture want to ban a play that discusses domestic abuse and sexual violence because it “promotes scenes that destroy moral and ethical standards and national traditions of the peoples of Kyrgyzstan.” The effort points to creeping conservatism in the thinking of Kyrgyzstan’s leaders.
A draft resolution that would ban women under the age of 23 from traveling abroad without a letter from a parent has enraged rights activists in Kyrgyzstan. The idea, they say, is sexist and – with the resolution’s lead author claiming she is trying to protect women from sexual abuse abroad – encourages entrenched notions that women who suffer sexual violence are themselves to blame.
IWPR interviewed journalist Aida Kasymalieva who has reported on sexual violence within the Kyrgyz migrant community in Russia for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service. In a disturbing series of reports last year (here and here), Kasymalieva shared the stories of Kyrgyz women like Sapargul – abused and raped by Kyrgyz men who call themselves “patriots” and claim they are protecting Kyrgyz “honor” by attacking Kyrgyz women who see non-Kyrgyz men.
Irgal Kadyralieva, the parliamentarian who drafted the proposal, says she is trying to protect women like Sapargul. Kasymalieva, the journalist, says the deputy has missed the point, blaming the victims and failing to help society see “why you can’t go out and assault or rape someone just because she’s seeing a man from a different ethnic background.”
IWPR: Supporters say that it seeks to protect women, while those who are against it believe it’s a violation of women’s rights. What’s your view?