Call this wishful thinking, but could a change in the approach to ethnic tensions be underway at Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, the GKNB? This week its new boss suggested that his agency may no longer conflate ethnic tensions with Islamic extremism – a welcome development and a stark change from the rhetoric under his predecessor.
Shamil Atakhanov told parliament’s defense and security committee on January 16 that his GKNB was watching 29 especially sensitive ethnic flashpoints, the 24.kg news agency reported, and creating contingency measures to calm local populations in the event of violence. At the same hearing, Deputy Interior Minister Baktybek Alymbekov listed 147 potential flashpoints. There was no mention of Islamic extremists.
Atakhanov, who was appointed by newly elected President Almazbek Atambayev in December, also censured Batken Governor Arzybek Burkanov and his subordinates for failing to respond to a December 29 fight between local Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the far distant Lyalyak District, where Kyrgyz residents complain that Tajik nationals are illegally settling on Kyrgyz land, a process they call “creeping migration.”
Batken, Kyrgyzstan’s most remote province, shares porous borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In some places the frontier is not defined, leading to frequent disputes over land and water resources that many observers worry could explode into the kind of ethnic violence Osh has seen twice in the last generation, or worse.
Move over Eurovision: A 22-year-old from Kyrgyzstan has won Turkish state television’s first-ever “Eurasia Star” pop music competition, held in Istanbul, returning home with $30,000.
After two weeks and six rounds of performances, a unanimous panel of judges, and fans voting by text message, chose Guljigit Kalykov the winner on January 14. Thanks to his victory, the next Eurasia Star contest will be held in Kyrgyzstan.
Singer Gulnur Satylganova, who holds the state-conferred distinction of Popular Performer of the Kyrgyz Republic, said "the victory by our compatriot, particularly in the first year of such a project's creation, raises the level of Kyrgyzstan's live musical performance and art in the eyes of the international musical community as a country that can give birth to and nurture stars on an international scale."
Uzbekistan abstained from the contest, which included most other Turkic-speaking lands, specifically: Azerbaijan (whose capital, Baku, will host Eurovision later this year), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Northern Cyprus, Turkey and Turkmenistan.
Two skinny teenagers in oversized sweatshirts bound onto the stage, each wearing New York Yankees caps, nodding their heads in time as they call to the crowd: “Put your hands in the air! We want to hear maximum noise!”
Why is the Obama administration sanctioning one post-Soviet dictator with an atrocious human rights record and not another?
Barack Obama has signed a new bill banning some top Belarusian officials from visiting the United States -- and requiring Washington to monitor restrictions on press freedom and human rights abuses in Belarus -- because President Alexandr Lukashenko wantonly jails political opponents and journalists.
Those are hallmarks of Uzbekistan strongman Islam Karimov’s regime, where journalists are regularly imprisoned and critics tortured. Says the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ): “He personally oversaw the May 2005 massacre in the city of Andijan, and his regime virtually annihilated the independent press after it spread the word about those brutalities.” But instead of censure, Karimov “has received stunningly cordial treatment from the Obama administration,” including, in the past few months, a friendly phone call from the president and a visit from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. From CPJ:
There are scores of examples to position the Uzbek leader as far more brutal and dictatorial than Lukashenko's regime. The human rights abuses include forced child labor; arbitrary detentions and torture of detainees; harassment of lawyers and imprisonment of rights defenders; absolute state control over the media and Internet; and eviction of the last international monitor--Human Rights Watch--from its offices in Tashkent. All of these and other issues are listed in the U.S. State Department's own 2010 Human Rights report for Uzbekistan, which brands the country as "an authoritarian state."
Almost nine percent of Tupolev-134s ever manufactured have crashed.
Frequent flyers in Kyrgyzstan know the feeling: An aging Soviet-built plane starts to careen over the high Tien Shan mountains; perhaps familiar with the horrifying statistics, men and women scream, a few vomit, and the drunk in the next seat grabs your knee as if it’s an emergency eject button.
After the longest 15 seconds ever, the pilot pulls back onto course and, when he lands, you remember to breathe. But every once in a while these poorly maintained aircraft just don’t make it, and parliament again declares itself outraged.
On December 28, 31 people were injured when a Tupolev-134 operated by Kyrgyzstan Airlines flipped and caught fire while landing in bad weather in Osh. The plane was carrying 82.
Of course, such an accident was only a matter of time. Even to a casual observer, Kyrgyzstan’s red-and-blue striped, Soviet-built Tu-134 seemed long past any safe operational life. There was the goo dripping from the ceiling, the permanently fogged windows, and the burn marks on the underside of the wing. But the airplane graveyard at the end of Bishkek’s runway has long ago been cannibalized of any useful spare parts.
And then there is the Tu-134’s safety record – after one crashed near Petrozavodsk, Russia, last summer, Russian state media reported that (as of June) 8.5 percent of all Tu-134s ever manufactured had crashed.
Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court has “utterly failed” and given into unfettered ethnic hatred in a case that was “blatantly fabricated,” say international observers, after it upheld a life sentence on bogus charges against an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender.
Azimjan Askarov was found guilty in September 2010 of inciting ethnic violence and complicity in murdering a police officer in his native town of Bazar-Kurgan during the ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that June. Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Western governments called the charges against Askarov—a prominent human rights defender and journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan—politically motivated and decried the trial as staged, biased and unfair. During the December 20 appeal hearing, the Supreme Court also upheld sentences against seven other Uzbeks (including five life sentences). Uzbeks, Kyrgyzstan’s largest ethnic minority, have faced widely documented intimidation and abuse by authorities since the ethnic bloodletting.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in a December 16 statement urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Askarov conviction, said that maintaining the verdict would be a “major miscarriage of justice.”
Remember that bridge that was mysteriously incapacitated in southern Uzbekistan a month ago? That’s right, the one many suspect the Uzbeks purposely disabled to prevent train traffic from reaching Tajikistan, but was perfectly placed to ensure that Uzbekistan’s lucrative business of supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan could continue unimpeded (and without competition).
Uzbekistan’s blockade poses the risk of a humanitarian crisis in southern Tajikistan, says the head of the United Nations World Food Program mission there, Alzira Ferreira. In addition to hindering run-of-the-mill shipments, the obstruction is even preventing international food aid from reaching the country’s most needy, she told RFE/RL:
Ferreira said there are 23 trains with food stocks organized by the WFP waiting to make the last part of their journey into Tajikistan.
The WFP regularly provides aid to some 500,000 people and 2,000 schools located mainly in Tajikistan's southern Khatlon region.
Ferreira said food prices in Tajikistan are rising due to the shortages caused by the blockade of rail traffic and an increasing number of Tajiks are unable to afford basic goods.
In a well-honed quid pro quo, the compliments came pouring into the Kremlin on December 5 and 6: As protestors in Moscow denounced evidently rigged parliamentary elections, Russia’s friends in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a group of former Soviet republics, sent congratulatory messages to the country’s ruling tandem -- Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.
Tired of seeing their countrymen return from Russia in body bags, sometimes ferociously disfigured, a concerned group in Tajikistan is taking their outrage online, petitioning presidents and parliaments in both countries to take action.
Hundreds of Tajik migrant laborers in Russia die each year, falling victim to dangerous working conditions and, some fear, bloodthirsty Russian nationalists. According to Tajikistan’s migration service, between January and August this year, over 600 Tajik nationals died in Russia: Of those, 67 were murdered and another 238 succumbed to disease; the rest were presumably accidents. Rights activists estimate that over a million Tajiks work in Russia.
Every few months, it seems, another brutal case prompts renewed attention, offering some macabre déjà vu.
Bakhtiyar Rasulov’s headless body was found in his burned-out taxicab near St. Petersburg on November 16. He had been stabbed repeatedly and his head stuffed into the trunk.
One strongman president, however, remained unsurprisingly silent. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov has always pooh-poohed the suggestion of any such union, practically since neighboring Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev floated the idea in 1994.
Now Karimov, however obliquely, has responded to Putin. Uzbekistan, he has made it clear, is going it alone. And it’s no surprise: The country’s ruling elite depends heavily on a tightly controlled economy, which allow them to profit from natural resources like cotton and gas.
Speaking on state television December 7 to mark Constitution Day, Karimov – who maintains chilly relations with all his neighbors – said he saw no need for “integration processes.” Groups that promote them are designed to take away Uzbekistan’s hard-earned sovereignty and put the country in Moscow’s yoke, he implied. Ironically, given his chilling human rights record, he deplored the Soviet Union’s past repressions.
From his speech (translated and published by BBC Monitoring):