This summer, Vitaly Korolkov, 38, was homeless, HIV-positive, and a recovering heroin addict. He began methadone treatment the last time he got out of prison, three years ago, because, as he put it, “I just want to live, don’t know how much time I have left.”
She’s tantalized us all summer. First, there was the new album with the soon-to-be hit single, “Round Run.” Then there was the trailer for the music video.
Now -- undeterred by a few scandals about Billboard not actually declaring Googoosha a hit -- we have the real thing: Move over VH1, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman, Islam Karimov, is on YouTube.
Rolling around Bukhara in a classic Chaika limousine, Gulnara Karimova is waiting for her black-clad ninja man as he runs “round and round,” scaling walls, jumping and skipping across the fabled UNESCO world heritage site to an exclusive rendezvous with the princess of pop (and the country). It’s the Matrix meets James Bond playing capture the flag.
Googoosha sure knows how to build up the suspense. While you may not often see a low-cut dress in an Islamic holy place, Googoosha owns it, baby.
As for the music? Googoosha calls her song a “dance floor pumper” from an “exotic potpourri of sounds and a personal testimony to the power of deeply felt emotions.” While some might feel the 90s-style synthpop better relegated to a sticky Tashkent nightclub, we’ll let viewers decide.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 20 visit to Kyrgyzstan ended with half a dozen bilateral agreements and some anachronistic-sounding rhetoric about Moscow’s benevolent role in Central Asia. On the face of it, Russia won an extension of military basing rights for another generation, while Kyrgyzstan got millions of dollars in debt forgiveness and promises of investment in the construction of two major hydropower projects. But all the deals have yet to be finalized and some won’t kick in for years, with multiple strings attached.
The visit was Putin’s first to Kyrgyzstan since an April 2010 uprising toppled the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had angered the Kremlin by effectively misappropriating a $300 million Russian loan and backtracking on some of his promises. Moscow has been slow to warm to the post-Bakiyev leadership, expressing frustration earlier this year, for example, with Bishkek’s constant attempts to get aid while maintaining a so-called multi-vector foreign policy.
Publicly, Putin’s host, President Almazbek Atambayev, did everything he could to assure the Russian president that Kyrgyzstan is a firm friend. At a cheerful midday press conference, Atambayev suggested the two had stayed up together until 5 a.m. – Putin had arrived in Bishkek late September 19 – and expressed wishes for everlasting friendship. "Russia is our main strategic partner. With Russia, we share a common history and a common destiny. […] Our future will be in partnership with the great Russia,” Atambayev said in comments broadcast by local media.
Tomorrow, President Imomali Rakhmon will begin his long-promised visit to the restive mountainous east, scene of fighting in July that killed dozens of government troops, rebels, and an unknown number of civilians. During the visit, Khorog residents hope the president will see their suffering and offer solutions. But what’s on the president’s agenda, and the way local officials are preparing for his high-level visit to Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO), has some deeply worried.
Addressing the president in an unusually frank open letter sent September 15, the “ordinary people” of Khorog (actual authorship is unclear) say they “believe that not all information about the situation in Khorog reaches you” and complain that local officials are forcing them to celebrate the visit with Potemkin pomp, rather than address the recent tragedy.
Published by Asia-Plus and posted by Facebook users, the letter – entitled “A grieving populace is being forced to have fun” – accuses local officials of obligating them to put smiles on their faces and banning discussions of the violence; teachers and doctors, according to the authors, have been told they could lose their jobs if they don’t cooperate.
Earlier in September, the Peace Corps announced it would withdraw from Turkmenistan. Few were surprised at the news, which follows the sudden suspensions of programs in Uzbekistan in 2005 (following US criticism of the Andijan massacre) and in Kazakhstan last year.
In our original coverage of the Turkmenistan announcement, we said the Peace Corps had been “kicked out” of Kazakhstan.
A State Department spokesperson disputed our characterization, calling on EurasiaNet.org to substantiate the claim. Technically, the State Department representative is right – we can’t produce conclusive evidence the program was “kicked out” of Kazakhstan. But the known circumstances surrounding the abrupt cessation of Peace Corps’ activities in Kazakhstan in November 2011 raise plenty of questions that officials don’t seem eager to answer.
When we queried the State Department representative for additional details about the Kazakhstan closure, she mentioned “operational considerations” and suggested we talk to a Peace Corps official. We duly tried, specifically asking the Peace Corps to shed light on those “operational considerations.” A representative in Washington referred us back to the vague, original press release, and declined to answer questions.
One problem for anyone seeking to foster regional integration in Central Asia (“New Silk Road” or otherwise) is the frequent border disputes between the countries involved. Uzbekistan, which abuts all the other Central Asia states, has been particularly uncooperative, often closing its border posts without notice, hampering trade and hurting economies around the region.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), a multilateral lender, has announced it will grant $100 million to help people and goods cross one of those tricky borders. Much of the money will be used to repave a 113-kilometer stretch of road in Tajikistan connecting a major highway with an isolated valley leading to the border with Uzbekistan.
“Improvements to this road will increase regional connectivity, reduce transport costs, and strengthen competitiveness,” said Zheng Wu, a transport specialist at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department, in a September 13 press release. Part of the money will also be spent on upgrading infrastructure at the Sarazm border post on the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan frontier.
But that post has been closed for almost two years. Uzbekistan sealed it in late 2010, cutting Panjakent – a Tajik town in the valley, home to some 33,000 people – off from the Uzbek city of Samarkand, only 60 kilometers away.
The new road project, expected to begin later this year, will certainly help connect the isolated Zarafshan Valley with the rest of Tajikistan, and thereby with a new source for the goods and supplies local residents used to buy in Uzbekistan. At present, in winter Zarafshan’s access to the “mainland” is often restricted to irregular flights to Dushanbe.
On a recent morning in Bishkek’s 12th “microdistrict,” a neighborhood of Soviet-era housing blocks a little past their prime, a small beauty salon was overflowing with chiseled young men sporting carefully cultivated stubble and statuesque women in short shorts.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a new prime minister on September 5, and with him a new government.
The new ruling coalition looks much like the old one. Save for the Respublika Party of ex-Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, whose government collapsed last month, three of the four parties that made up the last coalition will stay: the Social Democrats, Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys. Also, few ministers will change, for now.
Those who have said President Almazbek Atambayev was looking for a servile prime minister to replace the independent-minded Babanov will not be surprised to hear it is Atambayev’s own chief of staff who has slid into the position, after a relatively calm coalition-forming process.
Zhantoro Satybaldiyev is also a member of Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party.
A former minister of transport and communications, 56-year-old Satybaldiyev has previously served as Osh city mayor and Osh Province governor. Before Atambayev became president last year, international donors knew Satybaldiyev as the head of the state agency in charge of reconstructing Osh and Jalal-Abad following the ethnic violence in 2010.
Significantly, he’s a southerner, which could help calm tensions between the north (overwhelmingly represented in the post-Bakiyev government) and the south.
Demonstrators in Bishkek, furious that Minsk is ignoring demands to extradite the brother of the former president to face murder charges, roughed up the Belarusian Embassy on August 28, local news agencies reported.
Many in Kyrgyzstan are livid that Janysh Bakiyev popped up in Belarus earlier this month a free man. A Belarusian activist said he posted photos of ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's hated little brother on August 17 because he was tired of seeing his country become “a scrapheap for escaped dictators.”
The Bakiyevs were ousted in bloody street riots in April 2010, when Kurmanbek fled to Belarus. Bishkek has repeatedly requested his extradition, though the ex-autocrat is said to have scored Belarusian citizenship and a $2-million home in the capital.
Upwards of 50 people, including relatives of those who died on April 7, 2010, attacked the embassy, Radio Azattyk reported, breaking windows and destroying furniture. Janysh, his brother's security boss, is accused of giving orders to fire on the crowd as Bakiyev clung to power, resulting in about 90 dead and hundreds wounded. Bishkek is trying the brothers in absentia.
Charter 97, a Belarusian news site critical of President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, reported that Ambassador Viktor Denisenko met protestors and made some vague promises.
Despite the violence, Minsk says it has no plans to recall its ambassador from Kyrgyzstan.