The road to the Kumtor mine, which sits at 4,000 meters in the Tien Shan mountains.
For the last three days, several hundred protestors have again blocked the road to Kyrgyzstan’s largest and most lucrative enterprise: the Kumtor gold mine. Late on May 30, demonstrators seized an electricity substation and cut the power supply to the mine, the company announced on Twitter.
The protestors – mostly angry young men, judging from photos – have demanded environmental safeguards and more investment into local infrastructure. Specifically, they want hospitals, schools and gymnasia. Some also wish to tear up the government’s 2009 operating agreement with the company operating the mine.
“It’s like first slaughtering a cow and then asking her for milk,” one Bishkek analyst said of the demands.
Kumtor – which produces about half of Kyrgyzstan’s exports and, in a good year, 12 percent of GDP – is a frequent target. Environmental concerns have plagued the operation since it began in the mid-1990s, heightened by a sodium cyanide spill into a river in 1998. But few believe environmental concerns alone are behind the regular unrest.
In a country with widespread unemployment and few opportunities, young men like those blocking the road this week are easily whipped into a fury. Many observers believe they are paid. And the timing of this particular roadblock, which began on May 28, is curious.
Kyrgyzstan is moving decisively to join a Moscow-led trade body, but the process will take time as Bishkek seeks preferences that would protect its garment industry and legions of migrant laborers, says a top Kyrgyz official.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant Russian nationalist, is no longer welcome in Kyrgyzstan.
Parliament voted May 15 to ask the Foreign Ministry to declare the Russian State Duma vice speaker persona non grata. Though some deputies warned the measure could damage relations with Moscow, 67 of 120 voted for the ban.
Zhirinovsky, who heads Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, angered many in Bishkek last month by suggesting Kyrgyzstan give up one of its most prized assets – picturesque Lake Issyk-Kul – in exchange for a debt write-off.
He often makes disparaging remarks about Central Asian migrants in Russia and has pushed to tighten visa requirements. But his venom is not just directed at Kyrgyzstan.
A few weeks back, Zhirinovsky suggested that Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon – who is engaged in a protracted dispute over the lease for a Russian division based in Tajikistan – could end up facing a brutal and public death at the hands of the Taliban were it not for Russian aid.
As officials in Kyrgyzstan prepare to negotiate with their country’s largest investor in Bishkek this week, new details are emerging about how the Kyrgyz government wants to restructure the agreement covering operations at the country’s flagship gold mine.
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.