In Kyrgyzstan, calculated outrage over sexual-health education is a political pastime: In the late 1990's, a reactionary group organized a public burning of books printed by the government for youth on healthy lifestyles, claiming the section on sexual education was immoral. Now rhetoric is heating up over a series of sex-ed pamphlets printed by the Alliance for Reproductive Health (ARZ), funded by the German development agency, GIZ, and the UN.
In this Q&A, Gulnara Ibraeva, a prominent sociologist and expert on gender and sexuality, formerly of the American University in Central Asia, explains to EurasiaNet.org what Kyrgyzstan’s growing “generation of blank minds” means for the country. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
EurasiaNet.org: The Alliance for Reproductive Health brochures have suddenly caused a stir. Why? And are they necessary?
Gulnara Ibraeva: In the school curriculum this kind of practical education is absent. More than one generation of sexually illiterate people, people who don't understand basic aspects of sex, have been raised. There are many examples of how the absence of this sort of education negatively impacts schoolchildren. People know nothing about their bodies. They don't even understand how they function! They have medieval perceptions about the body, even now in schools – a totally medieval understanding of real adult sexual life.
EN: Is this why there are perceptions about sexual education being shameful? Or somehow antagonistic to the idea of a Kyrgyz identity or Kyrgyzchylyk [sometimes loosely defined as “Kyrgyzness”]?
A group of more than 20 people, some shouting nationalist slogans, are reported to have attacked a Tajik train crossing Russia.
The attack took place at midnight on October 26, Asia-Plus news agency reported on October 29, quoting a Tajik diplomat in Moscow.
Around 20 young men of Slavic appearance attacked the train at the Ternovka railway station in southern Russia, the report quoted Mohammad Egamzod, a spokesman for the Tajik embassy in Moscow, as saying. He said the assault was “accompanied by offensive words and racist threats against the passengers,” several of whom had been “slightly injured” while train windows had also been broken. Egamzod added that Russian transport police and railway staff “did not take any measures to prevent the attack.”
The Tajik embassy in Moscow has asked Russia “to impartially investigate the xenophobic attack that occurred with the connivance of local law enforcement authorities and representatives of the Yugo-Vostochnaya Railway and to cover all expenses related to the attack,” the Asia-Plus report added.
Yet Tajik Railways disputed this version of events, saying that the incident amounted to no more than a few children throwing stones at the train, breaking six windows. “I would like to note that this happens everywhere, and even in our country children throw stones at trains,” Mamadyusuf Abdurakhmonov, the head of the Tajik Railways passenger service, told the Tajik Telegraph Agency (TajikTA) on October 29.
Turkey may be involved in a peace process with its Kurds, but there's no denying things have gotten bogged down. Last month, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) announced it was halting the withdrawal of its fighters from Turkey because Ankara has failed to reciprocate with positive steps of its own. Meanwhile, a new "democratization" package of reforms unveiled last week by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was widely panned as not offering enough in terms of Kurdish reforms, stopping short of making some crucial changes -- such as lowering the 10 percent national election threshold or introducing Kurdish-language education in public schools -- that Kurds have long asked for.
In a new report, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group suggests the reason the Turkish government's Kurdish reform effort might be stalling is the fear of a nationalist backlash and its impact on the ruling Justice and Development Party's domestic fortunes. The report, though, argues those fears may be overblown. From its executive summary:
A legal amendment that would restrict the rights of Kyrgyzstan’s minorities sailed through parliament last week with a vote of 84 to 12. Legislators must endorse the amendment to the law “On the State Language” in two more readings before it can come into force.
The draft amendment proposes to fine government officials (clerks and above) for speaking anything other than Kyrgyz in the process of performing their official duties. Moreover, all official documents, including tax returns, would need to be submitted to authorities in Kyrgyz and only Kyrgyz, Kloop.kg explains. Currently the law allows documents to be submitted either in Kyrgyz, the “state language,” or Russian, Kyrgyzstan’s “official language.”
Under the amendment, government bodies would no longer be required to provide Russian translation at official functions, parliament would no longer consider draft laws in anything but Kyrgyz, and civil servants would need to pass a rigorous Kyrgyz language test.
The amendment would thus bar from public service and civic life anyone who does not speak fluent Kyrgyz – that is, minorities and some of the best-educated Kyrgyz, who often speak Russian as a first language. According to the 2009 census, Kyrgyzstan is approximately 71 percent ethnic Kyrgyz; Russians and Uzbeks constitute another 22.3 percent of the population.
Russian’s status as Kyrgyzstan’s “official language” would become virtually meaningless, while the amendment could further isolate Kyrgyzstan internationally.
Three brothers of a journalist murdered in 2007 have been attacked outside their Bishkek home, Fergananews reports. One of the suspected assailants is the nephew of a prominent member of Kyrgyzstan's parliament.
Journalist Shokhrukh Saipov and students Ozodbek and Yusuf Saipov are younger brothers of Alisher Saipov, a well-known ethnic Uzbek journalist and editor who was gunned down outside the offices of his paper, "Siyosat" (Politics), in Osh on October 24, 2007.
Saipov’s murder has never been solved, and many regional experts believe Uzbekistan's secret services played a role. Saipov, who was 26 at the time of his death, was often critical of the regime of Islam Karimov in Tashkent.
Journalists and rights activists across the region are outraged at the attack on his brothers. Shokhrukh was inspired to become a journalist when Kyrgyz authorities failed to investigate his brother’s murder. He was also attacked in Osh in August 2011.
Aziza Abdurasulova, head of Kylym Shamy, a human rights watchdog in Bishkek, said Shokhrukh and Yusuf required medical care. Shokhrukh was beaten so badly he was unable to speak. They intend to press charges, she said.
Bishkek police have arrested Azamat Tekebayev, nephew of the head of the Ata-Meken party, MP Omurbek Tekebayev, as a suspect. It’s unclear what the motive was. Azamat and an accomplice, who has also been detained, say both sides started the fight.
Police in Bishkek clashed with protestors calling for the nationalization of a strategic gold mine on October 3. Dozens of men climbed over the fence surrounding the parliament building, known as the White House, before police drove them away with tear gas and stun grenades.
Two deputies from the nationalist Ata-Jurt (“Fatherland”) party led the protests, which local media reports say were attended by over 1,000 people. Photos show Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashiev -- who said he suffered a leg injury -- leading the assault. A deputy interior minister said Tashiev led the protestors over the fence.
Another member of Ata-Jurt, Sadyr Japarov, reportedly told protestors to follow him to the White House, where they would “sit in the offices of the deputies, the president, the prime minister,” the Knews.kg news agency quoted him as saying. Ata-Jurt has the most seats in parliament, but is not a member of the ruling coalition.
At least 12 people were injured, Kloop.kg reported, several with gunshot wounds. It is not clear who fired at whom or if some of the rioters were armed. Police were among the injured.
Authorities in Bishkek have blocked the independent Russian-language news site Fergananews.com, eight months after a controversial parliament resolution saying the site should not be accessible to readers in Kyrgyzstan. It is unclear why the decision took so long to implement.
Kyrgyzstan’s legislature voted unanimously to block the Moscow-based website for perceived bias last June, around the one-year anniversary of interethnic bloodshed between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the country’s south. The decision came at a time when many ethnic Kyrgyz felt unfairly demonized by the international community, while politicians parlayed the sentiment into nationalist chest thumping. According to the parliamentary resolution, Fergananews (previously Ferghana.ru), which covered the 2010 ethnic violence and its aftermath in exhaustive and critical detail, “ignites ethnic hatred.”
Press-freedom activists have condemned the move, with Reporters Without Borders calling it “absurd and outrageous.”
“Blocking a news website that is as professional and impartial as Fergana’s is a major step backwards for a country that aspires to be ‘Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy,’” the Paris-based watchdog said in a statement on February 21.
According to Fergananews, Kyrgyz Telecom, Kyrgyzstan’s largest Internet service provider, blocked the site after a request from the State Agency for Communications earlier this month. Other ISPs have not yet followed, so the site is still available for some users.
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.
It's a bird … It's a plane … It's Kyrgyz Superboy!
A man in Kyrgyzstan has developed what might be the country’s proudest toy.
The die-cast plastic boy -- wearing a national hat, the kalpak, vest and riding boots -- sings Kyrgyzstan’s national anthem as well as three patriotic Kyrgyz songs. His kneeling sidekick, sold separately, recites verses from the Koran, AKIpress reported. (With video, too).
Akyikat – named after designer Irisbek Zhabirov’s son – could be an inspiring figure for Kyrgyz children. But what will he inspire? Nationalism or something more benign? A rabid anti-foreigner sentiment is flourishing in Kyrgyzstan, particularly since ethnic violence last year left hundreds dead. What kind of values, then, shall we hope for from Akyikat?
The little guy also faces a congenital struggle: He’s made in China – the target of much Kyrgyz xenophobia.
But parents, don’t worry. The $6 price tag includes a guarantee from the manufacturer: All its Chinese-made toys are non-toxic and harmless to your children. So hurry, there are only 10,000 copies of each available.
Furthering an ideological shift from national liberation to nationalism, authorities in Bishkek have removed a prominent statue called “Freedom” and will soon replace it with a statue of the mythical hero Manas. Manas, of the eponymous Kyrgyz-language epic poem, has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years as Kyrgyzstan struggles to define an identity.
That task has taken on renewed urgency since ethnic pogroms against minorities --- who make up 30 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population -- last year. But in this multiethnic state, Manas – unlike Freedom – is unmistakably Kyrgyz.
Freedom, in place since 2004 in Bishkek’s main square, the scene of uprisings in 2005 and 2010, had been represented by a winged woman hoisting a tunduk – the crisscrossed top of a yurt, a symbol of Kyrgyz national identity. Some Kyrgyz have been upset with the 12-meter statue in recent months, claiming a woman should not be lifting a tunduk, for that is a man’s job.
Previously, a monument to Soviet founding father Vladimir Lenin had stood on her plinth; he has now been relegated to a spot behind the history museum, facing the building where the government sits.