An official delegation headed by Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prime minister visited Uzbekistan’s Andijan region on October 1 for a visit that observers of the region hope could break a pattern of frosty relations.
News website Gazeta.uz reported that Muhammetkaly Abulgaziev led a delegation of around 130 government officials, “cultural representatives” and youth groups. State officials included representatives from the regions bordering Uzbekistan — Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad — and the mayor of Osh city, Aitmamat Kadyrbayev.
The large group of guests was ceremonially greeted by deputy Uzbek prime minister Adham Ikramov at the Dustlik (“Friendship”) border crossing in Uzbekistan’s Khodjaobad district, which sits adjacent to Osh and has lain unused for many years.
During the one-day tour, the visiting delegation was taken to see a museum devoted to celebrated medieval poet and son of Andijan, Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur, a local university, the premises of a freshly built train station and the General Motors Uzbekistan manufacturing plant.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, reported that the trip concluded with the obligatory sealing of a memorandum of mutual cooperation that was signed by neighboring regions of both countries. A concert then followed.
Uzbek youth movement Kamolot uploaded video footage of an address by the visiting Kyrgyz onto its website entitled “Hello Uzbekistan!” In the video, one woman in her sixties, spoke in Kyrgyz to say that this was the first ever such high-ranking delegation to visit Andijan region.
Uzbekistan’s acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been busily touring the regions and vowing to improve people’s lives as he tries to bolster his legitimacy ahead of December 4 elections.
In concrete terms, Mirziyoyev is pledging to build homes, improve provision of household electricity and gas, and create a more efficient transportation system. Although his victory in the December 4 presidential election is not in any doubt, Mirziyoyev is energetically trying to raise his public profile and have it associated with major, life-enhancing infrastructure.
On October 1, while he was in the Syrdarya region, around 100 kilometers outside Tashkent, the acting leader visited a power station that serves as the largest provider of electricity for central Uzbekistan.
He then traveled to the regional capital, Gulistan, and dropped in on the building site of a multistory residential complex intended for hard-off families. A state television report showed Mirziyoyev stressing that the apartments were being provided to buyers on preferential loan terms and that they should be distributed fairly to those in need.
All the way in the far western edge of Uzbekistan, in the officially autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, Mirziyoyev demanded that works be speeded up to modernize the Takhiatash thermal power station.
“Without completion of this project, the development of industry in Karakalpakstan and Khorezm will not be possible — it is necessary to speed us this project, which is important for the region,” he said.
President Ilham Aliyev tours the ADEX defense expo in Baku on September 27. (photo: ADEX)
Azerbaijan is facing a large decrease in its military budget as state revenues continue to suffer from low oil prices.
According to budget documents released last week, Azerbaijan is budgeting 1.62 billion manat for defense in 2017, down 27.5 percent from the projected spending in 2016. And that doesn't take into account the declining value of the manat, which will make buying equipment from abroad even pricier.
Keeping track of Azerbaijan's defense budget is as much an art as a science, and another complicating factor has been the "special projects and activities" line in the budget, which had funded military procurement from 2011. It disappeared last year, and this year remains out of the budget. Adding to the confusion, most media reporting on the budget appear to have used a figure of 2.9 billion manat for 2017, but that is the combined figure of defense and internal security spending.
The cut in defense spending is nearly three times the overall decrease in spending, about 10 percent.
Azerbaijan's massive arms budget has been a cornerstone of the government's efforts to take back the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, which it lost to Armenian forces during a war as the Soviet Union collapsed, either by force or by forcing Armenians to negotiate.
“It is our priority and we will continue to increase military spending," said Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev in 2014. "Over the past 10 years, our military spending has increased more than 20-fold, and our spending allocated to the armed forces is approximately twice as large as Armenia’s overall state budget."
Kyrgyzstan’s security services detained the wife of a Tajik opposition figure over the weekend, sparking concern that governments in the region are collaborating to silence one another’s political opponents.
The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detained Sobir Valiev’s wife, Janet Khamzaeva, for questioning in Bishkek on October 2 in relation to alleged offenses committed by Valiev.
The GKNB said in a statement on October 3 that Valiev had obtained a Kyrgyz passport illegally. Khamzaeva was released close to midnight on condition she remain in the country, according to Kylym Shamy, a rights group coordinating over her case.
The GKNB stated that there was international arrest warrant pending for Valiev, who currently resides in Poland, in relations to charges of “carrying out criminal acts” in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan has in recent years made ample use of Interpol to pursue its political foes, with the leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Muhiddin Kabiri, the most prominent among recent additions to the international policing body’s Tajikistan list of wanted persons.
Unlike Kabiri, however, Valiev’s name does not appear on Interpol’s website, despite his Group-24 opposition movement being billed a “terrorist group” by Dushanbe after it called on Facebook and Russian social media for Rahmon’s overthrow back in 2014.
According to an RFE/RL report, Khamzaeva was only in Kyrgyzstan briefly to see her sick mother, who resides in Bishkek.
Middle Eastern royalty are not an uncommon sight in Central Asia, which is a favored destination for lovers of falconry.
So there was nothing too unusual on September 28, when Forbes.kz reported that the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had flown into Kazakhstan on a private visit for a hunt with his beloved bustards.
The emir is a regular visitor to Kazakhstan and reportedly favors hunting in the deserts near Lake Balkhash, site of a falconry facility. His latest visit was due to last two weeks, but for an unfortunate incident at Almaty airport.
As journalist Denis Krivosheev revealed on his Facebook account, the emir’s favorite falcon, Ali, died in the customs warehouse from “overexposure.” A day later, yet another falcon perished.
Krivosheev wrote that 12 rare saker falcons had been brought into Almaty for further transportation to the southern city of Taraz. Officials with the prosecutor’s office, however, insisted the birds not be released pending inspection as there have been cases of old falcons being brought into Kazakhstan and switched for younger ones, which would then be exported, depriving the country of healthier specimens. Last year, the inspection routine was performed discreetly and lasted no more than six hours, Krivosheev reported.
“They fed them the first time on Monday [September 26], but the birds already began falling ill,” he wrote. “There were no obvious reasons for holding them, but still the falcons stayed in the same place.”
Each falcon can, by some estimates, cost anything between $100,000 and $150,000, so it may not be surprising that the emir is, according to Krivosheev, mulling writing a formal note of protest.
When Uzbekistan’s acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev addressed a joint session of parliament earlier this month, he made a point of saying that his foreign policy priority was to boost relations with regional neighbors.
"We always remain committed to adopting an open, friendly and pragmatic position toward our immediate neighbors — Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan," Mirziyoyev said.
Since even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaders in Central Asia have been paying lip service to the notion of fostering fraternal ties in the region, but Mirziyoyev has tentatively lived up to his word in small if meaningful ways so far.
In an apparent start at trying to mend fences, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov on September 29 visited Tajikistan, where he met with President Emomali Rahmon.
Discussions were confined to what might sound like meaningless generalities anywhere else. For these two countries, however, talk of positive trends in relations, increased trade, revitalized dialogue on trade and economic cooperation and “the importance of maintaining regular political consultations and dialogue at the highest levels” are more than noteworthy.
Rahmon and Karimov’s relationship was fraught by personal enmity, making reaching state-level agreement on a number of thorny sticking points — of which there are many — all the more difficult.
The biggest source of bilateral unease lies in Dushanbe’s determination to build the giant Roghun hydropower plant, which Tashkent has loudly complained will pose a potentially existential risk to its agricultural sector by stemming the flow of a major river.
A middling functionary at the state insurance company in Tajikistan has got the ball rolling on an initiative that may end up with President Emomali Rahmon’s face on what would become the highest-denomination banknotes in circulation.
Writing in national newspaper Tajikistan, Sharif Karim, head of local branch of Tajiksugurt in the town of Shahrinav, suggested that Rahmon have his image included on the heretofore inexistent 1,000 somoni note. (If that bill existed it would be worth $127).
The proposal is fully in keeping with the creeping cult of personality devoted to a president whose priorities have latterly focused on obliterating all opposition to this rule.
In typically effusive and inaccurate fashion, Karimov hailed Rahmon for making Tajikistan and Tajiks famous all around the world, as well as saving the country from certain famine and war. On state media, Rahmon is now referred to on every mention as “the leader of the nation and the founder of peace and unity.”
"On the threshold of Tajikistan’s 25th anniversary of independence it would be a good thing for the country, since a just and wise leader is a gift from God to the nation,” Karimov said.
While Karimov is low in the pecking order, it is in the normal course of things for such proposals to first be aired by relative nonentities so as to create the impression that the impetus for this idea is coming from the grassroots.
Then again, such is the sycophancy of Tajik functionaries that this may just as well be an exercise in self-abasement and greasy pole-climbing.
This is far from the first such exotic suggestion to be aired out loud in Tajikistan, and not all hare-brained proposals get to leave the drafting table.
A state auction of personalized car license plates in Kyrgyzstan caused astonishment this week after one item sold for almost $25,000— a fortune in a country where the official average monthly salaries is $200.
Even the opening bidding prices at September 28 online auction were high. For example, the plate 01 001 ААА began from a price of 70,000 som ($1,000 USD), but eventually sold for 600,000 som ($8,800), newspaper Vecherny Bishkek reported. The most highly sought-after plate though was 01 777 ААА, which started from 60,000 som and was nabbed with the winning bid of more than 1.7 million som ($25,000).
A series on online sales have been taking place since September 21 with items of varying prestige value going to the highest bidder. Simple straightforward symmetrical numbers, like ones with the figure 121 in them, were sold at fixed prices. But the truly exclusive plates — triplicate figures like 555 are the most popular — drew the high rollers.
These auctions tend to draw high bids, but the record set this time around has shocked many, going by the evidence of the indignation being registered online.
Public relations specialist Yelena Voronina wrote on her Facebook page: “1.716 million som just for a car plate. In a country where there is no money for medicine or equipment for those sick with cancer…”
Others took a more mordantly bitter line.
“It’s a shame they couldn’t have sold 01 777 ААА for $4 billion. That way we could have paid off the national debt,” quipped Ernis Temirkan, an employee for the Sputnik Kyrgyzstan news agency.
In Azerbaijan, apparent national enthusiasm for prolonging the rule of the ex-Soviet republic’s longtime leader, Ilham Aliyev, has resulted in a vote-count total for a referendum on the proposed change that exceeds 100 percent.
The energy-blessed Caucasus country’s September 26 referendum on 29 constitutional amendments included a proposal to extend the presidential term in office from five to seven years. The Central Election Commission announced that day that a whopping 91.2 percent of 2,669,430 voters approved the extension (among other amendments) and 4.7 percent voted against, while 4.5 percent of the votes were invalidated. It all adds up to an odd total of 100.4 percent.
The official results report that 110,095 of the votes were invalidated, which usually would amount to 4.1 percent of the total, but Azerbaijan’s election commission seems to disagree.
Critics, however, hold that mathematical wonders can indeed happen under Aliyev’s dynastic and clannish rule. Democracy watchdogs long have maintained that Ilham Aliyev, who took over the presidency in 2003 from his late father, Heydar Aliyev, has all of Azerbaijan’s government offices, including the election commission, under his thumb.
The vote-tally results, therefore, did not come as a surprise to Emin Milli, director of Meydan TV, an independent Azerbaijani news outlet based in Berlin. Milli, a former political prisoner, pointed out the count snafu on his widely followed Facebook page.
It has been 25 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, but some habits die hard.
Before September 27, the day on which President Nursultan Nazarbayev was due to visit, the city of Kyzylorda, in southern Kazakhstan, went into overdrive to prepare for the leader’s arrival.
As a rule, that kind of visit means city workers hastily tidying up the streets, effecting express repairs on the roads, demolishing dilapidated facilities and smartening up facades.
Kyzylorda, however, has more than the average amount of eyesores to hide, particularly on the road along which Nazarbayev was set to drive into town, so authorities adopted some creative solutions, as local media reported. One particular headache in Kyzylorda are the amount of dilapidated homes and potholed roads.
Rather than repair the problem homes, city authorities simply erected a long fence to hide the offending buildings from Nazarbayev’s view, news website Nur.kz reported.
This drastic measure might have gone unremarked upon but for the fact that the fence has caused a sudden surge in car accidents. As motorists pull into the road from behind the barricade, they are unable to see oncoming traffic, often leading to collisions. Local residents have told media they are afraid for their children’s lives and are making sure they don’t get too close to the fence.
Kyzylorda resident Ainur Aldabergenova complained to Nur.kz that real problems, meanwhile, are not being dealt with.