The organizers of the second edition of the World Nomad Games, to be held in Kyrgyzstan in September, have released a handsomely promotional video that is likely to whet the appetite of lovers of traditional sports.
The promo makes ample use of Kyrgyzstan’s remarkable natural beauty and draws on some familiar motifs, from the horseback archer to lashings of kumys.
This is Culture Ministry’s second attempt at a promotional campaign. A video released in May came under sustained criticism after internet sleuths discovered some footage had been filched from other filmmakers. This time around, the producers have outdone themselves and created a brief video that could just as well serve as an advertisement for Kyrgyzstan’s tourist board.
The World Nomad Games run from September 3 through to September 8 and will be held on the Issyk-Kul Lake resort town of Cholpon-Ata. The competition includes 23 types of sports and a variety of other cultural events intended to celebrate the heritage of nomadic culture. Organizers say competitors from more than 40 countries will participate.
The inaugural edition of the games, also held at Cholpon-Ata, took place in 2014 and drew contestants from 19 countries, including all the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Turkey, Russia and some other less likely suspects like Brazil, Sweden and South Korea. (Some sources put the number of participating countries quite a bit lower, but who’s counting?)
The only suspect in the recent spate of shootings in Kazakhstan’s business capital, Almaty, has told investigators his only targets were people involved in the law enforcement system and that he avoided attacking civilians.
Ruslan Kulekbayev told his interrogators, according to transcripts obtained by Vremya newspaper and published on July 27, that his motivation was revenge and that although he is a devout Muslim, his actions were not religiously inspired.
“I wanted to take revenge on judges, prosecutors and police officers because I consider my (previous) convictions unfair. First I went to the Almaly district court, but I saw nobody in uniform there. From there I went to the Almaly police precinct and the first person I saw was the guy who came through the security checkpoint,” Kulekbayev reportedly told interrogators.
The Vremya profile of the suspected 26-year old attacker is highly detailed and describes a serial recidivist whose background shares features with the typical violent radical extremist as described Kazakhstan’s authorities, although distinct in some respects.
Kulekbayev first criminal conviction came in 2010, when he received a three-year suspended sentence for robbing a jeweler. In February 2012, he was detained at the railway station in his native city of Kyzylorda in possession of a pistol and religious literature. Kulekbayev said that although he prayed, he had no link to extremist groups.
Kazakhstan’s national currency has taken a fresh tumble this week, provoking a new cycle of anxiety.
On July 20, the official exchange stood at 338 tenge to the dollar, but that had officially slid by July 28 to more than 350. As has become customary, however, street exchange shops are buying dollars at slightly higher rates, depending on the location. There were reports of a 365 rate in the capital, Astana.
Predictably, the slide has dominated news coverage and discussions on social media. Some comments under a piece on news website Nur.kz are illustrative.
“My pension savings are going to become toilet paper,” wrote one reader.
“Today I took my car to be repaired. The work has been estimated at 26,000 tenge. Now, because of the fall of the tenge, the cost has been changed to 37,000. And they haven’t put up our salaries,” wrote another.
Kazakhstanis are growing used to devaluation of their currency, not that it gets any easier. Rather than sliding gradually, the tenge has historically been allowed to plunge in one-off drops, as happened in February 2009, February 2014 and August 2015. Since that last drop, however, the currency has been allowed to float freely, adding a strong element of unpredictability.
The National Bank, which has become target of much popular criticism, defended itself from attacks on July 26.
Adil Muhamedjanov, director of the monetary operations and asset management department at the National Bank, told Tengri News that the free-float policy allowed for daily volatility according to numerous factors — primarily the price of oil and currency markets in Kazakhstan’s main trading partners.
Tajikistan’s largest industrial concern has for the first time revealed the scale of its debts and the picture is not a pretty one.
The Finance Ministry said this week that at the end of the first quarter TALCO had outstanding debts of 2.5 billion somoni ($318 million) and that the company was itself owed 465 million somoni ($59 million).
TALCO is unofficially the fiefdom President Emomali Rahmon’s brother-in-law and head of Oriyonbank, Hasan Asadullozoda (AKA Sadulloev), so the fate of the company is of great importance to the first family.
Despite production at the aluminum plant being on the increase, the company continues to lose money. The Finance Ministry links the losses to falling prices for the metal on the international market and the rise in cost for inputs.
The ministry and international advisors have recommended root-and-branch restructuring for the company and an overhaul of equipment.
Things used to be so much brighter at TALCO. In 2007, the company churned out a record 419,000 tons of aluminum. That fell through the years, down to 121,000 tons in 2014. Last year, TALCO’s primary aluminum output returned to growth for the first time in seven years, up to 139,000 tons,
TALCO’s alleged cash cow status for the first family makes it something of a sacred cow too.
So it didn’t go down well when a few years ago, when respected religious authority Haji Akbar Turajonzoda suggested selling off the plant and diverting the money to the giant Rogun hydroelectric dam that is being financed primarily off the back of hard-up Tajiks.
“This suggestion has been made so as to pull the country and its people out of the electricity crisis and so Rogun hydroelectric station could remain fully Tajik,” Turajonzoda said, suggesting that securing the money through sale of TALCO would obviate the need for foreign investment in the dam.
Police surround one of the two Yerevan gunmen who decided to surrender to law enforcement on July 26.
New hostages were taken in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, on July 27 as an armed standoff between police and gunmen entered its tenth day. Despite the surrender of two of the gunmen, with street support for the group’s defiance of the government persisting, the crisis shows no sign of ending soon.
Officials said that the anti-government militants holed up in the city’s Erebuni police station seized four medical personnel dispatched by the health ministry this morning to treat gunmen wounded by an exchange of gunfire with police late last night.
A representative of the fringe opposition political group to which the gunmen belong, Founding Parliament, categorically denied that the men, mostly Karabakh war veterans, have taken any more hostages.
“The guys aren’t holding anyone as a hostage. They only want the medical presence there to be continuous and . . . for another brigade of doctors to rotate with this brigade,” Founding Parliament member Alek Enigomshian told reporters, RFE/RL’s Armenian service reported.
One policeman and two insurgents -- the gunmen’s most prominent leader, Pavlik Manukian, and his son, Aram -- suffered serious injuries in the overnight shootout and were hospitalized.
The surrender of another two members of the armed group early this morning created a prospect for resolution of the nerve-wracking drama, but the fresh hostage-taking situation brought the drama back to square one.
A pyramid scheme in Uzbekistan that reeled many high-profile celebrities into its net is now costing officials their job.
Since investigations began in mid-June, the fraud allegedly engineered by well-known businessman Ahmad Tursunbayev has caused enough ripples to knock dry political programing off the airwaves in favor of at least three television programs devoted to the case to date.
Among the officials to have lost their job are Behzod Mirsoatov, prosecutor for the Chinasky district of Tashkent out of which Tursunbayev operated. On July 25, the district head of police also got the chop and is now being questioned as a witness in the case. There are also unconfirmed reports that the head of the district is next for the metaphorical firing squad.
The removal of relatively important local officials signals a rare concession to restive public sentiment in Uzbekistan, although the story is actually a little less straightforward than that.
Tursunbayev’s suspected scam consisted simply of promising 100 percent yearly returns on investments made either in cash, gold or other assets, mainly cars. The bulk of his clients — estimated at between 40,000 and 80,000 people — appear to have been naive Uzbeks unused to market speculation.
Uzbekistan’s transition to a market-based economy has been negligible over the past 25 years and untrained investors are ripe subjects for fraudulent get-rich quick scams.
Against all odds, however, despite the unfolding scandal, Tursunbayev continues to enjoy some support from the public. Victims of his scheme have drowned prosecutors with letters — not to demand his punishment, but instead to ask that he be released, so that he might return their money and jewelry.
Kyrgyzstan’s state-run Kyrgyzaltyn gold company says a court in Canada has lifted a freeze on its stake in Toronto-listed Centerra Gold, which in turn owns the concession for the giant Kumtor gold mine.
Kyrgyzaltyn said in a statement on July 25 that the reverse of the freeze, which was imposed in 2014 during a dispute between Kyrgyzstan and several foreign companies, will apply to shares and dividends.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled on the case on July 20, according to the statement.
Sorting through this tangled web requires an effort of concentration, while the consequences of the resolution of this part of the puzzle on the ongoing dispute between Centerra and the government remain unclear.
The Ontario court-mandated freeze on Kyrgyzaltyn’s share in Centerra stems from suit filed by numerous companies arguing that they had been unjustly treated by the government in Bishkek.
One relates to Stans Energy, a mining company focused on the former Soviet region. An arbitration court in Moscow ruled in 2014 that Kyrgyzstan should pay Stans Energy $118 million in damages for revoking its license to the Kutessay II heavy rare earths deposit. The license was issued in 2009, during the corruption-riddled tenure of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and then revoked in 2012, after the leader was overthrown. Stans Energy sought the asset freeze at Centerra as a way of getting Kyrgyzstan to pay out its dues.
Bulgaria has joined the long list of Russia's neighbors who have accused it of violating its airspace.
Russian military aircraft have violated Bulgaria's -- and therefore NATO's -- air space four times in the past week and more than ten times over the last ten months, Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev said in a TV interview on Sunday. "Our fighter jets are ready to intercept them," Nenchev said, calling the actions a "provocation toward Bulgaria and its air force."
Bulgaria and Russia don't share a land border but both lie on the Black Sea, which has become more and more tense since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The question of Black Sea airspace, in particular, has become a heated issue in the last few weeks, as NATO is discussing strengthening its air presence in the region, and Russia has responded by moving its top-of-the-line air defense systems to Crimea.
In response, Russia criticized Nenchev for making the allegations on TV and not through diplomatic channels, and denied that any violations had taken place.
"We could not conceal our surprise when we heard Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev saying in his speech on Nova TV that last month had seen the growing number of violations by Russian military planes, which had their ADS-B transponders off, of the Bulgarian zone of responsibility of NATO airspace," said Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov.
Tajikistan’s central bankers have issued another round of reassurances that they are not running out of cash, but they are again lobbying International Monetary Fund for a bailout just to be on the safe side.
Asia-Plus website on July 25 cited National Bank chairman Jamshed Nurmahmadzoda as saying that the amount of cash in circulation at the moment stands at around 6.6 billion somoni ($838 million), which he said was 36 percent more than at the same period in 2015.
Apparently pointing to the success of policies such as the widespread closure of small money exchange offices and the introduction of stiff criminal penalties for unauthorized money exchange operations, Nurmahmadzoda said it had now become the norm to conduct transactions in the local currency.
"Of course, this has created a great demand for the national currency and so we have accordingly increased its volumes in circulation to meet demand,” he said.
While it is hard to disprove any claims Nurmahmadzoda might care to make, it only takes a visit to one of Tajikistan’s several distressed banks to know that liquidity is far from healthy. At least three banks are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Some lenders have imposed withdrawal limits of 2,500 somoni ($315). And customers at the country’s largest bank, Tojiksodirotbank, are as much as it is possible choosing to move their accounts to other banks.
Nurmahmadzoda dismissed such worries, saying that Tojiksodirotbank is just suffering from management issues and that the country’s second biggest bank, Agroinvestbank, is doing perfectly fine. Even the normally circumspect IMF put lie to such brazen deception months ago.
Kazakhstan launched a rare exercise in consulting with the general public earlier this year to defuse spreading discontent, but the authorities are now bracing to pull the plug on the experiment and return to its more trusted heavy-handed measures.
This weekend, the government-initiated outreach commission on the land reforms rolled into the western city of Atyrau, which is notable for having mounted the largest protest rally against the proposed reforms in the spring.
While much of the discussion on July 23 was centered on the reforms themselves, there were also multiple impassioned demands for the release of jailed activists Max Bokayev and his friend, Talgat Ayan.
Organization of this session of the commission had not gone smoothly. One prominent member opposed to the reforms, Mukhtar Taizhan, had announced on his Facebook account that it was to be held on July 16, but the event was postponed. Commission chair and Agriculture Minister Askar Myrzakhmetov told Ak Zhaiyk newspaper that it was taking an unexpectedly long time to arrange the equipment to stream the event over the internet.
Once the date came around though, only 25 people in of 75-member body actually turned up, although the event was at least open to the public.
Amendments to the land law approved in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years. The law also set the terms for a series of land auctions that would have been open only to citizens of Kazakhstan. All the provisions have since been reversed amid widespread public opposition.