An oil strike that started in late September in the western Kazakhstan town of Zhanaozen – the scene of fatal industrial unrest in 2011 – has ended after the company caved in to strikers’ demands.
In contrast with that industrial dispute five years ago, company officials and authorities were quick to pursue mediation, in a reflection of the sensitivities that surround signs of public discontent against a background of broader economic stagnation.
The Zhanaozen standoff ended late on October 5, after private drilling company Burgylau agreed, with mediation from the authorities, to concessions, one striker told EurasiaNet.org.
“All the demands have been meet,” said Askar, a driller speaking under a pseudonym by telephone from Zhanaozen on October 6. “We’re satisfied. We’re already back at work today.”
The 2,300 or so strikers had downed their tools for six days running in pursuit of two goals: changes to the salary calculation system that would result in a pay rise and an end to what they described as intimidation of their choice of union leader.
The company agreed to review the way salaries are calculated, Alik Aydarbayev, the regional governor, said in remarks reported by Tengri News.
Strikers had been demanding that Burgylau switch to the salary calculation system used by KazMunayGaz, the main state employer in Kazakhstan’s oil industry. The company agreed instead to install a similar system that should see salaries go up by an unspecified amount.
The company had argued that it could not afford to raise salaries, which are already around double the national average, owing to the knock-on effect of low global oil prices.
It will take some time before a satisfactory line is drawn under the shock attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan’s capital last August in which a suspected suicide bomber died and three embassy officials were injured.
At least three people named as suspects by Kyrgyz security services are claiming they had nothing to do with the attack.
Mubarak Turganbayev, who the State Committee National Security (GKNB) believes financed the attack, returned to Kyrgyzstan from Turkey voluntarily on October 4 and was subsequently taken into custody.
Turganbayev, who works for an Istanbul-based firm that arranges the delivery of cargo and cash between Turkey and Central Asia, has protested his innocence since September 7, when he gave an explanation on Facebook as to how he may have been caught up in the web of the investigation.
“A man called Burkhan, who has a restaurant business in Turkey asked to transfer $5,000 to a certain Iskender in Bishkek. The mobile phone number 0709-66-87-40 was indicated. Our staff transferred him the money. I want to say I have not participated in a terror act. A warrant was issued for my arrest without anyone making an attempt to contact me for questioning. I did not flee anywhere, and I am in close contact with the consul of Kyrgyzstan in Istanbul. I do not have and never have had links with terrorists,” Turganbayev wrote.
Burkhaniddin Zhantoraev (presumably the Burkhan in Turganbayev’s account) subsequently declared his innocence, again via Facebook, on September 20, as did Ilyas Sabirov, another Kyrgyz citizen reportedly working at the same firm as Turganbayev.
If Georgia’s unusually low-drama parliamentary election-campaign seemed too good to be true, it was. Any appearance of normality ended abruptly last night with the explosion of a leading opposition MP’s car in downtown Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
The apparent target, 48-year-old Givi Targamadze, a longtime comrade-in-arms of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, escaped unharmed from the car when its rear section exploded sometime in the mid-evening on October 4 near Freedom Square, a key traffic artery. The vehicle was parked outside an office for Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), of which Targamadze is a senior member.
Four other people were injured; one remains in serious but stable condition. Targamadze’s driver suffered a concussion.
In connection with the October 4 incident, the Georgian interior ministry has opened an investigation into attempted murder, but not, as yet, into an act of terrorism – a decision that has heightened the political accusations still further.
Politicians on all sides see the car-explosion as a flashback to the troubled 1990s, when kidnappings and street violence ran rife, and served as a way to carry a point with a rival. The calls now are for calm, but with fingers pointed at political opponents.
The UNM, which believes it’s on the cusp of returning to power after a four-year-long break, took aim at the government and its alleged grey cardinal, Bidzina Ivanishvili, for the explosion, claiming (without elaboration) that both have undermined institutions and relied on violence to strengthen their rule.
The blast occurred on the eve of what the UNM pledged would be an “unprecedented” afternoon demonstration of its supporters through downtown Tbilisi, including near the site of the explosion.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan narrowly passed a draft law on October 5 to criminalize the religious consecration of marriage rites for minors.
If the legislation is approved by President Almazbek Atambayev, clerics officiating such ceremonies could face jail terms of between three and five years, as could parents of the couple.
The vote in parliament marks a volte-face by MPs, who had provoked outrage in May when they rejected proposals to criminalize a ritual known as ‘nikah.’ The changes to the law specifically relate to religious marriage rites, as opposed to nuptials registered with the state. The legal age of marriage in Kyrgyzstan is 18, although that can be lowered by special dispensation.
Supporters of the new law in parliament did not mince their words.
“Let’s call things by their names and not hide behind nice words about national traditions and rites. People under the age of 18 are considered children according to our legislation, so forcing them into marriage or other actions is pedophilia. I ask each man in this room to imagine their daughters while voting. But while you can defend [your daughters] from early marriages, many of our children from poor families don’t have such an opportunity,” Natalia Nikitenko, a member of parliament with the Ata-Meken party, said during a discussion of the bill.
But some MPs resisted the bill on the grounds that it is against what they say is the spirit of Kyrgyz traditions, others questioned whether the law would help bring offending clerics to heel. Social-Democratic Party MP Dastan Bekeshev argued that it would be impossible to find evidence of the illegal rite taking place.
Under the late President Islam Karimov, the government in Uzbekistan boasted unconvincingly about its record on job creation. And that was despite the million of people forced to leave the country to find work elsewhere.
In an acknowledgement that not all is well on the labor front, Tashkent is now angling for a $100 million loan from the World Bank for a five-year program to create 500,000 new jobs.
The proposed line of credit is seen as part of the World Bank’s new Country Partnership Framework for Uzbekistan for 2016-2020, which was the focus of discussion last week during a visit to the country from the lender’s recently appointed director for Central Asia, Lilia Burunciuc.
The official unemployment rate in Uzbekistan in the first half of 2016 was 5.2 percent of the active population, or around 720,000 people. Government data in Uzbekistan is notoriously unreliable, but the figure may indeed be relatively contained due to migration. Around three to four million Uzbeks currently live and work abroad, mainly in Russia, because of a lack of jobs inside the country. Karimov’s unemployment-busting strategies typically focused on reliance on internal resources, and they have returned disappointing results.
Still, the would-be jobs to be created with the hoped-for World Bank support are not yet defined and the $100 million sum looks far too small to realistically generate that level of economic activity.
Soldiers from CSTO member states practice carrying out a UN peacekeeping mission in Belarus in August 2016. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russia's post-Soviet security bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has held discussions with the United Nations about taking part in UN peacekeeping missions, an effort analysts said was likely made with Syria in mind.
"We have agreed to prepare a roadmap on the involvement of CSTO peacekeepers in UN peacekeeping operations," said CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha last month in New York after meeting with UN officials there. The UN "has already proposed the steps that we need to take and there is quite an active dialogue going on," he said.
The CSTO has been developing a peacekeeping structure for years, and held its first peacekeeping exercise in Kazakhstan in 2012. (The CSTO includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, in addition to Russia.)
In what looks like a move to tighten the screws yet further in Tajikistan, government officials wishing to travel outside the country are reportedly being required to first seek permission from the presidential administration.
The administration happens to be run by one of President Emomali Rahmon’s daughters, Ozoda Rahmon.
This new rule, which has been reported by news website Tojnews, extends to civil servants in the armed services, diplomats and journalists with state media, among others.
“These instructions were sent to departments in a letter from the office of the president of Tajikistan. The decree requires heads of department to coordinate all their staff’s trips with the presidential apparatus. For this, it is necessary to send a request to the presidential apparatus, and a response will be issued within five days,” Tojnews reported.
Previously, civil servants were granted clearance to leave Tajikistan by the Foreign Ministry. This new arrangement reportedly applies to work and leisure trips alike.
Many Tajik citizens already experience limitations on their right to travel.
For the last couple of years, Tajik students wishing to go abroad could only do so with express permission from the Education Ministry and the security services. The restriction is understood to be a reaction by the authorities to the perception of increased recruitment by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group. Back in 2015, Rahmon stated that 18 students from Tajikistan had joined Islamic State. No more up-to-date figures are available on the purported recruitment by terror groups.
Any student leaving the country without proper authorization these days runs the risk of expulsion from their place of learning.
A court in Kyrgyzstan’s Chui region held a hearing on October 4 on whether the case of jailed activist Azimjan Askarov should be reopened for fresh investigations.
Once again defying the demands of a UN Human Rights Committee, the court rejected pleas to release Askarov from custody pending further developments.
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was given a life sentence in September 2010 after being found guilty of inciting a crowd to murder police officers on June 13 that year during deadly inter-communal riots in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Bazar-Korgon. He has always steadfastly maintained his innocence and pleaded in court to be subjected to a lie detector examination.
The case has grown increasingly toxic over the years and has placed authorities in the impossible position of having to either placate the international community — much of which has argued Askarov was unjustly jailed in a marred trail — or risk stirring the ire of ferociously nationalistic sections of the population.
As in all previous court procedures involving the Askarov case, relatives and colleagues of a policeman purportedly killed at the activist’s instigation were present, angrily raising objections at numerous stages. Askarov too was present in the court, looking weary and sporting a white beard.
In his opening argument, a lawyer for Askarov, Nurbek Toktakunov, said the court should abide by a UN Human Rights Committee request for Askarov to be released. The committee argued in April that Kyrgyzstan had grossly flouted the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in its treatment of Askarov and said the activist was denied the right to properly prepare for his trial and criticized the manner of his initial detention.
“The collegium of Chui regional court has a superb opportunity to fulfill the decision of he UN committee and let Askarov,” Toktakunov said.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan introduces the country's new minister of defense and chief of general staff, Vigen Sargsyan and Movses Hakopyan, respectively. (photo: president.am)
Armenia has appointed a new defense minister, a civilian educated in the United States.
The new minister, 41-year-old Vigen Sargsyan, will replace Seyran Ohanian, who had headed the defense ministry since 2008. Sargsyan had been the chief of staff to President Serzh Sargsyan (no relation).
The two elements of Sargsyan's biography that have attracted the most scrutiny are the fact that he is a civilian (Ohanian was a decorated veteran of the war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s, and held the rank of colonel-general) and that he was educated in the U.S., with a master's degree from Tufts University's Fletcher School, the training ground of much of the U.S.'s foreign policy establishment.
In most countries it's common for the defense minister to be a civilian, but it apparently raised some concerns in Armenia. President Serzh Sargsyan, introducing the new minister on Monday, appeared to try to justify the appointment of a civilian by emphasizing that the role of defense minister has as more to do with personnel, management and veterans issues as with warfighting.
"The minister of defense should occupy himself very little with the day-to-day activities of the armed forces," he said. "I'm confident that Vigen Sargsyan recognizes the level of this responsibility, and I'm confident that he will spare no effort and energy in justifying my confidence and will carry out his responsibilities with honor."
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.