The United States has broken its silence over Tajikistan’s obliteration of the Islamic Renaissance Party with an expression of anxiety at the “blanket persecution of all opposition.”
The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe said in an emailed statement to EurasiaNet.org on September 30 that it is concerned that the government is “limiting the activities” of the IRPT and says it is monitoring the unfolding criminal case against party members.
Authorities have been moving fast against the IRPT – the last credible opposition force left in the country.
The pretext for the final crackdown on IRPT was provided by unrest in early September that the government attributed to an alleged armed uprising by a rebellious former deputy defense minister, Abduhalim Nazarzoda.
Prosecutors have said Nazarzoda acted in collusion with the IRPT. Those accusations were followed by the arrest of 13 members of the IRPT political council on September 13.
On September 29, the Supreme Court ruled to designate the party a terrorist organization at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. That decision will force the closure of the IRPT’s official newspaper, Najot, and stands to criminalize thousands of party members.
“Naming [IRPT] a terrorist organization now threatens its 40,000 members across the country with imprisonment," Freedom House executive vice president Daniel Calingaert said in a statement.
In its statement, the U.S. Embassy said it was vitally important to distinguish between peaceful political opposition parties and violent extremists.
On September 30, Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a testy press release to complain about “certain people (at the conference) indulging in a range of subjective, provocative attacks and biased comments about Turkmenistan with the clear aim of putting psychological pressure on members of the Turkmen delegation.”
Radio Azattyk cited Turkmen deputy foreign minister Vepa Hajiyev at the meeting as insisting that freedom of speech is respected in Turkmenistan and that Internet access was on the increase. Hajiyev also denied reports that authorities have forced people to dismantle their satellite dishes, which remain for many a sole inlet to news from the outside world.
“We continue to provide various social benefits, like free gas, water and electricity,” Hajiyev was quoted as saying by Radio Azattyk. “A dictator doesn’t do these things. This is all done for the people.”
The U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, was unimpressed by Turkmen commitments to bring ever more people online. In a speech, also delivered on September 22, he criticized an Internet law recently adopted by Turkmenistan.
Georgia plays no small role in Europe’s efforts to diversify away from Russian natural gas, but the South-Caucasus country itself could find it needs to diversify back toward its enemy’s energy. Late last week, Russia and Georgia held talks on gas shipments, but have offered only scant details about the negotiations.
Observers in Georgia pricked up their ears when Gazprom’s Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller met Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze on September 25 in Brussels. Gazprom said that exports to and through Georgia were discussed, prompting some local concern over the chance that Georgia would take on additional volumes of Russian gas, which for Moscow is as much a foreign policy instrument as it an export commodity. In comments to Georgian media, Gia Volski, chairperson of Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, suggested that Tbilisi treads carefully on the topic of Russian gas imports.
Granted, most of Gazprom supplies to Georgia only go through the country to reach neighboring Armenia, which relies on Russia for most of its energy needs. Georgia retains 10 percent of shipments to Armenia as a transit fee. Last year, Georgia received 200 million cubic meters of Russia gas, which accounted for only nine percent of the gas consumed by Georgia in 2014, the energy ministry told EurasiaNet.org. Gazprom puts the figure at 300 million cubic meters.
An International Crisis Group report on Kyrgyzstan published on September 30, only days ahead of parliamentary elections, paints a grim portrait of the political situation and warns that the entire region could suffer from failure to adopt urgently needed reforms.
ICG identifies persisting ethnic tensions, corruption, unchecked nationalism and the surge of political Islam, fuelled by disaffection at self-interested party clans, as key and pressing problems facing Kyrgyzstan.
Despite those potential looming threats, ICG sees little likelihood of an imminent change in direction.
“Parliament and the presidency seem unwilling and institutionally incapable of addressing these issues,” the report said. “Few expect the 4 October parliamentary elections to deliver a reformist government.”
Kyrgyzstan bucks the overall trend in the region with its often rowdily competitive political system. Billboards up and down the country testify to the abundance of choice being offered to voters as they head to the polling stations to pick the 120 deputies that will represent them in parliament.
For all that political diversity, the picture on the ground appears bleak, ICG said in its report.
The ethnic Uzbek community, which accounts for 14.5 percent of the population, has been thoroughly marginalized on the political scene and remains subject to harassment from an almost homogenously ethnic Kyrgyz police force.
That trend has been coupled with the ascendancy of virulently nationalist and conservative groups.
The United States diplomatic mission in Uzbekistan has been targeted in a firebomb attack in an unusual incident that will kindle chatter of a possible new terrorist menace in the repressive Central Asian nation.
Attacks on diplomatic missions in the heavily policed country are rare, but not unprecedented.
The US Embassy was targeted by bomb attacks on diplomatic and security targets in Tashkent in 2004 that killed two security guards at the Israeli Embassy.
This most recent attack occurred early September 28. The US mission said in a statement that “an unidentified assailant tossed two improvised incendiary devices onto embassy grounds,” one of which exploded.
Nobody was injured in the blast, but the embassy was closed as a precaution. The mission has now returned to business as usual, the statement said.
The embassy offered no possible motivation for the attack, which would have required the assailant to approach a robustly patrolled building surrounded by high razor-wire walls and guarded by U.S. Marines and local police.
The embassy said it was cooperating with authorities to investigate the attack and that it had identified “no specific threat information against Americans and/or American interests.”
Terrorist attacks are extremely rare in Uzbekistan, where the presence of police and security service officers is ubiquitous and stifling. This blast came three weeks after an explosive device detonated at Tashkent’s Chorsu Bazaar in an incident that the authorities belatedly explained was a security exercise.
The reported route of Russian military flights to Syria. (photo: twitter, @cencio4)
New flight-tracking data suggests that Russia is sending military equipment to Syria over the Caspian Sea, taking a lengthy detour to bypass the entire Caucasus isthmus. The circuitous route suggests that Moscow has failed to gain overflight permission from either Georgia or Azerbaijan in its new top foreign policy priority, the intervention in Syria.
The new data was reported by the blog The Aviationist citing the open-source flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. It suggests that Russia sent six Su-34 bomber aircraft to Syria via a route southward to the North Caucasus, veering to the east just north of Grozny and crossing into the airspace over the Caspian Sea north of Makhachkala. It then crosses the Caspian taking a route roughly parallel to the coastline of Azerbaijan, about 50 miles away. It then enters Iranian airspace roughly 50 miles south of the Azerbaijani border, the continues through Iraq before reaching Syria.
The United States had been trying to get countries in between Russia and Syria to block their airspace to Russian military flights, and succeeded in the case of Bulgaria, while Greece confirmed that they had gotten a similar request. If the U.S. has made any such requests to the Caucasus countries it hasn't been announced. Turkey, a firm opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- whom the Russian intervention seeks to prop up -- doesn't allow the flights of its own accord.
Exiled Turkmen activists have noted a strange detour during President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s return from New York this week, prompting speculation that he might be unwell.
The Chronicles of Turkmenistan website said a keen-eyed reader scouring planespotter resource FlightRadar24 noted that Berdymukhamedov’s plane had stopped off in Munich, Germany, on September 26 instead of heading straight to Ashgabat.
That was enough to prompt opposition site Gundogar.org to speculate that the president had stopped off for medical consultations precipitated by a health scare.
According to his official schedule, Berdymukhamedov was due to travel on September 24-27 to take part in the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
As it happens, Berdymukhamedov’s speech before the General Assembly included a passage on health and on the need to promote healthy lifestyles.
The plot thickened further when BBC Monitoring, a service that closely watches media output across Central Asia, noted that state television station Altyn Asyr failed to report on the president’s regular Monday government meeting this week.
“Instead, its flagship evening news bulletin carried a report recapping the main events of last week,” BBC Monitoring said in a report summing up news from September 28.
That Berdymukhamedov is in poor health is always possible, although state media tirelessly rams home the message that the president is a superior sporting specimen.
The Munich connection is an intriguing one, however.
After Azerbaijani artillery fire killed three Armenian civilians last week, Armenia's defense ministry has threatened to escalate the conflict.
In a statement issued September 26, Yerevan said that "n order to quiet and deter the adversary, and thereby support the negotiation process, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia will hereafter apply adequate artillery and rocket striking means, continuously targeting permanent deployment areas, military movements, military equipment and manpower."
The statement was prompted by the deaths of three Armenian women, and then the deaths of four Armenian soldiers, after artillery fire from the Azerbaijani side of the border. The shelling of civilian villages has been a relatively new development in the conflict.
Armenia's first statement after the civilian deaths criticized Azerbaijan for trying to scuttle potential upcoming talks between officials of the two countries in New York at this week's United Nations General Assembly: "The Azerbaijani side always resorts to provocative actions ahead of negotiations and meetings on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and intentionally create tension."
That episode, however, was followed the next day by the deaths of four Armenian soldiers in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. (The territory, de jure part of Azerbaijan, has de facto been controlled by Armenian forces since a war between the two countries in the early 1990s.)
A report aired after a live prime-time election debate in Kyrgyzstan on the evening of September 26 is sparking suspicions the state broadcaster is trying to influence the outcome of the vote.
The apparent hatchet job of rivals to President Almazbek Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK) bears hallmarks of the “administrative resources” used by semi-democratic systems in the post-Soviet world to give incumbents an unfair advantage.
SDPK is already widely expected to win the largest share of the ballot in the October 4 contest to pick the 120 members of the Jogorku Kenesh.
Under Kyrgyzstan’s first and second presidents, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, KTRK (Kyrgyz Teleradio Company) was regularly used to help enhance the ruling party’s performance. While more voters are now reliant on the Internet for their news, television remains the country’s most powerful resource.
All this was supposed to have changed in 2010, when the interim government passed a decree transforming KTRK into a public broadcaster with its own supervisory board.
But what followed an otherwise stimulating weekend debate — between the leaders Ata-Meken, Butun-Kyrgyzstan-Emgek and Onuguu-Progress parties; Omurbek Tekebayev, Adahan Madumarov and Bakyt Torobaev, respectively — was strongly reminiscent of the bad old days.
The short news item, entitled “How Much Is Your Vote Worth?,” saw KTRK journalists canvass various experts and members of the public about the risk of candidates buying votes.
The primary targets for criticism were Ata-Meken, Bir Bol and Respublika-Ata-Jurt — all parties believed to have good prospects of entering parliament and potentially robbing SDPK of a flat-out majority.
In providing updates to its would-be insurgency and smears of the opposition almost daily, Tajikistan’s government has succeeded mostly in undermining its own credibility.
A dispatch circulated by Khovar state news agency on September 26 reaches new heights of implausibility. The story contends that the alleged renegade deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda had plotted his uprising since 2010 in collusion with the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).
From 2005 onward, Nazarzoda occupied numerous high-ranking positions in the security establishment. Between then and 2007, he served as first deputy commander of the ground forces, and from 2007 to 2014, he headed the Defense Ministry’s military security services. His elevation to deputy defense minister came in January 2014.
Allegations that plotting should have been happening for so long at the highest level is at best an astonishing admission of incompetence by Tajikistan’s security structures. Alternatively, Dushanbe is spinning a yarn in full confidence that nobody within the country, including all the diplomatic stations based there, will dare to question its narrative.
Some details in the latest account are recycled versions of earlier, barely credible, accusations, but there are some new aspects.
Khovar cites prosecutors as saying Nazarzoda teamed up with IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri to create 20 organized crime groups comprising a total of 300 members, who were paid $100 or more each monthly with funds of unknown provenance.