Kazakh soldiers drill in preparation for the September 3 military parade in Beijing commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Central Asian soldiers and presidents took part in a massive Chinese military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia, the guest list of which provided some grist for speculation on China-Central Asia relations.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan were among the 11 countries sending relatively large contingents (of about 75 soldiers each) to take part in the September 3 parade. The Central Asian soldiers started arriving in China more than two weeks ahead of the parade, and rehearsed six hours a day. Soldiers from those three Central Asian states also participated in a similar event May 9 in Moscow.
But there were some intriguing inconsistencies in the turnout of Central Asian presidents who showed up. Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, who skipped the Moscow parade, did appear in Beijing. And Turkmenistan's Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who appeared at Moscow's parade, skipped Beijing's. (The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan took part in both.) As the parade was about to begin, Chinese state television showed Karimov standing on the reviewing stand just to the right of his regional rival, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev. (The cameras did not catch any conversation between the two men.)
Taking a leaf out of Turkmenistan’s book, Tajikistan may soon be getting its own statue of the president.
Asia-Plus website cited veteran politician Hikmatullo Nasriddinov as saying the time has come to erect a statue in honor of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. Just for safe measure, he also proposed bestowing Rahmon with the honorific of Hero of Tajikistan, for the second time.
Rahmon is hailed by local admirers, like Nasriddinov, for his role in leading Tajikistan out of the brutal civil war of the 1990s.
“In that distant Fall of 1992, when the historic 16th session of the Supreme Council of Tajikistan was being held in Khujand, I noticed in my capacity as a deputy that many experienced politicians did not at that time want to take the leadership of the country into their hands,” Nasriddinov told Asia-Plus in an interview. “Rahmon agreed to take on this heavy burden of the country’s leadership, saying at the time: ‘I will bring Tajikistan peace and reconciliation.’”
To see where the statue proposal might head, it might be salutary to consider the example of other countries in the region — namely Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan — where leaders have professed humility only to then accept plaudits, monuments and titles.
In April, political scientists at the Pedagogical University, Nosirjon Salimi and Holahmad Sami, wrote an article in state-run newspaper Tojikiston and on the ruling party’s website arguing that Rahmon should be granted the title of “Leader of the Nation.”
The Kazakh parliament bestowed the same accolade on long-time president Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2010, changing the constitution to allow him alone to stand for office indefinitely.
Salimi and Sami said in their piece that the title could serve as a unifying impulse for the whole country.
Kazakhstan is at the center of a fresh controversy over freedom of speech, following the suspension of a hard-hitting magazine which was one of the country’s few remaining independent voices.
International press freedom watchdogs have expressed outrage over the suspension of the Adam (Person) magazine over a linguistic technicality, in a court ruling that editor-in-chief Ayan Sharipbayev says is political.
“In Kazakhstan the closure of any media outlet is a matter decided by political bodies,” Sharipbayev told EurasiaNet.org on September 2. “Of course this is connected to politics.”
He said Adam — known for its gutsy reporting and criticism of the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev — would appeal the three-month suspension handed down by an Almaty court on August 27.
When Adam registered with the authorities earlier this year (after the courts had closed a previously existing independent magazine called Adam Bol), it gave its languages of publication as Kazakh and Russian – but in fact it prints only in Russian.
The ruling was “discriminatory and utterly disproportionate,” Johann Bihr of the France–based Reporters Without Borders press freedom watchdog said in a statement on September 1.
“The use of such absurd bureaucratic pretexts is typical and cannot hide the fact that the authorities clearly want to close this publication for good because they regard it as a nuisance,” he said. “We urge them to rescind this unjust decision and to end this persecution, which has gone on for too long.”
Following an earlier theme, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said that the upbraiding by US, British and EU officials, and international human rights groups is nothing but meddling in a sovereign country’s home affairs.
"We categorically condemn and deem unacceptable interference in the trial of Khadija Ismayilova, the attempts to politicize the court decision and also reactions in the form of political statements to what in essense is a purely a matter of law," Report.az quoted foreign ministry spokesperson Hikmet Hajiyev as saying.
The US State Department had said it was "deeply troubled" by the seven-plus-year-long jail sentence handed down to Ismayilova, a freelance investigative journalist who has exposed various questionable business schemes tied to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family and political circles.
"This case is another example in a broad pattern of increasing restrictions on human rights in Azerbaijan, including curtailing the freedom of the press," the State Department said in a statement, which called for the corruption-busting journalist's release.
Baku’s Court for Grave Crimes found 39-year-old Ismayilova guilty of tax evasion, illegal business activity, embezzlement and abuse of power — the types of alleged crimes which, ironically, she herself investigated in covering senior government officials and the family of President Ilham Aliyev.
"It is not a coincidence that these charges were brought against me. After all, I have talked and written in detail about these very same crimes myself," Ismayilova said in her final statement, as published by Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, one of her employers.
To many, Ismayilova's story brings to mind “One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest” — a lone battle against an autocratic, ossified system and an inspiration for civil society kept in a straitjacket by an entrenched, ruling élite. Rights activists and many journalists alike see her conviction on spurious criminal charges as retribution for her exposes of corruption within President Ilham Aliyev’s family and circle.
Before prison, Ismayilova, who also has worked for EurasiaNet.org, faced an ugly character assassination campaign that culminated in a video of her intimate life being posted on the Internet. A pro-forma police investigation has led nowhere.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is on a state visit to China hoping to shore up Astana’s tight-knit relations with a key strategic partner and drum up investment for his country’s ailing economy.
With China fighting its own battles, however, it may fall short of the largesse that is being expected.
As Nazarbayev made clear during a Sino-Kazakhstani business forum on September 1, Astana is eager for Beijing to broaden its investment portfolio — hitherto concentrated in Kazakhstan’s energy sector — and start pouring cash into the industrialization projects on which the government is pinning its hopes for recovery.
“I believe this visit is a turning point in Sino-Kazakhstani ties,” Nazarbayev said inremarks quoted by his office. “For over 20 years we have been actively cooperating with China, predominantly in the energy and natural resources sectors. In the new stage, we are starting to step up cooperation in the manufacturing sectors of the economy, including engineering and the processing of resources.”
Nazarbayev said that during talks on August 31 with Xi Jinping, the host president, the two leaders signed deals worth $23 billion to set up 25 joint projects. Another 20 deals are in the pipeline, he said.
Tajikistan’s justice system has set a disconcerting precedent by jailing an independent reporter for an offense purportedly committed when he was around six years old.
Human Rights Watch in a statement on September 1 decried the two-year sentence handed down to Amindzhon Gulmurodzoda, who was convicted on charges of forgery on August 18.
A court in Dushanbe found Gulmurodzoda, 33, who was formerly a reporter from the Tajik language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, guilty of obtaining falsified birth certificate in 1989. Prosecutors also accused Gulmurodzoda of obtaining a fake passport in 1998.
“The verdict is sending a chill throughout Tajikistan’s journalistic community as yet another example of the crackdown on free speech and independent voices,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.
The jailing fits into a broader pattern of suppression of dissenting or independent voices on Tajikistan’s political and media scenes.
On August 28, the Justice Ministry sent a letter to the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan informing it that it was being abolished over alleged technical violations of legislation on political parties.
Less than two weeks earlier, IRPT’s printing house was closed over claimed health code violations, Interfax news agency reported. The government sanitary standards body said workers had not undergone regular medical checks and were not equipped with uniforms or provided with medical nutrition, as required by law.
Some of Tajikistan’s myth-building is out of this world, but it has really taken that literally this time.
Khovar state news agency reported on September 1 — to mark the post-Soviet-wide “Day of Knowledge” holiday no less — that a "small planet" in the solar system has been named after Tajikistan.
This rare honor was bestowed upon the country by something called the International Astrophysicists Union for contributions made by Tajikistan’s scientists to astrophysics and the study of the heavens, Khovar reported.
A certificate confirming that the planet is definitely real and that it has certainly been named after Tajikistan was handed to President Emomali Rakhmon by the president of the Academy of Sciences, Farhod Rahimi.
Where is the planet? Khovar gives pretty specific coordinates: 250 million kilometers from earth and 436 million kilometers from the sun.
Tajikistan — the planet not the country — orbits the sun once every five years, which is coincidentally equivalent to the term of the country’s parliament. The two Tajikistans are currently at peak proximity, so Tajik scientists are eagerly peering through their telescopes to work out what’s up there, Khovar reported:
“Tajik scientists are studying its physical and chemical composition, as well as the processes taking place on this planet.”
Whatever else it might wish, the Azerbaijani court hearing the controversial case against jailed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova apparently does not wish that she has the last word. As Ismayilova lambasted the court on August 31 for a bumbling trial and the government for corruption, Judge Ramella Allahverdiyeva cut short her final statement before delaying sentencing until September 1.
In her comments, Ismayilova, 39, once again dismissed the criminal charges against her as “funny.” She faces a potential nine years in prison for alleged incitement to suicide, tax evasion, abuse of power, embezzlement, and “illegal business” — charges that most rights activists and Ismayilova herself see as retribution for investigative work that targeted the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
"Illegal business is one [of] my favorite charges," reads an English translation of her statement posted on RFE/RL. "Do you actually know what illegal business means? Illegal business is when the president, prime minister, or a parliament member engages in personal businesses even though they are not supposed to do so. Together with my colleagues, I was very surprised to see our president’s name as the founder of a number of companies registered in the Virgin Islands.”
As Ismayilova, following along these same lines, rebutted the charges against her, prosecutors objected to the statement, claiming it was not related to the case. As is her wont, Judge Allahverdiyeva, who also has been a target of the defendant’s criticism, upheld the objection and the court adjourned before Ismayilova had finished speaking.
“We are witnessing a historic event. Kyrgyzstan has secured energy independence,” he said. “We had to ask our neighbors for transit. Now, nobody will turn off our power.”
The transmission route was needed to remedy a legacy of the Soviet Union, under which the Central Asian republics were linked by power grids and readily coordinated their respective needs. As a result, electricity to Kyrgyzstan’s south passed through Uzbekistan, while northern regions were supplied through lines in Kazakhstan.
Atambayev said Datka-Kemin will not only liberate his country from dependence on neighbors, but will also free it of onerous transit fees.
“For the transit of our own electricity from one region to another region of the country through the territory of a neighboring nation, we spent millions of dollars annually,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan had limited finances to undertake the transmission line project itself, so it secured a $390 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China to build the 405-kilometer line and the Kemin electricity substation.
The work was completed by Chinese company Tebian Electric Apparatus (TBEA) over a three-year period.
The agreement had its critics, like nationalist member of parliament with Ata-Jurt party, Ahmatbek Keldibekov.