The capital of Tajikistan has been plunged into darkness by an unexpected electricity blackout — an embarrassing crisis only one day before the start of major work on an important hydropower dam.
Residents in Dushanbe said the electricity gave out at after 6:30 pm on October 28 and had still not returned by nightfall. Scheduled blackouts are a common occurrence in Tajikistan, although mostly in the regions and at the height of winter, but this appears to be an unplanned event.
President Emomali Rahmon is due on October 29 to oversee a ceremony marking the start of work on stemming the flow of the Vakhsh River as part of construction work on the Rogun mega-dam. It is unclear if the outage is in any way related to preparations for that event.
Russian state-run news agency Sputnik cited unnamed sources as saying the blackout affects 90 percent of the country and that two possible causes are being considered.
“The first is that the authorities have decided to insure themselves during the stemming of the Vakhsh, while they were carrying out explosions. The issue there is to do with building work on Rogun. The second version is more plausible — that there has been an accident on the LEP-500 power line, which provides electricity to most of the country,” the agency reported.
Officials neither gave any advance warning of the blackout nor offered any explanation afterward.
The lack of information has already begun giving rise to rumors and speculation, largely along the lines proposed by Sputnik. But some commenters on social media have even alluded to reports of a blackout in the Pamirs, which is normally relatively immune to such electricity failure as it is fed by the Agha Khan Fund-run Pamir Energy power producer. Others on social media denied the reports about the Pamirs.
The trial in Kazakhstan of a man accused of embarking on a shooting spree in the business capital, Almaty, is approaching its end amid calls for him to face the death penalty.
Ruslan Kulekbayev freely admits to killing eight policemen and two civilians during his rampage on July 18 and has told the court he has no regrets. The motivation for the attack, Kulekbayev told the court, stemmed from his perception that police were mistreating devout Muslims.
“Your husbands and brothers were persecuting and tormenting my Muslim brothers. They unjustly judged them. They too took people away from their families. That is why I did this,” Kulekbayev said in a final statement to the court.
He was similarly unfazed by the prospect of death, although technically that penalty is prohibited by moratorium in Kazakhstan.
“You can sentence me to life in prison, you can sentence me to death, I am prepared to accept anything. I would just say this: even the life of a fly, if it pleases Allah, is valuable to me. Everything else, well… I do not recognize your judgment, the highest justice can only be dispensed by Allah,” Kulekbayev said.
Another five accomplices also on trial did not face charges connected to the mass shooting, but were accused of planning to rob a businessman together with Kulekbayev. The prosecution has asked those defendants to receive jail terms of between three and 12 years.
A verdict is due on November 2.
As suggested by the remarks above, Kulekbayev’s behavior was contemptuous throughout the trial. He always appeared relaxed and occasionally laughed into the cameras. The trial was open to journalists, although they were only able to following proceedings by video feed from an adjacent room.
It was with immense grief that I heard that my mentor and PhD advisor, Professor Edward Allworth, passed away last week in New York at the grand and befitting age of 95.
As one of his last Master’s and then PhD students at Columbia University in the mid-1990s, I benefitted from six years of his tutorship, wisdom, compassion, intellectual rigor, high aspirations and expectations. He groomed us as cultural historians of a region – Central Asia – which he had discovered and loved since his own youth.
Professor Allworth always defended cultural history during the Cold War when the tendency was to study strategy and weapons, as well as during the post-Soviet period, when the focus was on democracy building and economic transition models. When the Central Asian countries gained independence in the early 1990s, while some students dropped out of the PhD track to follow the appeal of rapid lucrative employment in oil companies, governments and radio stations beaming propaganda to the region, he kept a handful of us at bay and steeped us in the writings of the early 20th century reformist writer Abdalrauf Fitrat, and the study of Chagatay, the 15th century pre-Uzbek language.
Uzbekistan’s acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87, formally recognizing freedoms of association and the protection of the right to organize.
Tashkent’s prior resistance to adopting the convention has been linked to repressive practices in the country’s cotton industry, which involves the forcible annual mobilization of state workers for weeks of grueling labor in the fields during harvest season.
On the face of it, Uzbekistan adoption of this international standard fits into Tashkent’s ongoing charm offensive following the death of President Islam Karimov in September. The government has been working hard in recent years to persuade the international community that it is attempting to address some of its more unsavory practices.
Still, the significance of a largely bureaucratic move should not be overstated before results are seen and Karimov’s passing was likely only incidental to the development. Uzbekistan’s adoption of Convention No. 87 has been a few years in arriving. Tashkent signed a memorandum of understanding with the ILO in April 2014 committing it in principle to ratification this year.
In July, even prior to Karimov’s death, Mirziyoyev told a government meeting that during this year’s cotton harvest campaign, no school or university students were to be sent out into the fields. The remarks were intended in part to salve the concerns of the ILO, which is now implementing a inspection regime designed to detect abuses. But there is strong evidence to suggest that despite those exhortations, many students were press-ganged into cotton-picking all the same.
The son of Tajikistan’s leader, a 29-year old sometimes touted as a possible successor to the presidency, has announced he has completed a sociological survey on corruption.
As head of the state anticorruption agency, Rustam Emomali was ideally positioned to undertake the task, although the news is likely to have provoked raised eyebrows all the same.
As it happens, many in Tajikistan firmly believe it is the ruling family and their associates that are largely to blame for the rampant bribery, although no comprehensive and independent polling has been done to measure those moods. Tajikistan ranked joint 136th out 165 countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index — the same as Nigeria and 17 position below Russia.
Emomali spoke about the research while providing an update on October 27 to his father, President Emomali Rahmon, on his agency’s effort to combat graft over the past year. The aim of the study was to understand the exact causes of corruption and determine public attitudes toward the problem by putting questions to around 88,000 residents, Emomali said.
Ozodagon website cited Emomali as saying that respondents queried stated they most often confronted corruption in the healthcare and education sectors and while securing services at the birth and marriages registry office.
More than half the people that participated in the survey said some of the most corrupt state organizations in Tajikistan also include the prosecutor’s office, the customs service, national security bodies, the judiciary, and the Interior Ministry.
Uzbekistan’s currency has taken a severe battering on the black market over the past week.
Back on October 22, unofficial currency traders in the capital, Tashkent, were buying dollars at around 6,400 sum. The rate as of the start of the week was just shy of 7,000 sum — although as a testament to the volatility of the currency, rates have been regaining their positions toward the end of each working day. By the close of business on October 25, the rate was 6,600 sum.
“Because of the spike in dollar rates, people have stopped selling their foreign currency and almost nobody buys it,” one black market trader called Bahrom told EurasiaNet.org. Bahrom said the sudden downward pressure on the sum was the result of the price increase for automobile gas announced by the authorities over the weekend.
Transactions in the gasoline market are largely carried out in dollars. State energy company Uzbekbeftegaz buys large amounts of fuel in Kazakhstan and Russia and pays for it in dollars. Private owners of gas stations in Uzbekistan also use the US currency to purchase their supplies.
The official exchange rate has also been registered some fluctuations, albeit only minute ones since the government is typically reluctant to admit to weaknesses in the economy. The rate last week was 3,065 sum to the dollar, but that has gone up to 3,084 sum.
Black market currency trader Rasul told EurasiaNet.org that he believes the street value of the sum could possibly break through the 7,000 psychological barrier by the end of the year, which would result in a fresh round of price increases for groceries. Other traders remain confident the sum could stay around the 6,700 figure, however.
A delegation of senior officials from Uzbekistan has paid a visit to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, reciprocating a trip earlier this month that presaged a possible thaw in relations between the two nations.
The 47-person delegation that traveled to Krygyzstan’s Osh region on October 26 was led by Uzbek deputy Prime Minister Adham Ikramov and also comprised the heads of the Andijan, Namangan and Ferghana regions, representatives of several government agencies, including the National Security Service, and members of the Kyrgyz diaspora.
As happened during the visit to Uzbekistan in early October, the officials passed through the Dustlik (“Friendship”) border crossing, which sits adjacent to Osh and has lain unused for many years.
So far, these encounters have focused primarily on pleasantries. The Kyrgyz hosts laid on a series of cultural events under the gaze of the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Osh.
"During the visit, the delegation visited Osh State University, where they learned about the activities of the medicine faculty. Addressing the students, Adham Ikramov spoke of the inviolability of friendship and good neighborliness between the two countries. He stressed that good neighborly relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan should become a cornerstone for the further development of joint cooperation,” Uzbek news website gazeta.uz reported.
You know it’s time for change when you’ve had an armed standoff in the capital city with hundreds calling for your resignation. And so, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, two months after a showdown in Yerevan between police and anti-government gunmen, has replaced his prime minister and several key ministers, ordaining the new cabinet to carry out a “great change.”
But how great that change will actually be is open to debate. Dubbed a government of millionaires by some, the updated cabinet features a few ministers known for their business successes, but others object that it’s still the same old crowd.
The change, noted one analyst, is that this cabinet’s alleged “millionaire ministers” – Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, Health Minister Levon Altunian and Agriculture Minister Ignati Arakelian – come from outside the government and, therefore, are not seen as having recently used an official post to feather their nests.
“The difference is that at least some of the members of [the] new government, including the new prime minister, have not been part of the government institutions, so their assets are not seen as illegitimate by the public,” commented Mikayel Zolyan, a policy analyst with the Regional Studies Center, a Yerevan-based think-tank.
The provenance of a few of the new ministers’ wealth is linked to Russia. Most notably, 53-year-old Prime Minister Karapetian, a former deputy energy minister, held executive positions with Russia’s gas giant Gazprom structures: first, in Yerevan, and then in Moscow.
Not surprisingly, earlier this month he announced that Armenia’s ties with Russia would grow still stronger.
A 26-year old man in Tajikistan has been sentenced to 13 years in jail on charges of plotting to kill a poet now best-known for his paeans to President Emomali Rahmon.
As media in Tajikistan reported on October 24, a court in Dushanbe determined that Behruz Yagdarov was planning the murder to impress his cohorts in the Islamic State group, whom he subsequently intended to join in Syria.
Meanwhile, reports about the case have been pulled from news websites at the insistence of the security services after the presumed intended victim, Bozor Sobir, revealed that he was not aware of the plot against him — even after the verdict was passed.
According to media reports, Yagdarov was given instructions by unnamed parties to kill former Muslims, as well as Jews and Christians. But Sobir, a sometime-ardent-communist currently in the United States, was an odd would-be target, given that he lives on the other side of the planet from Dushanbe, where Yagdarov was arrested.
When contacted by media about the murder, Sobir expressed ignorance of the entire affair.
“Nobody told me about any of this, and they didn’t invite me to attend the trial. I was in the United States at the time,” Sobir said.
A report on the website of RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, about the trial was taken down following complaints from the State Committee for National Security, according to EurasiaNet.org sources.
In what has been billed as a historic development, Tajikistan will later this month start stemming the flow of the Vakhsh River as part of construction work on the Rogun mega-dam.
Moscow-based ferghana.ru has reported, citing a source in Tajikistan’s energy sector, that a ceremony to begin diverting the river will be attended by President Emomali Rahmon on October 29.
Construction duties on Rogun were earlier this year assigned to Italian company Salini Impregilo. It is estimated that the project will cost $3.9 billion to complete, although it is far from clear where Dushanbe is to source such a vast quantity of funds.
The website cites energy industry insiders as saying that work on the Vakhsh River will not affect existing hydroelectric facilities downstream.
Salini Impregilo explained the purpose of diverting the Vakhsh — as well as how it will be done — in its project page on Rogun.
“The diversion of the Vakhsh River … will be done with confluence of two diversion tunnels in a mountainside in order to keep the foundations of the dam dry. It is a very complex task that, because of the strength of the river, will only be able to be done during the winter months when the mountains are covered in snow and the water level is lower,” the company said on its website.
The project is broken down into four components, with the most expensive one involving the building of a 335-meter-high rockfill dam — the tallest in the world — which will entail costs of around $1.95 billion.