Kyrgyzstan burst into a frenzy of celebrating on November 26 as news of the birth of the country’s 6 millionth citizen dominated the media.
The birth of Aylin, a baby girl, has been hailed by authorities as a sign of abiding optimism in Kyrgyzstan’s future. Others are more sanguine, however, and wonder whether money splashed out on marking the child’s arrival might not have been better spent elsewhere.
How the government decided Aylin fit the profile was far from arbitrary.
The Health Ministry announced that a group was specially tasked with monitoring information about all the babies born in the 12 hours following 6 p.m. on November 25. According to the group’s findings, 67 boys and 55 girls came into the world over that period.
A typically acerbic AKIpress editorial noted that careful consideration was given to the characteristics of the baby that would bestowed with the title of six millionth Kyrgyz citizen. After deciding on a gender and ethnicity, and place of birth and social status, the government picked Aylin, an ethnic Kyrgyz female born to a military family living in the southern city of Osh. The child is the family’s sixth.
President Almazbek Atambaev ordered that the family be rewarded with an apartment and a 1 million som (roughly $13,600) bank account. Parents of another 10 babies delivered around the same time will get 100,000 som apiece.
“The growth of the population is considered one of the main indicators of a peaceful life, people’s confidence in their future and aspirations toward welfare and prosperity,” said Atambaev.
Kazakhstan’s annual human rights consultations with the European Union took place this week against the backdrop of what activists say is an alarming spike in arrests over social media postings.
Astana is set to upgrade its relations with EU with the signing of an expanded partnership agreement, prompting concerns that Brussels may choose to gloss over rights issues for geopolitical ends.
While tolerance for dissent has always been low in Kazakhstan, authorities appear to have opened a new front by chasing down what they deem to be critical postings on websites like Facebook and Russia’s VKontakte.
Ahead of the human rights consultations, which took place in Astana on November 26, advocacy groups urged Brussels to address the clampdown.
“The EU should insist that the Kazakhstani authorities stop criminally prosecuting individuals who are legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression to voice opinions or share information that may not be to the liking of those in power,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of the Brussels–based International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), in a joint statement with the Almaty-based Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR). “Open debate – both off- and online – is a key element in any society aspiring to be a free and democratic one.”
On November 11, activist Bolatbek Blyalov of the Anti-Heptyl movement, which campaigns against Russia’s use of Kazakhstan’s Baikonur space station, was arrested on charges of inciting ethnic strife in social media postings.
Blogger Yermek Taychibekov is on trial on the same charge over postings in which he argued Kazakhstan should become part of Russia.
A self-styled expert on religious matters in Kyrgyzstan with a penchant for talking up the threat of Islamic radicalism has been attacked by unknown assailants, local outlets have reported.
Kadyr Malikov, who advises government policymakers on all things Islam, was reportedly knifed in the 12th micro-district of the capital, Bishkek, on the evening of November 26.
According to Vesti.kg, citing confirmation from police sources, eyewitnesses saw Malikov running down the street, bloody-faced and screaming “ISIS wants to kill me” following a heated exchange with the driver of a BMW that was blocking his car.
Citing an interview with a doctor, Russian agency Sputnik reported Malikov was being operated on and had suffered deep knife wounds to his face and neck.
Malikov lives in confirmed fear of an attack from the Islamic State group.
The director of the Religion, Law and Politics analytical center, said in January that the Islamic State group was “ready to pour $70 million into Kyrgyzstan to destabilize the situation in the south.”
That figure, which Malikov never substantiated, was repeated this week by a former deputy head of the national security service at a roundtable titled "Extremism and Terrorism in Kyrgyzstan. Tablighi Jamaat: A Threat or Stability for the Future of the Country?"
After being stripped of their right to over a hundred costly new armchairs by an indignant public last month, Kyrgyzstan’s members of parliament have given up their government-issue cars in a shock display of selflessness.
In recent weeks parliamentarians have been outdoing each other in demonstrating willingness to dispense with the perks of the job. Those included a vehicle fueled at the the expense of the state with a personal driver, as well as a small staff of administrative assistants and political consultants. Housing is also provided for deputies without a resident in the capital, Bishkek.
But up until November 25, when a clear majority voted against keeping the parliamentary fleet, it was far from clear they were going to take the plunge.
After a November 24 meeting of a commission on cutting parliamentary expenditures, Altynai Omurbekova, of the opposition Respublika party vented, to Russia’s Sputnik news agency.
“It was decided that the MPs would not refuse [the services of] either their consultants, or their helpers. As previously they will have drivers and cars, while those [MPs] from outside the city will receive housing. In total, nothing was cut or optimized,” she said.
Omurbekova did prove correct about parliamentarians retaining their staff of five assistants per lawmaker, most of whom earn notably more than the parliamentary drivers now out of work, while housing is still there for deputies that need it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov meet in Iran on November 23. (photo: kremlin.ru)
The disruption of air traffic over the Caspian Sea is a sacrifice necessary for the sake of fighting terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
Russia's launch of cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian against targets in Syria prompted several airlines, including Kazakhstan's flag carrier Air Astana, to suspend flights over the sea in mid-October. Last week, Russia launched another salvo of missiles from the Caspian to Syria.
Putin's recent comments came during a meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov at a gas conference in Iran. It was raised in a curious fashion: Berdymukhammedov brought it up and said it was something that worried Kazakhstan, without mentioning what his own opinion might be.
"Our Kazakh colleagues are very worried about what is happening above the Caspian Sea," Berdymukhammedov said, according to a Kremlin transcript. This is connected with military issues. So the issue has arisen connected with international civilian air traffic, should traffic be altered, the flight level. I don't know if you are aware of this issue, but our Kazakh colleauges are very concernd about this."
Putin's answer was basically: we're the ones fighting terrorism on everyone's behalf, so don't complain about these kinds of inconveniences.
Kazakhstan has issued a diplomatic call for restraint from its allies Russia and Turkey following Ankara’s shooting down of a Russian warplane involved in airstrikes on Syria.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement, issued the day after Turkey downed the Russian fighter jet, that the “tragic incident” on November 24 was cause for regret.
Both sides should exercise restraint and explore “all possible measures and channels of communication for the de-escalation of the situation,” Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said.
The statement follows an ill-tempered war of words between Ankara and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned what he called “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has canceled a planned trip to Ankara.
The standoff between two of Kazakhstan’s allies that have long been at loggerheads over Syria — with the Kremlin backing embattled incumbent Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes targeting rebels and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan seeking his overthrow and backing the militants — is uncomfortable for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan is a staunch ally of Russia and a fellow member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, but also has a close partnership with Turkey and is a fellow member of the Ankara-led Turkic Council.
Turkey’s links with Turkic peoples have played a role in the controversy, as the fighter jet crashed in an area of Syria inhabited by ethnic Turkmen, some of whom are believed to be Ankara-backed rebels.
Astana was careful not to apportion blame for the shooting down of the aircraft, in which one pilot died and the other was rescued by Russian special forces.
The video, apparently first posted on an ISIS-associated, Russian-language site, opens with a sleekly edited intro, Arab music and requisite praises to Allah. Then, a young man, flanked by three fellow Islamic fighters with rifles, calls on Georgia’s Muslim minority, in Arabic-accented, grammatically faulty Georgian, to come to Iraq and Syria to join the holy war. “Oh, my Muslim brothers, know that you are forbidden to live with the kafirs [infidels],” says the man.
The man urges Georgian Muslims to throw off the infidel’s rule — a reference to Georgia’s status as a majority Orthodox Christian society. He also lambasted the leader of Muslims in the Turkish-border region of Achara, describing the mufti as schismatic and conformist. “A great sin is on you,” he said. “People do not know true Islam, they are confused and you are confusing them even more…. Are not you afraid of Allah, who created you from a drop of blood?”
The diatribe ends with the man calling on Georgian Christians to relinquish “idols and crosses” and adopt Islam.
Then another fighter, with an accent typical of Georgia’s western region of Guria, takes to the floor to warn “Georgian infidels” to stop waging war against Islam. Citing Georgia’s time under a caliphate during the early middle ages, he singles out Georgian troops that contribute to NATO’s campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The time will come to cut your heads off,” he warns.
Turkey has shot down a Russian warplane that crossed into its airspace amid tension over Russia's targeting of ethnic Turkmen forces in Syria which Turkey considers its "brothers and sisters."
Since Russia's bombing campaign in Syria began about two months ago Russian jets have repeatedly crossed into Turkish airspace. Until now Turkey has been relatively sanguine about those incursions (though it did send a couple of military helicopters into Armenian airspace which observers interpreted as a message to Russia).
But by Tuesday, Ankara's patience had apparently worn out. After what Turkey claimed was a 17-second violation of its airspace, and ten warnings, Turkish F-16 jets shot down the Russian Su-24. It was apparently the first exchange of fire between a NATO member and Russia since the end of the Cold War.
Turkey's decisionmaking was likely heavily influenced by the fact that Russia had of late been targeting units of ethnic Turkmens, culturally and linguistically close to Turks, in northern Syria. “That definitely played a role in how they responded to this incursion as compared to other ones," said Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Washingon-based Atlantic Council, in a conference call with reporters.. "This isn't just another Russian bombing campaign” but one that attacks what Turkey considers to be its sphere of influence, Stein added.
The crackdown is the first application of new media-law provisions that allow courts to shut down news companies if they are found guilty of such transgressions twice in the space of one year.
Critics charge that claims of defamation long have become synonymous with government criticism in Azerbaijan, which international rights-watchdogs rank among countries with the least amount of press freedom.
Prosecutors, for now, have delivered a warning to eight-plus news outlets (Mia.az, Cumhuriyyət, Qaynarinfo, Gündəminfo, Criminal.az, Strateq.az, İstiqlal.az, JAM.az “and others” ), but warned that next time they might not spare the rod.
The press-freedom organization Reporters without Bordersearlier described the amendments, signed into law by President Ilham Aliyev on November 2, as fresh evidence of continued governmental harassment of independent media in Azerbaijan.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has doubled the prison sentence handed down to a popular imam who was earlier this year found guilty of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
Rights advocacy group Bir Duino said Osh provincial court on November 24 increased Rashot Kamalov’s punishment to 10 years in a high-security facility. A local court in the southern town of Kara-Suu, where Kamalov served as imam of As-Sarakhsi mosque, passed a five-year sentence in October.
The harsher sentence appears to have been by motivated the Osh court’s decision to restore a charge of abuse of office dropped in earlier proceedings.
Lawyers for Kamalov have said they will pursue a further appeal in the Supreme Court.
The severity of the punishment is bound to fan discontent among Kamalov’s numerous supporters in Kara-Suu. The imam’s trial, which lawyers complained was marred by numerous irregularities, was loyally attended by Kamalov’s most devoted parishioners.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at the As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors have argued that Kamalov’s references to the caliphate in his sermons constituted support for the activities of radical and violent Islamists in the Middle East.
An unknown number of people from Kyrgyzstan, including from Kara-Suu, are said to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of radical Islamist groups fighting there.
Despite an absence of transparent and convincing evidence that the Islamic State group is actively establishing a presence in Kyrgyzstan, authorities have been eager to claim that the terrorist organization has made inroads.