A Tajikistan border guard, during a 2007 training program with the U.S. Army.
In all of the news coverage of the fighting that rocked eastern Tajikistan this summer, one angle that was rarely (if ever) discussed was the U.S. involvement in training and equipping the government security forces that conducted the the operations there. While everyone has been paying a lot of attention to the U.S.'s growing ties with Uzbekistan as a result of the war in Afghanistan, the aid that Washington gives Tajikistan has flown under the radar. But the aid to Tajikistan has been pretty substantial, including a good amount of lethal military aid, and the conduct of the Tajikistan security forces this summer should be raising questions in Washington about whether this sort of aid is appropriate.
It's difficult to find out exactly what military aid the U.S. gives to Tajikistan. An increasing amount of the aid is given not through State Department programs (like Foreign Military Financing) but through Defense Department counterterrorism and counterdrug programs. And the latter tend not to have as rigorous requirements as to what information has to be reported to the public or to Congress. So, although much of the information isn't classified, it's not easy to find. As part of a report on U.S. security assistance to Central Asia that will be released soon, I tried to dig up all I could to figure out what sort of aid the U.S. was giving. And one of the surprising findings was how extensive the aid to Tajikistan has been.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a new prime minister on September 5, and with him a new government.
The new ruling coalition looks much like the old one. Save for the Respublika Party of ex-Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, whose government collapsed last month, three of the four parties that made up the last coalition will stay: the Social Democrats, Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys. Also, few ministers will change, for now.
Those who have said President Almazbek Atambayev was looking for a servile prime minister to replace the independent-minded Babanov will not be surprised to hear it is Atambayev’s own chief of staff who has slid into the position, after a relatively calm coalition-forming process.
Zhantoro Satybaldiyev is also a member of Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party.
A former minister of transport and communications, 56-year-old Satybaldiyev has previously served as Osh city mayor and Osh Province governor. Before Atambayev became president last year, international donors knew Satybaldiyev as the head of the state agency in charge of reconstructing Osh and Jalal-Abad following the ethnic violence in 2010.
Significantly, he’s a southerner, which could help calm tensions between the north (overwhelmingly represented in the post-Bakiyev government) and the south.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets with Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon in New Delhi
Tajikistan's president Emomali Rahmon has wrapped up an official visit to India, where leaders of the two countries agreed on a "strategic partnership." India has given plenty of signs it intends to be more active in Central Asia, including announcing a "Connect Central Asia" policy this summer, and the joint statement signed by both presidents calls for lots of new cooperation in trade, energy and security.
And what of the hottest issue between the two countries, India's perpetual hope for an air base in Central Asia? Not much, reports the Times of India:
"President Rahmon and I agreed that in view of the broad progress made in our bilateral relations, particularly in defence and security cooperation, we should elevate our relations to a strategic partnership,'' said [Indian Prime Minister Manmohan] Singh as he described Tajikistan as a key partner of India in the central Asian region.
Official sources said that the strategic partnership emanated mainly from Tajikistan's fear of the Taliban and the possibility of their comeback in Kabul after the drawdown of international forces in 2014. While there was barely any mention of the Ayni airfield, which India helped rebuilt, the two sides agreed that New Delhi would build a Friendship Hospital in southern Tajikistan for both military and civilian use.
The Indian Express has a bit more on the Friendship Hospital:
[T]he two sides said they agreed to set up an “India-Tajik Friendship Hospital” in Tajikistan.
In terms of fauna, Kazakhstan is commonly associated with horses galloping across the grassy steppe and camels galumphing through the desert. So, understandably, this week some Temirtau residents were surprised when they chanced upon a sack containing a crocodile and a python in their yard.
The reptiles were part of a group that had gone missing from an exhibition of exotic wildlife in Temirtau, home to an ArcelorMittal steel plant, on August 29. The crocodile and python were returned to the town's botanical gardens on September 3. Despite a lack of food and water, they were said to be unharmed by the ordeal.
The fate of the other missing animals, a second python, four turtles and a rabbit, remains unknown. An investigation into the possible theft of the animals continues. It’s unknown if investigators have considered checking the stomachs of the crocodile and python that have just been returned to captivity.
It's not the first time that exotic wildlife has hit the headlines this summer in Kazakhstan. In July a tiger from Russia named Kesha caused a buzz when, instead of performing a trick, he lifted his leg and urinated on a group of VIPs.
The end of summer and the return of cooler weather has traditionally signaled the beginning of fishing season in the waters around Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. These days, this time of the year also means the return of controversy and debate over the future of the country's fishing industry and government efforts to make sure that industry even has a future.
As reported in a previous Kebabistan blog post and in a subsequent Eursianet article, the previous fishing season turned violent after the government imposed a minimum catch-size limitation on certain types of fish. Following the imposition of the new regulations, the head of an Istanbul fisheries union that supported the change was shot in the face last January by a gunman who challenged him about it (the union leader survived, although he did lose an eye).
This year, the Turkish government is proposing more new regulations designed to prevent overfishing, most significantly forbidding dragnet fishing in waters that are less than 24-meters(78 feet) deep and completely banning the use of dragnets in certain sensitive areas, such as the waters around the Princes' Islands near Istanbul.
To Armenia, Azerbaijan's recent pardoning of Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, convicted of the 2004 axe murder of an Armenian army officer during a training in Budapest, was a slap in the face. Now, Armenia is contemplating a response that could take the two countries' angry dispute over Safarov into an entirely new dimension.
A bill was presented to the Armenian parliament on September 4 to recognize as an independent country the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh, the territory that was the cause of the 1988-1994 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. No date has yet been scheduled for the vote.
Arguably, Armenia has long interacted with the de-facto government of Karabakh as if with an independent country -- if not an additional Armenian province -- but has refrained from making that position official.
Coming on the heels of warnings of war from Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a Karabakh native, the measure might well give outside observers pause.
The bill, though, is far from the enraged response of an isolated few. Armenia has severed diplomatic relations with Hungary, where Safarov had been serving life for the 2004 murder, for permitting Safarov's return to Azerbaijan, with demonstrations staged in Budapest and Yerevan, to boot.
Photojournalist Anahit Hayrapetyan covered the recent election for the de-facto president of Nagorno Karabakh. Anahit, who is originally from the breakaway region in the South Caucasus, traveled to several villages and the capital Stepanakert to catch up on how the region is faring during the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan.
Anahit Hayrapetyan is a freelance photojournalist based in Yerevan.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a "vehicle for human rights violations," according to a report published Monday by the International Federation for Human Rights. The report, which was put together with the help of local human rights organizations in all six SCO member countries (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), is a follow up to an earlier paper by a group affiliated with FIDH, Human RIghts in China. This one focuses on how legislation on counterterrorism is influenced by China and Russia via the SCO:
The incorporation of SCO doctrines into member state domestic law extends China and Russia’s control over regional counter-terrorism policies and practices beyond their own national boundaries, by virtue of their status as dominant members of the SCO. This has grave implications for the protection of human rights in Central Asia. On 6 and 7 June 2012, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Beijing, member states amended an agreement on mechanisms for responding collectively to “events that jeopardise regional peace, security and stability”.
“The recent agreement in Beijing reflects the shared fear among SCO governments of the kind of popular uprisings still unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa, said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “The security doctrines of the SCO will add potency to the already expansive and unchecked state power that is often used and abused to criminalize dissent and human rights defenders”, she added.
One of the darkest legacies of the Turkish state's fight against the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the 1990's is the large number of enforced disappearances that took place in the predominantly-Kurdish southeast region. Human rights workers in the region working on the issue believe some 1,000 people were disappeared by suspected state actors during that time.
Until relatively recently, families of the Kurdish disappeared had little hope for finding answers to what happened to their relatives and little reason to believe justice would somehow be served in these cases. In the last few years, though, have given some hope that things might be changing, with victims' families, lawyers and civil society organizations in the southeast starting to push more openly for investigations into the fate of the disappeared and with the government showing some willingness to take a look at the dirty deeds that were committed in its name.
In a new report, Human Rights Watch takes a look at this issue by focusing on one of the first instances in which a Turkish military official was put on trial for suspected crimes committed during the 1990's, including the disappearance of several men. From HRW's report:
There were positive indications of change in 2009, however, when a remarkable trial began in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır of a gendarmerie officer, retired colonel Cemal Temizöz, three former PKK members turned informers, and three members of the “village guard” (local paramilitary forces armed and directed by the gendarmerie). The prosecution accused the defendants of working as a criminal gang involved in the killing and disappearance of twenty people in and around the Cizre district of Şırnak province between 1993 and 1995.
As President Nursultan Nazarbayev took to the podium September 3 to address parliament, observers sat back ready to hear what he had to say about the troubles that have plagued Kazakhstan over the last year, from terrorism and deadly unrest to two mysterious mass murders this summer.
Instead, what they got was a diatribe against graffiti and garbage: Nazarbayev used his speech to rail against anti-social behavior, including cussing and public drunkenness. (This is not a new fixation: In April the president instructed police in the capital, Astana, to arrest people who leave chewing gum at street crossings.)
Nazarbayev also urged parliament to adopt laws to promote economic growth and improve ordinary people’s lives -- quite sensibly, since the investigation into the turmoil in Zhanaozen on Independence Day last December that left 15 dead acknowledged social grievances as a contributing factor.
The president noted that “at my instruction, last year, by the 20th anniversary of independence, every town and village was to have become a model of comfort and orderliness” -- though his message had obviously not reached Zhanaozen, if the official investigation findings are to be believed. Nazarbayev did not mention the violence or its aftermath.
For some observers, his speech was long on style -- buzzwords included “social modernization” and “green economy” -- and short on substance.
“Evidently, the president simply has nothing to say,” opposition leader Bolat Abilov told the Guljan website, accusing Nazarbayev of ignoring “serious topics.”