When an Astana businessman dealt a savage beating on a young man he deemed a love rival, he may have thought his influential connections would grant him impunity.
He was wrong.
On August 7, Astana criminal court sentenced Kayrat Zhamaliyev to 13 years in jail, ending a trial that has revealed the power of social media to hold even Kazakhstan’s movers and shakers to account. Two accomplices received prison terms of 12 and eight years.
Zhamaliyev was found guilty of assaulting Alibi Zhumagulov, whom he reportedly suspected of having an affair with his girlfriend.
Adding spice to the high-profile case is the that fact that Zhamaliyev is married and that the woman in question, Aynur Isina, was reportedly his “tokal” — the Kazakh word for a second wife. That aspect of the affair has led wags in Kazakhstan to dub the case “Tokalgate.”
Polygamy is illegal in Kazakhstan, but the practice of taking a second wife – either under Islamic law or informally — is becoming widespread, as Bloomberg has reported.
Isina, who reportedly has a child by Zhamaliyev, stood by the businessman and denied that Alibi had been subjected to any violence. Both she and his wife, Alena Zhamaliyeva, appeared in court to support him.
Zhamaliyev — a well-known figure in Astana and owner of a hotel, two restaurants and a karaoke bar in the city – was accused of inflicting a serious beating on Zhumagulov and subjecting him to a sexual assault.
Scientists believe they have at long last solved the puzzle of what caused the catastrophic die-offs of endangered saiga antelopes on the steppes of Kazakhstan earlier this summer.
State-run Khabar TV reported on August 4 that the death of the roughly 134,000 saigas was caused by a disease that provokes high fevers, painful swellings and shortness of breath, and can lead to death within 24 hours.
“The cause of death of the saigas is hemorrhagic septicemia,” Steffen Zuther, a German researcher and the international coordinator of the Astana-based Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, told the TV channel.
Hemorrhagic septicemia — which scientists believe was rapidly spread across the steppe by ticks in May — is a form of pasteurellosis, a disease that killed nearly 12,000 saigas in a 2010 epidemic.
Kazakhstan’s government has not yet confirmed the diagnosis. Bakytbek Duysekeyev, an Agriculture Ministry official, told Khabar that research is ongoing and that the results of that work will be collated in the fall.
The disease has wiped out almost half of Kazakhstan’s population of saigas, distinctive creatures with long, humped noses that allows them to filter air during the dusty, summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters.
Before the misfortune struck this year, the country’s population stood at around 300,000, according to government estimates. Astana’s figures are higher than the estimate of 265,000 produced last year by the international Saiga Conservation Alliance after an aerial study of roaming grounds in Kazakhstan.
So far, Moscow’s embargo plans seem to extend only to state purchases of health supplies; retailers can still carry imported brands. The reasoning for the measure was variously put down to hopes to bolster domestic production or retaliate against the West for its sanctions against Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.
Some believe that, thanks to the restrictions, Russians will be making more condoms and/or more babies. Government aide Gennady Onishchenko, a former chief sanitation inspector best known in the Caucasus for bans on imported Georgian food products, expressed the hope that Russians will become more selective in picking sex partners and that the country's "demographic problems" will be resolved.
Kazakhstan's glitzy new capital has been put on Europe's football map as FC Astana overcame Finland's HJK to book a place in the UEFA Champions League play-off round, leaving it two games away from a place in the group stage of Europe's elite club tournament.
The dramatic 4-3 victory over HJK — Astana scored in the third minute of injury time — guarantees the club at least a spot in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League, making the club only the second team from Kazakhstan, after Shakhter Karagandy, to reach this stage.
Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country to play its soccer in Europe. It joined UEFA — the Union of European Football Associations — in 2002 after competing for 10 years in the Asian Football Confederation, where Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan play their international football.
FC Astana was formed in 2008 from the ashes of two defunct clubs from Kazakhstan's commercial hub, Almaty. It was originally known as Lokomotiv Astana and was bankrolled by Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, the national railroad company.
In 2011, it changed its name and was brought under the wing of Samruk-Kazyna, the national sovereign-wealth fund. The injection of cash has seen the club recently invest in young talent such as Ghanaian forward Patrick Twumasi, who scored Astana's opener against HJK, and Serbian midfielder Nemanja Maksimović.
The club's success is a boost for Kazakhstan's image after the blow of losing the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing last week. Sport plays a key role in Kazakhstan's project to promote itself on the international stage.
The pipeline intended to forge a new export route through Afghanistan for Turkmenistan’s natural gas riches has made a fresh stride with the naming a consortium leader for construction.
Turkmenistan’s state news agency reported on August 6 that state-owned Turkmengaz will be in charge of bringing TAPI — named for the initials of the four countries it crosses — into existence.
The decision was taken during a TAPI management committee meeting in Ashgabat, the Turkmen state news agency reported. Senior officials from the Asian Development Bank, which is acting a transaction adviser on the project, were also in attendance.
“In its capacity as leader of the consortium of the TAPI Limited pipeline company, Turkmengaz will head coordination on construction, financing, management and use of the TAPI pipeline,” said an official statement cited by the state news agency.
Backers of the project, which include the United States and the European Union, appear to be unfazed by occasional and loosely sourced reports of unrest along the Turkmen-Afghan border that would stand to disrupt any major construction work. Security issues do not typically feature in official statements on TAPI, which suggests either that anxieties are overblown or that the parties to the project are simply hoping for the best.
The statement notes that Turkmengaz has more than 50 years experience in the development and transportation of gas resources, as well as in the construction of pipelines. But it also notes hopefully that other large companies will join the consortium as the project moves forward.
Two Russian soldiers accused of killing a taxi driver in Tajikistan have gone on trial at a military court inside the base where the men were deployed.
The taxi driver, Rahimjon Teshaboev, was killed in August and ihs body was discovered near a lake with his throat slashed. Two Russian soldiers, Fyodor Basimov and Ildar Sakhapov, were arrested and charged with the crime. Shortly thereafter the two Russians were transferred to Moscow for psychological tests, which Teshaboev's relatives feared was a pretext for letting the men escape justice in Tajikistan.
The case then dropped out of the news until this week, when it emerged that the two men were on trial in Tajikistan, albeit at a military court at Russia's 201st military base, where they had been serving.
The trial is starting at a time of particular controversy in Tajikistan over the legal status of the Russian base and its soldiers, after a street brawl last month involving some drunk Russian soldiers in their underwear caused a local scandal. As is often the case with foreign military bases around the world, the story became a touchstone for discussion about Tajikistan's sovereignty vis-a-vis its massive ally.
It's also an interesting comparison to a far larger controversy in Armenia over a Russian soldier's murder of seven members of a local family. That case got a lot more public attention than the murder in Tajikistan in large part because of the circumstances: the Armenian family was killed randomly and one of the victims was a baby, while in Tajikistan the victim knew the alleged killers, who reportedly owed him money.
Geopolitics rather than terroir may be affecting the quality of Georgian wine, at least as far as Russia, the world’s largest Georgian alcohol tippler, is concerned. After the Kremlin said it would retaliate against countries that support Western sanctions against Moscow, Russia tried Georgia’s wine and found it wanting.
Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian federal food safety agency as formidable as its name, declared on August 4 that both Georgian winemakers and government services for food quality oversight consistently fail to assure the quality of alcoholic beverages exported to Russia. Almost 7 million liters of booze imported from Georgia in 2015 did not meet Russia’s high standard for alcohol safety, in Rospotrebnadzor’s telling.
The agency, long a Russian foreign-policy tool toward post-Soviet countries with Western aims, took issue with Georgia’s staple dry red Saperavi, produced by the company Agora, and two types of brandy, Old Kakheti and Kolkhida, produced by Telavi Wine Cellar. A number of batches of these beverages lacked the required quality-assurance documentation, Rospotrebnadzor claimed.
Georgia’s agriculture ministry responded that it carefully controls the quality of alcohol exported to Russia, but added that it will look into the allegations. At the same time, Georgia’s point man for talks with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, went explaining to Russian media that Tbilisi had not signed on to any of the European Union’s new sanctions against Moscow.
Turkmenistan’s leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has flown to Kyrgyzstan with promises of enduring friendship and, on a more practical note, supplies of cheap electricity.
As ever though, natural gas was being discussed as Turkmenistan presses forward in its program to create as many export routes for its fuel as possible.
Speaking after talks in Bishkek on August 5, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev was fulsome in his gratitude for commitments that are still only notional.
“I want to thank you for your brotherly word about Turkmenistan’s readiness to deliver electricity at very low prices. I think that all the issues to do with its transportation will be settled,” he told his guest.
Easier said than done given the not inconsiderable issue of Uzbekistan, which lies between the two countries. Tashkent has historically proven an unreliable transit nation for power deliveries. In 2009, Uzbekistan interrupted electricity supplies from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan when it pulled out of the Soviet-engineered power grid that links Central Asian nations.
Ashgabat committed in 2013 to investing $5 billion over a seven year period into increasing its export capacity fivefold, so it should on paper have enough to go around. It is unclear, other than sheer brotherliness, why Turkmenistan would commit to subsidizing Kyrgyzstan’s notoriously inefficient electricity system.
Any Kyrgyz government unwilling to countenance political unrest will consider raising electricity tariffs at their own peril.
NATO could get involved in protecting a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which Russia strongly opposes, an alliance official has said.
The idea of building a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan's massive reserves to Azerbaijan and then further on to Europe has been on the drawing board for a long time, but has been held back for a number of reasons, not least Russia's strong opposition.
In May, a senior EU official said on a visit to Ashgabat that a "political decision" had been made to build the pipeline and that the EU expects to start receiving gas from it by 2019. It's still not clear who would build the pipeline, however.
But now a NATO official has said that the alliance would play a part in protecting it. In an interview with Azerbaijani news website AzVision, NATO's South Caucasus Liaison Officer William Lahue weighed in on the pipeline and made some surprisingly bold endorsements of it:
“It is important that countries have multiple sources of supply in order to protect themselves from fluctuations in available sources of supply,” he said. “In this process Azerbaijan is going to be important, and its importance is growing.”
“Technically, it is possible to build Trans-Caspian Pipeline as I was told by businessmen from different countries,” said Lahue, adding that the politics is lining up the way that it is eventually going to happen....
“What NATO will be able to do is to pull partners looking for protection of critical energy infrastructure and in that way, we can help facilitate trainings, education for the national organizations working in this sphere for protection of infrastructure,” said Lahue.
Skirmishes sparked by a territorial dispute between residents along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border escalated on August 4, leaving several people injured and damaging multiple homes.
News website Asia-Plus cited Tajik officials as saying Kyrgyz border guards were actively engaged in the disturbances and deployed firearms. Kyrgyzstan promptly denied that accusation, but confirmed that shots were indeed fired, possibly from a shotgun.
The area at the focus of this and much previous unrest lies on the jagged frontier where the east of Tajikistan’s Sughd province and Kyrgyzstan’s Batken province meet.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said the trouble began on August 3 after crowds on the Tajik side blocked a road passing through the village of Maiskoe, which is used by Kyrgyz residents from the village of Kok-Tash to reach a local cemetery.
“In protest, Kyrgyz citizens blocked the water in a canal that flows into the Tajik village of Chorku,” the border service said in a statement.
The account from Tajikistan, as told by a border service source to Asia-Plus, flips around the sequence. Tajik villagers barred the road to the cemetery because the flow of the river was stemmed, the source said.
Either way, given the value of the river in an otherwise highly barren region, it is likely that depriving a large village of water was what escalated the stakes.