There was a time in Uzbekistan when hip-hop got a bad rap for being insufficiently traditional and was de facto prohibited from the public scene.
Going by a student festival that took place last month, however, officials appear to have changed their tune. The “World Through Student Eyes” festival hosted, among other things, a competitive face-off between DJs and hip-hop artists, according to news website ut.uz.
The driving force behind the project was a fourth-year student at an Uzbek arts college, Abbos Tamatov.
“More than 100 people from various parts of the country expressed their interest in taking part in the competition,” Tamatov told ut.uz. “I’ll confess that I was only half certain that they would even let us hold the competition.”
Tamatov told EurasiaNet.org that his next plan to is bring together all the country’s top rap artists and hold major competition among them, so as to capitalize on the massive popularity of hip-hop among young people. The student’s own favorite acts are Uzbek rapper Shohruh and Russian star Basta.
The event organized by Tamatov is notable for the fact that hip-hop is a genre that has been under an unspoken embargo since around 2011. In February that year, an Uzbek youth channel aired a documentary entitled "Melody and Calamity” that leveled intense criticism at western music, and at rap in particular. The program described the musical genre as “a dark cloud hanging over Uzbek youth.” By way of evidence, the documentary asserted that “rock music originated from African hunting rituals” and that "rap was originated by inmates in prisons, which is why rap singers wear wide and long trousers.”
Former leader of Abkhazia Alexander Ankvab appears to be contemplating a comeback to politics, this time as a member of parliament, threatening further turmoil in Abkhazia's already stormy political scene.
This week news emerged that Abkhazia's Central Election Commission has registered a nomination for Ankvab in parliamentary elections scheduled for March 12. Ankvab himself, who has lived in exile in Russia since he was forced out of the de facto presidency in 2014, hasn't commented.
Predictably, the news has triggered a harsh response from supporters of Ankvab's successor Raul Khajimba, condemning Ankvab for a host of misdeeds committed while he was president, including illegally granting Abkhazian citizenship to Georgian residents in Gali District (since reversed under Khajimba) and misspending Russian financial aid. They also claim that in the early days of Abkhazia's 1992-1993 war with Georgia, Ankvab, then interior minister, authorized the transfer of weapons to Georgian special forces.
If Ankvab wins a seat in parliament, he may try to return to Abkhazia, protected by the legal immunity MPs enjoy. Having survived six assassination attempts while in power, he would still have reason to fear for his physical safety, especially since the court case against the suspects has stalled under Khajimba.
The late president of Uzbekistan may have died last year, but his name(s) lives on. Literally.
The day that would have marked Islam Karimov’s 79th birthday — January 30 — was marked by an outpouring of adulation, and some baby-naming to fit the theme.
In Andijan, a couple anticipated the event by giving their newborn triplets the names of Isolmjon, Karimjon and Abdugani — that last name being a reprise of the the late leader’s patronymic. The family received a visit from Andijan regional head Shukhrat Abdurahmanov, who bestowed them with gifts.
“We live in a peaceful and prosperous nation thanks to Islam Abduganievich Karimov. That is why we have decided to name the children in his honor,” the mother, Fatimahon. told Podrobno.uz news website.
Naming babies after Karimov was popular in Uzbekistan even before his death last year. There is no certain count of how many little Islams are running around the country, but anecdotal evidence suggests the number is high.
The tradition of giving multiple babies Karimov’s surname and patronymic seems to have been kicked off by Tashkent resident Gulshan Khaydarova in 2013. In September that year, Khaydarova gave birth to four boys, whom she called Karim, Islam and, less deferentially, Hasan and Husan. And in March 2015, a couple in the Karakalpakstan autonomous region gave their newborn triplet the full house, as it were. That gesture earned them three strollers and a milk cow from the local administration.
Self-immolation has in recent times become a recurrent gesture of ultimate despair in Kazakhstan.
In the latest such case, a ex-employee of the Atyrau regional prosecutor’s office, 37-year old Leila Smadyarova, set herself alight in front of her former place of work, local newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk reported.
Smadyarova’s responsibilities at the prosecutor’s office consisted of ensuring state detention facilities were properly ensuring the rights of prisoners. In August, a court in the Atyrau, which is situated in western Kazakhstan, issued an order for Smadyarova to be placed under house arrest pending investigations into allegations that she had taken 3 million tenge ($9,200) in bribes. She denied the accusation.
Trial proceedings have since got underway. Prosecutors have argued that Smadyarova, who was an assistant to the regional prosecutor, took the bribe in two parts.
Ak-Zhaiyk cited unnamed sources as saying Smadyarova was driven to the act of self-immolation to draw attention to her plight. She maintains that she never took any bribes and that she is the victim of a smear campaign undertaken by people that she had previously brought to justice. Other than witness statements from those individuals, prosecutors have no evidence, Smadyarova has reportedly said.
Smadyarova was taken to a local hospital with burns to her face and lower leg. Doctors have said she is no immediate danger to her life and that she is fully conscious.
The case has shocked the public not just because the gesture is an extreme one, but because it has occurred so many times.
Activist Baurzhan Aldybergenov said the incident should serve as a clarion call for greater solidarity.
Tajikistan’s Somoni Air has scheduled a flight to Uzbekistan for February 10 — the first such commercial flight between the two nations since 1992.
Regular flights are expected every Monday from February 20 onward.
Somoni Air has said in an official statement that it will fly once weekly in the winter season, but that frequency could increase to twice a week in the summer.
“This new route and its frequency will gives the citizens of Tajikistan and Uzbekisan the opportunity to simplify their travels between the two nations,” the airline said.
Not so fast though. On the evening of the announcement on January 31, one-way tickets from Dushanbe to Tashkent were selling online at around $190 — a small fortune in local terms for a 45-minute flight. A ticket the other way cost $220.
By February 1, prices had dropped somewhat, to around $300 for a round trip. By way of comparison, a return flight between Tashkent and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, which is twice as far away as Dushanbe, costs around $320.
The cheaper way to get between the two cities in by car. A taxi from the Tajik capital to the Uzbek border typically costs around $15. The cost of taking a car to Tashkent is about another $20. The cost obviously goes down for travelers willing to share their ride, so the whole trip can be for as little as $20.
Still, there is a premium on comfort and avoiding the nine hours of driving and the time it takes to negotiate the border crossing.
The high cost of tickets is down to airport taxes. Tashkent international airport levies $76 off each flier — flying out of Dushanbe incurs a $48 charge.
The price of an air ticket sparked a lively discussion on social media. People who had dreamed of making the trip since the imminent resumption of the route was announced last year have had to downgrade their expectation.
Actor and producer Anuar Nurpeisov addressing his critics in a Facebook video.
A famous actor and entertainment producer in Kazakhstan has waded into a recurrent controversy about language after appearing to endorse the view that it is not always necessary to know Kazakh.
The outcry began when Anuar Nurpeisov posted a video on his Facebook account in which he discussed his recent visit to Singapore and how he was struck there by how many people he heard speaking English. Why, he wondered, could people not be as relaxed in Kazakhstan toward those, including ethnic Kazakhs, that prefer to speak in some other language?
The remarks drew heated criticism online, where champions of the Kazakh language condemned Nurpeisov for frequently speaking in Russian — instead of his native Kazakh — in his television appearances and elsewhere.
Society in Kazakhstan was split over decades of imperial Russian and then Soviet rule into two linguistic camps.
Typically, urban Kazakhs were forced to rely on Russian as their main language of communication and many continue to do so to this day. By the estimates of a researcher with the Institute of Ethnography at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, Olga Naumova, around 40 percent of Kazakhs no longer spoke their own language by the late 1980s. Naumova found that nearly three-quarters of Kazakhs living in cities did not use their native languages.
Kazakh critics of such people refer to them disparagingly as “Shala Kazakh,” which means “half Kazakh.” At the more militant end of this contingent are those commonly termed “national-patriots,” sometimes mockingly abbreviated to “Natspaty.” Ardently patriotic outlets regularly argue for the need to preserve native Kazakh culture and uphold the supremacy inside Kazakhstan of the “titular language.”
The editor Qazaq Uni newspaper, Kazybek Isa, said Nurpeisov had missed the point in his Facebook complaints.
The "Georgian Legion" fighting in Ukraine, from the facebook page of its commander, Mamuka Mamulashvili.
Ukraine has released a Georgian soldier whose arrest -- under a Russian warrant -- sparked controversy and accusations that the pro-Western governments were colluding with Moscow.
The Kyiv city prosecutor's office announced January 27 that it released Giorgi Tsertsvadze, a retired Georgian lieutenant colonel. Tsertsvadze was arrested 12 days earlier at Kyiv's airport on an Interpol warrant.
That warrant was issued in Russia late last year based on a murder that Tsertsvadze was accused of committing in Russia in 2003. It was no doubt germane that, in the interim, Tsertsvadze also had fought in Georgia's war over South Ossetia and on the side of Ukraine's government against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The arrest quickly became a political issue: Georgia's United National Movement Party accused the ruling Georgian Dream government of secretly giving Russia information on Tsertsvadze. “The Georgian government is using tricks, as they can’t directly pass the soldiers on to Russia. They didn’t warn soldiers that there are criminal charges against them in Russia," said UNM spokeswoman Khatia Dekanoidze. "Tsertsvadze left the territory of Georgia and he was arrested in Ukraine. This is a very evil trick, which is being implemented against our soldiers." Former president and erstwhile UNM leader Mikheil Saakashvili echoed that sentiment, as did Tsertsvadze's Ukrainian lawyer.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have unveiled some heartening news on the economic front with the announcement that 20,000 jobs are be created at the Tengizchevroil energy venture.
But that burst of optimism comes just as dozens of workers have reportedly gone on strike for higher pay at the very same project.
Deputy Labour and Social Protection Minister Birzhan Nurymbetov said on January 30 that the oil field joint venture, which is 50 percent controlled by US energy corporation Chevron, is an example of the government’s long-term investment agenda.
Foreign investments generated by this project have a multiplier effect and enable the development of business and the improvement of social wellbeing, Nurymbetov’s ministry stated in a press release.
“According to Tengizchevroil, [future expansion at the project has created] provides employment for 10,500 people — of those, 9,400 people are local staff, which accounts for 90 percent of all workers on the project in Kazakhstan,” Nurymbetov said.
Narymbetov said the government expect 20,000 more jobs to be created by expansion of the Tengizchevroil project, and that 18,000 of those jobs would go to Kazakhstani citizens.
“Tengizchevroil will assume the responsibility of teaching and training Kazakhstani personnel,” he said.
Workers would come from all over Kazakhstan, Narymbetov said.
But even as government officials are boasting of future job-creation, those already employed by Tengizchevroil are complaining that they are not paid enough.
Uzbekistan has embarked on a campaign to popularize the rearing of chickens as a way to combat poverty in rural areas.
The state broadcaster reported in its evening bulletin on January 29 that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has given orders for a large and high-tech bird farm to be built in the Khorezm region, some 800 kilometers west of the capital, Tashkent. The farm will churn out 51 million eggs and breed 1.5 chicks every year, the news program predicted.
This is the first firm result of an initiative announced by Mirziyoyev earlier in the month as he was touring the city of Nukus, in the capital of the economically depressed Karakalpakstan autonomous region. Chickens, Mirziyoyev predicted, will be the key to solving poverty in Uzbekistan.
“Every family in rural areas should keep at least 100 egg-laying hens. From that amount, you could get at least 50 eggs daily. Suppose a family keeps 10 eggs for itself and sells the other 40, then we would have no more poor people any more,” Mirziyoyev said in a speech broadcast on state television.
Not that officials in Uzbekistan like to talk about the poor. Instead they prefer a euphemistic term meaning “disadvantaged.” Minimum salaries are at present around 150,000 sum per month (around $45 at the official rate).
Mirziyoyev has urged civil servants and bankers to assist the chicken program in any way that they can by enabling credits to families that take up the challenge.
According to state-produced statistics published on January 1, Uzbekistan’s stock of fowl stood at almost 66 million heads and the country produced around 6 billion eggs last year.