A group of activists marching in the center of Bishkek on March 8 to mark International Women's Day (Photo: Courtesy of Bishkek Feminist Initiatives)
Dozens of people in Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities used the occasion of International Woman’s Day on March 8 to gather in solidarity with victims of domestic violence.
The holiday is typically a light-hearted affair in Kyrgyzstan and the rest of the region — an occasion for men to lavish flowers or other gifts on their female colleagues, spouses or other women in their life.
But feminist groups seized on the opportunity to remind the public about the problem of violence and discrimination that they see perpetrated against women in the country.
“For some reason, most of the population sees this as the holiday of spring and flowers. In reality it has lost its true meaning. We wanted to draw the attention of the public and the government to the problems that women face every day,” said feminist activist Reina Arturova.
Arturova and around 100 other people took part in a march in Bishkek that took them past monuments to two well-known female figures in Kyrgyzstan history.
Kurmanjan Datka was an important political figure in Kyrgyzstan who united Kyrgyz tribes in the face of Russian aggression in the 19th century before succumbing to Moscow. Before doing that, however, she is said to have fled a man who had kidnapped her for marriage, making her an appealing role model for many Kyrgyz women. Urkuya Saliyeva, meanwhile, was a reforming activist in the early Soviet period.
Arturova said that although women in Kyrgyzstan are often subjected to violent crimes, many of them often refrain from going to the police or pursuing legal action.
Uzbek Poet Jamol Kamolov, who wrote an appeal to the president criticising the burgeoning personality cult devoted to the late leader Islam Karimov. (Photo: Facebook account, Otamurod Rahmon)
One of Uzbekistan’s best-known poets has made a bold statement criticizing what he sees as the creeping post-mortem cult of personality devoted to the late leader, Islam Karimov.
In a Facebook appeal addressed to the new president, Jamol Kamolov dwelled on the recent adoption of an official resolution recognizing Karimov as the founder of the nation who “liberated the motherland from totalitarianism.”
“For a person who ruled the country for just 25 years and, as you called him, was ‘the builder of the democratic foundations of the state,’ it seems rather excessive to be naming museums, parks, colleges and streets after him, and to be putting up monuments in his honor,” Kamolov wrote.
Kamolov was particularly concerned by proposals to name the airport after Karimov.
“Our state has a millennium of history behind it. On this land we have had many states and rulers. We had the great Amir Timur (Tamerlane). So it is by rights his name that should given to the international airport,” he wrote.
Kamolov, 79, holds the honorific title of People’s Poet of Uzbekistan, which lends his words a certain implied authority, although they clearly go against the official line. His best known works are collected in the the anthologies “Poems” (1982) and “World of Hope” (1988). In addition to writing poetry, Kamolov has also translated numerous foreign classic works of literature, including some by William Shakespeare and Bertolt Brecht, into Uzbek. In 2014, he rendered the Koran into a poeticized Uzbek translation, but that work was not published over objections of the state religious committee.
The European Court of Human Rights on March 7 extended its freeze on a controversial court decision allowing an ownership change at Georgia’s largest private TV station, Rustavi2, that observers claimed would muffle media criticism of the government.
Neither officials nor Rustavi2’s would-be owner, Kibar Khalvashi, responded immediately to the decision, but Rustavi2’s general director, Nika Gvaramia, posted the ECHR notification on his Facebook page, announcing that “We’ve won!”
The decision is not a court ruling, but does prolong “until further notice” the ECHR’s March 3 request that Georgia suspend the ownership change pending a hearing of the Rustavi2 case by the Strasbourg-based court.
At the very least, the decision delayed a new chapter in Rustavi2’s chequered history.
Once a fierce critic of the late President Eduard Shevardnadze and a conduit for the 2003 Rose Revolution, Rustavi2 went on to become a government loyalist under President Mikheil Saakashvili, and then back to being a government detractor after Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream came to power in 2012.
Many Georgians see the station as biased toward the pro-Saakashvili opposition, with Khalvashi’s bid to retake Rustavi2 simply a cover for a takeover attempt by the government and Ivanishvili.
Three Georgian Su-25s, in better days. (photo: MoD Georgia)
Georgia is planning to get rid of its entire fleet of attack airplanes and replace them with drones, the country's chief of general staff has said.
Nominally, Georgia operates around 12 Su-25 ground attack aircraft, but only one of them has been able to fly recently, said Brigadier General Vladimir Chachibaia in an interview with Georgian magazine Arsenali. The main supplier of components for the aircraft is Russia, "which we don't have access to," Chichibaia said.
The move also is occasioned by a frank recognition that Georgian aircraft would be of little use in a potential conflict with Russia. "We know that in the case of Russian aggression our aircraft have no chance," he said. "Taking into account the forward position of air defense systems on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would only be ten minutes after takeoff to shoot down any of our aircraft. And in the case of an unconventional threat, we don't need the Su-25."
That assessment was borne out in the 2008 war with Russia over South Ossetia, when Georgian air attacks, including using the Su-25s, were quickly neutralized by Russia. And one of Georgia's most notable successes in the conflict was that their air defense managed to shoot down three or four Russian Su-25s.
Instead, Georgia will attempt to replace the Su-25's using drones, Chachibaia said. "We're putting the emphasis on unmanned aerial vehicles, which have multiple uses." That's a big step down, as Georgia isn't known to have any armed drones in its arsenal, and even in the best case an armed drone is much less capable than the Su-25.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov posing for a photograph at a horse-breeding center outside Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat. (Photo: Turkmenistan government website)
The president of Uzbekistan’s maiden foreign trip, to Turkmenistan, may prove a valuable exercise in building bridges — well, inaugurating them at least.
For his first visit since becoming leader of his country, Shavkat Mirziyoyev decided on March 6 to pay a visit on his neighbors to the south — a fresh indication that Uzbekistan may seek to revive its often shaky regional relationships at the expense of broader geopolitical alliances.
In line with custom, the trip was marked by a flurry of document-signing.
Mirziyoyev and his Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, inked an agreement on economic cooperation in 2018-2020 and a memorandum of understanding on the need to develop railway infrastructure, among other documents.
Turning from word to deed, the two leaders traveled to the northeastern Lebap province on March 7 to attend the ceremonial inauguration of the 1.75 kilometer Turkmenabat-Farap railway and road bridge, which straddles the Amu-Dary River and could conceivably enable greater cross-border traffic. Until now, trains crossing the river coursing along Turkmenistan’s side of the border did so using a bridge built in 1901.
According to a Turkmen state media account, the leaders stood at the banks of the river and watched as traffic traversed the newly opened bridges — trains arrived from Uzbekistan, and in the other direction, trucks carried textiles, fertilizers and other goods.
Ambitious visions on transportation appear to have dominated the visit.
Kazakhstan’s parliament has hastily adopted amendments to the constitution following weeks of largely cursory public consultation.
Following parliament’s adoption of the reforms on March 6, the amendments will have to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, but that procedure is likely to be a formality.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has described the reforms, which ostensibly should lead to his power being shared with the executive and parliament, as a historic development, although critics argue they will change little in reality.
Nurlan Abdirov, a member of parliament and the chair of a joint commission on the reforms, said that legislators approved 26 amendments to 19 articles of the constitution. That suggests that what the government says were the 6,000 proposals offered by the public and the feedback provided during 10,000 public events over the past weeks have largely been disregarded.
The speed with which the reforms have been pushed through parliament is remarkable, even by the normal standards of Kazakhstan’s rubber stamp legislature. The first reading was wrapped up on a single day on March 3.
Among the 10 changes approved on March 6 during the second reading, lawmakers agreed that any acts that could lead to “inter-faith conflict” should be deemed unconstitutional.
Despite the many challenges confronting Kazakhstan down the road, one of the main demands made by the public in the nationwide consultation was, apparently, for language to be inserted into the constitution that would properly reflect Nazarbayev’s historic contributions. The president is already officially designated Yelbasy — Kazakh for “leader of the nation” — a title that affords him lifetime immunity from prosecution and ultimate say over core matters of state, even in the event of his retirement.
The ill-fated fourth strand of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline has again been put on hold amid apparent sagging demand for the fuel from Beijing, Russian media outlets have reported.
A Tashkent-datelined RIA-Novosti news agency report on March 2 cited unidentified sources as saying China National Petroleum Corporation and state-owned oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz have agreed on an indefinite postponement on work to the Uzbek section of the route.
The projected 1,000-kilometer Line D is designed to start in Turkmenistan, cross Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and end in western China, and will, if ever completed, boost the overall annual transportation capacity of the Central Asia-China pipeline network to 85 billion cubic meters. This strand constituted a shorter but diplomatically far more complicated route than the already functioning Lines A, B and C, which also rise in Turkmenistan but cross only Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The three completed strands of the Central Asia-China pipeline currently allow for the export of around 55 billion cubic meters of gas annually — an amount equivalent to one-fifth of China’s consumption. According to a breakdown of existing contracts and capacity outlined by CNPC, Lines A and B are able to carry 13 billion cubic meters of gas from the Chinese-run Amu Darya Project at Turkmenistan’s Bagtyyarlyk field and another 17 billion cubic meters of gas sourced by Turkmengaz itself. Line C is intended to supply a mix of gas from Turkmenistan (10 billion cubic meters), Uzbekistan (10 billion cubic meters) and Kazakhstan (5 billion cubic meters).
Spare a thought for Tajikistan’s state-employed journalists.
For the best part of a couple of years, it is independent reporters that have felt the pain amid an ever-intensifying wave of pressure from the authorities. Now, employees with state broadcasters and print media are feeling the pinch as the government cuts budgets.
The state budget for 2017 envisions a 20 percent cut in expenses for state media.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, earlier this week reported that while journalists can now expect to continue getting their salaries paid by the state, the expense of per-story fees have to be met by the outlet itself. Journalists in much of Central Asia typically are paid by volume of work done rather than being given a set monthly rate. As a rule of thumb, reporters in Tajikistan are believed to earn around half their monthly income on the basis of volume of work produced.
Ozodi said official state media was allocated around 100 million somoni ($12 million) in 2016. Of that total, seven-tenths went to TV and radio, with the remainder going to print outlets. Around 10 TV stations, seven radio stations, 110 print publications and the Khovar national news agency are funded with that money.
Media experts predict the drop in financing is likely to lead to an increase in the practice of forcing government employees to take out subscriptions of state-run newspapers and magazines. Also, EurasiaNet.org has learned that private companies are being pressured into placing adverts in state media, thereby providing another source of revenue.
There were times when things were better for state media workers. Back during the 2013 presidential elections, the authorities made the possibly strategic decision to keep staff onside by hiking salaries across the board.
A photograph posted online purporting to show Turkish security services documentation incriminating Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Officials and the Turkish Embassy have called the document a fake. (Source: Facebook)
The jailed leader of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Ata-Meken party fired back at the man he believes has engineered his predicament — President Almazbek Atambayev — accusing him of seeking to cover up his own corruption.
Omurbek Tekebayev issued a statement through his lawyers on March 1 alleging that Atambayev may have been the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside the capital, Bishkek, killing 39 people.
Tekebayev was detained by agents of the State Committee for National Security in the early hours of February 26 and later charged on suspicion of committing acts of corruption while he was acting deputy prime minister in 2010. The wave of detentions of leading Ata-Meken members has led observers to suggest the party is being targeted with politically motivated prosecutions.
This most recent arrest sparked off days of relatively low-key protests, although Tekebayev supporters have vaguely committed to holding rallies until he is released. A court earlier this week ordered that the Ata-Meken leader should remain in custody for at least another two months pending further investigations into allegations against him.
Accusations that Atambayev was in some way linked to the contents of the doomed Boeing 747 cargo plane have been floating around as gossip, although Tekebayev is the first public figure to make the claims so boldly.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service in February compiled an impressively detailed report highlighting some intriguing and unanswered questions around the plane. One issue that remains unclear is whether when the plane was attempting to make its scheduled landing during intensely stormy weather in Bishkek airport simply to refuel — as officially stated — or to drop off dozens of tons of undeclared imports.
Following the formal end of national discussions in Kazakhstan on constitutional reforms intended, if only on paper, to rebalance authority away from the president toward the executive and the legislative, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled the issue should be considered further in parliament.
Speaking at a working group devoted to the reforms, Nazarbayev noted on March 1 that public feedback indicated that there were numerous shortcomings in the proposed amendments on the table.
Quashing one contentious issue from the get-go, however, the president suggested that an amendment that might notionally have opened the way for foreign nationals to buy property should be struck down. Authorities are still rattled by the wave of anti-land privatization protests that shook the country last year and are not eager to see a repeat.
The government outreach exercise to instruct the public about the details of the reforms, which consisted in a large part of members of the upper house of parliament traveling across the country and delivering talks to large halls, wrapped up on February 26, as previously advertised.
Presidential chief of staff Adilbek Dzhaksybekov said the public had submitted more than 6,000 suggestions on possible reforms to 63 out of the constitution’s 98 articles. As things stand, 23 articles of the constitution are due for revisions.