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July 30 2013

Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Border Shooting Prompts Theories, but no Answers

Last week, two Uzbek border guards were killed on the tense and poorly demarcated boundary dividing Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyz and Uzbek media have covered the event very differently, leaving little room for objective interpretations of what actually happened.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Fergana Valley, the fertile and densely populated heartland on which Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan converge, has hosted water conflicts, land disputes and inter-ethnic clashesAbout 90 kilometers [ru] of the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border has still not been delimited, creating headaches for herders in the region and increasing poverty on both sides. The Uzbek government is reported to have mined [ru] their side of both the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border and the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border. A difficult situation is further complicated by the existence of geographical enclaves and exclaves that have proved hotbeds of conflicts since the republics gained independence in 1991.

The Fergana Valley and the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Picture is taken from Google Earth 2011.

Usually, more Kyrgyz die on the border than Uzbeks. On June 20, for instance, Uzbek border guards killed a Kyrgyz citizen in circumstances that were never clarified. Despite the fact that the two sides regularly meet [ru] to discuss border issues and work together to demarcate unmarked sections of the border, shootings keep occurring.

According to Kyrgyz mass media, the blood of two Uzbek border guards was found on Kyrgyz territory – local Kyrgyz authorities claim two Uzbek border guards illegally entered the Jetizagar district of Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad region on July 23. Kyrgyz border troops subsequently demanded that the impostors retreat, the narrative runs, before their Uzbek counterparts opened fire, leading to a skirmish in which two of the offending Uzbek contingent were fatally wounded.

Coverage from Uzbek news sites 12news.uz and podrobno.uz meanwhile, left Kyrgyz netizens bemused. Several articles on those two sites and one on uzmetron.com claimed [ru] that drunk Kyrgyz border guards had drifted [ru] into Uzbek territory and simply opened fire on the Uzbeks [ru]. The author Неъматжон Мадаминов [Nematzhon Madaminov] published [ru] the following on podrobno.uz:

Сегодня на территории Наманганской области произошел очередной кровавый инцидент, виновником которого, как всегда, стали пьяные кыргызские пограничники.
Вооруженные до зубов кыргызские военные вторглись на территорию Узбекистана и открыли ничем не спровоцированный огонь по узбекскому пограничному наряду.

Today yet another bloody incident happened on the territory of [Uzbekistan's] Namangan region, and, as usual, drunk Kyrgyz border guards are to blame. Armed to the teeth, Kyrgyz soldiers invaded the territory of Uzbekistan and without any reason opened fire upon the Uzbek border guards.

Podrobno.uz also mentioned the following day that Kyrgyz authorities had apologized [ru] for the murders, although Kyrgyz officials immediately denied [ru] this information. Other Uzbek news portals did not cover the incident at all.

With Uzbekistan's internet tightly restricted, and Kygyzstan's free, the majority of online reactions to the border shooting came from the Kyrgyz side of the cyber divide. Kyrgyz netizens were generally supportive of their border guards, although some called for more peace and unity with neighbors. Others were simply surprised by the Uzbek version of the incident.

One interesting discussion emerged on Akipress, a Kyrgyz media outlet. A user of the service KG.Liga said [ru]:

Молодцы наши Пограничники!!! но как ниже написано “не здоровая фигня”

Good for our border guards!!! Still, as was mentioned earlier [this] “crap isn't healthy”

Suer claimed [ru] to know some real Uzbek border guards:

У нас получается обяснимая ситуация, скорее всего правильно поступили наши пограничники. Только непонятно как узбеки наших безоружных убиваеют и ничего не обьясняют. Лично сталкивался с узбекскими пограничниками, не дай бог кому нибудь такие унижения, ведут себя хамски, вседозволенность, одним словом “животное”!

Our story makes more sense, so our border guards probably did everything correctly. Less understandable is how the Uzbeks kill our unarmed [people] and don't explain anything. I have personally met with Uzbek border guards. I hope no one will feel the humiliation [I felt] – they act with boorishness and a lack of restraint, like “animals”!

Frunze17 tried to bring [ru] some objectivity to the discussion:

Ничего хорошего, что вы пишете – “молодцы, наградить, месть”. Мы же не в состоянии войны с Узбекистаном находимся, чтобы радоваться – вот расстреляли врагов-оккупантов. На нашу территорию (если она наша, не спорная) зашли представители пограничной службы соседнего государства, необходимо было их задержать и разбираться в установленном порядке.

It's not good that you [commenters] write – “good for them, give awards to the border guards, revenge.” We are not even at war with Uzbekistan so as to be happy that we have killed enemy-invaders. If the border representatives of a neighboring country entered our territory (and it really was our [territory], rather than contested territory), we should have arrested them and investigated the incident properly.

Pessimist answered:

frunze17, когда люди с оружием в руках конфликтуют, кто быстрее среагирует тот и выживет. Награждать предлагают не за то что убил – за это не награждают, а за проявленное мужество и четкое выполнение устава. Кстати, при нападении на караул или пост, по уставу открывают огонь на поражение

frunze17, when people with guns start a conflict, the fastest to react will survive. And we want to award them not for killing – no one should be awarded for this – but for brave actions and the proper implementation of our border codes. By the way, if someone attacks a sentry or a checkpoint, those codes say: shoot to kill.

Bek2 wrote:

Давайте без эмоций. Кто такие узбекские пограничники? Во-первых, это сыны нашего тюркского братского народа. Во-вторых, это представители власти дружественного нам государства. На счет инцидента – по каждому случаю надо разбираться отдельно. Не сформировавшиеся молодые люди (и те и другие), у них в руках оружие, такие инциденты могут происходить по-молодости. Главное чтобы принимающие решения зрелые взрослые люди не поддавались эмоциям.

Let's remove the emotions. Who are the Uzbek border guards? First of all, they are the sons of a fraternal Turkic people. Second of all, [the guards] are representatives of a friendly state. Regarding the incident, every case should be investigated separately. Guys that are too young (both [from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan]) holding lethal weapons in their hands… such incidents will happen again and again because of their age. The most important thing here is to have mature and wise decision-makers who can react without emotions.

Over the course of a long series of interchanges on Akipress, an old Russian idiom was reiterated [ru] several times:

Худой мир лучше “доброй” войны.

Better a bad peace than a “good” war.

Adding a strange subplot to the event, eurasianet.org reported on July 26 that uzmetronom.com, a controversial news outlet in Uzbekistan, had been moved to shut itself down over “hysteria” from Uzbek government officials when it ran the “drunk Kyrgyz border guards” version of the incident “without receiving accurate information on this incident from relevant bodies.” Whether this is just an excuse to shut down a site that has irritated power-brokers within the Uzbek state in the past, or a sign that the repressive Uzbek government doesn't agree with the drunk shooting theory is unclear. Podrobno.uz, which also held to this version of events, is still in operation.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

July 25 2013

Women's Struggle for Clean Water in Kyrgyzstan

UnitedKyrgyzstan blog tells [ru] a story of the daily struggle for clean water faced by women and children in many parts of rural Kyrgyzstan:

It is the task of women and children to queue up for drinking water and then carry home heavy tanks with water through hundreds of meters of broken rural roads…

 

July 22 2013

Turkmenistan's Internet Blues

Turkmenistan is infamous for its tightly controlled media, and is one of the world's greatest Internet Enemies by Reporters Without Borders’ estimations. With the average Turkmen finding his or her Internet access intermittent, slow, and tightly circumscribed, it is perhaps unsurprising that cyber-optimism among Turkmen internet users is running at an all time low.

Turkmenistan has had official access to the Internet since 1997. Non-mobile internet services are dominated Turkmen Telecom, while mobile services are provided by Russian mobile operator MTS and its Turkmen competitor, Altyn Asyr. (A host of smaller independent Turkmen Internet Service Providers were strong-armed out of the market at the turn of the century). Altyn Asyr and Turkmen Telecom are both overseen by the Ministry of Communications, and are thus unflinchingly loyal to the country's body politic. Censorship is ubiquitous and extensive across the country.

Those lucky enough to have access to Altyn Ayr's service consent tacitly to blanket surveillance and selective access to non-Turkmen websites. Reporters Without Borders conveys [ru]:

Оппозиционные сайты, такие как XpoHo.tm и Gundogar, а также региональные информационные сайты по Центральной Азии – Ferghana или EurasiaNet.org – заблокированы. Доступ к YouTube и LiveJournal стал невозможен в конце 2009 года, с целью помешать туркменам вести общение в блогах или отправляать видео за границую Facebook и Twitter до сих пор заблокированы.

Opposition websites such as Chrono-TM and Gundogar, and regional news sites covering Central Asia such as ferghana.ru and Eurasianet, are blocked. YouTube and LiveJournal were rendered inaccessible late in 2009 to prevent Turkmen from blogging or sending videos abroad. Facebook and Twitter are also blocked.

Under a Voice of America article about censorship in Central Asia in November last year, Аноним [Anonym] vented [ru]:

Цензура в Туркменистане это вообще полный крах. Закрывают не только сайты новостей, но закрыты: ютуб, фэйсбук, а также все распространенные месенджеры. На сегодня закрыты: whatsapp, Jabber (все что работают на его протоколе), Viber, iMesege и куча других. А потом удивляются что так хреново развивается интернет в стране… Да нафиг он кому нужен если там ничего не открывается и не работает?

Censorship in Turkmenistan is awful. Not only [independent] news sites but YouTube, Facebook and all the usual messengers are closed. Nowadays whatsapp, Jabber, Viber, iMessage and others [are closed]. And then we wonder why the internet that develops in the country is so shitty… who needs it at all if none of these things work?

In fact, YouTube, and the Russian social network Odnoklasniki are two sites that Turkmen netizens can currently access, but the slow speed of the average Tukmen internet connection renders this “access” hypothetical. Another anonymous commenter complained on fergananews [ru]:

Все равно ютуб со скоростью 33-44кб/с невозможно смотреть.

Anyway, YouTube at 33-44 Kb/s is impossible to watch.

What’s up with netizens?

State censorship over the internet is cynical, but not shocking to most Turkmens. The regular internet using demographic is school teenagers and university students who study both inside and outside the country. Thoughts and comments expressed on most Turkmen websites regarding the internet are usually negative. Some users such as as muslimah, writing on a privately owned forum Ertir.com, conceive the internet as an infectious disease, and are actively looking for a remedy to recover and be well again [tm]:

 Salam,shu internetden nadip ayrylyp bolyaray?ine okuw bashlandy,okap bashlamaly welin hich internetden ayrylyp bolanok,erte okarn diyyan her gun,ka wagt bolya yarym sagat oturayyn diyyan welin ondan buna girip butin gun otyranyny bilman galyan :(

Hi, how can I set myself free from the internet? A semester starts, and I have to study, but I cannot separate myself from internet, it is an obstacle and addictive that I spend my whole day without knowing the passage of time :(

First-graders

First graders risk “Internet Disease”. Photo form Golden Age of Turkmenistan (state-controlled media) shared via Eurasianet.org's Sifting the Karakum blog.

Feya gives a prescription [tm]:

Internet keseli mana-da on degdi, hiich ayrylyp bilemmokdum. indi beyle dal. Men pikirimcha hemme zat adamyn ozine bagly. Bir zady chynyn bilen islesen shony basharyp bolya. Internede girmejek bolsan gyzykly kitap oka, wagtyny bashga zada sowjak bol son owrenship gidersin, we mohum at dal bolup galar.

Once I was also infected with internet disease, i couldn't get well for a long time. Now I have recovered. Everything is in your hands, you can do it too. Read some interesting books, and do some other activities. Then, the Internet would seem not such an important thing in your life.

For females, internet-use can be regarded as immoral and against Turkmen tradition. Another internet user, posting as Skynet on RFE/RL's Turkmen service,  expressed [tm] his thoughts under an article ‘Internetde oturýar’ adyny alasym gelenok [I do not want to be called an "internet user"]:

Internet gyzlary sheylebir uytgetdi edil oglanlary uytgedishi yaly.erbetlige tarap uytgetdi.hazir yashlar inet bn dem alyalar.ahli adamlar internet kerebine(shol sanda menem) cholashyp chykyp bilenoklar.adamzadyn ahli dunyasi,ekonomikasy,politikasy,medeniyeti,mashgala durmushy yitip yok bolmaga bashlady.munun dine bir gunakari bar olam internet-skynet

Internet also changed our girls as it previously did boys. and it changed them in negative way. They breathe through the internet. Now all people are trapped in the internet's web (including me). It starts eradicating all our social, economic, political, and family life. So we do not need it.

Turkmenistan's internet blues can be attributed partly to the limited and “homegrown” nature of the Turkmen internet and partly to a lack of education about cyberspace and technology as a whole. Although the government marked the first day of the 2012 school calendar by giving free net-books to all first graders, there is an acute shortage of tech-savvy teachers to help them use their new toys.

Ruslan T, a blogger and journalist at the independent, diaspora-run Turkmen Chronicles news website wrote in a blog titled “Useless Gift”:

It should be noted that the majority of elementary school teachers have attended training sessions at computer centers and acquired [basic] computer literacy skills. However, only a few of them have managed to pass these skills on to their students. It is just [not within] the professional competencies of teachers.

July 17 2013

Russian Blood on the Asphalt, Armenian Hands on the Wheel

It’s not every day in Russia that over a dozen people die in a single traffic collision, so when an Armenian national crashed a freight truck into a bus full of passengers last weekend, killing eighteen, it caught people’s attention. The incident was even captured on amateur dashcam video (see below). Two days after the accident, on July 15, 2013, a Moscow court sanctioned the arrest [ru] of the truck driver, 46-year-old Grachia Arutiunian, whom authorities had recently awakened from an artificially induced coma, which doctors decided was unnecessary, after determining that his injuries (while significant) were not life-threatening. The Armenian driver stands accused of negligent homicide and faces up to seven years in prison.

In conversations online, Arutiunian’s case has stoked the fires of Russia’s unabating nationalist debate, which most recently flared up in the city of Pugachev, where the July 5 murder of an ethnic Russian local by a Chechen youth provoked anti-immigrant street demonstrations.

With Pugachev still fresh in the public’s mind, Russian nationalists have seized on last Saturday’s tragic crash as another government failure to protect the country from lawless immigrants. For example, Vladimir Tor complained [ru] on LiveJournal that people like Arutiunian represent a danger to the public:

Но главное – надо решительно менять ситуацию на дорогах: масса диких шахид-такси, джихад-газелей, камаз-бабаев в ужасающем техническом состоянии и с дикими шоферами за рулём – это постоянная угроза нам всем. Так жить нельзя – этому необходимо положить предел.

But the main thing is that we have to change the situation on the roads decisively: all these wild shakhid-taxis, jihad-shuttles, and truck-babevs [slurs directed at Russia’s Muslim migrant-worker drivers] are all in terrible technical condition and operated by wild drivers behind the wheel. It’s a constant threat to us all. We can’t live like this, and we must put a stop to it.

Writing on the National-Democratic Party’s website, Rostislav Antonov made a similar argument [ru], faulting federal lawmakers for allowing foreign nationals to operate motor vehicles in Russia without obtaining Russian driver licenses, which Arutiunian indeed lacked. (As it happens the government already in April 2013 adopted new legislation [ru] to close this loophole, though it doesn’t take effect until November 5, 2013.)

Many Russian bloggers have also taken issue [ru] with the Armenian community (both its diaspora in Russia, which provided Arutiunian with two defense lawyers, and Armenian bloggers [ar]) for its outpouring of support for the now incarcerated driver. In truth, several dozen Armenians did stage a rally [ru] outside Russia’s embassy in Yerevan on April 16, demanding an end to Arutiunian’s degrading treatment while in custody. Bloggers, too, have reacted sharply to photos of Arutiunian in court, where he appeared on July 15 in a women’s hospital robe and rubber slippers. Covering his tear-strewn face and relying on a translator to understand the court’s Russian-language proceedings (a necessity despite his living in Russia for a decade, nationalists are eager to point out), Arutiunian did appear to be a man thoroughly humiliated.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 6.26.45 PM

Grachia Arutiunian in court, 15 July 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

LiveJournal user maggel offered his own deeply unsympathetic suggestion [ru] for “rehabilitating” the man:

1. Халат снять.
2. Выдать белые тапки.
3. Отвезти в Подольск на тот самый перекресток.
4. Положить обиженного под вот это-

5. Дать порулить агрегатом родственникам погибших.

1. Remove the robe.
2. Issue him some white slippers.
3. Take him to Podolsk, to the same intersection [where the crash occurred].
4. Place the offended [Arutiunian] under this thing:
[an image of a steamroller]
5. Let the victims’ relatives steer the steamroller.

Another LJ user, pavell, attacked expressions of compassion for Arutiunian, but admitted a certain envy for the community’s solidarity. Posting excerpts of a letter [ru] from Armenia’s human rights ombudsman to his Russian counterpart that condemned Arutiunian’s treatment, pavell called [ru] the text arrogant, but wondered aloud which if any state officials were working as devotedly for the protection of Russians:

И всё же, несмотря на плевки в лицо Лукину, завидно. Армянина, убившего в России 18 человек, есть кому защищать. А кто защитит русского? Я не говорю в Армении, а просто в России?

And, yet, despite the [Armenian official] spitting in the face of Lukin [his Russian counterpart], I’m jealous. An Armenian who’s killed 18 people in Russia has someone to defend him. But who would defend a Russian? I’m not even talking about in Armenia—what about just in Russia?

Even if the Moscow court convicts Arutiunian and sentences him to several years in prison, the decision isn’t likely to calm fears that ethnic Russians are a persecuted majority. The prominence of criminal groups tied to certain ethnicities and the ongoing tensions between Russia’s native population and migrant workforce—two of the most significant root causes of the country’s nationalist fervor—aren’t going anywhere. Whether Arutiunian is given back his clothes or executed under a cement truck, Russia’s troubles with race and assimilation haven’t claimed their last victim.

July 09 2013

Journalist Sued for Comparing Tajik ‘Intelligentsia’ to Excrement

Tajikistan's state-approved ‘intelligentsia’ is showing itself to be more thin-skinned than intelligent. Members of pro-government intellectual circles are currently suing a journalist at an independent news agency for quoting and concurring with Lenin's disapproving view of public intellectuals in an opinion column.

People in Tajikistan have mixed feelings regarding their Soviet past, but these feelings, whether good or bad, rarely lead to court cases. Yet Olga Tutubalina, an editor and columnist of Asia-Plus, one of Tajikistan's few genuinely independent media outlets, is facing a rather serious lawsuit for quoting [ru] the first leader of the Soviet Union in a post titled «Неинтеллигентно об интеллигенции» (‘The Intelligentsia's Unintelligence') [ru]:

«Интеллигенция – это не мозг нации, это ее говно». Так говорил вождь мирового пролетариата Владимир Ленин, так хочется сказать и мне, читая новости о возвращении на родину поэта Бозора Собира…

“The intelligentsia is not the ‘brain of nation’, it is its shit”. This is what the chief of the world proletariat Vladimir Lenin said, and this is what I want to say reading news about the return of poet Bozor Sobir to his homeland…

Bozor Sobir is a well-known Tajik poet who was among the founders of the country's pro-democracy movement in the early 1990s. In 1993, at the height of the civil war in the country, he moved to Russia and later received refugee status in the US, where he lived for nearly two decades.

In his rare interviews, Bozor Sobir criticized Tajikistan's intelligentsia for praising the authorities and offering no independent opinion about the problems confronting the nation. In a 2008 interview, the poet expressed [ru] his disappointment with modern Tajikistan:

Моей родиной был Советский Таджикистан. В нынешнем Таджикистане я не жил и не чувствую, что это моя родина…

My homeland was Soviet Tajikistan. I haven't lived in today's Tajikistan and I don't feel that it is my homeland…

Given the poet's previous views on the subject, his return to Tajikistan was surprising for many Tajiks. In an interview with state owned TV channels, Sobir said [ru] that he had accepted an invitation from Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to ‘stay forever'. He also added his bewilderment at why a country as small as Tajikistan needed so many political parties, and expressed his gratitude to Rahmon, with whom he said [ru] he had a ‘warm and sincere conversation'.

These statements were put into context when Asia-Plus reported [ru] that the poet was to receive an apartment and benefits from the state, news that has damaged the poet's reputation in the eyes of many Tajiks.

In her blog post Olga Tutubalina expressed [ru] her disappointment with the poet:

Вот так вот быстро и без особых церемоний «переобулся» некогда известный демократ и революционер, а ныне, по всей видимости, уже глашатай воли руководства страны.

In such a free and easy manner, the once famous democrat and revolutionary, now the apparent flag bearer of the government's will has “changed his shoes”.

Tutubalina then wrote [ru] that while Bozor Sobir is ‘the least expected’ representative of the intelligentsia type ‘so accurately described by Lenin', he is far from alone in toadying to the country's autocratic president:

О чем только говорят эти постыдные встречи интеллигенции с главой государства, на которых говорит только Рахмон, а представители этой так называемой совести нации в лучшем случае молчат, смиренно потупив взор, в худшем – начинают попрошайничать.

What to say of these embaressing meetings the intelligentsia has with the head of state, wherein Rahmon does all the talking and the representatives of the so-called conscience of the nation maintain a silence, dropping their gaze submissively at best, and in the worst cases – start begging [the President] 

Some commentators on the Asia-Plus blog expressed solidarity with the author. A user named Али Бедаки [Ali Bedaki] wrote [ru]:

Ольга,нет слов…вы написали то что думаю я и не только я поверьте.спасибо!!!

Olga, I have no words to say… you wrote what I think and not just me, believe me. Thank you!!!

However, not everyone agreed with this harsh critique of the ‘conscience of the nation’ and Bozor Sobir in particular. Алкос Шарифзода [Alkos Sharifzoda] defended [ru] the poet:

Каждому человеку хочется жить у себя на родине. Я рада тому что Эмомали Рахмон вернул нашего Великого писателя Бозор Собира на родину. Он высказал своё мнение по поводу партий и как бы там не было я его поддерживаю. Не вам Ольга решать кому возвращаться а кому нет. Мы народ хотим чтобы Он жил среди Нас. Мы любим Его…

Every person wants to live in his homeland. I am glad that Emomali Rahmon has brought back our Great writer Bozor Sobir. He [Bozor Sobir] expressed his opinion about parties and whatever he says, I support him. It's not for you to decide who is to come back and who is not, Olga. We, the people, want Him to live among Us. We love Him…

But things started to take a much more serious turn when Mekhmon Bakhti, the chairman of the Tajik writers union said [ru] in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tajik service that more than ten creative associations plan to file a law suit against Olga Tutubalina. He also added that she could have avoided this if she had addressed the quote only to Bozor Sobir rather than the ‘intellligentsia’ at large. In a probable reference to Tatubalina's Russian ethnicity he added: “To live in a country and feel hatred towards its people is deplorable.” The chair of the writers union also advised Olga to be grateful that she lives in such a democratic country:

за такие слова в таких странах, как Грузия, Армения, Казахстан или Россия, с такого журналиста «содрали бы кожу»

In countries like Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan or Russia, a journalist like this would be “scalped” for such words

Barzu Aburazzokov, a Tajik stage director, thinks [ru] that the case launched by the various creative associations represents a political order from above. Interviewed by RFE/RL's Tajik service he noted that this same ‘intelligentsia’ said nothing “for the last 20 years in the face of electricity and water shortages…dead labour migrants, arrests of successful entrepreneurs, and thousands of other problems for the population.”

This demotivator shared on the public facebook group Platforma by the user Умный Бизнес (clever business) posits that society is "for" Tutubalina and "against" the state-endorsed intelligentsia.

This demotivator shared on the public facebook group Platforma by the user Умный Бизнес (Clever Business) posits that society is ‘for’ Tutubalina and ‘against’ the state-puppeteered intelligentsia.

The lawsuit could cost Tutubalina and the Asia-Plus news agency up to 50,000 US dollars plus confiscation of property if one of Tajikistan's judges – not known for their independence – sides with the creative associations initiating the case.

The face-off between Tutubalina and the ‘intelligentsia’ has already generated plenty of discussion on ПЛАТФОРМА [platforma] the largest public facebook group dedicated to discussions of political and social issues in Tajikistan. Bakhtiyor Sattori, who was stabbed in February of this year – supposedly for his criticism of the government - commented [ru]:

Лучше бы отозвали свой иск – позор будет громкий и все их прошлые дела затмит вот этот позорный иск. Неужели они не могут просчитать на 2 хода вперёд, интеллигенты?

They should withdraw the suit – the shame will be loud and anything they have done in the past will be overshadowed by this shameful suit. Why can't these representatives of intelligentsia look 2 moves ahead?

Ораш [Orash], however, was surprised [ru] by the support of Tutubalina:

Удивляюсь сторонникам Тутубалиной для которых неизвестны такие понятия как национальная гордость. … Ольга если вы оскорбили интеллигенцию то вы оскорбили всю нацию и это не клевета…

I am surprised by supporters of Tutubalina, who have no concept of national dignity… Olga, insulting intelligentsia means to insult the whole nation and that is more than libel.

Tutubalina, meanwhile is considering [ru] counter-suing for libel in relation to the accusations of ‘hostility towards Tajik nation’ brought up by Mekhmon Bakhti in his interview. Nevertheless, the odds seem stacked against Tutubalina and Asia-Plus, a very different ‘conscience’ in a nation enduring a prolonged period of political repression [see GV Tajikistan archive].

N.B An amusing side note in this tense confrontation between Tutubalina and the creative associations is the fact that the lawsuit's initiators went to the pains of finding [ru] a definition of ‘shit’ in order to prove the defamatory character of the word. This was the definition they found:

Согласно толковому словарю значение слова говно в совокупности со словосочетанием интеллигенция имеет следующее значение и восприятие читателей, как

Говно: (неисчисляемое существительное) разные вещи, особенно ненужные, глупые, нехорошие вещи или принадлежащие неприятному человеку. Например: Забирай свое говно из моего гаража!

According to the glossary, the meaning of the word ‘shit’ in connection with ‘intelligentsia’ has the following meaning for [the average] reader.

Shit: (uncountable noun) different things, especially unwanted, stupid, bad things or the belongings of an unpleasant man. For example: Take your shit our of my garage!

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

July 05 2013

Domestic Violence Against Women in Kyrgyzstan

Most girls and women in Kyrgyzstan are afraid of leaving their homes alone when it gets dark, believing that a dark street is the most frequent crime scene in the country. In reality, as SQ blog suggests [ru], four out of five crimes against women in the country take place at their homes and are committed by their husbands or other relatives.

‘Celebrities for Hire’ in Central Asia

On Registan.net, Aijan Sharshenova explains why ‘celebrities for hire’ (including pop diva Jennifer Lopez) entertaining the authoritarian leaders of post-Soviet Central Asian republics unwillingly improve their image among domestic audiences.

Traditional Kyrgyz Clothing

Personal appearance can tell a lot about a person and his nation. Traditional clothes of the Kyrgyz people is important part of material and spiritual culture of the nation, and it is closely linked with the country’s history

Nurzhan Kadyrkulova writes about the historical evolution and cultural significance of traditional Kyrgyz clothing.

June 21 2013

Uzbek Photography's ‘Orientalist Flavour’

Alex Ulko on NewEurasia.net explains where the “Orientalist flavour discernible in the works of many [Uzbek] artists” comes from. His well-informed comments about contemporary Uzbek photography are accompanied by beautiful photos (also herehere, here, here, here, and here).

June 20 2013

Elderly Man Disappears in Police Custody in Uzbekistan

On Registan.net Noah Tucker reports that the 71-year-old father of an Uzbek opposition politician has disappeared in police custody in Uzbekistan. The authorities intimidate the elderly man (as well as scores of his relatives) apparently because his son founded an opposition party that had been quite successful in mobilizing supporters in the Central Asian nation.

President's Visits and Good Roads Go Together in Tajikistan

After covering the Tajik president's tour of the country's northern province of Sughd a year ago, blogger Rustam Gulov (aka Teocrat) now reports [ru] about the preparations that the provincial authorities are making for a new visit of the president:

Khujand [Sughd's capital] prepares to welcome the president again. Banners, posters, and fixed roads [are there] again. I can only be happy about the latter! I would love to see the president come to Khujand as often as possible – this would force the authorities to fix the roads. It is a pity, however, that only part of the city's roads are fixed – that part along which the president's cortege will travel. The rest of the roads have been neglected for years.

Disabled Persons ‘Disrespected’ in Kyrgyzstan

Blogger Dmitry Efremov writes [ru] about the negative attitudes that people with disabilities confront in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan:

It is terrible to realize that some people among us disrespect persons with disabilities.

June 14 2013

Kazakh Minister Fired as Netizens Criticize Pension Plans

A Facebook-driven reaction to the government's attempt to ram through a pension reform without public discussion has given people approaching retirement age in Kazakhstan a rare voice. The republic's Social Affairs Minister was toppled after a gaffe at a public appearance made him an object of ridicule, while Kazakhstan's strongman president Nursultan Nazarbayev has since undersigned several amendments to the bill.

(more…)

Tajik President is ‘A Real, Normal Man’

A video of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signing and dancing at his son's wedding was uploaded on YouTube about a month ago and has gone viral since then. While the video has led many people in the country to criticize the Tajik leader, some netizens suggest that there is nothing wrong with his joyful behavior at the wedding. On Blogiston.tj, Shakhlo asks [tj]:

Why can't a father be happy at his son's wedding? Why can't he sing and dance with all the joy he has?

Tomiris on her blog writes [ru]:

On the video from [his son's] wedding, Emomali Rahmon shows himself as a real, normal man – he has fun, dances with joy, and encourages everyone else to do the same. Don't all our men behave the same way at their sons’ weddings?

Parliament Restricts Kyrgyz Women's Rights

After lengthy debates, the parliament in Kyrgyzstan has adopted legislation banning young women from travelling abroad without parental consent. On Registan.net, Alisher Abdug'oforov suggests that the new legislation not only violates the country's constitution, but is also unlikely to solve any problems it is designed to address.

 

June 12 2013

Should Kyrgyzstan Ban Tablighi Jamaat?

Following the lead of neighboring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan is debating banning the activities of Tablighi Jamaat, a non-political movement which aims to bring Muslims towards a deeper embrace of Islamic religious practices, propagating the total cessation of smoking, drinking, and drugs. The movement has proved controversial in parts of former Soviet Central Asia where Islam is widely practiced, but where a strongly secular political culture mistrustful of religion still predominates.

The issue of Tablighi Jamaat has divided political and religious leaders as well as ordinary citizens into two groups – those who support the movement and view it as a solution to social problems, and those who identify Tablighi Jamaat as an extremist organization.

TJ

Tablighi Jamaat book cover, scanned and widely shared across the internet.

Established in India in 1926, the movement first became popular in Central Asian countries during the late 1990s when bearded men in long Pakistani-style dress raised concerns among security officials and people seeking to fashion a strong Kyrgyz national identity. A Bishkek resident quoted by Radio Azzatyk said [ru] in July 2011:

Мы мусульмане, но у нас есть своя национальная одежда. Почему эти дааватчы в обязательном порядке, одевают, национальную одежду пакистанцев и арабов? Они что думают, что это мусульманская одежда?

We are Muslims, but we have our national clothing. Why do these ‘daavatists’ [Tablighi Jamaat members] only wear the traditional clothes of Pakistanis and Arabs? Do they really think this is Muslim dress?

At the moment, Kyrgyzstan is the country in Central Asia where the followers of the movement are most active. Tablighi Jamaat differs from traditional religious practice in the region by the structure of the sermon. 

Commenting on a Radio Azattyk article about the group, a resident of the broadly secular Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, Aybek says [ru]:

Я бы запретил их! Если надо мы и сами можем пропагандировать свою религию. Зачем нам эти даваатисты из Пакистана? Разве оттуда что-нибудь нормальное выходило?

I would ban them! We can spread the message of our religion on our own. Why do we need these ‘daavatists’ from Pakistan? Has anything normal ever come out of there?

Tablighi Jamaat missioners normally go out for three-day, forty-day, and four-month ‘daavats’ to rural areas of the country, inviting people to visit the local mosque where they conduct sermons. A young village man who may be witnessing a sermon for the first time in his life will then be asked to join the movement. Kyrgyz authorities fear that poorly-educated rural youth are often swayed in such a way by radical Islamic organizations.

The State Commission on Religious Affairs has repeatedly called [ru] Tablighi Jamaat an ‘extremist organization'. According to the Commission, preaching in Kyrgyzstan should be organized and implemented by the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims. Interestingly, however, the head of the body himself stated [ru] during a hearing in Parliament on March 5:

Это не боевое течение. Будьте к ним более снисходительны.

 It [Tablighi Jamaat] is not a militant movement. Be more tolerant towards them

Similarly Kadyr Malikov, director of an independent Kyrgyz think-tank, said [ru]:

Движение не является ни экстремистским, ни террористическим, ни политическим… Вмешательство в политику считается для них неприемлемым.

The movement is neither extremist nor terrorist or political… Interference in politics is unacceptable to [Tablighi Jamaat].

Indeed, Tablighi Jamaat repeatedly claim that thet do not seek to influence the politics of any country. Missioners typically call on the population to abstain from intoxicants and to become more pious. They set an example by sleeping on the rough floors of regional mosques, wearing modest clothes, eating simple food, and reminding Muslims of their religious beliefs. But precisely because of this mission-based approach, Tablighi Jamaat activists are often accused of intrusively encroaching on individuals’ freedom of choice. An anonymous commentator on the Russian-language news site Vecherni Bishkek says [ru]:

[...] надо прекращать эти нравоучения со стороны дааватчи. Они же вторгаются в частную жизнь, со своими проповедями. В место того, что бы пойти на работу устроится, и детей своих накормить, обуть и дать нормальное воспитание, они ходят по дворам и учат как правильно жить.

[...] we need to stop the preachings from ‘daavatchi'. They interfere with our personal life through their preaching. Instead of finding jobs, feeding their children, and providing them with proper education, ‘daavatchi' go from house to house and teach people how to live their lives.

Burul, another commenter on Azzatyk argues [ru]:

[...] даваатчы- это пропаганда, а любая пропаганда – это навязывание, то есть вмешательство в выбор человека, несвобода.

[...] ‘daavatchi’ is propaganda, and any propaganda is necessarily compulsive, that is, it is an interference with people's freedom of choice; it is unfreedom.

However, supporters of Tablighi Jamaat may argue that the movement is only presenting an option, albeit persuasively, without preventing Muslims from making a different choice. The movement's followers argue that they do not force people to become more religious. Instead they increase people's awareness of practical side of Islam, and expand knowledge of the religion. In the Azzatyk comments section, Malik replied to Burul [ru]:

Бурул, почему нельзя пропагандировать веру, религию? Когда вокруг столько безнравственного. Может Кадыр Маликов прав, в том, что мы боимся того, чего просто НЕ знаем. Что нас больше пугает неизвестность, а не вера.

Burul, why shouldn't the message of a faith or religion be spread? There is so much immorality around. Maybe Kadyr Malikov is right [in saying] that we are afraid of something we simply DO NOT understand. What frightens us the most is our lack of knowledge, not the faith itself.

May 31 2013

Tajik Constitution's ‘Fairy Tales’

Mardikornoma blog comments [tj] on the constitution of Tajikistan, suggesting that it has become more of a fairy tales book than the country's supreme law:

As I skim through the pages of Tajikistan's Constitution, I cannot help thinking that this document must be from some other country.

Central Asia's ‘Weird, Sad’ World Records

As Turkmenistan celebrates a recent Guinness World Record award for the highest density of white marble buildings, Caravanistan writes about the “weird, sad, and revealing” world records held by other countries of Central Asia.

May 30 2013

Turkmenistan's White Marble-Clad Capital

Turkmenistan already has a record-breaking president and ever-rising wheat harvests. But this is not enough for the oil-rich country. Don Croner reports that Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, has recently been awarded a Guinness World Record for the world's highest density of white marble buildings.

May 28 2013

VIDEO: Impromptu Georgian Chorus at Kyiv Airport

A screenshot of a video with Georgian traditional singing and dancing at Boryspil

A screenshot of the video of the four Georgians singing and dancing at Boryspil

On May 21, YouTube user Yevgeni Melnik shared this video of a group of four anonymous Georgian men doing an impromptu performance of traditional Georgian singing and dancing at Terminal F of Kiev Boryspil International Airport. The video has gone viral among Ukrainian Internet users: as of May 28, it has been watched 47,450 times.

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