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February 14 2014

Despite Bans, Central Asians Observe Valentine's Day

Central Asian countries have a special relationship with Valentine's Day. While some nations in the region embrace the holiday that has become popular in recent years, other countries ban or try to replace it with more “authentic” local celebrations.

Global Voices has reported about social media debates related to Valentine's Day in Tajikistan, where one third of people celebrate the holiday according to a recent survey. Below is a brief overview of how Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have observed February 14 this year.

Kazakhstan

The authorities in Kazakhstan are generally much more tolerant towards new holidays and traditions than their neighbors in the region. Kazakhs are free to celebrate Valentine's Day as they wish. As in many other countries, however, social media users argue about whether the holiday should be celebrated. Responding to frequent portrayals of Valentine's Day as a holiday that contradicts Islam, blogger Ainura Rai asserts [ru] that the holiday has a “secular character” and, therefore, does not run against any religious conviction. Another blogger, Kuanushbek Zhakparov, agrees that “the day of love” is a secular holiday but contends [ru] that Valentine's Day is an “evil” capitalist phenomenon promoted by companies that make money by selling cards, flowers, and other love-themed products. Other bloggers discuss [ru] inexpensive gifts that people could give their loved ones on February 14.

Meanwhile, in the northern Kazakh city of Kostanai, traffic police has used the holiday as an opportunity to improve its image among drivers:

In Kostanai, police officers presented drivers with Valentine's Day Cards.

An unusual group of police officers was on duty at the Abay Avenue, near TSUM, today. Drivers did not expect such a surprise from police officers.

On the Day of Love, [police officers] gave drivers Valentine's Day Cards and gifts from insurance companies.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has joined the list of “enemies of Valentine's Day” this year. Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a member of Kyrgyz parliament (who has been calling for a ban on Valentine's Day for several years now) recently called February 14 a “holiday from the devil”. The authorities in the southern city of Osh have banned the observance of Valentine's Day in schools, arguing that the “holiday of love is a bad influence on children’s morality.” Education officials have suggested that schoolchildren should instead observe the Family Day on February 15.

This has not stopped young Kyrgyzstanis from celebrating, however. Blogger Bektour Iskender reports [ru] that students in several school in Osh did organize Valentine's Day events. Similar events were held in many schools and universities across the country. On kloop.kg, blogger Darya Solovyova shares [ru] gift ideas for Valentine's Day.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has been more aggressive than its neighbors in trying to root out celebrations of Valentine's Day. For several years now, the country's authorities have been trying to convince people to celebrate February 14 as the birthday of Mohammed Zahiriddin Babur, the Uzbek people's “great ancestor”. 

The birthday of Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur is celebrated today.

This year, the authorities have stepped up their campaign against Valentine's Day. Officials at a number of universities in the country have forced students to sign contracts affirming that they will not observe “the day of love”. A traditional February 14 concert by a popular Uzbek pop singer has been cancelled. In many mosques throughout Uzbekistan, mullahs have denounced Valentine's Day during Friday sermons as a “harmful holiday that contradicts both Islam and local traditions”.

Despite these restrictions, however, some people in Uzbekistan have celebrated Valentine's Day. On Facebook and Odnoklassniki, many Uzbekistani users congratulated their followers or shared love-themed images and electronic cards. 

February 12 2014

An “Increasingly Uncertain” Future for Central Asia's Fergana Valley

On the Caravanistan blog, Cycloscope writes about radioactive landfill sites in the Fergana Valley, a region “absurdly divided between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan”:

Unaware of the dangers of radioactivity, the locals take the equipment in the old abandoned mines and sell them as scrap, risking not only their own lives but also the spread of radioactivity. A further problem is the use of rock from landfills as a building material for houses and roads.

The threat coming from radioactive waste is aggravated by unsettled borders, water scarcity, and a history of ethnic riots, making the future of the region “increasingly uncertain”.

February 09 2014

Russian Commentator Apologizes for Mistaking Uzbekistan for Tajikistan

Renowned Russian sports newscaster has apologized for mistaking the national team of Uzbekistan for that of Tajikistan during a live television broadcast from this year's Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Responding to thousands of angry messages addressed to him through social media sites, Dmitry Guberniev posted [ru] an apology on his website:

Dear residents of Uzbekistan!

I would like to apologize for a mistake I made while reporting from the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Sochi. I will try to be more accurate in future.

I wish your athletes success [at the Games]!

February 08 2014

Patients in Uzbekistan “Have Nobody to Rely on Except for God”

On Registan.net, Gulnoza Saidazimova paints a bleak picture of the healthcare system in Uzbekistan (part onepart two):

[The system is so inadequate and outdated that] a wealthy few head to foreign countries for medical treatment, drawing on their own savings and often those of their close relatives, whereas the majority poor can only hope not to get sick. They have nobody to rely on except for God.

February 07 2014

Russian Commentator Mistakes Uzbekistan for Tajikistan at Olympics Opening Ceremony

Although this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi have just kicked off, social media users in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are already angry at Russia, the country hosting the Games.

Thousands of people in the two Central Asian nations turned on their TVs earlier today to watch the opening ceremony for the Olympics shown live on ”Russia-1“, a state-owned Russian television channel (available via satellite in the both countries). As athletes from Uzbekistan were walking into the stadium behind an Uzbek flag, renowned Russian sports commentator Dmitry Guberniev [ru] announced, “Tajikistan”. He thus confused the two countries that were once part of the Moscow-dominated Soviet Union and have had a strained relationship over the last decade.

“That moment when Uzbekistan was called Tajikistan”. Image circulating widely on social media sites.

It did not take too long for angry reactions to appear on Twitter. Below are just a select few from hundreds of tweets posted by netizens from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many of these tweets are addressed to Guberniev (@gubernievd), shaming the commentator and demanding an apology.

Calling Uzbekistan Tajikistan? Guberniev, go perform harakiri [kill yourself]!

Guberniev, burn in hell

I hope, I believe that the commentators will be takes to a ravine nearby and executed [shot dead] any minute now

[Text in the image reads, "Here is Tajikistan". "It is Uzbekistan, you idiot!"]

Guberniev, I wish I could give you a globe and put you behind a school desk so that you learnt not to confuse Uzbekistan for Tajikistan #sochi2014problems

The commentator made a mistake when athletes from Uzbekistan were entering [the stadium]… he introduced them as being from Tajikistan… I think he should apologize!!!

@gubernievd You have to offer an apology to Uzbekistan, Dmitry. We are not Tajikistan, with all due respect to our neighbours.

What the hell is Guberniev saying? Uzbekistan is not Tajikistan! He should offer Uzbekistan an apology now!

What an opening for the Sochi Games! D. Guberniev, apologize to us, to Uzbekistan! UZBEKISTAN IS NOT Tajikistan.

@gubernievd You should at least learn your Russian Cyrillic letters. When a word ends in “-istan”, it does not always mean “Tajikistan”!

@gubernievd You called our country Tajikistan rather than Uzbekistan although the correct name was there, written in three languages.

What an idiot could confuse the national team of Uzbekistan with that of Tajikistan?

This is offensive! Uzbekistan, not Tajikistan!

Russians urgently need to study geography and flags in order to learn to tell Uzbekistan from Tajikistan. Is this the country that wants to rule [Central] Asia?

January 31 2014

Photos Uzbek Authorities Do Not Want You To See

EurasiaNet.org presents ”Twenty Photos Uzbekistan Does Not Want You to See“, a collection of black-and-white images by photojournalist Timur Karpov. The photos were removed [ru] from a group exhibition at Tashkent's House of Photography two hours before the beginning of the show on January 25, apparently because they were deemed to be “undermining” national pride. Another photographer whose images were deemed “offensive” by the organizers of the show is Svetlana Ten. Her photos can be seen here.

Karpov is one of the eight activists who were detained by Uzbek police on January 29, after an unsanctioned rally in support of protesters in Ukraine. Karpov was ordered by court to pay a fine of around 1,000 US dollars and has now been released.

“Disaster” for Supporters of Ukraine Protests in Uzbekistan

On January 29, police in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, detained eight individuals for picketing the Ukrainian embassy in support of Euromaidan protesters. Those arrested for holding an unsanctioned rally included a prominent photographer Umida Akhmedova, photojournalist Timur Karpov, and culture blogger Alex Ulko. Following the activists’ arrest, blogging platform NewEurasia.net asserted:

What happens when you mix Kiev politics with Tashkent security? Disaster.

Yesterday, a court in Tashkent sentenced three of the detained activists to 15 days in jail. Another four activists were ordered to pay fines. An eighth activist is still awaiting trial. 

January 28 2014

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: Trip to the Dying Aral Sea

The Aral Sea lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was once one of the world's four largest lakes. Over the last five decades, however, the sea has lost over 90 percent of its original size, mainly as a result of disastrous irrigation projects which diverted rivers feeding it. On the Caravanistan travel blog, Aziz Murtazaev presents a photo report about his recent trip to the “dying sea”. A more detailed report by the blogger, in Russian, can be accessed here and here.

Qaraqalpaqstan, the ‘Forgotten Stan’ of Central Asia

Qaraqalpaqstan (or Karakalpakstan) is one of the least-known “stans” of Central Asia. Part of Uzbekistan, this region is a true gem for a curious traveler. On the Caravanistan blog, Steven writes about this “forgotten stan”:

…Living under the shadow cast by the desiccation of the Aral Sea, this little-known stan has gotten a bad rep and has drawn mostly disaster tourism in recent years.

Tourists with an open eye, an extra day to loiter and the imagination to appreciate the weight of history, the power of landscape and the nomadic traditions of a desert nation however, will find Karakalpakstan a fascinating place…

Most surprising is the long history of the region. Places like the UNESCO World heritage desert castles of Toprak Qala, Ayaz Qala, Koy-Kirilgan Qala, Big Guldursun, Pil Qala, Anka Qala, Kurgashin Qala and Djanbas Qala Mizdakhan give an inkling of a once-blooming society, the powerful state of Khorezm that guarded part of the ancient Silk Road. These are places few foreigners get to see, and they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of archaeological treasures strewn around in the desert…

January 23 2014

Goodbye Alexandros Petersen, Prodigious Guide to China in Central Asia

With a sprinkle of humor, Alex slipped seamlessly and gracefully into a region of stories and storytellers, abundance and poverty, toasts and toast-makers. 

The 29 year-old go-to-scholar and commentator was eloquent and big-hearted in everything he did. 

It was with great shock that I comprehended the loss of Alexandros Petersen, co-author of the excellent Eurasian affairs blog ChinainCentralAsia.com, in a suicide bomb attack carried out by the Taliban at a restaurant in central Kabul on January 17, 2014. 

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

This is not an obituary.

Alex was so well-traveled and well-affiliated that compiling his biography would probably be a task beyond any single person, and certainly the author of this post. A great number of people knew Alex in a great number of capacities, all of whom lost something in this brutal, highly coordinated and premeditated attack.

America-born to a Greek mother and a Danish father, he had friends and admirers across the world, with a notable concentration of both in lands sandwiched between the shores of the Black Sea and the sands of the Taklamakan desert.

As an occasional journalist, I had known ‘Alex the source’ – always reliable for an astute and erudite quote – for some time before I knew Alex the person.

While the first Alex will leave a gaping hole in the rolodex of many analysts and reporters covering Central Asia and the Caucasus, it is the second Alex, known by family, friends, colleagues and students, that will be missed even more. 

As a noted expert in energy politics, Alex's scope was global, yet like many that have traveled through, lived and worked in, or wrote about the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, there was a specific set of countries he found infectious. As he emphasized in his book The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, and later through the ChinainCentralAsia blog and book project, this is a region that western policy-makers ignore at their peril.

Many people that knew Alex, even as briefly as I knew him, will know that he had an aptitude for anecdotes. Through the warm fuzzy memory of one of several excellent dinner evenings at a well-known Georgian restaurant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (a dash of the Caucasus in Central Asia) I can still hear his tale of the duplicitous Azerbaijani ambassador that summoned him for a dressing down after he had written a critical article about that country, only to promptly stop, smile, and break out a teapot and tea cups. The dressing down, it emerged, had been recorded for the benefit of a political high-up in Baku, while the teapot and tea cups were symbols of the perennial hospitality with which any visitor to the region rapidly becomes familiar. 

On a good night, Alex could reel off a dozen such recollections from his years traveling through countries in Europe and Asia, nearly all of which were outrageously funny. A Petersen punch line could leave your ribs hurting from laughter, a potent and particular gift that the Taliban stole from the world.

China in Central Asia

Through ChinainCentralAsia.com, one of the most readable English-language blogs covering geopolitics in the Eurasian region, Alex had begun in combination with co-writer Raffaello Pantucci and photojournalist Sue Anne Tay, to document what he was convinced, with good reason, would be one of the stories of the 21st century, namely China's giant economic push through the countries lying west of its own restive Xinjiang province. These countries, cobbled together as “the stans” by the western media, lie at the historical heart of some of the greatest land empires the world has known, but are now isolated states increasingly shorn of options. Hamstrung by geography, corruption and various other internal problems, they have few reasons to reject Chinese largesse, and even fewer means to resist it.

Belatedly the chronicle of exponentially increasing Chinese trade and investment in Central Asia has started to turn heads beyond the region and its regular gaggle of foreign observers. Last September, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's whirlwind tour through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan raised eyebrows across the world by virtue of the sheer size of the deals struck for oil, gas and other giant infrastructure projects in the region. For Petersen, Pantucci and others, this is a plot that has been bubbling for some time, and one that is increasingly central to the epic that is China's rise towards superpower status.   

While Alex diligently tracked every stretch of pipeline built by the Chinese in the region, he also knew that China's influence in Central Asia could not be measured in kilometers of road, barrels of oil, and cubic meters of gas alone. Many of the articles on ChinainCentralAsia.com are enjoyable to read precisely because they gather the testimonies of ordinary Central Asians being affected by the changes that have accompanied China's expanding clout; from university teachers observing the installation of Confucius Institutes in their places of work, to local businessmen whose bank accounts have been swelled by trade with China, and villagers who believe the roads Chinese companies are building in their country – paid for by cheap Chinese credit – are designed to support the weight of Chinese tanks in a future military invasion.

The practitioners of Beijing's westward pivot, and the protagonists in the emergence of what ChinainCentral Asia.com has labelled China's “inadvertant empire” are also human beings rather than mere pawns on a chessboard, a fact Petersen captured in an October article in the Atlantic: 

These actors include Chinese owners of market stalls in Central Asia’s largest bazaars. One I spoke to had lived for years in a shipping container he shared with four other men at the back of a clothes market in Kazakhstan’s largest bazaar. A multi-millionaire, he provided for his children’s Western education, multiple apartments in Shanghai, and even overseas property investments. To him, Central Asia is the land of opportunity. These actors also include Chinese teachers sent to staff the many Confucius Institutes sprouting up around the region. Some I spoke with missed home, but many said they preferred the exciting “frontier life.” CNPC engineers across the region know that they are in for the long haul, as their company and its many subsidiaries build imposing structures in every Eurasian capital. The immense pipeline network CNPC is threading through the region consists of infrastructure set to last half a century.

Alex the Guide

Beyond his writing Alex also inspired as a teacher, and it was during his semester-long stint at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that I got to know him on a personal level. Among the juniors and seniors in the International and Comparative Politics department (many of whom have written articles for Global Voices) that took his elective courses, and freshmen of all departments undertaking the First Year Seminar, Alex was a universally admired guide and friend, as well as a teller of fantastic stories. To both students and colleagues at the university, he was open, approachable, and a great person to bounce ideas off.

We are thinking of his family.  

A man of many temporary homes, Alex was in Kabul to embark on another research and teaching stint at the American University of Afghanistan. Writing to him a few days before he died I told him I was looking forward to a new series of dispatches on the nature and shape of Chinese influence in this fascinating, beautiful, tortured country. Now those dispatches will never be written and the students he was teaching will miss out on the tremendous wealth of knowledge, experience and color he brought to a classroom. When the Taliban cut his life short so brutally, it was fellow Afghans they punished. 

As his friend and writing partner Raffaello Pantucci communicated via email, “a bright light has gone out.”

Chris Rickleton manages the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

November 22 2013

Uzbekistan's “Twitter Warrior” Gulnara Karimova Is Back

After disappearing from Twitter yesterday, Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's “enduring dictator“, has returned to the micro-blogging service. In a flurry of angry tweets, Gulnara is blaming [ru] her mother for using intimidation and arbitrary arrests against her colleagues, allies, and business partners. Gulnara also suggests that her mother is preventing her from seeing Islam Karimov, her 74-year-old father who has ruled the country since 1989.

In a post re-tweeted by Gulnara, one of her followers wrote today [ru]:

@GulnaraKarimova fires like a good machine gun; her account is open.

November 21 2013

“Twitter War” for Power Ends in Uzbekistan

Gulnara Karimova, the glamorous daughter of Uzbekistan's president, disappointed the more than 50,000 followers on Twitter by deactivating her account (@GulnaraKarimova) today. During the last several weeks, her tweets provided a rare glimpse into power struggles in one of the world's most secretive states.

The fall of the “princess”

One of the richest and most influential people in Uzbekistan, 41-year-old Gulnara Karimova was long mooted as a possible successor to her father who has ruled the Central Asian nation since 1989. Harvard-educated Gulnara served as Uzbekistan's ambassador to the United Nations and Spain in the past. More recently, she has focused on her career as a pop star and fashion designer. She has also built an extensive network of charities and media, business, and cultural projects in Uzbekistan.

Several weeks ago, however, Karimova's projects in the country came under fire from security services. A number of people she worked with and some of her bodyguards were arrested on charges she alleged were trumped-up.

Gulnara Karimova. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Gulnara Karimova. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

“Twitter war”

In a surprise move, Karimova took to Twitter to expose what she described was a plot by the country's powerful security minister to limit her political influence. During the last several weeks, she tweeted about the intensifying attacks by the Uzbek security services on her political and business interests. She also accused the security services of using torture to extract confessions. 

As the frequency of her Twitter posts increased, so did the number of her followers. Many of them included foreign journalists and academics. Gulnara's tweets provided an unprecedented real-life first-person account of the power struggles in one of the world's most secretive states. BBC described Gulnara's use of the social network as “Twitter war”.

Apparently, Gulnara had many netizens on her side in that war. She re-tweeted hundreds of posts by other Uzbekistani Twitter users voicing their support for her. The followers of her account also included individuals from neighboring countries who wished the children of strongmen ruling their countries also used Twitter. On November 20, a Tajikistani follower of Karimova's account tweeted [ru]:

I begin and end my day by watching the Twitter soap opera about the Uzbek padishah [king], his daughter @GulnaraKarimova and the evil security vizier [minister]

It's a pity that they don't make this kind of movies in Tajikistan.

Another Twitter user wrote [ru] on November 20:

Gulnara Karimova's story is perhaps the first ever struggle for power one can follow on Twitter.

Gulnara quits Twitter

Gulnara's “Twitter war” intensified in mid-November as she became more explicit in blaming Uzbekistan's security minister of using Stalin-style coercive methods to strengthen his grip on power. Then, on November 20, she blamed her fall from grace on her mother, Tatyana Karimova. Gulnara alleged that Tatyana Karimova “promised to destroy everything connected to [Gulnara]” if Gulnara did not stop “meddling” in her business interests. About a month before, Gulnara accused [ru] her mother of practicing occult rituals and possibly “satanism”. 

After spending some time “airing her family’s dirty laundry” on November 21, Gulnara disabled her Twitter account.

Many netizens now feel disappointed about losing the rare glimpse into power politics and feuds within the ruling family in Uzbekistan:

Gulnara Karimova has deleted her Twitter account. It's sad, for that was an interesting account ( http://t.co/wo8dWrSBuI

Shit! Where is Karimova? Bring back Karimova! How am I now going to get updates about what is happening in Uzbekistan?

How does the soap opera about the Uzbek padishah and his daughter end? is there a happy end or not? I demand that the soap opera go on!

The “soap opera” might as well continue soon. After all, when Gulnara had disappeared from Twitter in the past, she returned shortly afterwards with a much stronger passion for tweeting.

October 30 2013

Yelling and Fist-banging at UN Review of Uzbekistan's Torture Record

The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan has ratified the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1995, but torture remains a “systematic practice” in the country according to a recent report [pdf]. As the UN anti-torture committee met to review Uzbekistan's implementation of the CAT, Steve Swerdlow (@steveswerdlow) tweeted live from Geneva.

Below are just some of Swerdlow's tweets, indicating that the Uzbekistani authorities prefer to deal with allegations of torture, forced sterilization of women, and use of ‘slave labor’ to harvest cotton primarily through yelling, screaming, and insulting experts:

October 24 2013

Singing Presidents and Singing Against Presidents in Central Asia

Presidents of the post-Soviet Central Asian countries like to be regarded as strong, paternalistic leaders. They look down on their populations from millions of portraits and instruct them from TV screens and newspaper pages. Some of them are immortalized in statues and monuments. Yet sometimes these ”fathers” and “leaders” of their nations like to remind their populations that they, too, are human. They dance and sing.

Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, a video of the country's president Emomali Rahmon dancing at his son's wedding went viral in May 2013. While some netizens criticized their leader for his joyful behavior at the wedding, others thought the video showed that the president was “a real, normal man” after all. 

One segment of the controversial video shows Rahmon singing with a popular Tajik singer. They sing in Tajik, praising the beauty of their country, while several senior officials dance to the song:

Commenting on this video, one person writes [tj]:

зур месарояд неки. хаккатан зур. агар президент намебуд, ситораи эстрада мешуд, дар туйхо баромад мекард.

He sings well. Really well. If he wasn't president, he could have become a pop star and sing at weddings.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan's “leader of the nation” Nursultan Nazarbayev not only sings, but also plays a musical instrument.

Netizens reacting to the video apparently like the way Nazarbayev sings. Under the video, Farida Salmenova comments [ru]:

Ya priyatno udıvlena!!! ne znala, 4to on tak klassno poyet!!!

I am pleasantly surprised!!! I didn't know he was such a good singer!!!

Uzbekistan

Islam Katimov, the veteran leader of Uzbekistan prefers not to sing in public. He does dance, however:

Yet his dancing apparently fails to impress the country's netizens as most comments under the video are very critical. For example, Kate Malayev writes [ru]:

Urod. Vsyu stranu iskalechil. Narod v nishete sidit a on plyashet.

Freak. He has crippled the whole country. Yet he dances while people are in poverty.

While Karimov does not sing in public, people who disapprove of his regime sing against him. An English-language song that was recently uploaded on YouTube urges the “king of kings in the cotton land” to leave the office:

September 07 2013

“Central Asia is Watching [Syria] Too”

As the United States and Russia spar over the way ahead in Syria, the governments in Central Asia are following the situation closely, writes Nathan Barrick on Registan.net:

Russia chooses to focus on the perspective that the Syrian government is fighting a battle against Islamic extremists and this message likely resonates with Central Asian governments.  Official silence from Central Asia on Syria should not disguise the real sympathy with Russia’s perspective…

…Central Asia is watching too… not because they will seek to develop and acquire chemical weapons to use against their populations, but to note how much confidence they can place in a security partnership with the United States, or even if they should re-evaluate and partner more closely with Russia.

August 27 2013

Kazakhstan: Script Reform Is ‘Hardly Possible at All’

As Kazakhstan prepares for a highly controversial shift from Cyrillic script to Latin alphabet, its netizens are keen to note that a similar reform implemented years ago by Uzbekistan has not been very successful. Reflecting on her recent trip to Uzbekistan, Margarita Bocharova writes [ru]:

It was also very interesting to see for myself whether Uzbekistan has fully switched to the Latin script. You know, it hasn't at all. I would say that only about half (or even less) of all signs that we passed were written in Latin alphabet. The rest [was written] in Cyrillic script…

Generally, this has only reinforced my conviction that forcing a language to follow state-dictated policy is so difficult that it is hardly possible at all within 20 years or so.

August 18 2013

Uzbek Authorities Seek to Control Bloggers

The authorities in Uzbekistan are seeking to impose strict controls on the country's bloggers. Alisher Abdugofurov on Registan.net shares his opinion about why this is happening in a society where there are not many bloggers to start with.

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.

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.

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