Foreign Policy Blogs

Central Asia in Review, 2011

(c) BBC News – In pictures Tajik village life

Another year is coming to a close. It’s time to look back, recap and rewind 2011 in Central Asia. Let’s start with elections: two Central Asian states, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, held elections this year.

Kazakhstan’s presidential election took place on April 3, 2011.

Guess who won? Not surprising to anybody who follows Kazakhstan in the news, it’s Nursultan Nazarbayev who garnered 95.5% of the vote (with a total turn out of 89.5%) outperforming his earlier achievement of 91% in the previous election in 2005. Nazarbayev began his fourth term in office and thanks to the amendments to the constitution that makes an exception for him as “the leader of the nation,” he can run for the highest office in the country an unlimited number of times. Read the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report here. Kazakhstan is due to hold early parliamentary elections on January 15, 2012. The snap election was expected following the April presidential poll, but was just announced last month.

Kyrgyzstan also held a vote for the country’s president. Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev won an overwhelming share of votes on October 30, 2011 obviating the need for a run off. There was a gag on foreign press during the campaign, a strange thing by Western standards. According to the Guardian, “International observers had largely praised the runup to the election but some complained of counting irregularities. They said the scale of Atambayev’s apparent win indicated he may have benefited from reliance on state resources.”

Here’s a quick glance at year in review in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan:

U.S. Peace Corps Quits Kazakhstan. The exact reason is not clear, but Kazakhstan is definitely a loser in this situation as the opportunity for the Kazakh people to interact with foreigners and learn English got much smaller. It’s interesting that Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are now the only countries in the Central Asia region with a Peace Corps presence.

In November, Kazakhstan witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks the country has ever seen. A suspected militant shot dead four members of the security forces and two civilians before blowing himself up, killing another police officer, in the city of Taraz.

In October, two explosions hit the oil city of Atyrau in western Kazakhstan, killing a suspected suicide bomber.

Kyrgyzstan:

For Kyrgyzstan, the most important evens of the year were the presidential elections and healing the wounds of ethnic violence of 2010.

On May 3, 2011, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry or the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission (KIC) released its final report on the interethnic violence and clashes between the country’s ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities last year. Read more about the findings here.

Tajikistan:

In January, the Tajik government ratified a 1999 deal handing over 386 square miles (1,000 sq km) of land in the remote Pamir mountain range to China.

The women’s lot in Tajikistan remains abysmal as is the situation with the freedom of speech and press.

The case of Urunboy Usumov’s is probably the most infamous this year. The 60 year old BBC reporter was arrested in June and sentenced to three years in jail over alleged connections to the Hizb ut-Tahrir group, but the judge granted him an amnesty and ordered his release. After his release, he told the BBC’s Uzbek Service he would appeal against his conviction. The BBC has strongly condemned the verdict, insisting Mr Usmonov was carrying out journalistic duties.

Last month a court in Tajikistan released two pilots, one Russian and one Estonian whose sentencing of 8.5 years in prison escalated the Tajik-Russian tension and caused a retaliation by the former.

By and large, the shenanigans between Russia and Tajikistan is not something new as it tried to raise petroleum tariffs for Tajikistan earlier this year.

Turkmenistan:

This year, Turkmenistan’s leadership received ample attention in the press and in the blogosphere along with other Central Asian leaders given the region’s democratic credentials.

Linking articles and news would probably make a long list…Just a few examples: here and here.

In other news, TAPI has been a bumpy road.

Uzbekistan:

In March of this year, for an unspecified reason, the Uzbek government shut down the Human Rights Watch offices in Tashkent. It is the first time in the organization’s 33 year history that it was kicked out from a country where it was operating. This ends HRW’s 15 year presence in Uzbekistan, since its established its offices following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union.

Much was written in the press and on the Internet about Lola Karimova, the youngest daughter of Uzbek president Islam Karimov, who in May of this year filed a law suit seeking €30,000 (US$43,000) in damages against a French news website Rue89, claiming that it described her as a “dictator’s daughter” and stated that she paid Monica Bellucci, the Italian actress, €190,000 (US$272,000) to appear at a charity event. On July 1, 2011, the French court ruled that the article was both fair and true, and could not be taken as a personal attack – the judge found that there was not sufficient evidence for the charge of libel under French law. But the issue of alleged payments to Belluci was not resolved. Ironically, the opposite of what Karimov’s daughter was trying to accomplish became obvious. The trial exposed human rights violations and the brutality with which the regime deals with opposition as two well-known exiled human rights defenders from Uzbekistan testified for the defense.

Ah,  Uzbek cotton, always creates a stir in the news every year starting in September when the cotton harvesting season begins in Central Asia. This year was no exception, although some welcoming developments took place. Sixty of the world’s major retailers, including Walmart, Walt Disney, H&M and Adidas agreed to boycott all products known to contain Uzbek cotton. In addition, The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee unanimously blocked a trade deal that would have lowered the tariffs on EU imports of Uzbek cotton, citing objections to that country’s continued use of forced child labor in its cotton harvests. These are all promising steps.

Don’t forget about U.S. dealings with Uzbekistan. Despite it’s poor human rights record, the West depends on this Central Asian country for supply roots to Afghanistan.

Natural Disasters in the Region:

On January 24 a 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck a remote mountainous region of Tajikistan near the Chinese boarder. There were no reported deaths.

On July 19 a 6.2 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter just inside Kyrgyzstan shook the Fergana Valley affecting Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, killing at least 14 people.

Russia and Central Asia:

In October Russia signed a free trade agreement with seven other former Soviet republics among which are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. There are reports that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan might join next year.

Kyrgyzstan named a mountain peak after Putin earlier this year – perhaps they had a feeling.

 

Author

Christya Riedel
Christya Riedel

Christya Riedel graduated cum laude from UCLA with degrees in Political Science (Comparative Politics concentration) and International Development Studies and is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin focusing on Central Asia and Russia. She has traveled, lived and worked in Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia. She speaks fluent Ukrainian and Russian as well as intermediate-high Turkish.

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