Welcome back to Central Asia in Focus, an RFE/RL newsletter that looks at the events shaping Central Asia’s future.
I’m Bruce Pannier. I’ve been studying Central Asia for more than 35 years, went to summer school at Tashkent State in 1990 when Uzbekistan was still part of the Soviet Union, and then lived in villages in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in 1992-1993. And since 1995, I’ve been writing about the region I think of as my second homeland.
I’d like to say hello to our new subscribers from the Arms Control Association, European Parliament, Harvard Business School, New Delhi Institute of Management, the National Endowment for Democracy, Sabanci University, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, United Nations Development Program, University College London, and the University of Oxford. Thanks for joining us!
What’s Going On in Gorno-Badakhshan?
That is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately.
Tajik authorities sealed off the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) and cut communications to the region when unrest broke out on May 16.
That same day, independent media outlet Asia-Plus received an “official warning from the prosecutor general and unofficial warning from other government bodies” about “one-sided” coverage of the events in GBAO.
Other media outlets received similar warnings, and since then, we are left with only the Tajik government’s one-sided explanation of what is happening in Gorno-Badakhshan.
And that explanation is that there is a “counterterrorist” operation in GBAO, and that “Western” governments helped foment the violence there.
This is the same government that blamed its political rival – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan – for attacking foreign bicyclists in July 2018, a story Tajik authorities clung to for several days, even after the Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed the attack and posted a video of the attackers.
Tajik authorities did blame IS militants for an attack on a post near the Uzbek border in November 2019, and even though IS later claimed responsibility, some of the attackers were women and IS has no record of staging coed operations.
And now, Tajik authorities say the people who have been living in GBAO for years are suddenly terrorists and, that in some way which Tajik officials do not make clear, Western governments incited them to oppose the government.
Why it’s important: We don’t know what’s happening in GBAO, but it is almost certainly worse than what the Tajik government says.
Human Rights Watch, the European Union, and individual Western countries including France, Germany, Britain, and the United States are calling on Tajik authorities to cease abuses against people in GBAO and investigate alleged acts of torture by security forces.
While world attention remains fixed on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Tajik authorities are acting with total impunity in GBAO.
A Mockery of an Investigation in Kyrgyzstan
The number of people killed in the June 2010 interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan is estimated by various sources to be 426 to 470, nearly all civilians and most of them ethnic Uzbeks.
Many people inside and outside Kyrgyzstan feel justice was never served in the investigations and trials conducted in Kyrgyzstan that followed the “June Events,” as they’re called, and that people responsible for the carnage have gone unpunished.
So, it was welcome news when the prosecutor general’s office announced a fresh investigation into the violence in April 2021.
On May 20, three members of the interim government from that time were summoned for questioning.
Former security chief Keneshbek Duyshebaev confirmed1he was questioned and told not to leave the country as were former acting defense minister, Ismail Isakov, and former Jalal-Abad governor Bektur Asanov.
One problem is that they are all members of a newly-formed opposition party.
Another problem is the prosecutor is investigating whether they helped ethnic Uzbek community leader Kadyr Batyrov leave Kyrgyzstan.
Some people in Kyrgyzstan blame Batyrov, who died in 2018, for sparking tensions by calling for greater autonomy for Uzbeks.
I was in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, and whatever Batyrov said or did in promoting greater rights for the Uzbek community of Kyrgyzstan before the unrest started, he was not responsible for orchestrating the violence that took place from June 10-14.
There are other people, like former Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov, whose roles in the June Events have never been fully investigated.
But Myrzakmatov, who fled Kyrgyzstan 2014, is a supporter of President Japarov, and Duyshebaev, Isakov, and Asanov are not.
Why it’s important: I question the motives for investigating the three former officials, and for the later announcement of an audit of the real estate in Kyrgyzstan of the three and six other officials from the interim government “for the purpose of seizure and possible confiscation”.
These recent developments look politically motivated, which discredits a needed fresh and objective investigation of June 2010 and creates a new political battle in a country with a volatile political history.
THE LATEST MAJLIS PODCAST
On the latest Majlis podcast, we discuss proposed amendments to Kazakhstan’s constitution. There will be a national referendum in Kazakhstan on June 5 to vote on the changes.
This week’s guests are Yevgeny Zhovtis, the director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law; Aigerim Toleukhanova, independent journalist from Kazakhstan; and Colleen Wood, PhD candidate at Columbia University and author of the recent article in The Diplomat about the upcoming referendum.
WHAT I'M FOLLOWING
Russia’s war on Ukraine continues to send ripples into Central Asia. Food security is a big concern, not directly because of the loss of Russian or Ukrainian food exports, but because other countries like Tajikistan’s main grain exporter Kazakhstan are under pressure to provide for their own citizens. RFE/RL’s Tajik service reported “prices are outrageous, there’s not enough of anything.” Unfortunately, citizens of other Central Asian countries seem likely to be saying the same soon.
FACT OF THE WEEK
On June 2, 490 ethnic Kazakhs are expected to arrive in Kazakhstan from Turkmenistan as part of a repatriation plan. The number of Kazakhs in Turkmenistan dropped from nearly 88,000 in 1989 to some 19,000 in 2012 and several thousand more have left since then.
THANKS FOR READING
Thanks for reading our Central Asia in Focus newsletter! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who you think may be interested.
Every week we like to engage our audience with a question about issues we cover in the newsletter. This week, we ask our readers to send in your thoughts about this: What pressure can governments and international organizations put on Tajikistan to allow independent observers to visit GBAO?
Send me your answer by responding to this email or feel free to contact me on Twitter. If if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to connect with me about topics concerning Central Asia, I look forward to hearing from you.
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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.